a cold cappuccino
She was waiting for him in the café.
She had chosen her place to sit, with him opposite facing the wall and her in
full view of the street. She had ordered her lunch, a salad followed by a
yoghurt and strawberry desert. There was no point starving yourself at a time
like this. You needed every bit of nourishment you could get. Her heart was
pounding. Her head was spinning. She
wasn’t exactly looking forward to the encounter.
was, as its name suggested, not a particularly high-class place. She would not
have chosen it herself. The tables were covered in wood-grained Formica and
there were stools instead of chairs. They served food on the go. When she had
rung him, he’d said he was on his way out but she had managed to pin him down to
a working lunch.
he walked in, an image flashed across her mind of him in a coffin. That was
where she would like to put him right now. He seemed to be taking an awfully
long time to order his food. Delaying tactics. She noticed he had chosen a
sandwich. She couldn’t immediately
determine the filling.
stools were of the tall variety. She waited for him to clamber up onto his. It
was a difficult thing to do gracefully. She had installed herself on hers before
he came. It was important to keep your poise at a time like this. She waited for
him to speak.
what can I do for you?’ he said. His tone was formal, business-like, as if he
hardly knew her. She had been working for him for years. She was part of the furniture.
I said on the phone’ she began, ‘I’m very disappointed in the number of hours
you have given me this year. It represents a substantial drop in my income.’
could see he was having trouble remembering how much work he had doled out and
to whom. There were so many part-time employees on his staff and all of them
wanting work. It was a hell of a job, trying to keep everybody happy. He likened
it to a giant jigsaw puzzle. There were only a certain number of pieces. How did
you choose? Not everybody could be accommodated.
‘There is always the possibility of work
coming up in the future,’ he said. ‘You haven’t been ruled out
can’t live on possibilities’ she said. ‘They don’t pay the rent.’
sure you appreciate the difficulties we are in. We really are under severe
constraints these days’ he said.
is my bread and butter. I was relying on the work. All you are offering me is
crumbs’ she blurted out.
cast a look around. The choice of cafe had been entirely appropriate. She
worried now that she might have blown it. She wasn’t exactly in a bargaining
position. Bosses always had the upper hand, particularly these days when
everyone was scrabbling for hours. They could afford to keep you dangling for
months, just on the off-chance.
me again what I offered you,’ he said, shifting his position.
was down for the same number of hours as last year,’ she said ‘plus some
is it you people always talk about hours?’ he said. ‘To me, that shows a lack of
talk about hours,’ she replied, ‘because hours are what we get, now that there
are no proper contracts anymore.’
see,’ he said. ‘Actually, I haven’t been able to tell anyone yet but there has
been a change of policy. I was going to break the news at the staff meeting but
since you brought it up. The truth is the department is moving out of Humanities
and we are going to have to make some cuts.
is nothing in my work record to suggest’, she said, seizing the opportunity,
‘that I have been anything other than a conscientious, committed employee. I am
efficient, punctual, enthusiastic, qualified and experienced.’
yes. That may well be true,' he said. ‘I don’t dispute it. It’s just that there
are so many of you now to consider. I can’t keep everyone happy. It’s just not
‘I was under the illusion,’ she said, ‘that my
work was appreciated here’.
‘Indeed, it is.’
‘It doesn’t seem so,’ she continued. ‘When you
promised me the work earlier in the year, I took you at your word,’ she said,
going for the jugular.
was part of the old boys’ network. They prided themselves on honouring their
agreements, didn’t they?
looked wounded. He had probably underestimated her, assuming she was the quiet
type, who wouldn’t say boo to a goose. He was no doubt regretting having agreed
to meet her in the café, wishing he had kept it on a more professional footing,
in the safety of his office.
had the momentum. It was now or never.
you can’t give me the work,’ she said, ‘I may have to look elsewhere. After
working in such a prestigious establishment as this, I’m sure there are plenty
of other places who would be only too willing to take me on.’
no need to be hasty,’ he said. ‘We need
people with your drive and ambition. I’m confident we can find you
wish I could share your confidence,’ she said.
took a bite out of his sandwich. He couldn’t have spoken, even if he had wanted
to. He had got a mouthful.
About the author
Jenny Palmer writes poems, short stories and local history. After her return to
Lancashire in 2008 she has self-published three books: 'Nowhere better than
home' in 2012, 'Whipps, Watsons and Bulcocks, a 'Pendle family history' in 2014
and 'Pastures New' in 2016.