Mayfield could have passed for an ordinary village, were it not for the presence of an oversized factory building right in the village center, the space usually taken up by a church with adjacent marketplace.
The factory building was an imposing concrete structure, with reflective windows that hid any activity behind them. Above the entryway were the letters “MAY” in a big, round, friendly typeface that clashed with the harsh rectangular shapes of the building.
Mayfield had everything else you’d expect from a village of about ten thousand people: a supermarket, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, a doctor’s office, and so on.
Frank moved to Mayfield not long ago. Previously, he met a woman who said she was from Mayfield, and the two of them hit it off right away. Her name was Sadie and Frank absolutely wanted to be closer to her, and the excellent employment opportunities which Sadie spoke of led Frank to a snap decision to relocate to Mayfield at quite short notice.
Those excellent employment opportunities were not quite what Frank was expecting: as a mathematics teacher, he had hoped to find a spot at a high school, but the village didn’t have one. There were no vacancies anywhere but at MAY, the oversized factory right at the center of Mayfield.
The thought of working at a factory wasn’t appealing to Frank. When he had asked Sadie what sort of work happens at MAY, she didn’t give an answer. The job ads were vague, and talking to people in town didn’t give Frank much to go on, either.
In building social connections in town, Frank discovered something peculiar. It started with the cashier at the small grocery store around the corner, who had a part-time job at MAY. Frank didn’t consider that too unusual, but as he made more acquaintances throughout the village, it became clear that everyone had at least a part-time job at MAY — everyone, from shopkeepers to doctors.
Around this time, Frank had started to feel that Mayfield wasn’t the sort of village he wanted to be in, at least not in the longer term. But Mayfield had Sadie, and Frank wasn’t ready just yet to entertain the idea of leaving her.
One evening, when Frank and Sadie sat in their living room watching television, Sadie’s mobile phone rang. She picked up but didn’t say much over the phone, instead listening for a long time to the voice on the other end of the line. When she hung up, she turned towards Frank and said she had to go work. It was an emergency shift, she explained. Frank looked at her incredulously — a shift on a Saturday evening? — and tried to protest, but Sadie had already grabbed her jacket and was out of the door in under a minute. Frank looked through the window and saw Sadie join a group of people all walking towards the factory.
At nightfall, Frank turned off the television, cleaned up the kitchen and headed to bed.
When Frank awoke the next morning, Sadie hadn’t come home yet. He made breakfast for himself only, and ate it listlessly in front of the television, not quite knowing what to do with the time he had that day. All Sundays were slow and lazy, but this Sunday moved at a glacial pace. He stared out of the window for a while, and seeing no passers-by, he figured the cold weather must be keeping people cozily inside their homes. He had tried calling Sadie on her mobile phone a few times, but he’d end up in voicemail every time.
By Monday morning, Sadie still hadn’t returned. Once more, Frank made breakfast for himself alone. Before lunch time, he grabbed the shopping list from the fridge and headed to the small grocery store, but found it closed.
Frank went back to the grocery store the next day, but it was still shut. He continued to the supermarket a few blocks further but found it closed, too. He thought he had forgotten about the day being a bank holiday, but there were no people around to ask. He walked back home via the main road, along all the shops, but none of them were open, and the people of Mayfield were nowhere to be seen.
He paused in front of the MAY building, whose friendly letters of the wordmark on the façade contrasted even more than usual with the sterileness of the walls that made up the factory. The heavy front doors were firmly shut, and the ground floor didn’t have any windows for Frank to peer through.
The next day was the same: the grocery store still had not opened, and neither had the supermarket, nor any of the other stores. There were no people around. Frank tried calling Sadie once more, but again ended up on voicemail.
On Friday, Frank stood in front of the grocery store, desperate to replenish his dwindling food supplies. He pried loose a cobblestone from the street and smashed the grocery’s shop window with it. The alarm went off; its blare echoing through the snaking streets of Mayfield. He paid it no mind as he made a hole in the window large enough to crawl through.
Inside the grocery store, Frank grabbed a handful of readymade meals from the freezer section. He pulled out a twenty-Euro bank note from his wallet and left it on the cashier’s desk. This town was weird, he thought to himself, but that was no excuse for him to resort to theft.
Back home, Frank prepared the frozen pizza he grabbed from the grocery store and ate it watching television. On the TV was the usual low-quality entertainment, but Frank enjoyed the distraction. As evening turned into night, Frank cleaned up the kitchen and headed to bed.
The next morning, Frank made breakfast for himself for the last time in Mayfield. His hunger stilled, he grabbed two large suitcases, stuffed all his clothes in them, threw them in the trunk of his car, and drove away from Mayfield, never to return.
Frank drove for two hours on the highway, in no particular direction but away from Mayfield, before taking a break at a rest stop. He tried calling Sadie one last time, but the automated voice told him the number he dialed wasn’t valid. He called his mother next, and told her he needed a place to stay for a while. On the call, he broke out in tears.
He was out of Mayfield, and that was all that mattered now.