Lost my voice after a night out up town. It wasn’t suppose to be a mad one, just catching up with a couple of mates who were staying for a couple of nights. They ended up convincing me to go to this club called Tribal. I’d never been before but they said it was alright and we actually had a good night. Got that right amount of drunk, snook a couple of cigarettes and had a good sing along to these 80s hits that they were playing in there. That’s what did me in, the singing. Fucked my throat to no end, only for a couple of days but it meant I couldn’t speak at work. The morning after, I was trying to speak, I was attempting to force words out of my mouth and nothing but air was coming out. Really got me worrying about how to spin it with work, expecting them to tell me to sling my hook or man up, but the thing is, everyone was sound with it. They were giving it all; “You stick with paperwork today, Mike” and, “We’ll handle customers, you just do what you can in the stockroom.” I was loving it. Absolutely cannot stand dealing with customers all day and in the stockroom, you can pretty much get away with doing nothing. Obviously, I couldn’t get away with telling everyone at work that I couldn’t speak because I’d been out on the lash, else then they’d tell me to grow up and fuck off. What I really needed was a bit of sympathy, so I told them I had this throat infection that affects the entire vocal chords. Even printed out a page from WebMD making out like this was more than the real deal. They lapped it up.
For the entire day, I didn’t have to do anything in the stockroom. From nine in the morning till five in the evening, I sat at this big desk with some random papers in front of me whilst cruising Twitter on my phone. Whenever someone came past, I’d give them this little self pity smile and get a sympathetic smile back. None of this, “What are you doing on your phone” or even any awkward small talk, nothing. I can’t stand pleasant conversation like that but nobody was trying it with me. Probably because it’s such a ball ache to speak with someone who has no voice, waiting for them to write down what they’re saying or trying to figure out their charade of a response. Just isn’t worth it to most people, but I was loving it because I hate working. It isn’t like I hate my job, it’s not a bad job, it’s fine. I just hate it because I hate work, I hate having to do anything really. It all comes down to me being lazy, and this throat thing was a great opportunity to get nothing done. At about half past four, Kev, this bloke I work with, comes to my desk.
“Feeling a bit under the weather, eh Mike?” God I hate Kev with a passion, “Can’t serve any customers? That works out nicely for you doesn’t it, eh Mike?” For one reason or another, Kev hasn’t once believed that I’m ill. He’s not even my boss but whenever I’ve been sick before, he’d go around saying I was putting it on if I had time off. Only now, I wasn’t proper sick, and I couldn’t defend myself because I couldn’t speak. “Well then,” he said, lifting the WebMD page off the desk, “You’d best get comfy in here, eh Mike?” What a smarmy fucker, “Since it says here that Bronchial Detritus lasts at least six months, eh Mike?” Fuck. I hadn’t read that. I didn’t expect anyone else to, either. I thought the name alone would be enough to convince people. For a second, I considered giving it up. Writing a note telling him he’s a shit and try to spin it off as a big joke or just telling him I got drunk the other night and trying to level with him. No, he’d have loved that, it’s just want he wanted to see so he could slap a big fucking ‘I knew it’ right on my face. Not a chance I was going to have that.
I closed my lips together, really tight and knitted my brow together whilst nodding as if to say, ‘Yeah I know, shame, that.’ He crouched down by my chair so we were both at eye level, his face less than half a foot from mine. He darted his eyes left to right, scanning my face for any sign of a lie. No luck. I was a stone wall of bullshit because if I wasn’t, he’d get it in his head that he had me all figured out and get it in his head that I was bunking off work in the past, but I really wasn’t. When I had gastroenteritis he told everyone he saw me in Tesco buying cans of lager when in reality I was shitting the bed twice a day. He once said I’d booked a holiday to Majorca when I was actually suffering fever dreams from H1N1 Swine Flu. I don’t know why he made these things up, he’s just a shit. Every workplace has one. I’d thrown him off for a bit then and he drudged away, leaving the printout on my desk. A little bit later it is was clocking off time so I made my way out, giving little nods and waves to goodbyes and good evenings from my colleagues. Usually I can’t stand forced farewells, they’re so awkward, but I found that only having to flash a quick smile or raise my hand was so much easier. Even better when it was met with a sympathetic hum or tut. I loved it. At the bus stop, I gave a quick scan for anyone I work with. The coast was clear, so when approached the driver, I managed a faint whisper.
“Single to Dislade.” He just about heard me over the sound of the engine. It was the first thing I’d said in about two days and my voice had definitely gotten better.
Once I got home, the door was unlocked and the lights were on. Ella was in, making use of the key I had cut for her. There was no point in trying to shout over the music she was playing so I tried to make as much noise as possible taking my shoes off until she came in.
