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by Sarah-Clare Conlon

We swapped over our coats and bags in the pub.

I used to be fatter and she’d been thinner, and people often mixed us up away from the confines of our desks; in the lift, say, or at the colour photocopier.

Easily done, I’d smile, and the person in the wrong would do that thing with their hands — kind of covering their mouth as if to choke a scream.

It’s when I realised that I was always telling friends how I was always being mistaken for my co-worker that I made up my mind to ask her about it.

“I know,” she said. “Don’t you feel as valued in this place as a supermarket own-brand toaster?”

This was radical talk. My thoughts had been more existential: the city permitted anonymity to the point where nobody knew anybody; we were just cogs.

“Maybe it’s the fault of email,” I suggested.

“That’s it!” she said, yanking me into the staff kitchen. “They treat us like machines.”

The dishwasher’s hum camouflaged our conversation from colleagues, puzzled spotting us together.

“See you on the other side,” she whispered.

I keyed in the password, eyed the digital clock in the corner of the screen counting down to the two o’clock one-to-one. I studied the photographs stuck to the monitor. Celebrities’ shoes and dresses, snipped from magazines.

I didn’t notice I was tapping the pen I was holding, all sparkles and sequins, until Malcolm’s face appeared round the cubicle partition.

“You don’t normally do that,” he hissed.

I shrugged and went off for my appointment.

She met me for drinks just after five, as arranged.

“Here’s your Biro,” I said, and handed over the glittery ballpoint. “I thought you’d want to keep it. I left your pictures. You don’t need that kind of motivation any more.”

Sarah-Clare Conlon’s prize-winning work is published by Salt, Comma, Stand and Flash, who called her “one of the most interesting and inspiring authors writing flashes today.” A former journalist on Elle magazine, with a master’s in creative writing, she edited The Manchester Anthology and is a critic and feature writer for The Manchester Review, The Skinny, Creative Tourist, Confingo and Bookmunch. She runs popular live literature night Verbose, in Manchester, and works for a university.