Tim looked in the mirror and picked up the razor. It was an old style open razor. He held it to his face and began the meticulous task of shaving. Smoothly he drew the blade downwards, careful to wipe off the shaving foam after every stroke. As he continued, slowly and deliberately, he ruminated on the fact that razors of this kind only came to be known as cut throat because of Sweeney Todd, the barber who terrorised Fleet Street in a century long ago. He would slit the gullet of customers he did not like in order for their flesh to be used in the pie shop downstairs. Tim’s throat contracted at the macabre thought.
Once he had finished his shave, he carefully washed his face twice, and then combed his hair with a blue comb that he replaced into its home on the shelf in the bathroom cabinet. It sat alongside his toothbrush, toothpaste, some painkillers and a deodorant stick. Beyond that, the cabinet was bare. He closed the door on the unit, knowing that germs from flushing the nearby toilet could travel up to six feet. As a result, nothing was stored on the sink itself, and he was careful to give the basin a daily wipe with antiseptic.
His ablutions finished, he went into the bedroom and put on a freshly ironed blue shirt. He buttoned it to the neck and then put on some beige chinos, complete with precise creases down the front of each leg. He sat on a chair and found his shoes tidily placed in exactly the right spot. He put them on and tied the laces. Once he was done, he walked to the mirror, which was strategically placed to take in his whole reflection in spite of the bedroom being very small. He paused, checked everything was in place, and then walked into the kitchen where he spooned some granules into the cafetiere and filled the kettle with filtered water before switching it on. He put two slices of wholemeal bread into his toaster and in the meantime, arranged a cup, plate and knife on the table. The crockery was plain white. It was shortly joined by a tub of margarine and a jar of value raspberry jam. The kettle boiled, he poured the water into the cafetiere and stirred it. He left it to rest, at which point the toast popped up. He spread the margarine and jam with great care to cover every part of each slice. He then plunged the filter through the water and coffee mixture. The jug contained just the right amount of coffee for the white cup into which he poured a few drops of skimmed milk. Taking his breakfast to the table, he sat down.
Tim lived in a small council flat in one of the town’s tower blocks. He had one bedroom, and a living area which included the kitchen, a small dining table big enough for two, and a sofa. The room was painted a neutral shade of magnolia, and was sparse. There was a small television on the floor opposite the sofa and it was this that he switched on before sitting at the table to eat his morning meal. Breakfast news was an essential part of his morning routine, which had evolved over years. There was only one headline that mattered this morning. John Major had called the General Election. The country was going to the polls. Tim ate up the reports and interviews more hungrily than he did his toast. This was something that happened every four years or so, and he awaited it as eagerly as others did the World Cup. He never quite understood the draw of major sporting events. Whoever won, nothing really changed. But politics was a different matter. After 18 years of Conservative rule, this election looked like it was going to be an interesting one. The New Labour Party had risen from the ashes, led by the young and charismatic Tony Blair. Tim wasn’t yet sure of his feelings for the man whose smile seemed to give away nothing. He knew though that he felt only a bored indifference to John Major, who had led the country and the Conservatives for five years. It was an unusual step for Major to allow such a long campaign before polling day. If a week was a long time in politics, six weeks was a generation. Tim sipped his coffee, which was now at the perfect temperature, with a sense of excitement. The next few weeks was going to be good. He could sense it.
He walked to work, carrying his leather briefcase, the one he had found while rummaging in a charity shop a few months before. It took only 10 minutes to get there because his flat was part of a block in the town gardens, right next to the centre. He went into his office, saying a perfunctory good morning to the receptionist before finding his immaculately tidy desk and sitting down. It wasn’t quite right today though. Someone had put his post in a disorderly pile on top of his computer keyboard. He frowned, and moved the pile into his clearly marked ‘in’ tray. He was in before the majority of his colleagues, who he knew would arrive in the seven or eight minutes around 9am. Getting in early prevented the anxiety that he might arrive any time after the clock showed 9am, and also allowed him to prepare himself for the day ahead.
“Good morning Timothy,” came the voice of his supervisor, Sheila. She was hanging up her coat and hurriedly running a hand through her bushy hair that didn’t seem to stay in one style for longer than 10 minutes. She chucked her lunch box onto her desk, and picked up her tea stained mug, which was on top of her computer monitor.
“Good morning Sheila,” said Tim bristling slightly. He had told her on a number of occasions that his name was Tim and not Timothy. While it said Timothy on his birth certificate, he had always been called Tim and wished for that to remain the case for consistency’s sake.
“Plenty to do today,” she said to him. “I’ve got a heap of new forms in, so you’ll be busy.” Tim nodded, logging into his work station. He brought up the database and organised his desk to receive the new forms. Tim was a temp as part of a short term team brought in to audit a pensions office. Much of his time was spent transferring paper records onto a computer system and checking details. It wasn’t challenging work, but there was a certain satisfaction in organising data and ensuring it was recorded appropriately. Tim tried not to notice the other temps who were slightly more relaxed with their inputting. He had an underlying anxiety that they weren’t doing it properly. He reasoned with himself that they were all young and probably didn’t know any better. But some days it really got to him, especially on a Friday afternoon when he knew that one or two of the team were simply paying no attention whatsoever to their inputting. On one of those afternoons, he even saw one girl hiding a stack of inputting behind a filing cabinet so she could get away early. He was horrified, and could feel the fingers of panic begin to squeeze his internal organs. He waited until everyone had left the office and, with great difficulty, heaved the filing cabinet aside so he could rescue the forms. He just knew he wouldn’t be able to be comfortable in the office knowing they were there, festering, taunting him, screaming with incompletion.