This story was submitted to the Resolutions anthology,. Though it was not accepted it remains highly commended. Enjoy!
by Amanda Jones
with bitter lemon
The wheel of death stared at her from the screen. It was amazing how this simple feature could cause so many thwart emotions. From the simplicity of afternoon coffee she found herself literally brewing. As it whirred and blinked and twitched and spun, the blood rose and flushed her cheeks. Her eyes became wide and frustration caused her to fidget.
It was 3pm and the final deadline 4pm in two weeks. Having worked on the project for a month she was not going to allow a technical glitch to end her career. This was her last chance. Cassie had insisted that she would have to choose voluntary redundancy if this work failed.
As her chair sunk to the floor and she grasped her knees into her chest, she rapidly got up, kicked the chair and pumped at the lever which was failing to keep the chair steady for long. Long, cherry-red hair flopped into her eyes and made the task difficult. Then her glasses steamed up as her mask slipped down her nose. Grovelling around on the floor she huffed at the typical nature of ‘one thing after another’ then slumped onto the carpet.
From this angle she could still see the computer which hadn’t changed.
Susan who sat less than two metres away chuckled.
‘It’s alright for you!’ Amy cried.
‘Come on girl! Even if it does fail you won’t be sorry to leave this dump!’
‘I suppose so. But it’s been life for fifteen years.’
Amy was one of those people who announced every morning on arrival how much she hated her work, how she was going to leave and find a better job, and generally was miserable for the whole day in the office. She really pissed people off. But now, faced with the reality of leaving, things had switched around and suddenly her co-workers found she wanted to stay.
Susan had given this some thought over the last fortnight and had done everything in her power to make Amy’s project fail. The girls in the office had agreed to help and resolutely created a plan.
So, was it a coincidence that Amy saw the crumpled photograph next to the wastepaper bin?
Unfolding the stiff paper and smoothing out the lines as she pressed it into the carpet tiles, Amy stared at the image. She couldn’t believe it. A pixelated, low-resolution depiction of Keith from floor ten glared back at her.
Amy had been pursuing Keith for five years. Every lunch time in the staff room she carefully planned to sit nearby and listen as he gloated and bragged about his latest achievements to his mates. There were always six of them and recent months had led them to diminish to two or three due to furlough. Amy herself had been working from home for a month but having had Covid-19 already and being completely asymptomatic she really couldn’t care less about spreading disease. Keith had never worked from home nor did he ever plan to do so and with the staff room becoming less and less frequented they found themselves alone, just the two of them, for many weeks.
It wasn’t long until they had both made use of the lock on the photocopier room and forsaken half an hour of lunch time for office sex.
Keith was married with three young boys and his wife Helen dropped him off every morning. Helen made time to chat to Susan before work started everyday and they had formed a lovely friendship, meeting up to play badminton regularly and swimming on a Tuesday evening.
On Thursday Helen met Susan and her office girlfriends in secret by the fire escape. Amy was generally ten minutes ahead of them all and situated in her usual place applying mascara in the toilets on floor nine.
‘How long has it been now?’ said Helen.
‘About ten months! She doesn’t stop. Wants him to herself, but only here. Wants to leave, but not now. Wants to have his babies but not yet. The woman’s a complete nightmare!’ exclaimed Rihanna.
‘But what does she see in him? No offense Helen,’ said Pat.
‘Who knows, the pompous bastard never shuts up about his new cars and gambling,’ Jenny said, having heard all about it from her husband Pete who was Keith’s mate.
‘I’ve just had enough. The three boys and I deserve a break. There must be a way to end this,’ Helen sighed and sat on the grit bin whilst the girls gathered round.
‘Don’t you worry Helen, we’ll sort it out. Just make sure everything is in order,’ Kate said with a wink.
So, it had begun.
Amy carefully placed the photo in her top drawer. Inaudible sniggers came from Pat and Kate in the corner and smeyes shone above masks. Oblivious to the girly secret Amy snuck off for her lunchtime experience.
‘Got her!’ Kate declared.
‘Defo!’ Jenny said.
‘It’s begun!’ said Pat.
The girls went out that evening to Emilano’s in Duke Street.
Limited to the rule of six they had agreed the core team of Kate, Jenny, Pat, Susan, Milly and Helen should be the ones to enjoy pizza tonight. And so, amongst the pineapple, mushrooms, pepperoni and olives red wine flowed and conversation deepened.
‘You know that old printer you produced that photo on?’ Jenny said.
‘Yes, it’s ideal isn’t it!’ said Kate.
‘Why’s it all fuzzy?’
‘It’s the resolution of the photo. I thought it would fit with our plan if we made them indistinct. The first one was slightly higher to make it an easier introduction!’
Rummaging in her bag Kate pulled out an envelope and slid the latest photo onto the table.
‘Brilliant!’ Jenny laughed and pointed at Keith’s gormless expression.
‘Yes, let’s get this party started. What do you think? One a day? Five a day? Once a week?’ said Kate.
‘Let’s make it one a day and then increase it nearer the end of her deadline.’
Amy sat at her desk and smiled as she noticed the photo sticking out underneath the keyboard. Another one! Keith must be sneaking in and leaving them for her every night, she thought. She studied the picture. His hair was longer and he looked about nineteen years old. The low resolution produced a grainy effect and his features were blurred. Wondering where this was taken she made a mental note to ask him after their lunchtime rendezvous.
The sex was amazing as he bent her over the photocopier and they struggled to be quiet. It was handy that the room was hidden away, rarely used before 2pm and had a lock on the inside. They had never been disturbed. Breathless and flushed Amy said, ‘So you had long hair?’
‘Yes, many years ago, why?’ Keith replied, zipping his flies and smoothing his shirt.
