I looked down at the chopping board. There was a cucumber half sliced, and I was holding the knife in my hand. Not that it looked like my hand. I think.

“Shaun?” someone behind me said. “Are you all right? Did you get an electric shock off that?”

I turned round. She was a middle-aged, red haired woman, who was looking at me with some concern.

“Who’s Shaun?” I asked, confused.

She frowned at me, put a hand on my shoulder, and led me to a chair.

“Sit here,” she pointed at the chair. I nodded, and sat down.

“What happened?” I asked.

“You were cutting cucumbers,” she said. “You touched the counter, there was a flash, and you squealed. Then you just stopped, and stood there, looking around.”

“Oh,” I replied. I wasn’t sure what else to say.

She walked off, and I looked around me. I was in a small cafe, with seven or eight tables, and a large counter behind the glass front of which were displayed various cakes and sandwiches.

“Where am I?” I asked, of nobody in particular, idly picking up a menu from between the salt and pepper shakers.

In the background, I could hear her dialing on the telephone, three digits.

Daisy Bell’s – Vegan sandwiches and corporate catering the menu read.

“Who’s Daisy Bell?” I asked, looking across to the kitchen area.

“My granny? Don’t you remember she gave us the money to start – oh, hello, ambulance please.”

“Ambulance?” I shouted to her. “I don’t need an ambulance. I’m fine.”

She ignored me, and I carried on reading the menu. It was interesting, but clearly geared for volume purchases. Without looking through the main books and calculating the food unit cost, I couldn’t be sure about the margins, but no doubt a few minutes work talking to the suppliers would see some reductions in the overall invoices. After all, regular customers are regular income, and keeping them sweet is always good business. A small redesign on the menu wouldn’t hurt, especially if there was good data on what sold well and what didn’t – highlighting good sellers and the ones that made good profits would no doubt be a good start.

I decided it would be best to make some notes and looked around for my briefcase.

Briefcase?

“Where’s my briefcase?” I shouted.

“Sorry hold on,” she said to the phone. “Briefcase? You don’t have a briefcase.”

I turned around to see her looking askance at me.

“I just wanted some paper and a pen,” I said. “I think there’s improvements that can be made to the business model here.”

Her look clouded over.

“Yes, that’s right, number forty-two,” she replied to a question I didn’t hear. “He’s talking… well, like someone else, really, is the best way I can describe it.”

“I’m not someone else,” I replied. “This is just what I do, is all.”

I started at the menu in my hand.

“This is what I do?” I asked myself. “What do I do?”

I sat down again.

I didn’t feel right, that was all. Surely I just needed to de-stress myself. Yes, that was it – it must be. Stress. I was getting stressed. After all, the Stross project was going a bit…

“What time is it?” I asked, suddenly panicked.

I checked my wrist. My watch was gone – my good one, replaced by… nothing. There was nothing there.

“Oh my god,” I shouted. “Where’s my watch? My watch! My husband gave me that for my anniversary!”

The woman came over and looked at me.

“Shaun, stop it,” she said. “If this is a joke it isn’t funny.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know what you mean,” I replied.

“Look,” she took a deep breath and cocked her head over to one side. “Whatever’s going on, you’ve had your fun. I get it, you’ve had a bit of a shock and you need a bit of a break. Fine. But this is just being silly.”

“No,” I said, “I’m serious. He gave me that on our fifth anniversary -”

“I’m your wife!” she shouted, cutting me off. “Stop it.”

I blinked in disbelief. “I’ve got to be in a meeting at three with Stross,” I said. “I can work on the train. I need to have made some progress on the…”

I couldn’t remember.

“The what?”

“I forgot,” I said. “I forgot again.”

She let out a scream of frustration, and threw her hands in the air.

“I’m going to start calling people about lunch,” she said. “This is going to cost us a lot, Shaun, I hope you know that.”

“I can phone them,” I said. “Trust me, I can do that.”

I stood up.

“What are you prepared to lose?” I asked. “Money wise?”

“You what?” she looked at me, nonplussed.

“Trust me,” I said. “This is what I do.”

She looked at me, blinked, and then started for a moment. “Have you gone mad?” she asked.

