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Contemporary Fiction Drama

Jane:


“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.


Claire:



“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.

August 01, 2022 22:00

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21 comments

Graham Kinross
11:08 Sep 14, 2022

Little things really snowball into hatred here, sad but true.

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Tommy Goround
09:54 Aug 12, 2022

To quote Mr. Scott: " It is a nice look at how people tend to misjudge other people's actions." The notes below say you are considering more endings. -What could bring the women together? [example: elevator stop?] -What could make the women pull each other's hair? -It's 911 on the eighth floor of the twin towers. Jane is actually going to jump instead of coming down with the building -- what does Clair decide to do? (Sorry, couldn't leave without thinking of your gorgeous characters.) Cheers.

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21:10 Aug 12, 2022

Thanks Tommy, your thoughts on possible endings are interesting. I initially wanted them to get stuck in the lift but then decided that the exchange should be short so as not to give either of them an opportunity to change their minds. Also in the original draft the important things to be jealous of were the bag and the perfume, but they fade into the background in this final version. I'm glad you liked the characters, I wanted them both to be likable but the slew of misunderstandings turn each one into a bitch in the other's eyes. I do w...

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Tommy Goround
09:41 Aug 12, 2022

:-) This made me happy to read. Thank you very much.

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Michał Przywara
21:02 Aug 11, 2022

This story was great! It starts with a catchy title, a lovely twist on "elevator pitch". Then we get a nice, dramatic story for Jane, all the troubles she's facing and the lengths she goes to address them. She's clearly the protagonist, and we have a nasty antagonist out to get her. Then we get Claire's story, and everything changes. Yes, it's still dramatic, but it also becomes hilarious in a very tragic sense. A kind of comedy of misunderstandings. We, the readers, see what's happening and we're powerless to stop it. They are a match. ...

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22:10 Aug 11, 2022

Thank you so much for reading and for your well considered comments. I really appreciate it and I'm so glad to hear that you got so much out of this story. I wasn't sure if some of it was too subtle but you've picked out everything I hoped a reader would. It's not often I feel bad for my characters (and I do some pretty awful things to some of them) but these two feel pretty tragic just because of the wasted potential. I just nipped over and read your latest piece. It's fantastic. I'll be keeping an eye out for more of your stories. All t...

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Jon Casper
01:28 Aug 11, 2022

Katharine- Fantastic job with getting us into the minds of these two characters! I love all the humor and subtle irony. Enjoyed every bit of it. Great work! Here are some notes I jotted as I read: Jane's narrative is full of hilarious snarky bits. Lots of fun! - Supercuts, at least in the US, is one word. Maybe it's two in the UK? Suggest a comma here (censored so my comment wouldn't be flagged): - “F*** you[,] Blake" (You do have the comma in a later repetition of this phrase.) Consider rephrasing to conditional tense: - Tripping over...

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22:17 Aug 11, 2022

Thank you Jon! I really appreciate your line notes. It's too late to edit them in but I still learn from them, so great that you took the time, thank you. I am so happy you picked up on the irony. This story didn't turn out quite how I imagined it before I started writing (isn't that often the way) and while I really like the idea I had for it, I was a bit disappointed in the execution I managed. But your encouragement is great and much appreciated. Thank you 😊

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Jon Casper
01:50 Aug 12, 2022

Oops! I didn't realize the contest had already ended. Well, I'm glad the notes were valuable anyway. I hope the story does well in the contest! I enjoyed it!

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Yves. ♙
08:29 Aug 07, 2022

Awww, this one made me sad-- in a good way! I'm always here for tension between women, and I wish they'd found a way to understand each other. So many stories this week, including my own, seem to be finding ways to adress a theme of women being pitted against each other, and it's wonderfully interesting.

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11:37 Aug 07, 2022

Thank you for reading and commenting. It hadn't really occurred to me that it make anyone sad, so that's interesting to hear. Makes total sense now you say it. Though I think in my story the women have kind of pitted themselves against themselves, which is where I see the tension coming from.

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Yves. ♙
18:51 Aug 07, 2022

Exactly right. I suppose it makes me sad because it's realistic, and not just among women-- we so often read people wrong and don't even realize it's possible to fix things! I wonder how many of these situations I've been in without realizing...

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Alex Sultan
20:05 Aug 04, 2022

Hi friend, I hope you're well. I thought this story was clever. I've read a lot of your stories by now, and this one feels very unique. I liked the dual pov and how it revolves around one scene - I didn't get lost at any point. It all came across clear. My favourite part in particular was the paragraph where Jane reminisces on her past when the perfume hits her. I thought it was well written. notes, if youre looking for them on this one: Dressed like this[,] no one would guess I get my hair done at Super Cuts. -need a comma here just to ma...

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20:24 Aug 04, 2022

Thank you kind Sir! This is such helpful feedback - I have made nearly all of your changes - great catch on distain / disdain. Is it clear that actually they have quite a lot in common? And if it hadn't been for this unfortunate ride in the lift, they might have been very happy working together? I'm not sure if it's too subtle? Also - do you think they are both equally justified in calling each other "bitch" at the end? I have to admit, I really like the title, and I want it to work - but it only works if that justification is there. Thank ...

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Alex Sultan
21:36 Aug 04, 2022

Definitely don't change the title! I think it is good, very eye-catching. I think it's clear they have a lot in common and may have been happy working together - the sweaty hands from Jane and Claire stressing out about the perfume reminding Jane of her mother/grandmother drives it home for me. Neither of them seem like bad people by any means at all, but they both overthink to hell and back. I think the name calling works with how you wrote it 👍

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21:55 Aug 04, 2022

Thank you Alex, this good to hear. I stuck it in the contest but I don't expect it to do well. It might be a bit niche.

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Dina Castwell
15:34 Aug 03, 2022

i enjoyed this read. i thought it would be so much worse considering it’s a rough draft. but yeah, i’d definitely like to see you deepen the characters.

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16:25 Aug 03, 2022

Thanks Dina, I feel like it's unfinished. It needs something to happen at the end. I'm still thinking about it.

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Dina Castwell
16:27 Aug 03, 2022

yeah i definitely agree! you should add something to the end. hope u get inspired

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L. E. Scott
17:53 Aug 02, 2022

I like it. How both women are envious of the other, one of youth and fashion, the other of status and comfort. It is a nice look at how people tend to misjudge other people's actions.

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20:49 Aug 02, 2022

Thank you! I'm not exactly sure where I'm going with it just yet - a friend has already asked me if it will get darker - as most of my stories do - but I might just leave it as a bit of a character study. Not sure. I'm glad you picked up on the themes - I wasn't sure how well they came across.

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