Work Wife Balance, p.1Jo Edwards / Humor
Work Wife Balance
Published by Weasel Green Press
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
WORK WIFE BALANCE
Copyright © Jo Edwards 2013
Cover Art by Regina Wamba of Mae I Design
Edited by Mike Rose-Steel
Interior Text Design by Tricia Kristufek
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. Requests for permission should be addressed to firstname.lastname@example.org
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 2
For Mum and Dad
Table of Contents
Also by Jo Edwards
About the Author
Someone was in the bedroom. A tall, shadowy figure stood over me. I tried to scream but fear froze it dead in my throat. I whipped back the covers, braced for an attack, but the figure didn’t make its move. It couldn’t move. It was my grey trouser suit, hanging on the wardrobe door. You idiot. Heart pounding, I pulled the covers back over myself. That would teach me for trying to be organised for a change. It was one of my resolutions - select the next day’s outfit the night before, thus avoiding the 6.00 am gazing-into-the wardrobe-in-bewilderment routine. I hadn’t realised this foresight could potentially lead to heart failure.
I was determined that this year was going to be different. I would leap out of bed like a salmon, thankful to be alive and full of zesty energy for another new day. I would eat a healthy and nutritious breakfast; something with whole grain in it for my bowels, and arrive at work with a glowing complexion and a cheery smile. Nothing would get me down. Nobody would grate on my nerves. My team would do what I asked them to do without me having to issue death-threats. I’d even be nice to that officious little twerp on reception, Stalin Stan, and stop sending him bogus emails requesting parking spaces for fictional visitors just so he’d have to go out in the rain to put the cones out. Anyway, I needed to drop off again smartish as I’d resolved to get a minimum of eight hours sleep a night - if only my pulse would return to a normal speed.
The alarm was like a pneumatic drill going through my skull. I peered at the clock in disbelief. No no no - surely it was still the middle of the night? The clock said 5.30 am, but it just couldn’t be true. I heaved my body out of the warm covers and sat, stunned, on the edge of the bed. Bloody hell, it’s freezing. My stomach hung there like a roll of pastry, reproachfully squashed between my thighs and my rib cage, an unattractive reminder of Christmas. I wished I hadn’t eaten my own body weight in cold roast potatoes. And why had I drunk those glasses of Baileys last night? I don’t even like Baileys! I’d seen it on the adverts during The Great Escape and had suddenly fancied some. Why hadn’t I taken some exercise over the holidays? I could have gone for some bracing country walks in the crisp fresh air and had firm, walnut-cracking thighs by now. Apart from chasing a cat out of the garden (demented arm-waving, foul language) I’d hardly moved. Oh God, here I go again; the daily morning self-loathing ritual. Stop it. This was a brand new year, a fresh start. A chance to do things differently. I had to stop beating myself up, start being positive and make good things happen. I can do it.
I dressed in my grey suit, having to inhale drastically before I could do up the trousers. Why did I suck my cheeks in when I did this? That wouldn’t help. I wasn’t convinced that the button would survive the day. I did have an elasticated skirt somewhere for bloating emergencies, but I’d never find it, as I was having to get dressed in the dark so I didn’t wake The Husband, who didn’t have to go into work until later. I got one leg caught up in my tights and hopped around like Long John Silver, before crashing into the dressing table. The Husband stirred and irritably muttered “For Christ’s sake...” I couldn’t win. If I’d put the light on he would probably have accused me of trying to blind him. He’d been a bit quiet over Christmas and particularly grumpy over the last few days. I didn’t think he’d fully recovered from New Years Eve, a fancy dress party at a friend’s house. He’d gone as Che Guevara, but everyone thought he was supposed to be Frank Spencer. People kept coming up behind him and shouting “Ooh Betty!” or “The cat’s done a whoopsie!”. He’d initially pretended to laugh it off, but had eventually experienced a major sense of humour failure and spent the evening sat sulking on the stairs with Cleopatra. Or it might have been Boy George.
My car was covered by a thick glistening layer of ice. I started it up and went inside to boil the kettle, munching on a strawberry Pop Tart as I waited. Were Pop Tarts whole grain? They looked a bit granular so they were probably ok. When I tipped the hot water over the windscreen, the wipers came on and swept the water back over me. I gasped in shock - I was drenched! I could hear my next-door neighbour howling with laughter, even from the other side of his triple-glazed windows. I couldn’t face having to change, so with the heater on full blast in an attempt to dry out my blouse, I drove the 23-mile journey towards Cheltenham that I had made for the last 12 years. The beginning of the route was quite attractive, initially passing by fields and hedgerows, and as long as I remembered to hold my breath passing the sewerage works it was a very pleasant drive. The countryside eventually dissolved into busy, impatient A-roads, lined with non-descript industrial units. I had read in the paper that in order to challenge your mind and ward off dementia you should regularly change your route to and from work. I mentally added that to my list of resolutions; I’d start from tomorrow. I put on my iPod and selected ‘Eton Rifles’ by The Jam, turning up the volume to maximum. It was one of my kick-arse songs to uplift and inspire me before the day ahead. I sang along loudly, thumping the steering wheel and visualising myself sweeping into work, radiating positivity, sharing a few jokes with my happy, motivated colleagues and high-fiving down the office as I bounded to my desk. I plastered a broad smile onto my face as I turned into the Kingfisher Business Park, noticing that the “Welcome to Perypils Insurance” sign didn’t look quite right. It had, rather unfortunately, lost the “l” in Perypils.
