The Romance of Unconnected Lives
There once was a man named Matt and a woman named Jane – or a woman named Jane and a man named Matt, depending on which name came first.
Jane and Matt, Matt and Jane, both of them together, met one strange day which woke up intending to be like any other. Most of the day was normal – nondescript as the majority of most days are – but things took a turn for the memorable as the evening hours approached.
Jane had just walked out of a speech by some science guy at the head of some fancy university who had supposedly assumed – for Jane knew no other reason for his actions – that such a title allowed him to say whatever lewd and sexist things he wanted.
Jane hated lewd and sexist things.
This man, this science guy at the head of the fancy university, had called his colleague (a Nobel-Prize winning woman) beautiful and smart.
Harmless? So it would seem, as many had argued to Jane and many more would no doubt continue to argue in future occurrences. But this casual remark irked Jane. Why is it that men never get called handsome and smart when being introduced? Why is a woman’s beauty considered a descriptive point but a man’s rarely is? And it wasn’t that she wasn’t beautiful. She was – or at least she fit the current societal parameters of beauty.
It was that it was her first descriptive quality.
Beautiful… and smart.
Beautiful… and smart.
Not smart… and beautiful.
But beautiful… and smart.
Was it enough for her to be beautiful? Don’t worry, she’s beautiful. It’s her most important quality. She’s got the first thing checked off the list. Oh, hey, guess what? She’s smart too. Bonus.
Jane was supposed to be meeting this science guy after his speech to talk about the funding proposal for his upcoming research. Jane’s company was approached all the time for that sort of thing. In fact, there were at least a dozen other meetings scheduled like that one later this week. Everyone wanted money from Jane’s company.
It was after dinner but too early for bed, though that wouldn’t have stopped Jane. She loved the rare and elusive evening in with a book or a movie to unwind the mind. She preferred the classics, the books that built civilisation. Any other night she would have looked forward to an evening so bibliophilic.
But tonight she was too agitated. Her company funded millions each year into social equality programs and gender equality programs – a fact that this some guy knew – and he stood there and said THAT in a speech she was attending – another fact this some guy knew – and expected her to give him money.
No, she couldn’t read tonight. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do as she walked quickly down the street next to the walled off park with the beautiful flowers, her anger fuelling her speed.
Matt was having a similar sort of day, one of those days which are less of a day, really, and more of an inexplicable blip in the heartbeat of life. The more they happen, the more the doctor worries, but usually it’s just the machine acting up and nothing that should bring any concern.
This week had been a month of blips for Matt: his publisher had just dropped him, because even though his last five books were on the New York Times Bestseller list, his sixth had nosedived – or is it nosedove? – and Matt had refused to write a themed novel that the publisher insisted would need to be done in order to boost sales. How could Matt write a themed novel? What even was a “themed novel”?
Matt had just gotten off the phone with his publisher and had changed his walk to go through the park because last time he walked through the park the long grass and swaying flowers had calmed him down. The park itself wasn’t particularly big, just a few blocks. But it was in the middle of a busy part of town and it was walled off, giving the impression of isolation.
This time the flowers weren’t in bloom, the grass was cut, and every little moment which usually brought joy to Matt now only angered him. The children playing in the park were far too loud. And who on earth would you go outside in lovely weather and decide to sit and read in the shade? Two of the poles in the railing had been bent as if to fit something through; but they weren’t bent the same amount and now they just looked funny and out of sync and wrong.
In and of itself it was nothing; Matt probably wouldn’t have noticed it any other day. Or perhaps he would have found it quirky. But today it was yet another straw being added to the camel’s back.
Interestingly enough, it’s rarely the straw that ruins the camel (though a broken back would do just that). More often it’s the lack of focus on one’s surroundings when too much of the mind is being taken up by the mounting frustrations and stresses of life.
It was nobody’s fault, really. Both of them were walking fast – she fuelled by the sexism inherent within society, he fuelled by the aesthetically displeasing vandalism that could have easily been fixed if the perpetrator had only spent a little more time bending the rails to the same degree. The symmetry was all off.
Neither knew that not looking where they were going when turning the corner would result in both of them being knocked onto the street and into the path of the 144 bus that runs every nine minutes (unless it’s rush hour, in which case it runs every five minutes). And quite frankly, had the wall not been there, Jane would have seen Matt exiting the park and turning sharply down her path and Matt would have seen Jane turning sharply in his direction. It was all rather unfortunate.
