The bus doors concertina open and I step out into the brisk, autumnal air, crisp as lettuce and smokey as smoked cheese. The sky is empty of clouds, leaving behind a bare, blue skin through which the cold permeates. The air hardens around the exposed flesh of my hands and face, and as I walk down the cracked and gum-mottled pathway I have the sense of turning into an ice sculpture.

When I pass the Four Courts, I see a couple huddled together inside a sleeping bag, like children hiding from morning. The woman sits up and pops her red face out of the covers to yell something to another duvet mound, cocooned on the opposite platform of the entrance a few metres away. The mound is unresponsive and possibly dead, and the woman sighs, and retreats into her faded blue-striped sleeping bag. I keep my head low, not knowing where to look, feeling so out of touch. When there are no cars, I cross the road and gingerly pass the tree with all the used up syringes. The syringes make me feel nervous, despite their familiarity, as predictable now as the brown, discarded leaves crunching under my shoes.

The billboard off Usher’s Quay has changed since yesterday. Despite my complete lack of interest in Halloween-themed soft drinks, I stare at it gawk-eyed as I cross the bridge, trying to read all the information before I reach the other side. Even crossing the lights I crane my head distractedly towards the giant black and orange poster, like a lemming spontaneously drawn to a cliff edge. A car beeps abruptly and I jolt, clasping my hands instinctually to my chest. I turn in the direction of the sound and an irate-looking driver is glaring at me through the windscreen of his car, making an exasperated gesture with his hands, telling me to cross already. I raise an apologetic hand and smile meekly before I jog clumsy-footed across the rest of the road.

I feel a sinking sense of stupidity, a lead curtain weight clinging heavily to my stomach. Embarrassment pours through my face in a vivid red blush. But no one notices me; they just walk by, heads bowed, on their phones, or their eyes distant and dreamy, thinking of their own stupidities and embarrassments.

When I reach my office, the feeling has dissipated, somewhat. I root around in my pocket for the door fob, extracting it from my nest of keys, which snag on the lip of my pocket as I pull them out. A middle-aged man wearing a tattered baseball cap watches me skeptically from the curb, sucking on a cigarette and exhaling smoke as if it were some charm that could protect him from me. I’m about to press the candy-corn shaped fob against the receiver, when I realise both office doors are already wide open. A voice calls from within the building, and the man breaks his gaze, flicking the stub of his cigarette to the pavement.

I stoop through the doors unnecessarily, feeling dwarfed by their spacious aperture. The security guard is sitting at his desk, as per usual, dragging his eyes from his laptop to me like a mouse cursor. I smile and offer a feeble ‘hi’ in a pitch at least an octave higher than my usual voice. Before he can instigate another one of his intense morning conversations, I swiftly attempt to climb the stairs, but when I hop up the first few steps, two men and a large filing cabinet appear at the top. The men are attempting to carry the large filing cabinet down the stairs. I dishearteningly plod down the few steps, backing up to the security guard’s desk to give them space, prey stumbling straight into the lion’s den.

He watches me with an almost menacing focus. There’s an anticipatory smile on his face, as though he’s observing someone opening a gift he’s given them. In return, I offer a polite, nervous smile, like someone who’s just received a semi-automatic weapon for their birthday when all they asked for was a Barbie doll.

‘Has anyone ever told you you look like Daphne from Scooby-Doo? Do you ever get that?’

I look at him. ‘Do you mean Velma?’ I reply, considering my short brown hair, small stature, and the fact that I can’t see without my glasses.

‘Velma, sorry. Do you get that, do you?’

‘No,’ I wilt, ‘no one’s ever said that to me.’

‘Oh really?’

‘Really.’

‘Take it as a compliment. She was the smart one.’

‘Yeah,’ I say, tentatively watching the two men in their struggle to lug the cabinet down the stairs. The side of it has now gotten stuck against the lower ceiling, and they’re attempting to manoeuvre it past.

‘As far as I remember they had the smart one, the dumb one, the dog one, and the handsome one. Isn’t that right?’

‘Yeah,’ I confirm, wondering if ‘the dog one’ is really a TV archetype.

‘And wasn’t Shaggy supposed to be a stoner or something? And when he got hungry he actually had the munchies.’

‘Yeah.’

‘I always remember they had the big sandwiches.’

‘Yeah.’

‘And that’s implying that they had been smoking.’

‘Presumably, yeah,’ I say. Then, more alert: ‘Well, the dog, he wasn’t on drugs.’

‘Probably was on drugs,’ he says darkly, as if the Mystery Gang were some group of sordid, depraved scumbags. ‘How old were they, were they kids or were they adults?’

