Here is a little tiny christmas gift for you. I have written a short story, that will be published in several episodes between now and the beginning of the new year. As always it is not supposed to be great literature, but just a bit of fun, to be enjoyed with a coffee and read bit by bit, or saved up and read in one go. Thank you for your indulgence, I hope you enjoy my tale.
When the email pinged into her inbox at 3:25pm just two Fridays before Christmas, she opened it happily expecting to find a Christmas greeting, but her smile quickly changed to a dropped jaw as she read down the email and gasped ….
She was on the phone with her Mum, who was chatting about everyday stuff and Jen was only half listening as she tidied her desk and checked the last mails of the day. ….”Are you coming home for Christmas?”…… “Jen honey, are you listening to me?! ….. Jen?” …… “ummm, hold on Mom, something just cropped up, I’ll call you back.”
One year on she would talk about this precise instant in time as the best thing that ever happened to her, but for now, in the split second it took her to read the message, her world fell apart .
For the moment, it was nearly Christmas and Jenny, – aged 46, a successful executive in the corporate finance company where she had worked for the past 18 years – was unexpectedly out of work
It’s true there had been issues recently, the economic climate was difficult for everyone, and her team had failed to secure two big contracts that would have made a difference to the end of year result. The company directors had been understanding and encouraging, and she was looking forward to a better year ahead and a chance to make up for the lost income. Since she and John had divorced six months ago she had thrown herself wholeheartedly into her work, using the long office hours as a sedative to the pain inside
The New Year was going to be all about work, she had put together a strategy to regain the lost business, to prove her professional worth, but now maybe that chance would not come. Tears welled up in her eyes, quickly dried by anger “how can they do this to me?!”, and without pausing to think she stormed out of her office, and crossed the hallway of the 30th floor office and slammed open the door of her immediate boss, Jerry
“Can you tell me what this is about?”, her voice was loud as she burst into his room without taking the time to take stock of who else may be present. Jerry turned to face her, his face was drawn, pale and unsmiling. “Hello Jen, take a seat, we have to talk”. His tone was very grave, and as he spoke his eyes crossed the room, “I think you have already met Harold”.
Jenny spun around and found herself facing Harold Spinnacker, the big boss, the top man. Renowned for his dandy flair, and impeccable tailoring, today he looked different. Unshaven, his tie loosened, the jacket of his Italian suit hung lopsided on a chair at the side of the room, he looked bruised.
He stood up and came towards Jenny, “Hello Jen, I’m so sorry about this, about everything, especially the timing” He turned away, and Jerry stepped forward, “ look Jen, we never wanted it to happen this way, but …. well…. It’s over, the company is gone, none of us have a job any more …. We’re sunk …. I’m so sorry”
Jen looked from one to the other, her mouth open, incredulous, she was having trouble taking it in, “hey guys, it’s nearly Christmas, we all have a short break and we’ll all come back in on the 26th, we can make this work, come on, it’s a tough time for everyone, but we can pull through”
Ten minutes later, she left Jerry’s office. Picked up her bag from her desk, grabbed her coat and a few photos from her desk and walked out of her office never to return. She stumbled down the avenue, vaguely aware that she should head for her car and drive home, but instead she turned into the open door of a small café, where she often stopped for coffee before the start of her working day. Something in the back of her mind was drawing her here.
“Good evening Jen! What are you doing here at this time, you’re a morning coffee girl, never an end of day client!”, the smiling waitress behind the bar was called Amy, she’d worked here for as long as Jen could remember and the two always took a moment to chat while Jen drank her start-the-day white flat.
“A double espresso please Amy”, Jen sat down without making eye contact, and stared into the distance. Amy arrived with the coffee, steaming hot, and a tiny cookie slipped onto the saucer, “here we go, one double black and something sweet to perk you up” Jen didn’t appear to hear her. Amy looked more closely at her friend “Everything OK honey?”…still no response …. “Jen, can I do anything for you?”, Amy touched Jen’s shoulder and Jenny started as if awoken from a deep sleep. “Huh? What? Oh sorry Amy, thank you, the coffee’s great”, she sank back into her reverie, and Amy looked concerned, but backed off, sensing that Jen needed some space.
An hour later Amy came back to the table, “hey Jen, sorry honey but I need to close up and get home. You sure there’s nothing I can do for you?”; Jen turned towards her smiling. “Thank you Amy, I loved the coffee and I found something more too” She pointed out the window across the street, “you see the billboard over there, that’s what I came in for, it’s exactly what I needed to see today”. Amy followed the pointed finger and leaned over squinting at the wall with its gaudy billboard in red and yellow. It was stood outside a church, and read
Change is opportunity!!
“Oh, ok Hon, if you say so”, Amy looked puzzled as she took Jen’s payment for the coffee and wished her a nice evening.
Jen walked out the door, and pulled her mobile phone out of her bag, she scrolled down through her contacts: “where is she, what was her name? …Ah, gotya” She hit the call button and the phone buzzed in her hand “French Consulate, how may I help you?”, “Hello, may I speak to Françoise Guyard”
She was put on hold for a few minutes, with some French sounding music in the background, “Bonsoir, Françoise Guyard à l’appareil”.
“Oh, hello, good evening, I mean Bonsoir. My name is Jenny Cotton, we met a couple of months ago at the French Jazz festival.” There was a blank at the other end of the line, she continued, feeling slightly less sure of herself, “You may remember, we spoke about french food and culture and then about how you have reinvented yourself with your new job”
“Ah oui! Bien sur! Hello Jenny, how are you, I’m glad you have called me, that was a fun event wasn’t it”
“Yes, I loved it. I was wondering, I mean, I know we only met briefly, but I was wondering if you’d be free for a coffee some time over the weekend? …. I’ve been thinking about our conversation, and well, something has happened here that makes it more relevant than before, just thought it would be nice to pick up again.”
And so it was the next day that Jenny and Françoise Guyard sat down to a coffee at 11am, and didn’t move from the table until 3pm by which time they had drunk coffee, eaten a lunch, had another coffee and discovered a shared love of baking, good wine and a conviction that reinvention was possible at any age.