by Andrea Williams
a glass of chilled cider
When I arrived at work on Tuesday, I was called into the office first thing.
“This is your last written, official, warning, Jones. You’ve been late 43 times since January, and despite you saying that you know how essential your job is to keeping the warehouse running, you keep on turning up late. Not a couple of minutes, not a missed bus worth, but half a morning late. So late we have to pull in other people from their jobs. We can’t rely on you. Well, unless you’re here on time every day for the next month, its P45 time for you. Is that clear? Is there owt you want to say?”
“No, sorry, I understand.”
Silence. Really there was plenty I wanted to say, but you can’t, so you don’t, do you? I wanted to say something like ‘Your job is so boring and repetitive and gives no job satisfaction, and I can’t stand the idea of working for such a misogynistic bullying dinosaur who doesn’t value the people or provide any training or encouragement to do well.’
But you can’t really say that can you? So I tried to look sorry, and trudged back to my airless, windowless cubicle to fiddle with the computer keyboard and keep the forklifts moving. It’s a job, and it pays the rent, and it pays for the fishing tackle, and the bait, and the waterproofs, and if I close my eyes in my cubicle I can imagine I’m somewhere else. Like maybe out on the point, after a good nor’easter, and the fish are biting, and the surf’s up enough to take the line way out to where they feed on the flood tide.
“Billy - wake up man, where’s the next picking note.” An angry voice called me back. “You just ‘fish’ out another for me, and stop ‘flounder’ing about. The ‘plaice’ is going to pieces. Get your ‘skates’ on, we’re all getting a bit ‘crabby’ out here, ” he said, and I could see half the drivers stood round with big smirks - they knew what was going on.
“Here, five more for you. You’re too slow, they’re stacking up.” I said, and went back to daydreaming the day away.
I managed to get up early and be on the early bus for the next 11 days. Then I went fishing, off the beach, on a flood tide, and what a night it was. Ended up in the dark, wearing a lamp to see by, and every time I cast, I seemed to catch something. I should have stopped sooner, because when I’d packed up and hiked back with the gear, and nearly three stone of fish, I’d missed the last bus.
Next morning, I’d slept in. Now what? When I go to work, I’ll get sacked for sure. I need some excuse that’ll work. I thought up the best I could think, then phoned in, sounding as if I cared.
“Billy Jones here, Mr Williams, yes, yes, sorry, I know what you said last time, but you’ve seen I’ve turned over a new leaf, and its just, well, you see me Mam died, and I’m at the hospital, and I’d have phoned you, but I’ve just now had chance, and I know what you said, so if you want to sack me, then I’ll understand.” I thought that that last bit was real good, then I thought fast and added, “and I’ll need to ask for some time off for the arrangements and the funeral too, so just go ahead and sack me if you want.” There was a silence, his angry remarks at the start had stopped, and his voice had changed.
“You say your Mam just died?”
“Yes Mr Williams, I’m very sorry I didn’t have chance to ask for the time off.”
“Don’t worry about that lad, a bit sudden was it?”
“Yes Mr Williams, she’s been having problems for a while,” and I thought quick again, “I didn’t want to say anything before, in case you thought I was trying to make excuses.” That got him, his voice softened.
“You should have told us, Billy man, we’d have let you have some time off if you needed it. Just take as long as you need, and be in on Thursday.”
‘That’s great,’ I thought, still got a job and a whole two days off. So I went fishing.
Thursday morning came, and I made sure to be on time. Clocked in and went to the cubicle on the far side of the loading bay. It was full of flowers. Well, not full exactly, but there were two bunches, and a few envelopes with my name on. They had sympathy cards, saying ‘sorry for your loss’ and so on. I’d barely got sat down when Sheila came in from the office. I like Sheila, well I would if she’d let me, but whenever I’d spoken to her before she did her best to ignore me.
“Billy love, I was right sorry to hear about your mam. Tell us what happened.”
I wasn’t ready for that. Had no story prepared. I thought I’d just wangled a couple of days off, kept my job, and got away with it, but she wanted details, and seeing as she worked for Mr Williams, I knew it had to be convincing, ‘cos it was going right back to him. I took a gulp and started inventing.
“Well, she’s been badly for a while,” thinking to myself, ‘about twelve years since we waved her off at the crematorium,’ “but lately she’s been getting sicker, and I didn’t like to say much.” And then I had a flash of pure genius. "It was ‘women’s troubles’ if you know what I mean, and she didn’t like to talk about it, so I used to just say that I’d missed my bus or slept in so as to keep it a bit, well, quiet like - for her sake - you know.” That worked, I could tell by her expression. When Williams heard that, I might even get a few credits back. Then, disaster.
“I’m not sure I know what you mean, Billy, what sort of troubles?”
Well I have no idea what it could be that could kill her, I only knew that there was a whole area of medicine I overheard bits of down at the pub that were ‘women's troubles’ - I was just hoping some of them could kill a man - well, kill a woman, that is.
“They didn’t explain, exactly, just said they couldn’t operate or do anything.” and I added “It was very sudden, and she went peacefully.”
“Such a shame for you. How old was she?”
How old? how old? how would I know? If she was 57 twelve years ago when she died, and just died now, she’d have to be… what’s 57 and twelve.. quick.. she’s looking at me…
“Sixty eight.” I said, then got the right answer, “Sixty nine.” I corrected myself, and thought, ‘Phew, close shave there.’ Then I realised I could have said forty three or fifty two and she wouldn’t have known, and I might have got more sympathy.
“And when’s the funeral dear? I’m sure Mr Williams would like one or two of us to come along and show some support for you.” ‘Oh no’ I thought, how can I get out of that - play for time.
“I…, I…, I’m not sure yet, they want to do a post mortem, so I can’t say when, yet.” Sheila gave me a bit of a look, so I thought I needed to add some more, “There was something about it being so sudden, like, so they just needed to find out more.” Her face cleared, almost, and she turned to go, then said, over her shoulder,
“Well, as soon as you find out, be sure to let us know, so we can arrange something.” and she left the cubicle, which suddenly seemed to got very hot.
Anyone know where can I find a spare funeral at a couple of days notice?
About the author
When not writing Andrea makes furniture, repairs dry stone walls, and enjoys Northumbria.