‘It’s interesting to hear about your life.’
‘I was into heavy metal then too. Not now, marriage has somewhat put an end to that.’
‘I wouldn’t mind.’
‘Yes, but we haven’t got three kids.’
With that he unlocked the door and left, Amy leaving five minutes later.
Jenny found the next picture. Being Keith’s friend on Facebook led her to all manner of insights that Amy did not have access to. She emailed it to Kate.
‘That’s a good one!’ Kate exclaimed.
Jenny laughed and they huddled round the table in The Corner Café sipping frothy cappuccinos. The photo was still on Jenny’s phone so she had put it in the middle. It showed Keith mooning on a coach.
‘Do you think she’ll recognise that angle?’ Susan chuckled.
‘Depends what view he gives her when he’s giving her one,’ said Milly.
Milly was very quiet but had a wicked sense of humour. She sat next to Susan in the next screened booth.
‘Let’s have a Zoom tonight and I’ll print it ready for the morning,’ said Kate.
At 8pm the six of them joined online and admired Kate’s print-out. She had messed around with Keith’s arse, making it even more blurred. His cheeky, young face was clear and fixated on a girl next to him on the coach.
‘Should stir things up,’ Susan said, and they enjoyed some chat.
This time Amy found a photo protruding from her chair. It was stuck with invisible tape. Pulling it out she smiled then frowned. Who was the girl? Why did he give her this!
Sex was very quick today but Keith didn’t notice. Amy asked, ‘Can we talk? Meet up later?’
‘You know I have to look after the boys on a Tuesday night,’ said Keith.
‘Tomorrow? I’ll book a room at the Ricochet Hotel. Make it special.’
‘OK then, if sex is on the cards. I’ll make excuses.’
Wednesday night proved valuable to Keith. They made good use of the comfortable bed. It wasn’t often they had such luxury and for some time she didn’t even care about the photos. There hadn’t been one today anyway.
The room was booked until 10pm and as they sat, Keith vaping and Amy applying more mascara she said, ‘Why did you leave that one?’
‘What?’ said Keith.
‘The photo with the girl in the window,’ she deliberately left out the part about his arse.
‘But it was at my desk like the other ones.’
‘Someone’s playing with you then.’
‘It’s not you.’
Amy thought about this. Then they both smiled.
The next photo was clear apart from a pixelated image of Amy which had been photoshopped into the frame. She found it right in the middle of her screen. Not printed. Right there when she logged in. Keith, his wife and three boys were sat happily together and she was on the right of Keith, shoulder to shoulder, her hand on the top of his thigh.
Feeling rather creeped out she looked around the office. Nobody returned her gaze. No-one laughed. Everyone was intent on their work.
‘That one got her big time,’ Kate said when they met up that evening at yoga.
‘Sure did, time to finish the deal,’ said Pat. ‘I’m up for it, leave it with me.’
For the next week the photos became prolific. The girls snuck in and left two a day. All of them were from Facebook and added Amy as a vague but definite presence.
Amy was still struggling to finish the article with only a week to go before the deadline. These photos were freaking her out now and despite Keith shaking them off as a prank she had a funny feeling.
They always made it last a bit longer on a Friday due to the weekend and so it was a rush to leave the photocopier which was warm underneath her back and tantalisingly humming. Keith unlocked the door.
Helen stood there, right in front of him.
Keith gasped and slammed the door behind him, Amy crouched by the spare paper pile, trying to make herself small.
With her right-hand Helen slapped Keith across the face. He staggered backwards, hitting the door which gave way and he lost his balance toppling to the floor. Helen didn’t say a word and left.
‘Well done girl!’ Jenny excitedly hugged Helen. Afterall she was in their bubble.
‘Just the last bit now,’ said Pat.
‘Yes,’ all six of them nodded.
Room 165 was booked at Hotel Ricochet and Amy waited, sitting on the bed. Keith had intimated 7pm and she needed to talk to him about what would happen now. Slowly the door opened as the key card beeped. But it was not Keith.
Amy gave a little cry as Helen entered the room followed by Susan, Jenny, Kate, Pat and Milly. Kate walked up to her, grabbed her by the shoulders and forced her to stand. Helen took the knife from her bag and slashed Amy’s clothes. Cutting her skirt right up the back to the beltline she bent her over the bed and criss-crossed slices through her blouse. Then with gentle nicks she cut her wrists.
Blood spilt over the bed and Kate took photos as the six of them watched Amy squirm under Helen’s grasp. This was what she deserved Helen thought. This is what she was worth. All those years of secret sex whilst she coped with Keith’s gambling and absenteeism. The boys would be better off now.
All of them laughed as they spread Amy out on the bed and left the room.
Keith arrived at 7.30pm, opened the door and screamed. Staff came running. Police were called. He was left feeling hollow. He suddenly felt he had nothing.
This new feeling somewhat overtook him over the next few days as the investigation advanced and funeral arrangements were made.
He received an email with photocopied images of him and Amy. The ones on the screen were clear. But the printed copies were low resolution as they littered his desk, now he worked from home. Isolated from the office. Sniggered at when he did go in, no sympathy was given. Zoom was awkward. Breakout rooms avoided him. Smeyesing was not directed at Keith. It seemed that his whole world had collapsed into a hazy smudge.
Helen was on the ‘Wanted’ list and remained so. The other girls had all scattered across the globe with a secret Zoom session now and then. Kate was intent on photo editing and concentrated on creating a website and blog. It was called ‘Resolutions: Revenge with Pixels’ and was followed by 12k people.
About the author
Amanda has been writing since childhood and along with short stories she writes her Missy Dog charity series, poetry, non-fiction and horror. You can find her here: