She mixed his coffee with milk, made photocopies of carbon triplicates (of the pink sheets, where you can only see faint marks in the first place) and filed take-away menus alongside expense reports. She was either deliberately incompetent or a setup, sent over by the agency after they were tired of finding replacements.
He'd gone through a dozen secretaries and assistants beforehand, but when she walked in to the office, he was wrecked and needed a quick hand to help move the latest round of documents into the industrial shredder. No time for a proper interview. His business was cyclical in nature, every season came with it a new set of clients, the end of which came the usual whirr of blades slicing both along the vertical and horizontal.
It was in a haze on a Wednesday afternoon, swimming in cooked books made spaghetti, that the mounds of paper started forming faces, then a rabbit, then the charge up the Gallipoli embankment. He suffered a little from quarter-end pareidolia. Everywhere he'd look he'd see some sort of face or other amongst the shredded reams. Only in the shredded remains. Wall sockets and gap-toothed mailboxes where nothing more than that.
He wasn't quite sure she was real at first, but when he handed her a stack of folders and told her to start shredding, she did. Come lunch and that's when he first noticed things were a little off. Looking to order from the local Chinese place, he scrambled for the menu, stopping only when he noticed a shredded slither caught in his watch.
He liked his coffee straight black, and kept no milk in the office, so the taste of dairy floating about in the cup was unusual. Resigned to kicking about in his own mess with substandard coffee, he sat down to watch The Bellboy. He bought the DVD from a man with a stall outside the QVB toilets. He was sold on the concept of a failed actor vignetting around a pool party. What he ended up watching were silhouettes and spluttering coughs to something called The Day the Clown Cried.
Those take-away menus she conveniently misfiled where only put there to bulk up the missing documents she was ferreting away in the lining of her dress. In one week, out the next. The next knock on the door led him away in cuffs. Burn enough books and the smoke begins to draw in unwanted eyes.
In his cell, overlooking the harbour, he recalls these details and more. That fateful week, the pin point to the start of his paraskavedekatriaphobia. She was just supposed to be some throwaway Girl Friday.
Written on Sunday, 19 January 2014