Had the bus been on time – coincidentally, it had been slightly delayed at the previous stop by a rather loud and rambunctious couple who refused to get off and yet stood in the doorway to stop the bus from leaving – then the light at the street crossing, which was turning orange, would have enticed the bus into speeding up and it would have almost certainly killed the two strangers as they fell into the road.
As it so happened, because the bus was slightly delayed, the distance between it and that orange light was too great and the driver was too stressed to bother trying to get through. So she slowed down, allowing the two colliding strangers to fall into the path of the barely moving bus, colliding with the front of it before hitting the ground, and living to tell the tale.
Whether it was a tale worthy of being told is a decision each of them would need to make as they progressed through the numerous social encounters of their lives. Now they were just having to spend a few hours in hospital with several bruises; he had a mild concussion, she an injured wrist; in adjacent beds with only a flimsy hospital curtain separating them.
Matt’s head hurt. He had spent the night in hospital so the staff could monitor his head injury, but it all seemed fine so he was allowed to leave in the morning, under strict instructions to take things slow for a few days and allow his head to fully heal. Apparently these things take time.
He didn’t mind. This issue with his publisher meant he had all the time in the world to do whatever he so pleased, or whatever he so had to do as instructed by the hospital staff. He wasn’t a particularly melancholic individual but he allowed himself some self-pity today as he walked through the bright green door that opened up to his home.
The door was that colour when he bought the house, and Matt couldn’t be bothered to change it. The fact that it didn’t quite match the white walls surrounding it didn’t really matter to him. The whole house was slightly odd; that’s why he liked it.
It was a single-storey, sort-of-modernistic-type building which backed out onto the river running through the city. It didn’t really have a back garden, save for a small patio which spanned a grand total of five feet from the back door to the river; just long enough to put a chair or two for the lovely summer evenings.
The roof was that flat design you see in many newer houses. No rain gutter or tiling or anything. The white walls just stopped suddenly a few feet above the door. The front of the house opened all but directly onto the quiet street.
He liked that house.
He closed the door, placed his keys in the bowl labelled ‘keys’ on the little table to the right just after you walk in, and stood there a moment looking at himself in the mirror that hung in the hallway.
Matt was about 6’, or 6’1”, depending on who you asked. He found it to be the perfect height; any taller he thought was simply too tall and any shorter was simply too short. His face smiled back at him, remembering the first time he had come up with that.
He wasn’t a particularly good-looking man, nor did he have a particularly striking physique. He had the sort of looks that only looked good on movie stars and famous musicians. As he was neither of those, his features didn’t really do anything for him. Once, an enthralled fan of one of his books spent an awkward few minutes telling him how amazing he was and that he was so gorgeous and incredible. But that was someone whose opinion was clearly influenced by their appreciation of his book and therefore was too biased to hold any sway in the matter.
No, Matt wasn’t particularly good-looking. Remembering the moment with that fan made him uncomfortable and he turned his attention away from his reflection and towards the rest of the house – or as much of the rest of the house as he bothered to get to, which wasn’t very far at all and only consisted of the sofa in the living room – which was in the first door on the right.
Concentrating made his head hurt more, so he laid back on the sofa and closed his eyes. The accident replayed its way through his mind. Not in a scary way. More as a matter of fact oh-look-you’re-falling way. He didn’t remember much after he hit the bus. Someone was talking to him. An ambulance showed up. He was in hospital. There was someone else too, the person he ran into. He couldn’t remember what she looked like, just a blurry image of someone, presumably her, sitting on the curb a few feet away being tended to. He knew it was a she because he remembered hearing her voice as she spoke to the person helping her. She had a professional voice, one of those voices filled with poise and responsibility. It was a nice voice.
Matt opened and closed his eyes slowly over the next ten minutes; his mind eventually powering down and faded to black. With his head resting back against the black sofa, legs stretched out in front of him, and arms lying dead at his side, he drifted in and out of sleep, trying to forget the last twenty-four hours of his life.
Jane awoke to the unwelcome sound of her alarm. She had originally set it to the radio so she could hear the news when she woke up and be more informed about the world around her. That was the plan at least, though it didn’t really work then; and now the station had changed its structure and schedule so she was usually greeted by a half-finished song of some sorts; or an obnoxious advertisement.