‘They were teenagers.’

The two men lumber past me out the wide-open doors with the cumbersome cabinet in their arms, and I wonder how I got drawn into this conversation. Ooh, how I envy that cabinet.

‘I can’t remember, all I remember is—I thought they were in their early twenties, or were they, like, in their late teens or something?’

God help me.

‘I think they were meant to be, like, late teens,’ I say, becoming frustrated, because everyone knows they were a bunch of meddling kids.

‘Or maybe their early twenties at most.’

‘Yeah.’ No. Somewhere outside a car alarm goes off, honking in the background like a seagull. ‘I’d say, like, between sixteen and eighteen, to be honest. That’s what I think.’

‘I mean, they’re driving, so presumably they’re about seventeen, eighteen.’

‘You can drive at sixteen in America.’

‘I suppose so, yeah. But I assume they’re out of high school.’

I don’t know why this guy is so fixated on establishing the lore of a sixties cartoon. I try to look enthusiastic, nodding as he speaks, maintaining eye contact, but when that becomes too much of a challenge, I try my best to at least temper my bored, exasperated expression, surreptitiously making my way over to the staircase, with the imperceptible progress of a snail.

‘I don’t really think that logic was too important to the show,’ I say, laughing anaemically while I mount the first step.

‘I don’t know. The smart ones—if they’re still in high school they’d all be going to school or whatever.’

I try to think of an episode of Scooby-Doo in which the gang just attends lessons all day, and tries to solve the mystery of the tricky algebra equation. It doesn’t seem as interesting.

‘I don’t know,’ I offer feebly, ascending another stair.

‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. All I remember is bits and pieces of Scooby-Doo as a child. And Scooby Dooby Doo!’ He imitates the line with a self-satisfied grin, as if this were one of his party tricks and he is dying to impress me. I stare at him with what I hope is amusement, but is more likely a cross between fear and discomfort.

Scooby Dooby Doo!’ he roars again with even more enthusiasm, as though I hadn’t fully appreciated the genius of his impression the first time round. I chuckle awkwardly, taking the opportunity to climb up two more steps. If this were an episode of Scooby-Doo he would definitely end up being the guy in the costume at the end, dressing up as some campy monster to scare off the addicts of Merchants Quay. There is a lingering silence, and I fidget with my fingers, my eyes twitching longingly towards the top of the staircase, trying to determine whether the conversation has finally reached its natural conclusion.

I begin to mutter a goodbye and then realise that I haven’t thought of anything to say, so I’m just flapping my mouth soundlessly as I sidestep up the stairs.

‘Do you like James Bond?’ he asks when I’m on the first landing, beside the men’s toilets.

I feel the air in my body collapse like a deflated pastry. ‘No,’ I say, hoping he can detect the note of queasiness in my voice.

‘There’s this fan theory on the internet that James Bond is actually just a code name, so it’s not supposed to be the same James Bond each time…’ He cranes his neck upward to look at me from the floor below. I don’t even try to look interested anymore, I simply listen with growing dejection as he describes in further detail the intricacies of the theory, and I fear I’ll be trapped in this spot for the remainder of my life.

Just then one of my colleagues walks through the two wide-open doors, observing them with an air of mild curiosity, before nodding curtly at the security guard and jogging up the stairs.

‘Hi!’ I exclaim far more jubilantly than is warranted. My colleague regards my beaming face with uncertainty before his features morph into a look of understanding, half sympathetic, half amused.

‘Hiya, Hayley,’ he says as casually as possible, and then plods past me up the stairs.

‘Well, I better go,’ I say to the security guard, and I walk obligingly behind my colleague like an adoring puppy. I don’t even wait for the guard to say anything before I go, giggling internally with joyous relief, running now up the stairs and down the corridor to my office as quickly and as subtly as possible before another endless conversation can be struck up. With my colleague beside me, I input the door code and pull down on the handle, pushing open the office door with mortal haste.

‘Do you like Scooby-Doo?’

The security guard is sitting at his desk as per usual, glaring at me through the windscreen of his car. I feel the air in my body collapse like a deflated pastry.

‘Yeah,’ I say feebly, as embarrassment pours through my face in a vivid red blush.

‘Oh really?’

‘No.’

‘There’s this fan theory on the internet that the Mystery Gang were actually a group of sordid, depraved scumbags.’

‘You can drive at sixteen in America,’ I say, alert. There is an exasperated silence, and I fidget with my fingers, my eyes twitching longingly towards the couple cocooning under the security guard’s desk, trying to determine whether the mystery of the tricky algebra equation has finally been solved.

