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One day, on the way to work, the woman sees somebody die. A young woman comes running out of a shop, as if making a getaway, and on to the pedestrian crossing. A car fails to stop. It had enough time but the driver wasn’t ready, wasn’t expecting anybody to dash out in front, and so the young woman dies. There is a short squeal of tyres dragging on the road surface and then the thump of flesh and bones and blood impacting on sheets of pressed metal.

The woman has never seen a body look so relaxed, so loose, all the tension suddenly drained away. The victim was taken completely by surprise. She lies on the road, the car next to her as if standing guard over its prey, while a small band of people gathers round. A dollop of blood, remarkably like tomato ketchup, oozes from the young woman’s nostril. The people at the scene take on various roles, almost as if they had been expecting it to happen and had taken the trouble to familiarise themselves with the script beforehand.

The woman stands and watches the scene for a while – people crouching over the body, the driver leaning against the side of the car, crying – and then continues on her way, wishing that she had something more to offer than merely an eye-witness account. The last thing she remembers seeing is a ham sandwich – the young woman had skipped lunch that day, saving it for later – lying spread out on the road, thrown apart on impact.

That night at the office, the woman disturbs a pile. She is threading her way between pillars of paper when the silver cylinder brushes lightly against one of the formations and breaks its delicate equilibrium. The pile collapses into a heap. Paper floods across the floor as the concentrated energy of the pile is released. The paper fans out, spreading like a molten flow, and then quickly solidifies into a new configuration. The woman stands ankle deep in bumph.

Quickly she tries to rebuild the pile, gathering up handfuls of paper, pushing it together and shaping it into something which resembles a pile. She has no idea what the pile should look like. She inspects other piles for clues but realises for the first time, that each pile is unique. Each has its own coded structure, a distinctive combination of elements developed over years and years of growth and evolution. The woman has only minutes in which to make her pile.

Soon it is finished. It is different from all the other piles and yet, for this reason, it evokes a certain sense of pile-ness. The woman continues with her cleaning, paying more attention now to the various types of pile found in the office – short, thick columns of white A4, delicate spires of manila envelopes, robust stacks of glossy mags, concertinas of print-outs slouching in a heap.

The following night, the woman’s pile is still there, untouched. Nobody has rearranged it or tidied it up. It stands there like any other pile, a pile among piles.
The woman is overwhelmed by a strange sense of futility, a feeling that nothing really matters any more. She continues her tour of the office, making slight adjustments to the different piles as she goes, correcting minor imperfections, resolving awkward configurations, eliminating anomalies. She modifies structural faults and transforms unruly elements. Soon every pile in the office bears the mark of her touch.