A few days ago I blogged about my newly established habit – a 15-minute daily writing practice inspired by the topics suggested in ‘A Writer’s Book of Days’ by Judy Reeves. Every now and again something seems to emerge from this practice – something worth thinking about, maybe even working with.
Two days ago, the topic was: It’s what was whispered about. I wrote for 15 minutes as Judy recommends, chasing the picture that entered my head in the first moment. Unusually, my thoughts circled that picture on and off throughout the day. Yesterday I went back and played with those 450 words – for an hour or so, no more. What came out of that playtime is either nothing much, or it’s a vignette, done and finished; or it’s the outline, or the germ of a short story. I’m not sure what. But since my last post seems to have found its way to a bigger audience than I’m used to on this blog, I thought it might be fun to share it and find out what you think:
She hears them whispering before she reaches the kitchen. The three of them, witches around a cauldron. It isn’t the usual water-cooler chit-chat about last night’s Eastenders or who’s on Jonathan Ross this weekend. Their voices are hushed and conspiratorial. When she walks in on them, they skitter away like cockroaches. One busies herself over a part-boiled kettle, another, the contents of a tea caddy; the third chases a stray smear of butter round a worktop. They make their drinks in silence then they ease past her and hurry back to their desks, heads down, eyes averted.
So they know.
She’s become the object of sniggering gossip shared in snatched moments in the kitchen, the toilets, the smoking area; places where bad news is nurtured and secret goings-on mercilessly dissected and speculated upon. She isn’t a co-conspirator in this conversation; she’s its subject.
These older, world-weary women – they’ve seen it all before, as they never tire of telling anyone who’ll listen. They’re all so sure of themselves, always ready with an I-told-you-so and never a moment’s hesitation before they come out with it. It would never happen to them, would it?
Or, perhaps it would. Perhaps it had.
They’d all been young once, full of hope and optimism and as eager as she to receive a kind word or a compliment from a man of power and authority. Had their hearts almost burst with excitement when the first move was made on them? When that first touch had come, the placing of a hand on an arm, for just a few moments too long to be purely professional – had they become dizzy with the fear and the thrill of possibility? When they noticed that first wistful gaze across the office, that first surreptitious wink, had they begged their eyes not to deceive them? Had they stood, frozen to the spot in a crowded lift, certain that the sweet prickling of flesh on flesh wasn’t accidental? What had they felt, when that first invitation came, when they’d been swept away (I’ll pick you up down the road) to a cosy lunch in an anonymous country hotel, miles away? Had their empty existences suddenly overflowed with exquisite anticipation?
Or had they always been too street-wise, too savvy to be taken in by an old dog and his even older tricks?
Now he walks past her without so much as a glance, his eyes on everything but her, scanning the room for another hopeful child-woman with which to amuse himself for a few weeks.
She realises, now, what a casual crime was perpetrated in those few brief encounters. She acknowledges the theft of her innocence, the ram-raid on her trust. She knows, now, that those few cosy lunches were never about how pretty and fascinating she was, or how delightful her conversation. She guessed it the first time he suggested they have lunch sent up to a bedroom, so they could enjoy it in private. And she knew for certain the day he decided they should skip the pointless preamble of eating a meal altogether (you can grab sandwich from the canteen, can’t you?). She had let herself be taken to a bedroom, and taken to a sordid slice of time where innocence withers away. And later, while she waited patiently as he showered off the scent of her perfume and the odour of sex, the fragile ingénue died and the world-weary woman was born.