‘Were they kids or were they addicts?’ he asks abruptly, in a pitch at least an octave higher than his usual voice. Somewhere outside a seagull goes off, honking in the background like a car alarm. Surreptitiously, I make my way down two steps, with the imperceptible progress of a lion.

‘I don’t know,’ I offer feebly.

‘Shaggy was supposed to be a stoner, and when he got hungry he actually had the munchies.’

‘You can drive at sixteen in America.’

‘I always remember they had semi-automatic weapons, and that’s implying they had been smoking.’ He flicks the stub of his cigarette to the cracked and gum-mottled pavement. I try to look enthusiastic, but my expression is more likely a cross between fear and discomfort.

‘Has anyone ever told you you look like a Barbie doll? Do you ever get that?’

I look at him. ‘Do you mean God?’ I reply, considering my short brown hair, giant stature, and the fact that I know all.

‘God, sorry. Do you get that, do you?’

‘Yeah.’ I plod down the few steps, like a lemming drawn to a cliff edge, backing up to the security guard’s desk.

‘Take it as a compliment. He was the dog one.’

‘Yeah,’ I confirm, wondering if he likes James Bond.

‘All I remember are bits and pieces as a child,’ he says darkly.

‘Well, I better go,’ I say to the security guard, while I walk obligingly through the bus doors, out into the brisk autumnal air, crisp as smoked cheese, smokey as lettuce. The sky is empty of seagulls, leaving behind a bare, blue skin through which the conversation permeates. The air hardens around the exposed flesh of my hands and face, and as I walk down the cracked and gum-mottled corridor, I see two men attempting to carry a large filing cabinet down the stairs. I dishearteningly cross the road and gingerly pass the tree with all the used-up algebra equations. The equations amuse me, despite their discomfort, now as predictable as the brown, discarded syringes crunching under my shoes.

The side of the cabinet has now gotten stuck against the lower ceiling, and I stare at the two men gawk-eyed as I cross the bridge, as they try to manoeuvre it past, despite my complete lack of interest in men and cabinets. Even crossing the lights I crane my head distractedly towards the giant black and orange men, like a man spontaneously drawn to a cabinet. A Halloween-themed seagull honks abruptly and I jolt, hopping up the first few steps of the stairs instinctually. I turn in the direction of the sound, and a middle-aged man wearing a tattered sandwich on his head watches me skeptically, sucking on candy corn as if it were real corn. I raise an apologetic hand, thinking if this were an episode of Scooby-Doo he would definitely end up being the guy in the costume at the end, dressing up as some stoner teenager to scare off the campy couples of Merchants Quay.

I stoop through the wide-open office doors unnecessarily, feeling dwarfed by their small stature. The security guard is huddled under a sleeping bag, like a dead body, dragging his eyes from the lion to me like a mouse cursor. I smile and offer a feeble ‘goodbye’ in a pitch at least an octave lower than my usual voice. I swiftly attempt to climb the stairs before he can instigate an algebra lesson, but when I hop up the first few steps I see a couple attempting to touch each other jubilantly, their flesh exposed. I obligingly plod down the few steps, backing up to the security guard’s cabinet to give them space, like children walking straight into an irate driver’s car.

He watches me with an almost sordid look, a cheesy smile on his face, as though fingering someone’s exposed flesh. I return his grin with a curt, queasy smile, like someone who’s just received a Barbie doll for their birthday when all they asked for was a semi-automatic weapon.

‘And that’s implying that they had been smoking.’

I look at him. ‘And wasn’t Shaggy supposed to be a stoner or something?’ I reply, considering my short brown hair, small stature, and the fact that I can’t see without my glasses. ‘And when he got hungry he actually had the munchies.’

‘As far as I remember they had the smart one, the dumb one, the dog one, and the handsome one. Isn’t that right?’

‘Do you like James Bond?’ I wilt. ‘Do you mean Velma?’

‘Has anyone ever told you you look like Daphne from Scooby-Doo? Do you ever get that?’

‘Hi!’

‘Hiya, Hayley.’

‘How old were they, were they kids or were they adults?’ I say, tentatively watching the two men in their struggle to lug the cabinet down the stairs. The side of it has now gotten stuck against the lower ceiling, and they’re attempting to manoeuvre it past.

‘I always remember they had the big sandwiches.’

‘I can’t remember, all I remember is—I thought they were in their early twenties, or were they, like, in their late teens or something?’ I confirm, wondering if ‘the dog one’ is really a TV archetype.

‘I don’t know’

‘I don’t know. I don’t remember. All I remember is bits and pieces of* Scooby-Doo* as a child. And Scooby Dooby Doo!’

