“Oh, hold the doors!”
I teeter through the lift lobby in my sleek, yet second hand, Jimmy Choo's. Who am I kidding? Even if I do get the job, I can hardly show up to work five times a week dressed like this. Give me a pair of comfy flats any day and let my calves relax a bit. Dressed like this, no one would guess I get my hair done at Super Cuts. Don't think like that; rent to pay, rent to pay, rent to pay.
This little skirt isn’t doing me any favours. It turned a few heads in reception, for all the wrong reasons. I'll never impress a chivalrous hero from one of my much loved romance novels by dressing myself up like a dog's dinner. Speaking of dogs, I’ve even packed my essential bits into the Radley handbag Blake gave me last year. I must be desperate to impress. I never touch anything Blake gave me without spitting out the words “Fuck you Blake” as it meets my skin. I'll have to fight to hold that in when I leave today’s panel; bills to pay, bills to pay, bills to pay.
A bony hand reaches round the edge of the elevator door. It's displaying gaudy, mis-matched, citrus nail varnish. I can't stand acidic colours - they probably belong to an acidic person, and oranges give me migraines. But they push the door open and stop the lift. Thank you, God!
I cast a desperate glance over my sister’s lucky Armani watch, on loan for the occasion. Ten to three. I'm due in at three, eight floors up. I hate being late. I need all the luck I can get; debts to pay, debts to pay, debts to pay.
“Thank you! You’re a lifesaver,” I manage as I high-step over the tiny gap between the marble floor and the brown carpet inside the lift. Tripping over that would be embarrassing, but catching my balance after lifting my feet so high to avoid it is almost as bad. I nearly fling myself into the dour-looking woman inside the lift.
“You’re welcome. Which floor?” she barks. Blonde, pale grey trouser suit, lemon-yellow fingernail poised over the buttons.
“Eight please, eight,” I stutter.
She drops her hand from the control panel. “Ah, I’m on the eighth floor myself. Who are you here to see?”
The lift doors pull together, and the upward journey begins. There's a beautiful fragrance on the air that brings back fond memories. University. My favourite department store. For a moment, I almost forget my queasy stomach and remember what Mandy said about the office cafeteria here. Apparently they do the best tex-mex pizza - it's my absolute favourite and not served in many places.
“Actually, I have an interview. With Claire Parker from Marketing.”
“You must be Jane!” she says, holding out an intimidating, sour-coloured hand.
The scent grows stronger. Vivienne Westwood, Naughty Alice. I’d know it anywhere. Discontinued the year I graduated and now over £200 when you can find it on eBay. What I’d give for a bottle. . .
“Well, yes.” I run my sweaty palm over the hip of my fitted skirt before I offer it to her. The shake is overly strong on her part, and overly clammy on mine, despite my efforts. “Claire?”
“Yes, I’m Ms Parker.” She scrutinises my outfit, narrowing her eyes and wrinkling her nose in disgust as she meets my gaze. “I don’t know how you manage in those heels every day. I’m all for comfort over style.”
I shrink back a little against the wall. Maybe the lighting isn't so bright in the corners and I can avoid her piercing eyes boring into me quite so hard. Maybe from here my stilettos don't look as high. Rent to pay, bills to pay, debt to pay.
She's wearing a pair of black Clark’s ankle boots, low, chunky heel, smart and understated. She has an air of relaxed authority about her, something I lack, on both counts. I'm regretting every decision I’ve made since breakfast. Possibly including breakfast, now that the nerves are kicking in.
But that scent, it's taking me back. Back before Blake, before my heart was broken. Before I lost my confidence and started power dressing like an idiot. It takes me to the laughter of uni, lifelong friends, crazy nights out, coffee and vaping on the steps before lectures, jeans and trainers. What I'd give to be wearing jeans and trainers. If I’d realised it would be discontinued, I’d have stockpiled Naughty Alice. Happiness bottled. Nostalgia in an atomiser. Friendship wrapped in glass. A tear stings my eye and I raise a finger to dab it.
“Are you quite alright?” There's not a hint of empathy in her voice.
The daydream had slouched my shoulders and softened my face. I shuffle in my shoes and stand straight upright, taking back control of my interview-smile. Perhaps I can redeem the situation with a compliment.
“Yes, sorry, your perfume. It reminds -“
“-Yes, it’s rather outdated now, I know. But I like it.”
She seems defensive. I'm not going to fit in here. She doesn't appreciate my efforts, won't let me finish a sentence. I shouldn't have bothered. Should have just left Blake's stupid bag with its stupid dog-shaped tag at the back of the wardrobe. As soon as I get out of here, this bag's going straight to Oxfam. I won’t even take it home first, I'll stick my purse and make-up in a Tesco carrier. Fuck you, Blake.