“Possibly,” I replied. “Give me the hardest client, get the worst over first.”

She ran a hand through her curly red hair, and looked at me.

“Oh and what’s your name?” I asked.

“What?”

“Your name?” I repeated. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t remember? You honestly, really, don’t remember my name?”

I shook my head.

“Esther,” she said, resignedly. “It’s Esther.”

“And I’m Shaun, right?”

“Yes.”

“OK,” I said. “Let’s do this.”

I put both hands together and cracked my knuckles.

“You never do that,” she said.

I shrugged.

“Or that.”

She opened a notebook book and pointed to a name and address.

“Derek Chapel,” she said. “Good luck.”

I tapped the number into the wall phone (who has a wall mounted phone these days?) and waited.

“Derek Chapel,” someone said.

“Hello Mr Chapel,” I said. “It’s Shaun here from Daisy Bell’s. I’m very sorry to say we’re having a few technical issues here and we’re not going to be able to fulfil your order today.”

“You’re what?” the voice on the other end went from calm to almost shrieking within the space of two words. “Now you listen to me -”

“My reaction as well,” I cut in. “I can totally understand and believe you me I’d be exactly the same. And if I could have fixed the problem myself, I would. I won’t bore you with it, I’ve got a few other calls to make and there’s an ambulance on the way.”

“An ambulance?” he snorted. “What happened, your wife have some kind of sudden aversion to hard work? I don’t think they can treat that in hospital you know.”

Esther narrowed her eyes and looked at me.

“Well, electric shock actually,” I said, omitting the part that (apparently) the shock was mine.

“What?”

“Yes… could be serious,” I replied. “We don’t quite know yet.”

He coughed. “Ah… well I’m sorry I said that, you know, about…”

“Quite all right,” I said, jovially. “We all say things sometimes, don’t we? Anyway, we’ll make sure we don’t charge for today and we’ll look at a discount tomorrow, we should be back tomorrow, if I can get hold of that woman from the agency again.”

“Oh don’t bloody start me on agencies,” he snarled.

I grinned. Got him. Esther, listening in, raised an eyebrow.

“I know,” I said. “I could tell you some horror stories, the people we’ve had over the years, I can tell you.”

“Bloody useless,” he continued. “The lot of them.”

“Anyway, I’ll have to go,” I said. “Lots of calls to make and, as I say, there’s an ambulance on the way.”

“Yeah,” Chapel said. “Sorry about that. Anyway… give my best to Esther, won’t you? And.. er… don’t worry, I won’t expect anything until you call me, just let me know when you’re ready, OK?”

“That’s very good of you Mr Chapel,” I said. “I’ll be sure to do that.”

He hung up.

Esther stared at me.

“How did you manage that?” she asked.

“Easy,” I said. “First off, I tried to create empathy by –”

She shook her head. “I don’t mean how, exactly, I mean, how did you know –”

There was a knock at the door.

“Ambulance?” someone said.

Esther went over and opened the door and two uniformed ambulancemen walked in. She explained briefly what was happening, and I waited. When she’d finished, they walked me over to the ambulance.

They started asking me questions. They asked me about my medical history, which I had no idea about. Esther filled them in. Apparently I was a vegan, which was news to me as by now I was craving a bacon sandwich.

I sat in the waiting room, next to Esther, waiting. We sat in silence for a long time.

“So I guess this is real, then, is it?” she finally asked.

I nodded. “Sorry.”

She sighed.

The waiting room doors opened, and I recognised myself. Of course, I wasn’t myself. But I remembered putting on that skirt this morning. And those were my shoes. And that looked like me wearing them, although it was a surprise to see myself walking through the doors.

“Esther!” she shouted. Or I shouted, I suppose.

She – well, I – turned to me – him.

“And you must be – me?” she asked.

“Christine Bouwhuis,” I said. “At your service.”

She sighed.

“Electric shock?” I asked.

She nodded.

“So she’s you?” Esther asked, looking from one to the other. “And you’re him?”

We both nodded.

She – or rather Shaun, in my body – sat down opposite us.

We were all silent again.

“So…” I asked “What do we do now?”

The post “She And Him” first appeared on simoncollis.com and is Copyright © Simon Collis 2018. All rights reserved.