Though you may disappear, you’re not forgotten here
And I will say to you, I will do what I can do
Peter Gabriel, ‘Wallflower’
A colleague came to work with a blanket.
They wore it all the time, like a uniform. Meetings, during lunch, even on the way home.
Sometimes you would see them curled up in the corner with the blanket, completely wrapped up in it, sucking on their thumb.
Sometimes the colleague said things from behind the blanket that were hostile about other people. ‘That’s so out of character,’ we would mutter, never really stopping to wonder how such a thing could have happened.
On other days the blanket became a plaything: a rolled up ball, a parachute, or a cave where bears had made their home.
Sometimes the colleague came to work wearing nothing but the blanket, even in the depths of winter (some said especially then), so that, if you looked carefully, even their private parts were exposed.
Those days were especially quiet.
No one could think of what to say.
Occasionally the colleague left the blanket at home.
It was as though it had never existed.
But then it would come back, draped round their shoulders, shielding them from the elements, looking heavier than before. On those days we all kept quiet. We saw nothing but the blanket, not even our colleague’s eyes.
He had such lovely eyes.
Through all of this the colleague kept on going to work.
One day, another colleague came in also wearing a blanket. Not quite the same blanket, made of different material, but a blanket nevertheless.
That lunchtime the pair of them could be seen striding by the fountains, talking, their blankets rolled up under their arms, coffee cups in their hands.
Some said they looked as though they were laughing.
Every day after that the colleague with the new blanket never failed to bring it to work. Sometimes it just sat on the desk, folded in a neat square.
Sometimes they wrapped it around their shoulders as they ploughed through their emails. But it was always there.
Even if the other colleague forgot to bring their blanket with them, even if they were away, or sick, the blanket was always there.
Once, after lunch, she passed the blanket silently across the office to her colleague, so that he would have somewhere to shelter.
The colleague with the new blanket invited her friend out for lunch.
They spread their blankets on the grass in the park. Hours they sat there, eating their picnic, talking all the while, sometimes lying down gazing at the clouds, sometimes pacing animatedly, gesturing with their hands.
And all the while, their blankets remained.
At the end of that afternoon something amazing happened. The colleagues gave each other a hug. Not a sexual hug, or a kissing hug. A hug.
They looked into each other’s eyes, full of recognition, one of the other, and hugged. Right there on the grass, in front of everyone.
They cleared up the picnic things, rolled up their blankets, and went home.
When they each arrived home, the two colleagues noticed that, while tidying the picnic, they had, by accident, swapped their blankets.
They still bring their blankets to work. Mostly they lie folded on chairs next to their desks, sometimes draped on them, but always within reach. The colleagues have yet to swap their blankets back.
It exists between them as a shared, private joke which only they can understand.
First published, February 2015
With thanks to Helena Nelson