Herons

The cleaners were chatting in the staff kitchen this morning.

“Alan something.” One of them said, trying to recall the name of a deceased local barber. “Brilliant. Only charged £3. Didn’t believe in hairspray.”

“What did he use?” her colleague asked.

“Air freshener.”

They always spoke like this. In dryly amusing fragments. Snippets and sighs. As if their exchanges were determined efforts in efficiency. But when I walked in on their conversation the other morning it seemed especially concise.

The three of them were sat around a table, each speaking in turn. The first with a note of victory, as if she’d just successfully answered a quiz question. The second like she’d just failed to answer the same question. And the third as though she was confirming the answer.

“Ah! Herons.”

“Oh! Herons.”

“Yes. Herons.”

I waited for more. Some context. But they all sat back in contented silence. Staring into space. No more needing to be said.

The quiet was heavy and compressing. I fought a sudden, rising desire to speak. A desperate, tick-like compulsion. I stirred my mug of tea and bit my lip. The clock hit 8am.

“Right.” One of them said, slapping her knees then getting to her feet with a soft grunt. The others followed suit and the three of them left the room.

I waited for the door to fully close behind them before releasing the word like a long held breath.

“Herons.”

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