Thursday, December 15, 2011
Charlotte, Bill Surname's loyal PA, stands stock still in the doorway, her helpless face frozen with the anguish of horrors past and humiliations yet to come, like a beginner sado-masochist who's only gone and forgotten the safety word.
Poor Charlotte – it's a difficult time for her, what with the triple dip recession that just comes around and around and never stops, worldwide economic collapse, irreversible global warming if we don't sort it out by teatime, and now this: Bill Surname, the only man she has ever loved – if only he knew it! – says if we don't get the turkeys out by Friday then we're all for the chop. Christmas will have to be cancelled which hasn't happened since, well, ever.
She's been there all morning. We're going to decorate her with tinsel and Christmas tree lights if she's not moved by tomorrow.
Stella, my eighties style yuppie witch of a team leader, bounces into the office, all legs and teeth and Saturday night hair on a cold, wet Thursday. She's taking her friend Becky out to lunch later to celebrate.
“Never mind Higgs Boson. Has anybody seen Mike?” she asks.
I look at my watch.
“It's 10.30,” I say.
“Oh right. Course it is. Well, when he gets back from his wank, can you tell him he's needed upstairs on the helpdesk. Neil's on fire again.”
Neil, our former team leader, has taken up smoking.
He started on electric cigarettes, just because he enjoyed the camaraderie of the smokers' shelter, the 'outsiders all together outside in the rain' thing.
He's been with us on Earth since his so called mates abandoned him at Charnock Richard after a sightseeing holiday. He'd only gone in for a pee and to look at the crisps and when he came out the Flying Saucer was gone. He maintains it was an oversight, which we're less sure about, but it explains this longing to belong, I guess.
Anyway, the electric fags proved to be a gateway drug for the real thing, and now he smokes thirty a day. It doesn't agree with his Martian constitution, and Mike, who was raised repairing fruit machines, seems better qualified than most to come to his rescue each time he catches alight.
Late afternoon now. It's dark by four, but on days like this when the rain clouds hang over you like, say, a hangover, it feels like the day's over before it began. Hey Sunshine, I haven't seen you in a long time.
“Keith?” asks Stella. “Are you wearing your lucky pants today?”
“I'm always wearing my lucky pants.”
“Eeeww. I think there's your problem.”
She and Tabs laugh. Tabs is huge now, ready to drop any moment, you'd think. She sits on a beanbag in Stella's office, Stella sat close behind, plaiting her hair and rubbing her back. “Not long now, beautiful baby girl, not long now.”
These past few weeks Tabs looks like someone has paid her a slightly saucy compliment and she can't stop herself from blushing.
Outside, Rex the Security Guard busies himself with leaf clearing and the milking and drainage issues, but he's not been himself since Geraldine the Company X goat passed. We're going to Secret Santa him a new one. Hope that goes ok.
A sparrowhawk circles above. A flock of, I don't know – sparrows, tits? - trembles in the tree tops beyond the Sunken Heart Rose Gardens.
Creepy Keith from Accounts looks on, captivated.
“How's Becky?” asks Tabs.
“Oh, you know, she's just... beautiful. So beautiful.”
“That's nice,” says Tabs.
“I'm so lucky, Tabs. Both my beautiful girls,” sighs Stella. “Both beautiful and both knocked up.”
“Life and death everywhere you look,” says Keith, and the girls glower back at him.
“What? What have I said now?”
“Word of advice,” says Charlotte, suddenly thawing. She'd been stood silently for so long we'd forgotten she was there. She brushes bits of mince pie off her sleeves. “Think before you speak, Keith. Think before you speak. And then don't speak.”
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