“This place is a state!” Here we go, didn’t even get a hello from her, “When was the last time you did the dishes?” I knew I would get this from her, the flat was a tip but I cannot stand cleaning. It’s too much like hard work, I just can't stand it and Ella knew that. “It’s disgusting, Mike.”
“...” I strained out a little grimace and a bit of a shrug, like I was sorry but not proper sorry.
“Well?” She was stood there with her hands on her hips, expecting me to talk. I could have forced out some raspy words since my voice was a little bit better but I didn’t have the energy for some hour long argument, not just after a hard day of doing nothing at work. Could have just made out like I’d lost my voice but Ella didn’t know I’d been out a couple nights before. I didn’t tell her because she always moans about me wasting my money or not texting her when I’m with my mates and all this and all that. That was just another row that I wasn’t going to start on, so I pulled the WebMD page out of my coat pocket and passed it to her while pointing at my throat. She was silent for a few seconds while she read through it, reading the odd word aloud.
“Speechlessness… discomfort…” She already sounded sceptical. I knew she would get like this, she loved making out like I exaggerated being sick. “Man flu?” she said, looking up at me like she was some professional ear nose and throat doctor or something, just like she always did. I shook my head, scowling as though I’d been accused of some horrible lie. Obviously, at this point I was lying a bit, but that was only to prove her wrong for all the other ‘man flu’ incidents. I had to save face and I certainly wasn’t going to start saying I went out the other night. Just wouldn’t be worth it. “Six months?!” She stared at the page, then at me, wide eyed as the sound of her voice echoed through the hallway for a moment. I couldn’t decide if she was angry or sympathetic, then she threw her arms around me. “Oh, babe, that’s horrible.” Get in! She kissed my forehead, feeling guilty for shouting at a basically disabled person. Not a chance I was going to be doing the dishes that night.
A few hours later, we were sat on the sofa watching this program that we got into on Netflix. Well, I got into it, Ella would just ask me questions,
“Do you reckon they’re in love?” and “Why’s he doing that?” She always did it and it always drove me mad. I once had to explain the plot to a toothpaste advert. Only that night, she would stop herself halfway through a question, “Sorry, doesn’t matter.” It really was too much effort for people to talk to a mute. I loved it until she started staring at me all concerned. Maybe she was thinking about how long six months of silence would really be or maybe she was trying to figure out if I really couldn’t speak. Either way I couldn’t talk to her about it so I pretended I didn’t see and carried on watching the telly, figured she was most likely just confused by the program. When we’d both gone to bed, dishes all clean and put away, I slipped to the bathroom while Ella was asleep. Quick clear of my throat and then a voice test. I was cured.
The next morning, I strolled into work with a plan. At the start of the day, I would have a real raspy voice and then slowly build it up until I was a bit better by the time I clocked out. This way, come tomorrow, I could just say that it had passed me by, mustn’t have been as serious after all. I could even do the same with Ella. Two days of no speaking to allow me to be lazy and cement the idea that I was ill, just not that ill . Just before I started straining a 'Hello' to my manager, Claire, she greeted me first.
“Michael, good morning!” She left a pause then hastily remembered the situation, “Yes, about that, I’ve been doing some thinking. After Kevin informed us of the severity of your illness,” Kev loomed behind her in the office, what a shit, “and I thought it might be best if you acted as stock maintenance while you’re struggling.” Six months of doing nothing in the stockroom? I was so excited I almost shouted out loud then rethought it. My plan would have to be put on hold, this opportunity was too good. My pay would stay the same but my workload would be zero. Why was Kev still smiling so smugly? Didn’t he know this was exactly what I wanted? Suppose he thought this would get me to crack in due time and probably get myself fired. He had raised the stakes, but for laziness I would be silent for much longer than this. Once again, for the entire day, I sat at my desk in the stockroom. Every now and then checking for inconsistencies in stock and delivery errors but mostly I just looked through Twitter and Instagram. There wasn’t much going on at all, sometimes the occasional person person would go by, flashing me a nervous smile. I imagine not being able to share passing conversation make some of them uncomfortable, but not me. I was loving how much easier the silence was and soon enough, even the smiles turned to fleeting eye contact. The same went for when it was time to leave as yesterday’s 'Goodbye's and 'See you tomorrow's turned into a few nods and an unenthusiastic wave. Seemed as though the sympathy had worn off very quickly. On the bus home, I decided against writing my request on a piece of paper and tested my now perfectly fine voice. The driver misheard me and charged me for a day pass, costing me £2 more.
Finally back home, I opened the door, ready to start my gradual come back on Ella who greeted me straight away.