Today she was greeted by one of those new dance hits that you always hear on the radio. It was a song she would usually have no quarrel with, but this was far too early for such elation.
After buying the alarm, Jane had opened it up and disabled the snooze button by jamming the plastic button covering the electronics inside. It was her way of forcing herself up and out of bed.
As she rolled over to get up, she heard a thud as her arm hit the bedside table and she remembered what had happened the night before. Her wrist wasn’t exactly broken, but it wasn’t a sprain either.
It was some sort of fracture thing, something wrong with the wrist. She wasn’t completely sure and it looked like the doctors weren’t entirely sure as to the extent of the damage. So she needed the cast for two weeks before getting it reassessed.
Jane’s memory of the accident was vague. After she hit the floor she remembered someone talking to her, assuring her. Was she in shock? She couldn’t remember. They were nice and clearly knew what they were doing. She remembered being taken to sit on the curb. Her partner in misery, only a few feet away, was still on the street, protected from oncoming traffic by the stopped bus. The driver and another stranger were talking to the man she had bumped into. My goodness was he a mess.
Jane didn’t remember much about him because she was in her own pain, but she definitely remembered that he was a mess.
After a few minutes, the ambulance arrived and the man was attended to by professionals. He was put in the ambulance and taken to hospital. He clearly had some form of head injury so they made sure to attend to his immediate needs.
She was then put in a taxi and taken by the two good Samaritans, the one helping her and the one helping the man in the street, to hospital. The bus driver stayed with the bus and handled the situation’s aftermath.
She spent several hours in hospital so the doctors could sort out her arm and observe her for a while to make sure she didn’t have any subtle head injuries like the man who went into hospital with her.
As a consequence of this, she didn’t leave the hospital until after midnight and still had to wake up early for work. She wasn’t about to let a measly wrist injury stop her from doing her job. She was a professional. And besides, she had meetings to attend and funds to allocate.
Jane got up and went to have breakfast; the day always made much more sense if she started immediately with breakfast. She usually had a smoothie with a variety of fruit and veg packed inside, but yesterday’s debacle had meant she didn’t have time to buy groceries. That’s a lie. She had forgotten to buy them that day and would probably have remembered later in the evening, prompting a quick, late-night call to the shops. She lived in the centre of town so it was only a brief walk.
After an unsatisfactory breakfast of cereal and milk, she got ready for work. Showering was interesting given that her casted arm needed to be elevated above the water stream. It was a task not so much challenging due to her height – she was 5’9” – but due to the fact that her shoulder muscles were quite disappointing. She hadn’t remembered whether or not she was allowed to get the cast wet and had to take the precaution.
Jane enjoyed being 5’9”. She was only 5’ and a bit for a while growing up and she definitely didn’t miss it; but she was equally glad to have stopped growing when she did. She wouldn’t have minded being taller, often wearing heels when she felt like it, but she was just happy with the height that she had.
Getting dressed was also rather challenging, as her clothes were not designed with a giant wrist in mind. She found she had to wear a short-sleeved dress, an item of clothing she preferred to reserve for outside the office. It was still befitting of a person of her status – most of her clothes were – but she didn’t prefer it.
By the time she had finished getting ready she was late. The sun was up, with one or two clouds promising to block it out if it ever got too hot, but the year was approaching autumn and Jane didn’t think it would come to that. Her journey to work was brief, as it always was. That time of the morning it was either five minutes in the taxi or a fifteen-minute walk. Even though she was late, Jane opted to walk. She enjoyed walking to work and often found it gave her a boost of energy and brightened her mood. Plus, she had no worry about being late. The company was her company and she easily could have taken the day off if she needed to.
But of course she wouldn’t. She wasn’t about to let a measly wrist injury stop her from working.
It was rather a bizarre turn of events which led to Jane sitting in the chair overlooking the city fifteen floors up. She had gotten a job there a year after graduation, working as the boss’s assistant. She almost turned it down (a business graduate doesn’t work in a secretarial role), but her friends persuaded her to take it as it was the first ‘real’ job she had been able to get since university finished.
Eleven months later, she was given the company, quite literally. Her boss, a rather eccentric man, had just discovered he had cancer and was using the news to step back from work and spend more time with his family, as well as get treated.
She had begun voicing her thoughts on some of the business matters of the company when she was his assistant and he quickly realised she had the drive and ability to be his successor. Being the sole owner of the company, there were only a few legal loopholes to jump through and Jane found herself, at the age of twenty-four, the CEO of JRR Investments.