I stare down at my shoes. My Choo's. They're digging into my ankle.
The doors open out onto a lemon yellow corridor, as tasteless as Claire's nail polish.
I'm not going to be intimidated by this bitch. If she offers me the job, I'll turn it down.
“Oh, hold the doors!” was the cry from the lift lobby.
I know what it's like to get stuck there after both lifts go up. It can take so long before one comes back down. Some poor thing might be hanging around in reception for ages, late for a meeting if I don’t stick my hand out. I hate being late. Careful not to snag a nail, I wrap my fingers round the edge of the lift door and hold it open. My daughter will kill me if I chip her works of art. I don’t know why I let her do it today, though. Interview day. I'm desperate for a new assistant, the last three months since Sarah left have been Hell. I just hope the orange and lemon theme won't put the candidate off. Bit bright for my taste and real citrus fruit gives me terrible headaches.
A flushed brunette, head to toe in dazzling designer get-up, appears between the parting sheets of metal. She's staring at an Armani watch as if it's producing the time she's borrowing from me.
“Thank you! You’re a lifesaver.” She exudes sarcasm as she bounds over the threshold and straight into my personal space.
“You’re welcome. Which floor?” I say, a little taken aback.
“Eight please, eight.”
I heard her the first time, older doesn't mean deafer.
So, I'm stuck in a metal box, with this twenty-something fashionista, complete with glowing skin and a Radley bag. I bet she doesn't get her hair done at Super Cuts like I do, probably pays for a senior stylist in one of those posh city salons. And it's not just any Radley bag she's clutching. It's the very same ill-fated Radley bag of last Christmas. I still can’t quite believe I’d been so stupid as to cut off the tag, the dog-shaped tag, the very thing that defines Radley-ness. I'm such a clutz when it comes to style, not like this young lady.
Samuel had never forgiven me over the bag. He’d saved for it for months. He was trying to emulate the romance in the novels I'm so fond of. What a sweetheart. I'm pining for another one, complete and intact and perfect, just the way he’d intended. But who could justify the cost these days? Maybe if I get a decent bonus I can replace it, but that's months away and they will stop selling that style by then. And without an assistant I just can't get everything done, so any bonus seems unlikely. This interview better go well.
“Ah, I’m on the eighth myself. Who are you here to see?” Please don’t be me, please don’t be me - I can’t possibly compete. Here I am, pushing fifty and I've still borrowed my sister's lucky gold bracelet when I'm chair of the panel!
The doors glide shut and I'm trapped in this tiny space with this perfect stranger. I'm beginning to wish I'd had something else for lunch. My breath is probably awful. But that tex-mex pizza is so good.
“Actually, I have an interview. With Claire Parker from Marketing.”
Oh, dear God. Another youngster, better looking and probably better qualified than me, coming to make their mark.
“You must be Jane!” I offer her my hand anyway – no point being snotty.
“Well, yes.” She says, wiping her fingers on her thigh.
Had she not dried her hands after going to the ladies? Honestly, these girls!
“Claire?” she says, unsure of herself now.
“Yes, I’m Ms Parker," I clarify, glancing at that impressive outfit again and stifling a sneeze as I catch her eye. I think I’m allergic to this old perfume I dug out yesterday.
“I don’t know how you manage in those heels every day. I’m all for comfort over style.” I hope she takes that as a compliment. I’m so out of touch these days I don’t know what's polite anymore. I'm slightly embarrassed by my own plain, black boots, if the truth be known.
I try to maintain friendly eye-contact, but she steps away from me, backs right into the corner. Perhaps I've offended her a tad, but there's no need for such blatant avoidance in such a small space.
She's quiet for a moment and seems to drift away from reality, as if I'm not even there. How rude. Oh my, is she crying? I can't believe she'd try to manipulate me like that - surely I wasn't that insensitive.
“Are you quite alright?” I ask, with a sigh of disdain.
She shuffles her feet, if you can shuffle in Jimmy Choo's, and finally looks at me.
“Yes, sorry, your perfume. It reminds -“ she starts to say.
Oh God, it reminds her of her mother, or worse still her dead gran. I decide to avoid the embarrassment for both of us.
“ -Yes, it’s rather outdated now, I know. But I like it.”
She stares at her feet again rather than try to converse with me.
I swear this scent is going straight in the bin when I get home.
The lift doors finally open and I'm faced with the familiar, yet ghastly, yellow of the eighth floor corridor.
Anyway, this bitch won't be getting a job with me. We have nothing in common and it would never work.