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Fiction Friendship

It is not often that I get nervous, but then it had been a long time since I sat waiting to be interviewed. I looked up at the others in the room, as I turned the page, of the only magazine available. I assumed these busy beavers were the staff. Glancing back, I stared at the picture on the page; it was of a young girl with a pretty smile. I did not read the blurb so I did not know whether it was an article or an advert, I simply stared at the photo, mesmerised. The young girl could be no more than ten.  She wore a long frock and was holding a puppy. Where had I seen her? When was it? Why was I so disturbed by it? I still had a while to go before my interview so until someone called me in, I could just let my thoughts wander.   I did not know what to expect, indeed I wondered whether or not this would be a prize waste of time. Little did I know what was coming.  The receptionist called over to me;

“Excuse me are you Shona Wilmott?”

“Yes.”

“Donna…um Mrs Baxter apologises they are running late, but you are next.”

Ah yes, it was Donna Baxter who sent the invitation. Then it hit me. It was Donna or her daughter in the picture. It was Donna’s smile, Donna’s fair shoulder-length hair, that kinked into a curl, whereas mine, rich dark and boyishly short was neither fashionable nor pretty, at least not now.

Donna. It was unlikely it would be the same Donna. We were forced into friendship as children, our families travelled an immigrant ship bound for Melbourne, Australia. Our parents got on famously; a friendship built on common circumstance and respect but not necessarily depth developed, though short in duration.

Though Donna and I were about the same age, we were very different from each other.  I could climb all things and anything, she could hardly walk. We never knew what caused the limp, her parents protected her and my Mum and Dad followed suit. I thought back smiling. Could it really be close to thirty years? Yes, it had to be, it was the late sixties when we arrived at Port Melbourne. How life had changed; from 4 cent local stamps and aerogrammes to dial-up phones in the cold hall, compared with today’s emails and mobile phones as heavy as lead, and not as reliable.

It was prior to the hippy era, where love obedience and correction were a part of life, irrespective of health or wealth. Mum and Aunt Min did not need to whack, that Scottish look of disapproval was usually enough to send all thoughts of disobedience packing.  That said life would have been a lot easier for me; bold as brass, indifferent to criticism, but Donna, possibly because of her circumstances, was quiet and determined. I thought back smiling.  

The door opened, a young woman beckoned me to enter, her smile cool and reserved. She left me standing at the door.

“Come in.” it was a Scottish voice. I looked across to the owner of the voice.

“Oh, Pickles.” I thought as I looked at the older version of Donna Maxwell as she was.

“Shona.” Donna smiled then did a double-take “I’m just waiting on Steve to come in, please sit down. Would you like a coffee?” she smiled again “do I know you from…” she turned as the door reopened.

 “Ah, Steve,”

  A man in his mid-forties entered the office; if I had looked away for a moment, I would have missed that look between them.

Steve came over to me offering his hand.

“Shona is it?” he asked “lovely to meet you. I see you have the company magazine in your hand.”

I nodded thinking “you fool this was your opportunity to read about them.”

As though she was mind reading, Donna asked

“How much did you read, Shona?” 

“To be honest Mrs Baxter, I got distracted. I realise now, it would have been a good opportunity to learn something but it offers you the opportunity to tell me what I should know, about the company and of course the job.”

“Quite.” said Steve dryly. “oh, by the way, we go by first names here, Shona.” he referred to his notes.

“May I go first dear?” he asked

Donna nodded, still looking at me quizzically.

“Well as you have gathered this is a family business.” began Steve. “as I was a naval engineer the ‘mechanics’ and technology of the merchandise is something I coordinate and Donna is the marketing and public relations expert, therefore you would be reporting to her.”

I cringed nodding my head politely

The phone rang. Steve looked at Donna then back at me

“Oh, I’m expecting this will you excuse me?” I nodded, he picked the receiver up and spoke

“Steven Baxter.” he was listening intently, I was clenching and unclenching my hands and Donna still could not work out where she had seen me before.

“Right I will have our receptionist send them over.” he looked at Donna “I will be back in a jiffy.” then to me “perhaps Donna can…” he left in a hurry carrying a folder of papers.

“Shona you look familiar where did I meet you before?” it was blunt, cautious and a little unnerving.

“On the migrant ship, I believe,” I answered looking straight at her. Recognition at last.

“Shona Morgan! well, I never,” there was no smile “tell me something about yourself. It’s okay, I will fill Steve in when he returns.”

“Well you know my age.” it did not get a smile either “I trained as a librarian, married, then moved to a new district. I set up a book shop which I had for ten years, during which time I had our son, but when my husband passed away, I sold the business to work with a local engineering company.”

“Are you still there? It is unclear on your resume.”

“No, I was retrenched.” why did I say that?

The door had opened Steve had caught the last bit.

“Why, were you cheating?” Steve was laughing.

I knew Donna was looking at me. Mortified, I half-smiled. Once more the memories returned. This was not going well.

We had gone to the same school Donna and I, though in different classes. She was the scholar, I could tell that because her head was always stuck in a book, even at lunchtime, I was always tree climbing, taking a delight in throwing acorns, leaves, unripe fruit, in short, whatever was at hand down on some unsuspecting head. I once heard Aunt Min refer to me as a ‘wee monkey’; literal or metaphorical it appealed to me. The truth was I was always jealous of Donna. Mum watched me one day and told me it was time I looked after Donna as a friend, not the enemy, but I had other ideas. Later that week, on the way home, we walked through the park. I suggested we have a race. Reluctantly Donna agreed. I stood fractionally behind, giving her a head start, in deference to her mobility issues   I yelled: 

“Ready, Steady, GO” 

She was off, I held back. She was gaining momentum I could not have that, the snivelling brat. Using the grass to my advantage, I sneaked beside her, from behind, put my left hand on her chest barricading her, and, pushing past her, ran to the supposed finishing line. While I gloated Donna had fallen and started to cry. Yet instead of asking why I had done this, the coward just accepted what I did without complaint.   Still, the memory haunted me. Donna was looking at me

I still felt guilty so I spoke, thinking I had nothing to lose.

“Donna, do you remember the park race, I suggested?” she nodded smirking “Mum was not impressed; she whacked my tail and without ceremony ushered me to the bedroom. My dinner was served there, main meal and water only, instead of milk or orange juice.”

Donna laughed heartily “Good served you right, I hope that was a lesson.” she laughed again.

“Were you alright?”

“Goodness yes.” she answered “Don’t forget until you cheated, I was winning. Oh, I did have surgery later on, so, no more limp. Hence the reason we make invalid aides, and you better not try that race trick again. I know your little games; I’ll wager they not have altered much” she wagged her finger, in a teasing gesture.

“Steve?” Donna beckoned him as he came back to his seat.

“Yes dear,” he smiled “you have made a decision, I take it.”

“Oh, absolutely Shona is ideal.”

“Eh?” I said

“Well we are even I cheated just now. Steve spoke to your former manager. There was such a glowing report of exemplary behaviour, why would we let you go to someone else unless you have other plans?”

I looked at Steve who laughed.

“I don’t get it?” I said.

“We make our own choices Shona, but we do ask for references.” Steve answered, “meanwhile anyone who feels guilty about a childish prank she performed thirty years back, is hardly likely to repeat the performance.”

I started to laugh.

“Do you accept our offer?”

I nodded relief washing over me

“Welcome aboard.” they chorused

November 06, 2020 03:19

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1 comment

Kate Winchester
01:32 Nov 09, 2020

This was a great story. I liked your take on the prompt, and your characters are very relatable. I could feel the remorse from Shona, and I liked how it turned out well for her.

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