The Cheltenham site of Perypils Insurance shared its premises with a health insurance company called Insight Health which our guys referred to, somewhat predictably, as “In Shite Health”. They had the first two floors and we had the third and fourth, with a shared canteen (which I referred to as Sam ‘n Ella’s) on the ground floor. I prepared to give Stalin Stan a beaming smile as I walked into reception but he was fully occupied, interrogating poor old Mary Miller who had forgotten her pass. “Of course I can’t just let you in, you could be anyone!”
“But I’ve worked here for over twenty years,” she pleaded, “You see me go in and out every day. And I go to bingo with your wife on Tuesdays, you drive us there...”
I scurried on past and up several flights of stairs to my department of approximately 100 heads, which occupied half of the fourth floor. It was as quiet as a morgue when I walked in, and about as cold. Some of the guys on the telephony early shift acknowledged my cheery “Morning all!” through hollow eyes and with grouchy grunts. Even the tinsel looked like it wanted to be at Beachy Head.
As I was removing my coat, I saw a familiar anorak-clad figure enter the department, clutching an Asda carrier bag which, I knew, would contain exactly four Dairylea cheese spread sandwiches, a packet of ready salted Hula Hoops and a Cherry Bakewell. I referred to Martin as The Drain because he had the tendency to suck any reason to live out of a room. He was on his way over to me, which surprised me. Usually it took him at least an hour and several cups of coffee before he felt mentally strong enough to be able to converse with anyone in the office. He looked at my still-sopping wet blouse but didn’t pass comment.
“Morning Martin,” I said brightly, with a big smile. “How was your Christmas?” What a mistake. Why did I ask? I got the lot.
He’d had an argument with his butcher on Christmas Eve over the exact weight of the turkey, and ended up leaving the shop without it.
He’d served (previously frozen) Asda chicken drumsticks for Christmas lunch, which his visiting parents had called “feral”.
His wife got very drunk on cooking sherry and accused him of being “an anally retentive dickhead”.
His hard of hearing father had the telly on so loud it had triggered Martin’s tinnitus and labyrinthitis.
His eight year old daughter had a tantrum when presented with her new bike. She’d wanted a 42-inch, 3D HD Plasma TV.
His five year old son had left a letter out for Santa telling him that all he wanted for Christmas was “to be fostered”.
Martin’s irritable bowel syndrome had flared up as his nerves were “shot to shit”.
The dog had diarrhoea, probably for the same reason.
My positive resolve began to crumble under the weight of his litany of misery. I wasn’t required to respond, but waited until he’d paused for breath, then interjected with an upbeat “Well at least it’s all over for another year!” hoping that he’d bugger off so I could start some work. Had he asked me about my own Christmas, I would have told him that my day, spent at my parents, had passed without particular incident, although lunch was over three hours later than expected because my mother kept taking the turkey out of the oven, attempting to carve it with a butter knife, and declaring it wasn’t quite ready.
The Drain was still hovering.
“There was something I needed to talk to you about, Kate.” Oh God, what else? He scratched at his bald patch. “I want to make a complaint - about my team, and er, the Secret Santa gift they gave me.”
For God’s sake, not this again - every year, every single sodding year, Secret bloody Santa upsets someone.
“What was the gift, Martin?” I asked wearily.
He sniffed. “It was a lady’s flannelette nightie and a pair of support tights. American Tan,” he added, as if the colour was of great significance. He paused. “And they were wrapped in an Asda carrier bag.”
Mustn’t laugh, mustn’t laugh, mustn’t laugh.
“I’m deeply offended,” Martin continued huffily. “They’re clearly insinuating that I’m an old woman and I think it’s totally unacceptable. I feel they’ve questioned my sexuality, which completely goes against company policy. I’m very upset; I want something done about it.”
I assembled my face into a mask of concern.
“Well, Martin,” I said. “I’m sorry this has happened. Of course you can make a formal complaint, that is your right. But that course of action could cause you a great deal of personal angst,” - and a huge amount of paperwork for me - “so perhaps you should consider something a little less formal.”
He crossed his arms and looked sulky. I tried again. “Maybe you could talk to your team and tell them how they’ve made you feel,” - although I very much doubt they could give a toss - “or perhaps you could even, well, attempt to laugh it off.” It was unlikely he’d go for this option, but it was still worth a shot.
The Drain pursed his lips and tugged at his belt in a futile attempt to pull his trousers up over his belly. He sniffily informed me that he would be considering his options and returned to his desk. I knew exactly what he would do: sulk for a few days, maybe even a week, be very curt with his team in an attempt to make them feel guilty (although he wouldn’t directly address the issue with them, they’d have to guess why he was sulking), hopefully they would eventually take pity, start to be nice to him and then he would get over the whole thing. God, he was such an old woman.
