First day back in the office. Drifts of unwanted high-calorie gifts pile up in the kitchen. A thin Mexican wave of coughing sweeps across the open-plan office; when it reaches the meeting room door there is an expectant silence as people wonder if it will gain admittance. A second or two later than expected, they hear that it has. People smile quietly and drop tissues in the bin. Darren is still wearing his antlers.
To look at him, you wouldn’t know. Thinning hair on an over-large, unusually flattened skull, a greyed shirt and pullover habit, rigorously black socks, none of these gave a clue to the howl at the centre of his existence. He had such a horror of emptiness, always avoiding the void, he would colour in all the zeros in any document he saw. Colleagues learned to accommodate him, made sure as many spreadsheet figures as possible were rounded up. He said he would have liked to have been an accountant but there were too many nothings in finance. People smiled gently.