Carlisle was successful.
After 30 years of hard-work, perseverance, determination, he had everything to show for it. He wasn’t rich but he had enough, enough for a house, a family, a car.
He was happy. More than could be said for the others he saw around his neighbourhood as he drove into work every morning. He saw them waiting for the bus which was famously late, that was if it came at all. He saw them walking their dogs, avoiding eye contact with anyone else. He saw them as lonely, shut off, living their lives by routine. Walking the same mud-trodden route wearing the same grubby boots every day, every month, every year. Walking their dogs into eternity, he often thought.
This morning, as he was walking from his front door to his car, Mr Grey trudged past wearing his faded overcoat and shabby Wellington boots and nodded hello. He was like a puppet on strings, his little Jack Russell on its lead doing all the work, pulling him along each day.
Carlisle opened his car door and sat himself in the leather seat. He put his key in the ignition and watched Mr Grey through his rear view mirror as he continued aimlessly down the street.
He had an overwhelming urge to run after him. An urge so powerful that Carlisle gasped for breath. Maybe he should run after him. Save him. Be saved.
He was panting like he’d just run a marathon. He tried to open the door but could not move.
He was trapped.
He was hyperventilating. Pressed in by his life saver seatbelt.
The leather interior was closing in on him. Where was all the oxygen?
He felt as if he were bouncing off the walls. Who was the puppet-master?
“Oh. Oh. No I was just… my head was somewhere else! I’m fine, honestly. I’ll buy some, don’t worry.”
Mechanically, he had answered his phone. His body following its routine like nothing was wrong. His wife, after running the kids to school had spotted his lunch left behind, forgotten.