I saw her out of the corner of my eye. She was
sitting on the wooden bench looking up at the church and then occasionally in
my direction. I crouched at the graveside, pushing stems of daisies and carnations
through the wire holes in the top of the vase.
Crikey, it was cold. I stood up and pulled my
gloves back on before stepping back to admire my handiwork. The flowers looked
pretty. There was a plaque – but only my brother was buried there, my parents’
ashes had been scattered over the top.
I picked up the paper the flowers had been
wrapped in and mashed it in my hands. I could still feel the curious stare of
the woman, whom I did my best to ignore. The bins were by the bench. I headed
over, keeping my head low.
‘Hello,’ she said.
I nodded, dropped the litter and turned away. I
pulled up the collar on my coat, not only to block out this stranger’s
inquisitive eyes but because the air was stinging my cheeks. I wondered how she
could sit for so long without freezing up.
‘I’m Ellen,’ she said. Good manners made me turn
‘I’m Valerie, good day.’ Oh, how very English and
polite, I thought, as I walked away.
‘November’s turned cold, hasn’t it?’ she said
standing and falling into step beside me. ‘Do you think we’ll have snow?’
I walked faster, but the woman kept pace with me.
‘We’ve been lucky with the weather so far, but I
think it can be safely said that winter has arrived,’ she said. ‘Are you a
winter person, Valerie?’
Not only had she invaded my space, she was asking
anal questions too. She didn’t bother to wait for an answer, which was good,
seeing as I wasn’t going to supply one but prattled on with another:
‘Who’re you visiting?’ She nodded over to my
With the gates in sight, I afforded her a brief
glance. ‘Not any more.’
Her smile waned a little, but I strode forward,
hoping to be first through the gates. But it didn’t happen like that and we
ended up locked together between black iron.
She burst into peals of laughter before stepping
back and allowing me to exit first. I gave her a no-nonsense smile, and stepped
through the gates towards my car. The car park was almost empty, so I couldn’t
understand why a bright red Mini was parked so close to my Vectra.
I heard Ellen giggling behind me, and I had a
horrible feeling the Mini was hers. I bleeped my car open, but there was no way
I could get access unless it was from the passenger side.
I turned to Ellen. She grinned at me, aimed the
keys and bleeped her car. ‘Brilliant things, aren’t they?’ she said.
She jiggled her keys. ‘These bleepy things.’
I placed my bag on the bonnet of my Vectra, and
pointed at her car. ‘You’ve an entire car park at your disposal, and you chose
to park not only next to me, but right on top so I can’t get in!’
She stared at me, but much to my chagrin, her
smile only got wider. She winked, then circled to the driver’s side of her car
where she slid behind the wheel. ‘Take care of that blood pressure of yours,’
she said and closed the door.
She drove away leaving me staring after her in
‘Cheeky bitch,’ I said. I climbed into my car and
drove towards work.
There was a holdup at the traffic lights, which I
couldn’t understand because the lights were green. Impatiently, I stabbed at my
horn with the heel of my hand, and a car in front of the car I was behind shot
off just as the lights changed to red. I noticed it was the Mini from the
graveyard. ‘Typical,’ I muttered.
I thought back to the first time I’d seen her. It
was summer time, and she was on that same bench and I was tending to the grave.
She’d smiled but hadn’t attempted to speak. Come to think of it, I’d seen her
before then too, and I remembered her because she was wearing a bright green
raincoat with a huge sunflower on the back. At first glance I thought it had
been a target board.
The lights changed and I eased my car forward. Obviously
she had lost family too, I thought. I’ll change my visits from the middle of
every month to the end. That way I’d not encounter her again.
I stepped inside the foyer of my office and, ignoring the lift, I
climbed the stairs. It wasn’t that I wanted the exercise, I just didn’t like
lifts. I didn’t like most things to be honest: animals, people, modern music,
Keith Lemon to name a few. I liked numbers and data. They were my forte; safe
and solid numbers.
The office block was only three storeys. The
first floor was all taken by one firm, and besides saying ‘hello’ we never
spoke at all. I shared the top floor with an accountancy firm. I rented the
largest office, which had a connecting door to a smaller one. The smaller
office was mine, and it overlooked Sallington Park; the other room was for my
Inside I heard the steady drone of office banter
between them – all two of them. I ran a financial advisory brokerage for Sunny
Oak. I pushed open the door.
‘Mr McFindley has called to cancel tonight’s
appointment,’ Tim informed me before I was barely over the threshold, ‘and I’ve
chased Tracey Sadark for her previous insurance details. She’s promised to
phone them through later this afternoon. I’ve three new appointments booked for
tonight and it’s only eleven o’clock! Oh, and I’ve ordered new stationery from
HQ, but there’s going to be a delay on stamps for the new logo.’ He jumped up
to give me his list and then proceeded over to the bubbling percolator and
poured me a coffee. He was Tim the Tireless. At five foot nothing and
approaching retirement age Tim would never walk if he could run.
‘And did you call Darren Yardley like I asked?’ I
‘Of course. He’s going to fax over his details.’ He
grinned and handed me a cup of steaming coffee that resembled tar – just as I
liked it. ‘I’ve arranged an interview for your new assistant at three tomorrow
afternoon.’ He whipped out his notebook. ‘I’ve her details –’
‘No, no, I‘ll check later,’ I said. I was keen to
get into the sanctuary of my office. My eyes fell on a pile of customer files
still sitting on top of the filing cabinet. ‘Paul?’ I said, pointing. ‘Why
hasn’t the filing been done?’
‘There isn’t any filing, Miss Anthrope,’ he said.
He insisted on calling me by my surname at all times. He’d only recently learned
to stop standing when I entered a room, so small mercies. I noticed that he was
busy sorting coloured paperclips into little piles of blue, red and pink, on
‘What’s that then?’ I said, still pointing at the
He peered at me through his owl-framed glasses,
and then at the files. ‘Are they for filing?’
‘Yes, Paul,’ I said. ‘They were there yesterday
and probably before the weekend, too. Do it immediately, this inefficiently of
yours is getting ridiculous!’
Paul dived on a coloured paperclip and held it up
to the light as if admiring a diamond. ‘An orange paperclip,’ he said. ‘Now
these are unusual.’
Tim zoomed over to Paul’s desk proclaiming, ‘I’ve
a purple. Can’t get more unusual than that!’
Feeling a headache coming on I left them for my
office. Inside, I placed my coffee on my desk, and unbuttoned my coat but
didn’t take it off. I was still cold from the graveyard visit.
I touched the radiator. It was lukewarm. Rubbing
my hands together, I stared out of the window while trying to encourage warmth
from the radiator below. I’d meant to bring in my little heater from home but
forgot – must remember for tomorrow. I didn’t want the cold to put off my
interviewee. I hadn’t much success with staff; Tim and Paul were seemingly the
only ones I could hang on to.
Tim was my sales representative; he was good at
selling, or rather, talking. I think people signed on the dotted line just to
be rid of him. Paul, a general assistant, wanted to work fewer hours and I
thought hiring someone to job-share alongside him would be a good idea, with
the added benefit that he or she could be a sort of PA for me. I wanted to
concentrate on sales and presentations and leave the general running of the
office to someone else.
I vowed to try and be nice in the interview. It
wouldn’t be easy.