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One minute you’re saving a colleague’s life, Lily thought, and the next you’re invited to a ‘casual chat’ with Human Resources.
She took her eyes off the clock on her laptop screen and joined the online meeting room via the link in her email. She was the only person there.
Even the HR team – an admittedly more empathetic and caring bunch than most – didn’t just drop random calls into your calendar to tell you what an excellent human or a great resource you were being, she reasoned.
And the ‘casual’ only made it worse. Lily knew it was included only to make the whole event seem less ominous, which, ironically, made it all the worse. It was as comforting as an asterisk after a phrase like ‘100% natural ingredients’ or ‘never tested on animals’.
‘Lily, can you hear me?’
Lily flinched and looked back at her screen to see that Emma, the Head of HR, had joined her in the meeting room without her realising.
‘Everything OK?’ Emma asked, in the tone of someone who’s going to assume the worst regardless of the answer given.
Lily blinked a couple of times.
‘Sorry Emma, didn’t realise you’d joined. My mind wandered off while I was waiting.’
Lily’s mind wandered a lot. If it were a pigeon it would ride a lot of shopping centre elevators.
Sometimes it wandered sideways, skipping through the green fields of lateral thinking until it reached the barren wasteland beyond where logic came to die.
Lily would find herself thinking things like ‘What would happen if prawns developed religion?’ or ‘Why does paper beat rock? When has anyone ever survived a building collapse because they hid under a poster of BTS?’
‘Don’t worry,’ Emma said. ‘I hope you weren’t waiting too long.’
‘Not at all,’ Lily said, which was true; Emma was five minutes late, but who was ever disappointed when a call like that was delayed? It was like being upset that a speed camera malfunction meant you’d dodged a ticket.
Of course, Lily did want to know exactly what Emma would say, even if she could guess what the call was about. It was just that she’d hoped to find out ahead of time. Lily was good at that, because the other direction her mind often wandered was forward.
She had no idea how it happened, or why. Perhaps it was a quantum thing. Quantum seemed to be a good way to think about it, because what little Lily understood of quantum physics made it sound like even the people who knew a lot about quantum physics had to admit that they didn’t know much about quantum physics either.
Quantum or not, there was no doubt: Lily could see the future. Sometimes it was good, like the time she’d won £10,000 by picking the right scratch card in the shop; ‘I’ll have a number six please – no, wait; a number three. Not the top one, the next one.’
But the real luck had been the vision two days later of her washing machine exploding. She’d been on the computer at the time, reading terms and conditions on a holiday booking form.
Thanks to the vision, she’d known to book a shorter stay in Las Vegas. This had left her enough cash to deal with the fallout of the combusting appliance, which had catapulted her underwear out of the window to rain down past the other apartments like the kind of confetti you’d expect to get from a dominatrix’s party poppers.
Sometimes, it wasn’t so good. Like the time she’d had a vision during particularly dull sex, and had had to think up a good reason to explain to her very confused date why she’d suddenly flung out both hands and shouted ‘Don’t take one from the back shelf, Your Excellency!’
Lily realised Emma had spoken again.
Emma pursed her lips slightly and took a deep breath. Lily expected it meant a lot of things. It meant ‘Situations like this are never easy,’ and, ‘I’m just doing my job’, and ‘No one enjoys these kinds of things’ for starters. Lily didn’t have time to decode it further, but she had no doubt there was a full monologue contained in a breath like that.
‘The thing is, Lily,’ Emma began, ‘we’ve received a complaint about comments you made to a colleague recently.’
‘Yes, it appears you gave some – shall we say – unsolicited advice.’
Lily clenched her fists. She’d wanted to believe it wasn’t true. That this wasn’t really the thanks she’d gotten from Erin after what had happened. What Lily had done for her.
She’d taken a risk at the time, but so what if everyone thought she was a bit of a weirdo? It was worth it to prevent the accident.
Given that boredom seemed to be the main state that prompted Lily’s mind to go wandering into places it had no right, chronologically speaking, to go wandering, it was hardly a surprise that most of her visions happened while she was working.
While her colleagues, equally glassy-eyed, daydreamed of beach holidays or drunken nights out, Lily would watch things that were yet to happen, with that same half-awake clarity.
For a while she’d thought she was going mad. She started working from home more often, hoping familiar territory would keep her mind more stimulated. But she kept having the visions and they kept coming true.