“Hey, babe! How was work? I heard you got your own desk!” She was beaming a smile to me, I would have responded but instead I was too concerned with how she found out, “Kev told me! He said I should congratulate you. Stock maintenance!” That shit. Ella waved her hands up by her head. No wonder he was so smug before. I knew I should have said something to Ella, like 'I drank some listerine and it fixed it!' but all I could think about was Kev’s condescending little grin and Ella chalking it up as another case of ‘man flu’. Maybe Claire would have taken the lazy desk away. I couldn’t risk any of it.
“Hmm hmm-mm” I pushed out a throaty whisper and she nodded proudly.
“Well done, babe,” then she recessed into the living room while I took off my shoes, “I forgot how funny Kevin is!” she shouted from the sofa. Frozen, I realised what he was doing. Baiting me, the shit. “He told this hilarious joke about a horse.” My joke! Surely this had gone far enough? Surely this kind of behaviour warranted me bursting into the room with a tirade about that shit Kev? No, I held my tongue, or my throat should I say. That was the last mention of him for the night. Come to think of it, Ella didn’t speak at all that night. It was bliss.
The rest of the week was the same as that day. Silent working with fewer and fewer uncomfortable interactions. Fewer and finally, no goodbyes. I even got less taunting and testing from Kev, perhaps he had finally started to believe me for once. By the third day, I stopped speaking to the bus driver and simply held a card with my destination written on. It was just much easier, all this silence. Since not talking had actually started to make it harder to speak when I needed to, I thought it best to stop all together. Eventually, I even started to screen calls from relatives in case they told Ella or work that they had heard me talking. Couldn't risk it. After a few nights, Ella stopped coming over after work. With us not talking, there wasn’t much of a point, I can’t blame her. We didn’t see each other for about a week until the work’s party, she was coming along as my date but she was actually invited by Kev. The shit.
“Hurry up, babe. Kevin says that they stop letting people in at a certain time,” I started to get this feeling like all she was talking about was Kev lately, “Are you going to bring your speech cards?” What a terrible idea that was, totally ruined the point of not having to speak. I tried to charade a way of saying “I’m not Wile E fucking Coyote” but it was too complicated to get across.
We showed up at the hired out cricket club and everyone had already started drinking and eating the mini quiches and garlic bread from the buffet, pints in hand.
“Ell! Ell! Over here!” Kev stood up the second he saw us walk in, calling over to my girlfriend who goes running over to him, leaving me on my own. Silent. A party is the best place to be unable to speak, since nobody was expecting me to say anything, I didn’t have to listen to a boring word they said. Dipping in and out of the conversation, I had no idea about the trouble customers or notorious new till systems that they were talking about. My stockroom exile and silence had put me out of the loop and people at the party barely even looked at me as they all spoke to each other. Like I was a ghost or something. After everyone had drank enough alcohol and spoken about roughly the same things for enough time, the night started to wind down. People with kids or work in the morning began to go home, one by one. I found myself sat with Ella and Kev who hadn’t separated since we walked in, both of them incredibly drunk and myself completely sober in fear of drunkenly giving the game away. During one of their flurries of laughter, Kev turned to me and asked,
“Ever been to Tribal before, eh Mike?” his voice was flat and his eyes were dead, inexpressibly pointing to mine. He must have been messing with me, surely. “The club in town. Have you ever been?” Why would he ask me this? What did he know? I shook my head in a slow, uncertain movement, squinting at him like a quiet Clint Eastwood.
“Well you should, it’s amazing.” Ella chimed in. When had she ever been? They both began laughing. Not just him, not just her. They both laughed. I didn’t like it.
“We should go now!” Kev exclaimed as though it were a eureka moment, like he invented going to clubs.
“Yes! Mike, do you want to check it out?” Ella turned to me, Kev had already stood up and started to call a taxi. I couldn’t go. What if the barman recognised me or the bouncer gave me away? That's exactly what I needed this far into the plan. Too risky, but I didn’t like what they were doing. This must have been their plan, to get me at the club and finally admit. I wasn’t having it and turned the offer down.
“Ohh, okay,” the disappointment seemed more forced than I expected, “Do you mind if I go?” I wanted to grimace a ‘well, yes’ or a ‘with him?’ but before I could, Ella read a ‘yeah sure’ out of nowhere, “Thanks babe!” Instantly, she grabbed her coat and ran for Kev at the door. “I’ll see you when I get back!” She shouted from the door.
I decided to walk home from the cricket club, about two miles. Just in case I ended up getting the same taxi driver that would drive Ella or Kev home later on. God knows what they would do if the driver told them I called for a cab myself. It would be game over, no more work desk and a lot more uncomfortable conversations. Ella didn’t end up coming home to mine that night, turns out she stayed with Kev. A few weeks later, she took her things from my flat.
“It just wasn’t working out anymore.” She said. I see them together on Facebook and I hear Kev talk about her at work. I hate it.
In six months time I’m going to have serious words with him.