By Neil Beynon
Matt had always been angry.
No one was sure why, least of all him. It would well up inside him, bubbling higher and higher until like a kettle it tripped a switch and suddenly he would be calm again. Wondering why he had reacted like that. Trouble was: the size of the kettle kept growing.
It was a Tuesday when it first happened. Matt’s anger settled on him like an iron cloak, pulling his neck and shoulders tight, his head spinning with the strain of it. He closed his eyes as a last attempt at grabbing at some self restraint.
When he opened his eyes the object of his anger was gone.
The man – his name was Jeff, he had twin baby girls called Sally and Sarah, and a wife called Alison who was rumoured to be having an affair with Nick from Accounts – had been talking about the need for rationalisation. He had been in mid flow. Now he was gone. There was no sign of him at all.
Confused, Matt waited a few minutes before wandering from the room, reasoning that Jeff had finished and left whilst Matt zoned out. Matt zoned out frequently, it was a way to cope with the dull monotony and so it was not an unreasonable supposition.
But it was wrong.
As he discovered when queuing for the train that evening, the heaving conga pushing him this way and that. Matt’s mobile was knocked from his hand, shattering and drawing stares from those around but not from the person who had knocked it. Matt seethed. He closed his eyes to count to ten and then –
They were gone. Everyone in the station concourse: passengers, guards, shop attendants, cleaners, tramps, all gone. Frightened Matt ran out of the station towards the street. People still walked around, buses still ran, there was nothing untoward. Still the station was empty.
Matt got the bus home.
Matt was calm for a long time after that. Maybe as long as a month but eventually the memory faded to the sepia tones of something he’d imagined rather than something that had happened. After all, people don’t just disappear?
It was a Saturday when he finally lost control. They went to a supermarket, they being Matt and his girlfriend Anne. Matt did not like supermarkets, insisting if he were to come that they leave early to avoid the rush but half the city had the same idea, it was after all sale season. Instead of arriving in good time they had to queue for an hour to get in the car park and wrestle with a man from Finchley, who stank vaguely of urine, to get a trolley. Really it was a miracle Matt lasted until they got to the marmalade section.
In the marmalade section, Anne talking about some trip she had booked, Matt tried to make a decision but it wasn’t easy. The supermarket had stacked enough marmalade for half the western world: orange, lemon, lime, prune, thin cut, thick cut, traditional, finest, gourmet, home made, free range, super-size, medium, small and, of course, not one was the actual jar he was looking for.
He picked up a jar to look at it and, so tightly packed was the shelf, the jar toppled from the shelf, meeting the floor with a loud crack as it shattered, spilling its sugary innards across the lino. Everyone looked.
“You’ll have to pay for that,” said the attendant behind Matt, the same attendant who had just over-stacked the shelf.
His heart was pounding in his chest like a mule kicking for freedom; over the sound of it he could hear Anne berating him. Aware that hitting the attendant was not a good idea Matt closed his eyes.
Silence – and then he remembered.
Matt’s eyes snapped open. It was too late: the supermarket was empty. No attendant, no staff at all, no shoppers and no Anne. Matt ran out into the street, a cold hand twisting in his gut, bile in the back of his throat as looked for Anne. In the car park people went on with their daily business.
Back in the supermarket: silence.
Matt sat down on a pile of tins. The cold fear was slowly subsiding, along with the shock and in their place some other emotion was rising, at first in small bubbles and then with increasing violence. Matt was angry, angry with the supermarket for being so busy, with Anne for bringing him here, with the world for making him angry and with himself for being so angry.
Matt screamed long and hard until his throat was raw, spittle flecking the side of his mouth. When he was done the supermarket was still empty. People from the car park ambled cautiously towards the shop to see what all the noise was about and Matt reached a decision.
He closed his eyes.
Afterwards no one could say what happened. The people who came in from the car park asked about the screaming but no one in the supermarket had heard anything at all. Other than a lady who was convinced she had lost something – although she had no idea what – there was nothing else out of the ordinary that Saturday.
Carefully Anne stepped over the marmalade that had been spilt on the floor. Some people, she thought, have no idea how to clean up after themselves and she left the marmalade section. After all, she didn’t like it anyway: too bitter.