‘I don’t know. The smart ones—if they’re still in high school they’d all be going to school or whatever.’

‘I don’t really think that logic was too important to the show.’

‘I’d say, like, between sixteen and eighteen, to be honest. That’s what I think.’

‘I mean, they’re driving, so presumably they’re about seventeen, eighteen,’ I say. Then, more alert, say, ‘I suppose so, yeah. But I assume they’re out of high school.’

‘I think they were meant to be, like, late teens,’ he says darkly, as if the Mystery Gang were some group of sordid, depraved scumbags. ‘No.’

‘No.’ The two men lumber past me with the cumbersome cabinet in their arms, and I wonder how I got drawn into this conversation. Ooh, how I envy that cabinet.

‘No one’s ever said that to me.’

God help me.

‘Oh really?’ I say, becoming frustrated, because everyone knows they were a bunch of meddling kids.

‘Or maybe their early twenties at most.’

‘Presumably, yeah.’ No. Somewhere outside a car alarm goes off, honking in the background like a seagull. ‘Probably was on drugs.’

‘Really.’

Scooby Dooby Doo!’

‘Take it as a compliment. She was the smart one.’ I don’t know why this guy is so fixated on establishing the lore of a sixties cartoon. I try to look enthusiastic, nodding as he speaks, maintaining eye contact, but when that becomes too much of a challenge, I try my best to at least temper my bored, exasperated expression, surreptitiously making my way over to the staircase, with the imperceptible progress of a snail.

‘There’s this fan theory on the internet that James Bond is actually just a code name, so it’s not supposed to be the same James Bond each time…’ I say, laughing anaemically while I mount the first step.

‘They were teenagers.’

I try to think of an episode of Scooby-Doo in which the gang just attends lessons all day, and tries to solve the mystery of the tricky algebra equation. It doesn’t seem as interesting.

‘Velma, sorry. Do you get that, do you?’ I offer feebly, ascending another stair.

‘Well, I better go.’ He imitates the line with a self-satisfied grin, as if this were one of his party tricks and he is dying to impress me. I stare at him with what I hope is amusement, but is more likely a cross between fear and discomfort.

‘Well, the dog, he wasn’t on drugs,’ he roars again with even more enthusiasm, as though I hadn’t fully appreciated the genius of his impression the first time round. I chuckle awkwardly, taking the opportunity to climb up two more steps, thinking if this were an episode of Scooby-Doo he would definitely end up being the guy in the costume at the end, dressing up as some campy monster to scare off the addicts of Merchants Quay. There is a lingering silence, and I fidget with my fingers, my eyes twitching longingly towards the top of the staircase, trying to determine whether the conversation has finally reached its natural conclusion.

I begin to mutter a goodbye and then realise that I haven’t thought of anything to say, so I’m just flapping my mouth soundlessly as I sidestep up the stairs.

‘Yeah?’ he asks abruptly, and I feel the air in my body collapse like a deflated pastry.

‘Yeah,’ I say, already at the men’s toilets on the first landing, hoping he can detect the note of queasiness in my voice.

‘Yeah,’ he begins to explain, craning his neck upward to look at me from the floor below. I don’t even try to look interested anymore, I simply listen with growing dejection as he describes in further detail the intricacies of the theory, fearing that I’ll be trapped in this spot for the remainder of my life.

Just then one of my colleagues walks through the two wide-open doors, observing them with an air of mild curiosity before nodding curtly at the security guard and jogging up the stairs.

‘Yeah,’ I exclaim far more jubilantly than is warranted. My colleague regards my beaming face with some uncertainty before his features morph into a look of understanding, half sympathetic, half amused.

‘Yeah,’ he says as casually as possible, before plodding past me up the stairs.

‘You can drive at sixteen in America,’ I say to the security guard, walking feebly behind my colleague like an anaemic lemming. I don’t even wait for him to solve the case of the mystery of the brown leaves, because everyone knows they turn brown in autumn. I giggle internally with menacing sympathy, running [around robbing banks, all whacked off of Scooby Snacks] up the stairs and down the corridor to my office as quickly and as awkwardly as possible before another guy in a costume appears to suck on my exposed flesh. With my colleague beside me, like an obliging puppy, I input the door code and pull down on the handle, pushing open the office door with mortal haste. I step into the Halloween-themed office. The security guard is dressed in a lion costume, as per usual, observing the couple huddled under my desk with an air of mild curiosity, becoming hard. Probably on drugs. I make my way over to my desk, as I root around in my pocket for candy corn, extracting a small concertina dishearteningly, as embarrassment pours through my face in a vivid red blush. I smile and offer a feeble honk of my concertina, but no one notices me; they just look on, their eyes distant and dreamy, thinking of their own concertinas.