It was absolutely unheard of and the newspapers covered the story intensely, everyone expecting her to fail. But, seven years later as she walked through the sliding doors to the lobby, greeted by the usual smiles, a few concerned looks from those who noticed the cast – as well as the ever-present cooling wave of air conditioning – the company was stronger than ever and everyone who doubted her then came asking for money from her now.
“You made the papers,” sang a familiar voice from across the hall. It was Anette, her trusted number two and friend. They met six years ago when Anette came to work for the company and they hit it off. Having a like-minded individual working alongside her had saved Jane from many a breakdown from stress and fatigue. “I was flipping through to the business section, as one does, and there you were. CEO GETS HIT BY BUS. It isn’t exactly front-page news but hey, you have to start somewhere, right?”
“Give me that. Really?”
“Yes. Apparently you collided with that writer, the guy who wrote The Fate of Chances… or something like that. It didn’t really mention him much, but there’s a picture of both of you above the article. Right there.” Anette, who was several inches shorter than Jane, pulled Jane’s hands down slightly so she could see the paper, and pointed to the small images of Jane and Matt in the corner of the paper. “I’m also just realising I don’t need to explain this to you. You were there.”
“I was.” Jane handed the newspaper back to Anette. She had other things on her mind and barely glimpsed at the story. “Tell me, is the cast distracting? I have too many meetings today for it to be distracting.”
“Don’t worry. You can get the sympathy vote.”
Jane stopped abruptly and raised her eyebrow towards Anette.
“Ok, just kidding, you can’t get the sympathy vote.”
“But is it distracting?” She repeated, more earnestly this time. She started her walk again.
“Of course it’s distracting. It’s a giant cast on your wrist. You look like you have a robotic arm from one of those cartoons you used to watch as a kid…” She paused as she saw Jane’s confused look. “I’m sorry, did you not have a childhood?”
“I didn’t really watch much TV growing up.”
“Ugh, you’re one of those. Well you’re missing out… Anyway, yeah, it’s noticeable. Nobody’ll care though… Ooh, actually, you could see how long it takes for everyone to comment on it. The longer it takes, the less money you give them.”
“How did you manage to get a job here?”
“Because I’m the best.”
“… Second to you of course.”
Jane and Anette had reached the elevator, and as Anette wasn’t making the journey up just yet, Jane stepped inside without her, pressed the button for the fifteenth floor and waited as the doors closed. She felt the pull in her stomach as the metal box propelled her skyward.
Jane enjoyed her conversations with Anette in the morning. They were always more or less the same, and it was the last bit of life before the doors opened onto the fifteenth floor and the day began. She loved her job and knew how fortunate she was to have it, but it was busy and the substitution of her right arm for a cast would only make it worse. She was left-handed, so she didn’t really have to worry about most things, just smaller stuff like shaking people’s hands and carrying more than one hand’s worth of stuff.
There were two other people in the elevator, but they were standing apart and staring at the floor so it looked like nobody knew anybody. Aside from the customary smile and nod it was as if they weren’t there and the only sound was the whirring of the motor as it pulled the trio upwards. Jane always used these journeys as prep for the day. Her routine meant that, as the light for the twelfth floor dinged and turned off she began to take bigger breathes, readying herself.
She felt the sensation in her stomach as the metal box slowed to a stop.
Fifteen. Doors open. And begin.
The day continued for both Jane and Matt as they went about their lives; Jane working diligently and Matt trying to pull his aching head out of his mind. The time outside of each of their lives moved steadily, comprising itself of seconds, minutes, and hours, but each of their days seemed to move at speeds independent of everything else.
Outside, the earth spun its daily routine as it arced around the sun, following the dots mapped out on the solar system charts; the sun shone all day; the temperature remained a pleasant warmth, several degrees short of ‘It’s getting a little hot, isn’t it?’; and the people of the city moved about their daily lives, oblivious to anyone or anything around them.
Jane still worked, but she didn’t work well and her mind wasn’t in it so she left the office in the early afternoon. The previous evening’s incident would take a few more days to fully leave her system. Matt simply refused to do any work – he couldn’t: doctor’s orders – and decided to live the rest of that day on the sofa and in the bath, before retiring to his bed at a pathetic five o’clock.
As far as the lives of these two individuals were concerned, neither Matt nor Jane made any significant contribution to society that day.