Clare Griffin


Ok. Breathe. I remember how. Air comes in, air goes out. My body knows how to do this. Right? It hasn’t forgotten. Presumably. Most likely. In all probability. How long can a body survive without air? How long can a human go without breathing before they pass out? It’s fine. I don’t need to look that up. Just breathe. 

Doors. Door handles. This is a simple object I know how to navigate. Is it an object or a technology? Or a tool? Door handles might be categorically troubling. Let’s deal with that later. The main thing is to open the door, which is a thing that will definitely happen. Does this door open inwards or outwards? Why don’t I remember? Should I write down which way doors open? Maybe not. That seems weird. How would I even look at the notes when I need to open the door?

I think I’ve been standing looking at this door for too long.

I should knock.

How many knocks are appropriate? How loud? Knocking too quietly is annoying, they won’t hear me. Knocking too loud is obnoxious, they will be startled. Too many knocks would be baroque. Too few knocks is abrupt. 

Three. Three knocks is a good number. Knock three times. 

Was that too quiet?

Was that too loud?

Did they hear me?

Can I just leave?

Did I hear them call me in? 

Maybe they meant someone else. Maybe they are on the phone. Maybe I am hearing voices. Why would a voice inside my head call me into a room for a meeting? As disembodied voices go, it’s a banal choice. Hardly the subject of a thrilling psychological drama with an unreliable narrator. 

I should go in.






I have talked to humans before, I have talked to this human before, I can do this.

Chairs are a problem. Do I sit down? Should I just stand here? Should I wait for an invitation to sit? That seems unnecessarily formal. Except what if it’s not? Is there protocol for how to sit in other people’s offices? I feel like someone on the internet will have written a guide to this. But would it be reliable information? 



Do they seem offended by the sitting? How do you tell if someone is offended that you sat? Should I get up again? That would be worse. To stand when you should be standing is fine, to sit when you should be sitting is fine, but to have sat when you should have been standing and then stand up again is definitely worse. 

I’m sitting. I just need to deal with that. Accept that which you cannot change, etc etc.

Eye contact. There should be some. But not too much. But definitely some. Where are you supposed to look when you are not making eye contact? Out the window? Seems like I am distracted, trying to escape. At their computer? Definitely not. Intrusive. At them, but not making eye contact? Even worse. Creepy. At the walls? Seems odd. Ok. Just look at their face. People look at faces. Looking at faces is fine.

Hands. What do people do with hands if they are not using them to hold things? Waving them around seems overly excitable. Folding them in my lap seems like something a Victorian schoolgirl would do. Should I have brought something to hold? Should I take up vaping? But that only takes one hand. Taking notes, with a pen and a piece of paper, or a stylus and a tablet? But then what if I dropped something? Better not to hold anything. Ok. Just let the hands do what they want. Try not to think about Thing from Addams Family.  

What if I dropped food on myself earlier? Or coffee? Or water? Water wouldn’t be too bad. Except how would other people know that it is just water? Should I tell them? Is there any water on me anyway? Should I check? I should have done that earlier. Can’t check now. 

Wow, words are being spoken and I should be paying attention and responding.

Ah, we’re doing the asking-how-you-are-but-don’t-really-answer-the-question-noone-ever-wants-an honest-answer-to-that-question thing. At least I know the right response to that. 

Do not tell them the door handle thing. 

“I’m fine” is the most common lie ever spoken.

I feel like I’ve answered all these questions before. Did they forget? Did I forget? Should I give the same answers as before? Or different ones? Are they asking because the answers I gave before were wrong? Then why did they tell me they were ok before? 

Do not point out that we have had this conversation before.

Why are lights in large institutions square? Is this cheaper somehow? Easier to install? But then why are lights in modern houses not the same? Why do we use little light bulbs? Is this some sop to the masses, giving us old-fashioned looking lightbulbs to make us feel at home, like how the save icon is a floppy disc despite the fact no one has seen a real one of those in a decade? Are the domestic lightbulbs more expensive? Less energy efficient? Are we being price-gouged over our obsession with artificial lighting sources? Should we all have those salt lamps instead? 


Now is not the time to contemplate Big Lightbulb conspiracies.

So the answers I gave before which were good have now become bad. How did that happen? But my answers are my answers. If I say different things they will be someone else’s answers.

If you don’t want to know my actual answers why are you asking me? What are the secret correct answers?

Apparently the most important thing is that I am happy with all this. 

I am not happy with all this.

And now we are done? Maybe? It seems so. They look like they are waiting for me to leave. Perhaps? How do you tell the difference between someone waiting for you to leave, and someone waiting for you to say something? 

Let’s leave.

Should I say thank you? Or goodbye? Thank you seems dangerous, I may be questioned as to what I am thankful for. Goodbye seems too formal. Maybe? Unless it isn’t. Maybe “see you later”. That’s good. Non-committal. We may see each other later. It could happen. It contains no indication of how I would feel about seeing them later.

I do not want to see them later.

Doors that were shut on arrival should be shut again upon leaving. But what if they now want their door open? What if they had their door shut to prepare for this meeting, and now want it open? Was this meeting stressful for them? Did I make it worse? Should I ask if they want the door open? 

I’m shutting the door. I can be decisive.




The answers that were good have become bad. Should I change my plans? Or keep going? They seemed unhappy with the answers I gave. But they also said I should be happy with my plans. I was happy with my plans before but my plans were my answers and my answers are now judged to be Wrong. Which is correct? To continue? Or to change? Change to what? How do you decide what you want when you have already decided what you want but what you want has been judged Wrong and somehow you have to work out how to want something else? Should I email to confirm the plans, whatever they now are? But wasn’t that what the meeting was for? Would it be rude if I don’t email? Or clingy if I do? 

I think I’ve been standing outside this door for too long.

Can they tell? 

I should leave.

Where am I going now? 

What am I doing next? 

I should leave.

Ok. Breathe.

Back to Top of Page | Back to Fiction | Back to Volume 14, Issue 2 – June 2020

About the Author

Clare Griffin is a historian of early modern science and medicine living with OCD. Originally from the UK, she is now Assistant Professor at Nazarbayev University, Republic of Kazakhstan. You can find more of her work on her website,