It was the the times when you got things wrong that did you in. Those were the times people remembered.
You could work in the same village for thirty years, delivering folks’ letters and parcels with professionalism and a kind word. But no one noticed the days when it all went smoothly. Even your cat sat there giving you sly glances or – worse – refusing to acknowledge you.
And those times you did get things wrong, they kept replaying in your head, at night, when you were trying to get to sleep. Like some television programme that was always on repeat. You kept going over what you did, what you could have done, what you should have done. What you should have done.
It was all about trying to do things differently. Thinking more, or better. Thinking before doing. Pat was trying, he really was. Trying to take things slowly, carefully. Think through a plan of action then execute it step by step so nothing could go wrong.
But sometimes you just knew. You knew that whatever you did would be the wrong way of doing it.
This morning, Pat has to deliver some helium balloons to the school. The potential for calamity is obvious. So obvious. Pat has already collected the balloons from the depot and now they are bobbing around in the back of his van, a nest of brightly-coloured problems.
He stops at Ted’s, hoping that talking to his friend might help shift the feeling of futility. But he finds Ted standing at the counter of his store, his hands flat against the counter.
“Ho there, Pat.”
“Ted,” nods Pat.
They stand for a moment.
“So,” says Pat. “Got to deliver some helium balloons to the school.”
Ted winces, looks down at his hands. “Oh no, Pat.”
“Might just stop here for a moment.”
“Fair enough. Just having a little stop myself. It’s for the best. I get this terrible feeling sometimes, Pat, as if… if I start doing something, whatever it is, it’s going to go wrong.”
The two men stand together, in the quiet.
“It’s just,” says Pat eventually, “I know exactly what will happen. Those damn balloons. They’re going to escape, aren’t they? I can be as careful as I like, it won’t make a bit of difference.”
Ted nods. “They’re as good as in the sky already.”
“And that would be fine,” Pat continues. “They can float away for all I care – I’m sure they’ll look very pretty up in the air.. What gets me is that I’ll have to chase after them, and…”
“It’s the same here,” Ted interjects. “I’ve got some new rollers for the car wash. That’s my next job. Install the new rollers. Should be straight forward enough. Job done. Cup of tea.” He looks down at his hands, still pressed flat against the counter where they can cause no harm. “Rollers roll, don’t they?”
“Things always seem easy at first.” Pat shakes his head.
Around the two men, displayed on every shelf and stand of Ted’s store are items designed to fix things or help solve problems. People would come along to buy these things when something was broken and they needed to repair it – like as not, some of these projects would end in calamity too. It was the way of things.
Those balloons really should be getting on their way. Pat would just have to get on, see what happened, then deal with the repercussions. It was not that people were unkind. They were, broadly speaking, sympathetic. When he finally got things sorted they would cheer and say he had done a good job. Somehow this only made things worse.
“We’re going to get on with things now Ted,” says Pat. “We have to.”
“We’re just going to calmly, carefully get on with what we need to do.”
“It’ll be ok. In the end, it’ll be ok.”
Ted nods. His eyes remain locked with Pat’s. The futility of their daily tasks – fixing things, delivering stuff, keeping on going as the world turned round and round – like a bridge between them.
“One,” says Pat.
They both take their hands off the counter and those dreadful utensils are free to wreak havoc once more.
“Good luck, Ted.”
“Good luck, Pat.”