Filling time - 2
By Parson Thru
William picked a stone up from the water’s edge. He turned it over and saw that the moist surface was covered in small black snails. He picked up another. That one was covered, too. Then another. The same.
He walked up the bank a little and found another stone protruding from the soil. He had to attack it with the heel of his shoe to loosen it. He lifted it out and looked underneath. There was a solitary snail with a cream and white spiralled shell – much lighter in colour than the ones by the water. He carefully replaced the stone.
“But isn’t that the point? All other things are not equal. One situation isn’t the same as another.”
Peter watched him scramble back down the bank. His black shoes were covered in mud.
“Bang goes the theory. That’s the problem with grand ideas, I suppose.”
“Why do you smoke, Pete? You know it’s bad for you. It killed uncle John.”
“Your grandfather, too. He had emphysema for ten years.”
“I never knew him.”
“No. I don’t think any of us did. I enjoy a smoke – especially sitting here. Anyway, I’ve heard you’ve got a bit of a thirst on you. And rock-climbing?”
“Each to their own, eh?”
“Yep. So what are you going to do?”
“I should move on. I don’t want to end up like the rest of them – time-serving, game-playing: all that and more.”
“Been there, done that.”
“Maybe I’ll try consultancy.”
Peter stared at his float.
“What do you mean by that?”
“So you become part of the problem.”
William looked at him, but Peter’s gaze didn’t falter.
“You drop in; unpack your box of MBA tricks; analyse; present your findings in a document you’ve been recycling for years; take your cheque and run, leaving some other poor bugger to implement it all.”
“Hopefully meeting the task objectives; adding some value and maybe improving things.”
“A nice place to be, but completely divorced from reality – telling senior people what they want to hear.”
William picked up another stone. He wished he could find one as flat and smooth as the first. He examined it in his hand. It was slightly concave on one side and rounded on the other. It had a similar white vein to the first one, but it wasn’t a skimmer. Peter was still speaking.
“No wonder things are a mess. And then some poor sod ends up having to deal with all the stuff you’ve been complaining about since we’ve been here. Vested interests, game-playing and ambitious junior people like you trying to progress.”
“I’m not that junior.”
“You know what I mean. Strivers. Can you cope? What if you can’t? Maybe you were never meant to.”
William flung the stone at the float, hitting it directly.
“Hey! You’ll wreck it!”
Peter swung the tackle in to eye level and inspected the orange tip.
“I suppose if I can’t cope, I either make it seem like I’m managing as the rest do, or I leave.”
The next cast was further along the bank out of William’s range. Peter sat down and lit another cigarette.
“I don’t know, Will. I can’t make your mind up for you – we’re all different. Do what you think’s right. The main thing is to try to hang on to your integrity. Or at least not lose too much of it.”
“I’m sorry about the float.”
“That’s ok. No damage.”
“Was it one of grandad’s?”
“I told you. No harm done.”
William picked at the mud on his shoes.
“I’m going to tell them I want to leave.”
“Maybe find something else first. It’s better.”
“We’re all trapped in the system.”
The orange tip of the float suddenly vanished.
Peter grabbed the rod and whipped it sideways in a single powerful movement. He felt the hook hit home and held the rod high, where it bent and dipped.
“Blimey Pete! Looks like you’ve hooked something there.”
Peter grinned, clenching the cigarette between his lips.
“Skills, eh? Grab that landing net. I’ve just got the get the bugger in now.”
“You haven’t screwed the pole on. Shit, it’s starting to rain.”
A hiss began to fill the air as William upended the rod bag and tipped assorted poles onto the bank. Rain squalled across the water’s surface and began dripping from Peter’s nose. He didn’t seem to notice that the cigarette had died.