At last I could log in and attempt to start some work. This was always a tense moment after a period of holiday - just how many emails would I have received since Christmas Eve? And how soon would it be before someone asked “Kate, have you read that email I sent you?”. Even though they would have received my out of office message saying I wouldn’t be back until today, they’d still think I possessed the super power to have read and absorbed hundreds of emails in 3 seconds flat. I clicked on the inbox, narrowing my eyes into slits to protect myself from the horror. It opened up at 63 unread emails - wow, that wasn’t too bad at all! I could cope with that. Oh, no, it was still receiving - not a good sign. I flicked into my calendar. Bugger - the first meeting of the day started in 10 minutes. Too late to do any prep now, I’d have to wing it.
Emails were still coming in. Up to 184 and rising. There were quite a few from Brett The Boss. He’d obviously been working all over Christmas. I doubted any were to wish me a Happy New Year, as he hadn’t managed to wish me a Happy Christmas, nor had he been down to see the teams in months - and didn’t they just love to whinge about it! He did cover four sites, but even so, I felt he could have made the effort. I did call him on Christmas Eve - the background noise of raucous laughter, thumping music, smashing glasses suggested he had already left the office. He kept shouting “Kate? Kate who?” even though I’ve worked for him for over a year.
I had wished him a Merry Christmas and asked how he was planning to spend Christmas Day.
“Depends if the bitch lets me see the kids or not.”
Ooh, that was awkward. I attempted a joke about hoping he got a Batman outfit for Christmas just in case, but I don’t think he got it, so I said “Merry Christmas, then!” and quickly rang off.
I still felt a bit raw that he hadn’t got me anything at all for Christmas. Well, actually, very raw. I had got my guys a bottle of wine (each, not between them), tins of chocolates, mince pies and Bucks Fizz and held a Christmas raffle for them. (Top prize an iPod, bottom prize lunch for two in the canteen, Immodium supplied.) I had received precisely Jack Shit. I wasn’t expecting a Harrods hamper, but just something would have been nice, even a chocolate orange, just to say “thanks for working your tits off all year love, it’s much appreciated”.
I had received a Christmas card from The Boss. On it was a picture of Rudolph standing in front of a group of embarrassed-looking reindeer. He was saying: “Santa, we’ve got a case of syphilis in the herd”. Santa replied: “Thank God - I’m sick of the Beaujolais!” Inside Brett had written:
To Keith, saw this and thought of you!
Hope you get the all clear in the New Year!
I didn’t know who Keith was, but he was obviously someone to avoid for a while.
The email avalanche had stopped at 268. Bloody hell. It was going to take me days to get through that lot - I’d have to work evenings as well this week. I texted The Husband to let him know I would be late home. He texted back: “Don’t 4get we r going to Deb & Pauls tonight”. I gave an inward groan - I had forgotten. Who has people round for dinner just after Christmas, for Christ’s sake? And on a school night? Obviously they were still on holiday and didn’t have to get up for work tomorrow. Sadists. Debbie worked with The Husband and had become his New Best Friend, having joined his company last year. I’d met her a couple of times: once when we’d been in Cafe Nero she was passing and joined us for a cup of coffee, and once when we’d been in our local pub, she’d been there too and joined us for a glass of wine. She was ok - very talkative, and of course like most people that work together, she and The Husband talked shop all the time, which is fine for them, but excludes everyone else. I’d never met Paul, but knew he worked in IT. What was I going to talk to him about? The joys of Alt, Control, Delete? That was about the limit of my IT knowledge. They also had a young daughter but The Husband, typically, didn’t know her name or how old she was.
I went for a quick walk round the department to say “good morning” to my team. A number of the staff were making very loud “brrrrr” noises for my benefit and rubbing their arms across their bodies with huge exaggeration. Who did they think I was - a bloody heating engineer? I knew that once the heating system got up to temperature the exact same people would be fanning themselves vigorously, gasping for breath, on the very verge of heat-stroke. I noticed that The Lazy Shit George quickly shut down a screen as I approached, and moved his arm in an attempt to shield his iPhone from my view. Hmmm, what was he up to? The Rock was cradling her phone between her neck and shoulder, whilst typing something onto her screen with one hand and holding a half-eaten prawn and mayo baguette in the other. The Snake, Hissing Cyn, was talking in hushed tones to one of her team and stopped abruptly when I went over, looking up rather shiftily. Someone’s ears would be burning. Mine felt quite hot.
I went to find The Climber. She wasn’t in her team (no surprises there, as that’s where any work was likely to be) and I eventually found her perched on Big Andy’s desk, laughing her silly, annoying laugh and flicking her long brown hair around. She reluctantly peeled her backside off Big Andy’s jotter pad when she saw me coming. She had an extremely short skirt on so I think Big Andy may have seen more than he’d bargained for as she got down. He looked at me and pulled a face of mock horror as her back was turned.
“Hello Katie old girl!” he boomed, as cheerful as ever. “A happy New Year to you! We’d better get our arses in gear, the meeting’s about to start. And did you know you’d wet yourself? Or were you trying to make your blouse see-through? Hoping for promotion are you? By the way, have you read that email I sent you?”