This is an extract from my short story, ‘A Masterful Performance’, available here in the collection ‘The Obsidian Poplar’, published by Lightfall Literary Agency.
Reece Smith’s colleagues at the soulless insurance firm where he worked always referred to him as ‘the wall’. When asked why, they would shrug their shoulders and lean in close. “’Cause he never opens his mouth”, they would whisper with a shrug, a wide-eyed shake of the head and an upturned bottom lip, “A guy can talk and talk at him until he’s blue in the face, and he won’t get more than a few words outta him.” When pressed for the reason why, they would reprise their well-rehearsed shrugging routine and confess that ‘nobody knows a thing about the poor guy’.
The truth was that Reece felt an overwhelming disinterest in his work. He was secretly convinced that he would make a first-rate actor and spent many of his waking hours playing his favoured role: the enigmatic loner. So he kept himself to himself at work, and at most other places too. His neighbours knew no more about him than his co-workers. As far as they could tell he lived alone in a modest suburban box with a postage-stamp garden, stayed in of an evening and lived an exceptionally quiet life. He rarely left to go see anyone, and few people ever came to see him. His car would leave the drive at 7:30 am on the dot every weekday and arrive back at approximately 6:30 pm. His shoes would crunch the five yards of gravel between car and porch, his front door would open and shut with a bang and, aside from the occasional glow of a light bulb being switched on or off, the house would seem entirely unoccupied until 7:30 am the next day.
His elderly next door neighbour, Mrs. Hunt, took pity on him in the way only mothers whose children are have left home can. She regularly went round of an evening to offer him Victoria sponge from a Tupperware box clutched under her arm and although Reece was never rude to her, he lacked the good grace, or more probably the inclination, to invite her in. He stood resolutely at the doorway, patiently accepting slice after slice of cake while she recited her rehearsed line of motherly questioning (“You have been wrapping up warm in this cold, Reece, haven’t you?”), but never stepping aside to allow her past the threshold. After a few minutes, her conversation always sharpened into an ill-disguised interrogation (“But you must be lonely here all on your own – no girly to keep you company?”). Reece endured her maternal concern but could not stand these inquisitions. At their arrival, he skilfully dropped into the role of mysterious outsider, grunted a made-up excuse and closed the door on her startled face.
Reece was aware of the curiosity his solitary existence provoked in others, and he revelled in it. He savoured the hastily redirected stares, the panicked shushing as he approached photocopiers and the enforced breeziness with which his colleagues wished him goodnight. Nothing could please him more than a twitched curtain or a furtive glance at his house when putting out the bins. He enjoyed baiting Mrs. Hunt’s inquisitiveness with non-committal answers to her more personal questions, relishing her poorly concealed interest in him and deriving a small thrill from the audacity of closing the door in her face. Reece took all these small occurrences as confirmation that he was playing his part of the intriguing stranger, flawlessly.