Then, one day on a rare trip into the office, Lily saw something that she couldn’t keep to herself. Something involving her colleague Erin, the woman who still couldn’t work the coffee machine after three years in the job and whom had once told Lily that one of the items on her bucket list was to row the ‘Specific Ocean’.
‘By “unsolicited advice”, I assume you’re referring to the incident where I saved her life?’ Lily asked.
‘I mean, it was an impressive coincidence, but you’re not seriously suggesting you knew about the accident?’ she said.
‘Erin obviously believed me, otherwise she’d never have taken the bus home and would have been in the middle of that crash. Her car would have been sandwiched between a truck and an SUV. She choked on a Peperami. Would have choked.’
Emma pulled what Lily was pretty sure Emma thought of as her ‘sympathy face’. It looked like she’d just realised she was supposed to be at a funeral. Or that she was at a funeral, but had just looked around and deduced that the dress code was not, as she’d believed, ‘fancy dress’.
‘That made Erin very uncomfortable,’ Emma said.
‘Choking on a sausage is uncomfortable!’
‘Couldn’t you have told Erin about the crash in private?’ Emma asked.
‘I just said it as it popped into my head,’ Lily said. ‘What’s there to keep private? It’s not like it’s a secret she owns a car.”
‘No, but it was a secret that her glovebox is full of meat snacks,’ Emma said. ‘You know she’s been trying to raise money by doing Veganuary.’
‘I saved her life!’
‘I just think that you need to be a bit more respectful of people’s futures,’ Emma said. ‘I mean, you wouldn’t read people’s emails, would you?’
‘IT reads people’s emails,’ Lily said flatly. ‘And if someone sent an email saying something like “I’m going to kill a co-worker”, I bet a lot of people would read it.’
‘Yes, but it’s not in people’s contracts that you can poke around in their futures,’ Emma said. ‘I respect that we don’t have a page on unwelcome fortune telling in the Employee Handbook, but I think there are several policies that are still somewhat relevant. Actually…’
Emma’s brow crinkled and she leaned forwards slightly. Oh no, Lily thought, she’s going to share her screen. Knowing Emma, she’ll probably read me the entire employee intranet.
‘I’ll just share my screen,’ Emma said. ‘Can you see it?’
As soon as the web page replaced Emma’s face – and Lily knew that hers was hidden on Emma’s screen – Lily said ‘Yep’ and then closed her eyes. Emma began to read. She even peppered the recital with little anecdotes about the fun they’d had writing the policies.
Lily puffed out her cheeks and exhaled a long, quiet breath. Emma droned on, reading bulleted list after bulleted list of employee guidelines about respect and interpersonal relations. It didn’t take long for her voice to fade into the background. Lily stared at the inside of her eyelids for a moment, until…
What would happen if prawns developed religion?
Then, something else…
Powder white snow. Icy wind slicing through her clothes. A figure in a red body suit racing down the slopes, wobbling, careening off course.
Lily’s eyes flicked open. Emma had finished talking and was no longer sharing her screen. Instead she was glaring at Lily, her arms folded.
‘You haven’t been listening to me at all, have you?’ she asked.
‘Of course I have,’ Lily said.
Emma rolled her eyes. Lily gritted her teeth together so tightly she worried they may have fused under the pressure. But then an idea popped into her mind, and she couldn’t help but smile.
‘You’re saying that the next time I happen to get a vision of something bad happening to a colleague, I should just – what was it? – “respect their future”, and keep quiet?’
Emma nodded, the relief evident on her face. The tension left her body so fast it was nearly visible, like steam curling off wet skin.
‘Exactly,’ she said. ‘Thank you so much for understanding.’
‘No problem,’ said Lily. ‘Thanks for the warning. If I caused this much of a fuss with Erin, imagine how bad it’d have been if I’d told the Head of HR about the skiing trip!’
There was a moment’s pause. Emma’s face twisted, as though she’d swallowed something she regretted and was trying to undo the process.
‘What about the skiing trip?’ she asked finally, the tension back again as she strained to keep her tone casual.
Lily’s smile widened.
‘Nothing at all,’ she said, moving her cursor over to the ‘Leave Meeting’ button. ‘Have a lovey time.’
The cover image for this story is by https://unsplash.com/@yogidan2012
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