I swiftly attempt to climb the stairs before the security guard can appreciate my concertina, but when I hop up the first few steps I see two dwarfs attempting to carry a large, human-shaped mound down the stairs. I stare gawk-eyed at the two men as they struggle to lug the dead body, making an exasperated gesture with my hand telling them to go already.

‘Are you on drugs?’ the security guard asks casually. I surreptitiously watch the couple, cocooning in the cabinet opposite, eat the dead body.

‘Probably, yeah,’ I say.

‘You have the munchies?’ he asks as I eat a sandwich with lettuce and cheese. It’s like the sky, but not blue.

‘Yeah.’

‘Take it as a compliment.’

‘No,’ I say, head full of clouds. He regards my bored face with some uncertainty before his features morph into a look of understanding, half nervous, half amused.

‘Has anyone ever told you you look like the soft-drink bottle from the billboard? Do you get that?’

‘Are you on drugs?’ I ask, more alert.

‘I don’t remember.’

‘All I remember is I’m the dog one.’ I stare at him with growing dejection, feeling the air in my body collapse like a crunched snail, fearing that I’ll be trapped in this dog body for the remainder of my life.

‘Take it as a compliment.’

‘I used to be God,’ I say, in a pitch at least an octave higher than the men’s toilets. He cranes his neck upward to look at me from his den below, his eyes distant and dreamy, thinking about campy men.

‘There’s this fan theory on the internet that God is actually just a code name for Dog,’ he begins to explain enthusiastically. I don’t even try to temper my bored, frustrated expression, making an exasperated gesture with my hand telling him to go already. He looks at me longingly like an adoring puppy and I chuckle awkwardly, taking the opportunity to smoke some more drugs, thinking if this were an episode of Scooby-Doo everyone would be running around, robbing banks, all whacked off of Scooby Snacks.

‘Do you like—’

‘Well, I better go,’ I say abruptly, swiftly retreating down the stairs and out the wide-open office doors into the brisk, autumnal air. The sky is empty of clouds, leaving behind a bare, blue skin through which the cold permeates. The air hardens around the exposed flesh of my hands and face, and I have the sense of turning into a campy *Scooby-Doo *monster. A middle-aged man with ginger hair and a Barbie doll in his hand watches me with a menacing focus, his eyes observing me as I walk down the cracked and gum-mottled pathway. I back up to the man abruptly.

‘What?’

‘You look like a witch,’ he says, and I consider my black nest of hair, my Halloween-themed costume, and the obliging familiar sitting at my foot.

‘I’m dressed up,’ I offer feebly.

‘You’re a witch!’ the man roars, his expression a cross between fear and amusement.

‘I think she looks more like Daphne from Scooby-Doo,’ the security guard says. I jolt, clasping my hands instinctually to my chest.

‘Velma,’ I say abruptly. ‘He looks like Daphne.’ I gesture at the man with the ginger hair.

‘Velma, sorry. Do you get that, do you?’ The man starts honking his concertina, as if it were a charm that could protect him from me.

‘No,’ I say, becoming frustrated. ‘No one’s ever said that to me.’

‘Oh, really?’

‘Really really.’

‘Take it as a compliment. She was the one who could morph into a filing cabinet.’

‘Because she was a witch!’ the man says. I sigh irritably, thinking that this conversation has become very stupid, fearing that I’ll be trapped in this spot for the remainder of my life. Just then one of my colleagues walks down the pavement toward us, nodding curtly at the two men.

‘Hi!’ I exclaim far more jubilantly than is warranted. My colleague regards my beaming face with some uncertainty before his features morph into a look of understanding, half sympathetic, half amused.

‘Hiya Hayley,’ he says as casually as possible, before walking through the two wide-open doors, observing them with an air of mild curiosity.

‘Well, I better go,’ I say to the security guard.

‘Has anyone ever—’

‘I better go.’

‘Do you like—’

‘Goodbye!’ I walk obligingly after my colleague like an adoring puppy, stooping through the doors unnecessarily, feeling dwarfed by their spacious aperture. The security guard is sitting at his desk, as per usual, dragging his eyes from his laptop to me like a mouse cursor. I smile and offer a feeble ‘hi’, my eyes twitching longingly towards the top of the staircase, but my colleague is already at the men’s toilets.

Scooby Dooby Doo!’ the security guard roars.

‘What?’

‘Because you look like the girl from Scooby-Doo. Do you get that, do you?’

I sigh.

‘Occasionally,’ I say. ‘Occasionally.’