Authors: Robert Wise
Tags: #Teen, #Young Adult, #War
Hansel was bored. He’d been staring at the dull glow of his computer screen for the past half an hour now, clicking at random windows, trying to interest himself with passing news stories and the digital bounce of an online game that urged him to hop a square edged character through a world of overgrown plant pots and jungle shaped shrubbery. Neither however, had managed to take his eyes off the tiny clock that sat at the bottom of his monitor for more than thirty seconds. It was almost as though he expected each numeral to shift by the moment and finally disprove his theory that the last hour of the day was always the longest. He ran a web of fingers beneath the frame of his glasses and sighed. Thirty-five minutes…
His eyes fluttered, feeling heavy. A daydream threatened to take h
old but he resisted its darkening advance and clicked away the host of emails that had grouped within his browser. Then he drummed at the mouse until a pale blue shimmer set across his face. A blank document flashed before him and the cursor blinked, an almost mimicking pause, an invitation to write across a welcoming canvas of dazzling white. Writers block had bloomed to its utmost, agonisingly, uncivilized potential and now mustered within the back of Hansel’s mind like a towering wall, laced in vines and thorns that kept out all things creative. Not to worry, nothing important, he thought. He fashioned a sentence of nothingness, something sluggish. His fingers fell into each key, lazily moving from letter to letter. Again, the cursor came to a flickering halt and Hansel sighed and retracted each word. He peered over the brim of his booth. Home time was approaching at its usual glacial pace and final pieces were being submitted, listlessly. Work came as ‘the informer’ a relatively well known newspaper in Munich. Next Tuesday would make it four years since Hansel had been hired. Two of the most recent of those years had been spent lurking around the sports section, contributing photographs and small segments and pre-match notes to the columnist who then bathed in the richness of sporting success. Hansel had learnt to hide his disappointment well. Even his passion for the game had wilted. Everything had become a statistic, a formula of percentages. His Father had never understood his wilful desire to venture into journalism; he believed the papers these days were nothing but glorified gossip, he was old in his ways. This being said, amidst all the disgruntled comments and dinner table jibes, Hans Kortig Senior
offered at least one fragment of advice, something that Hansel would always remember.
Be Patient, no matter what is it, be patient and in time it will be yours.
After standing pitch side in the harsh Bremen snow for over two hours covering a mid-season cup tie Hansel was starting to think that the suggestion hadn’t been that well-versed. Patience is often easier to cope with when there is a promising position in sight, however at
, nothing was certain. Gaining any kind of promotion or credibility had seemed impossible as of yet and Hansel couldn’t help but feel as though his efforts were being cruelly overlooked.
The squashing of keyboard keys had vanished. Shoulders motioned into jackets and overcoats and umbrellas were readied. Clouds had muddled together for most of the afternoon, dark and stout, spilling down beads of silver from the grumbling heavens until Munich was swamped in scattered puddles. Hansel consulted his watch and made a reach for his satchel when a figure stooped clumsily over the brim of his booth.
‘Hans, I’ve just been in with Weber, he’s giving me a trial run of the Friday morning column, great huh?’ It was Markus Koch, a colleague of
Hansel’s, who at the present moment happened to be wearing an incredibly large grin.
‘Congrats,’ Hansel replied soberly, doing well to hide a mouthful of bitterness. Pushing his designer glasses up to the bridge of his nose Markus Koch sniffled and snatched a post-it note away from Hansel’s computer screen and spat a well chomped piece of chewing gum into its crinkled fold. Hansel grimaced.
‘Any way,’ Markus continued, tossing the fortified gum into a waste paper basket with annoying precision,
‘Weber wants to see you in his office.’ With that he swung his bag over his shoulder and walked away leaving Hansel buzzing with curiosity.
‘Wait, why?’ Hansel yelled after him.
‘I’m just the messenger!’ Markus replied, offering a backwards wave as he descended through the maze of scuffling office booths. Peeling his jacket away from the curve of his chair Hansel collected his satchel by its hold and thumbed at the computer monitor until it powered down.
‘Goodnight Hansel,’ said a colleague as they passed.
‘Night,’ he replied. As he tugged at the cord below his desk lamp he found that a smile had set upon his face. It had been a while since optimism had occupied a chamber in his mind.
Jens Weber was a skinny man who rarely smiled. His hair was neatly combed, swept away from a forehead of deep, wavy wrinkles and large greying eyebrows. He reminded Hansel of James Jonah Jameson, the hot headed editor-in-chief from the Spiderman
comics. This was mainly due to the pin striped waist coats and the number of heated incidents Hansel had witnessed while working beneath Weber’s cigar welding fist… And that was the other thing; the heavy scent of cigar smoke that lingered throughout the office was a sure sign of Weber’s rising blood levels. In fact, as soon as Hansel’s nose began to burn with Weber’s signature blend of Navarre Double Corona he would try his utmost best to vacate the office floor, fearing the inevitable wrath that was surely quick to follow.
Hansel struck his knuckles against the door and a few nearby booth dwellers halted where they stood, apparently eager to witness the fate of yet another summoned employee.
Kortig,’ coughed the editor, ‘come in, take a seat.’
Chewing the inside of his mouth Hansel nodded and plotted amidst the narrow confines of a small leather armchair
, his shoulders instantly hunched. A coat rack stood by the window, its ivory arms laden with more waist coats and blazers and herringbone jackets.
‘What are you working on at the moment?’ Weber said urgently, plucking at the end of an aging cigar.
‘Well Sir, Jost and I are actually...’
‘Drop it for now,’ spat Weber.
‘I’m sorry, Sir?’ Hansel replied, befuddled.
‘Whatever it is, leave it for now,’ Weber said, only this time with a deeper tone of stern authority. His face was now squashed into a frown and he ran a scratch of fingers across his cherry red chin.
