fiction

Losing Grip

23 April 2020

John woke up with a grenade in his hand.

That wasn’t the worst of it. His alarm said he was going to be late for work.

“Shit shit shit.” Bleary-eyed, he moved his (non-grenade) thumb vaguely across the phone’s screen to shut it up.

Not yet knowing the full gravity of the situation, but suspecting it was going to be significant, he allowed himself a single, full-armed stretch before letting one eye peek at the non-phone hand.

Still a grenade.

He stared at it for a moment, waiting for it to explain itself. It failed to do so before the alarm sounded again, reminding him that he was, in fact, still going to be late for work.

He looked at the phone.

8:31am

While it would be incorrect to suggest that John was okay with the current state of affairs, he was intimately familiar with what was going to happen if he was late for work again.

He was going to have his arse handed to him. And he much preferred his arse stay where it was.

John’s apartment looked like a seventeen-year-old’s bedroom. A firm advocate of working smarter not harder, his clothes were carefully organised in piles on the floor and his bin was full of paper plates. As such, it should come as no surprise that he had a roll of electrical tape on his bedside table. There was nothing nefarious about it; he was just the kind of person more likely to tape than band-aid his toenails after blithely hacking away at ingrowns. 

He wrapped the tape firmly around his grenade hand, making sure he couldn’t move his fingers. Once confident that he wasn’t going to accidentally blow himself up, John was able to focus on the more important things—like finding shoes he didn’t have to lace.

Five minutes later he was out the door, satchel over his shoulder, dashing for the bus stop just up the road. He reached it, panting, and joined the queue. As he one-handedly wrestled his card out of his wallet, the bus driver stared at him. Or rather, at his hand.

“What’s that, then?”

“What’s what?”

“What do you mean ‘what’s what’? That—the thing on your hand.”

“Hrm? Oh, I just didn’t want to forget something, so I taped it to my hand.”

The driver blinked at him, then leaned on the wheel towards him. “What is it?”

“Look, I’m going to be late.”

“Is that a grenade?”

John decided to test his skills of persuasion.

“No?”

The driver heard the question mark.

“Mate you can’t bring that on here.”

John goggled at the bus driver, card poised over the reader.

“I don’t see a sign,” he ventured, trying not to make eye contact.

“You don’t need a sign, it’s a bloody grenade.”

John felt too harassed to make an argument about the relative merits of proper signage. 

“Well I don’t think that’s very fair. I need to get to work.”

“No one’s getting anywhere if that thing goes off. Are you stupid?”

John considered a counterargument but wasn’t entirely sure where to start. After a few moments of silence, he realised he was making the bus driver’s point for him. John turned around and stepped off the bus, self-righteous in his belief that the driver was being incredibly unreasonable, but well aware that the next bus would be along in five minutes.

Looking around, he slowly pulled his hoodie out of his satchel and draped it over his hand, hiding the grenade. When the next bus came, he had the good sense to slide into the middle of the queue and avoid notice. Finding an inconspicuous seat up the back, he looked at his phone. So long as the bus didn’t get caught in traffic, he’d get there on time. He let out a huge sigh of relief—maybe today wouldn’t be so bad after all.

With a bit more swagger than he usually employed, John walked into the office two minutes early. He flumped down noisily in his chair, hoping to look confident to anyone watching him (no one was), and dropped his things on the floor.

After ten interaction-free minutes of trying to type in his password—complicated somewhat by having only one free hand—Karen, the receptionist-cum-dictator, walked up to his desk.

“Hi John,” she chirped at him, the smile never reaching her eyes.

“Hello Karen.”

“How’s it all going this morning?”

“I have to be honest… absolutely spiffy, couldn’t be better.” John had little tolerance for Karen at the best of times, and this was far from that.

There was longer-than-polite pause.

“Well, I couldn’t help but notice that you seem to have something on your hand there,” she said, her tone not dipping.

John looked at it as if seeing it for the first time.

“Yes,” he said, “it’s a hand grenade.”

Another pause. 

John thought about assuring her that if he was going to blow the place up, he would have done it about a week after starting the job. Instead, he had the good sense to say, “It’s for a bet.”

“And by it…”

“Yes Karen, the grenade.” He was audacious enough to sound terse.

“A bet,” came the flat echo, her expression not changing.

“Yes, a bet, with my brother.” 

He could almost hear the wheels turning in her head.

“What do you get?”

“What?”

“What do you get if you win?”

John hadn’t anticipated the grenade needing a backstory. “He has to carry it around for twice as long.” 

“Well that doesn’t seem worth it.”

“You’ve never met my brother.”

Her attempt to stare John down failing, Karen straightened her collar instead.

“Might be best to keep it at home tomorrow, alright?”

“Of course, Karen, anything for you.”

Once Karen was gone, John got to work. The one thing he liked about his job was how little he had to think about it. Unfortunately, it was not designed for someone with a bulky object taped to their hand. It was difficult enough just typing one-handed, never mind holding something to staple. It took until morning tea for John to convince himself that his situation wasn’t going to work. Surely leaving early wasn’t the same as turning up late? He decided to try his luck.

Walking past Karen, he made a movement towards the door with his head.

“Not feeling great today, think anyone would mind if I ducked out early?”

Her eyes flicked to his hand—yes that one—and back to his face. With a forced smile and tight tone, she told him she was sure it would be fine, and to make sure he left all that at home tomorrow, okay?

On the way home, John wondered whether he could exploit this situation to get out of work again in the future. He was still wrestling with scenarios (maybe the neighbour wants you to babysit their bomb?) when a familiar voice called out.

“What are you hiding?”

It was Samantha, John’s smoking buddy. She was out in her front yard, watering the flowers with a hose.

“What?” John said.

“In your hand, you’re hiding something.”

“What on earth would make you think that?”

“Well if you weren’t, you would have just shown me by now.” She didn’t break eye contact.

“Any chance of a do-over?”

“Is that a grenade?”

 “Yes, it’s a grenade.” 

“How’d you get that, then?” She sounded like she wanted one.

“I woke up this morning and it was just there.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

 “Why didn’t you just tape the spoon down?” 

“What spoon?” John wondered if he was going mad.

“The lever, on the grenade. That’s what it’s called. Why didn’t you tape that down instead of taping it to your hand?”

“I was late for work.”

“Oh.” She moved the hose to another pot.

“Do you think that’ll work?”

“Being late for work?”

“No, taping the lever down?”

“Yeah of course. Best thing for it really.”

“Right. Well, thank you”

“No worries mate. Let us know how it goes.” She looked away.

John continued the two-minute walk down the block, into his building and up the stairs.

Dumping his satchel on the living room floor, John sat down at his coffee table and got to work snipping into the hastily-wrapped layers of tape. Apparently, the looming threat of imminent disintegration was sweaty work; the glue was already gummy from its few hours of keeping body and soul together. Cutting around the bottom first, he taped the skinny end of the lever to the body of the grenade, gradually layering tape around the handle and the grenade as he cut his hand free. The monotony of swapping scissors for tape was almost relaxing.

Finally, he leaned forward and looked at his work—a grenade, gift-wrapped for absolutely no one. He placed it on his coffee table and slowly opened and closed his hand, still sticky from the tape residue.

He picked his bag up and swung it onto his shoulder, not seeing it tip the grenade as he walked out the door. With one less problem, and the rest of the day off, John had only one question:

Was it too early for a pint?


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