‘I have something else for you.’
Hansel’s wandering stare loomed in on Weber’s slanted smirk and stayed there. Optimism began to barrel through his mind like a speeding train but Hansel had to stop himself, he couldn’t get carried away. But then what if this was his break? What if Weber was about to hand him a chance to finally prove himself? A chance that would ease all those recent years of frustration and snow bitten distress...
Hansel’s buoyancy would be short lived.
Weber kept the crooked grin and latched open one of his desk drawers, delving a hook of fingers inside. Hansel watched closely. A ticket hit the desk with a cold thud. For a moment Hansel mulled, studying the blocked band of neatly pressed letters that were shepherded at the ticket’s rigid zenith with deteriorating hope. He could smell disappointment. It was right there, mixed into that cigar scent of earth and spice.
‘Paris?’ Hansel croaked,
going over the ticket once more, ‘I-I don’t under…’
Weber puffed at the birth of his cigar and then released the departing smoke.
‘Paris,’ Weber confirmed with a nod and a palm cupped cough,
have drawn the French champions in the European cup and I need you to cover the images and notes for Wednesday’s paper.’
red glumly over the ticket, reluctantly taking it within his hands as he went over the trails of blocked print with disdain. Then came a thought,
‘Sorry Sir but doesn’t
Wern usually handle the European ties?’
Wern’s taken a job elsewhere,’ Jens Weber hissed unkindly. Ah, Hansel thought, there was the reason for the editor’s early evening smoke.
‘So,’ Weber went on, ‘do a good job and I may consider you to be his full time replacement.’
Hansel felt the aching numbness of disappoint muster at the centre of his chest. More ‘might’s’ and ‘maybe’s.’
‘Your train leaves at eleven. I’ll expect the pictures for the online edition right away. ’
And with a cigar flailing hand Jens Weber motioned towards the door. Hansel reserved a deep sigh, planning to vent his rage at the radio on the drive home, and pushed away from the armchair, smiling curtly at the editor as he went.
Kortig,’ barked Weber, just as the young journalist arrived at the doorway.
Jens Weber ushered his cigar into the powdery depths of a fine ash tray and attempted a smile.
‘You’ll get your chance, just be patient.’
Hansel thanked him and left. Another day over, another shallow promise collected.
Raindrops landed against the slope of the windscreen and Hansel watched as they boiled in unaccompanied beads, only to be thwacked flat by the juddering spread of oncoming wipers moments later. His fingers beat restlessly at the steering wheel and he readied his foot for take-off even though a steady procession of fuzzy brake lights had built up ahead of him. His mind was a stampede of thoughts. He attempted to play out a scenario or two where the conversation with Weber had ended rather differently.
‘Ah, Mr Kortig,’
a beaming Jens Weber would say,
‘I trust you’ve had a pleasant stay, stuck at the bottom of my shoe, but here’s a thought, why don’t you have your own column, something that craves creativity, something…’
Hansel gave up the thought half way through. Even
imagination couldn’t conjure up a situation where his ‘spidey hating’ editor offered him a better role. No longer could he list every
. Wasn’t that just a monologue for the bitter? A long list of things that could have been or should have been or would have been? He cranked the radio dial and let the mellow tones of a passing song ease his troubled mind. The car in front jolted and took off. Checking his mirror Hansel followed suit, grumbling a soft whisper of rants as he went.
The lights were off and the space where Mila’s teal green Toyota normally sat was empty. Hansel snatched up the handbrake and made his way across the rain swept car park shielded only by the arc of his jacket. He made a fumble for his keys and pushed into a dark hallway which soon became ablaze with soft yellow light. After collecting his mail he climbed the stairs and pushed through the front door, flopping onto a sofa of colourful cushions that had been compiled neatly before his arrival. From the bloom of flowery fabric he turned his squashed face to exhale a deep sigh. A headache threatened to form. His eyes struggled to stay open. The burn of Paris lingered at the front of his mind and he rubbed the ripples across his forehead in hope that it would relieve the dull throb beckoning. Just then a small, damp nose nudged against his trailing arm, followed by a sequence of muted purring. Not content with the reaction of his owner, Hansel’s cat Domino hopped onto the sofa and began climbing all over his rain soaked shirt, pawing and licking at Hansel’s ears. Rolling onto his front Hansel watched the hungry cat skip down onto the wooden flooring and patter off towards the kitchen, hovering sheepishly around his empty bowl. Hansel flicked at the lamp beside the sofa and pushed away from the layer of cushions, succumbing to Domino’s squeaky demands. After sprinkling the cat’s bowl with treats Hansel slumped back onto the sofa and jabbed at the television remote. A programme fizzed out of the darkness and the volume shortly followed. Hansel fixated on the pale blue lustre and ignored the figures moving beyond the screen. Sleep loomed and he had no intention of fighting it. Domino joined him, curling up into a small furry ball beside his feet. Hansel turned into the cushions. Paris was far from his mind.
He woke, unable to describe his dreams. They would flash at the back of his eyes, in time, short reels of indescribable imagery that would lead to brief investigation but then fade as his awakening tiredness grew. An angel perched over him, her wet hair brushed against his cheeks.
‘Evening,’ she said, planting a kiss upon his forehead, ‘how was your day?’
‘Perfect,’ Hansel replied with a stretch and a groan, ‘couldn’t have been better.’
‘So awful then?’
Mila smiled, placing a brown paper bag upon the kitchen counter.
‘Cold takeaway,’ she said guiltily. Hansel joined her in the kitchen and sleepily pulled two plates away from the cupboard unit above the sink.
‘So what happened?’
‘The usual,’ Hansel replied blankly, ‘Weber managed to squeeze in a few more broken
promises, Markus Koch got another promotion...’