A short story/flash fiction
It had seemed like a fine answer. She’d known she was going to say it. It was true and convincing. All at once it would epitomise commitment, experience, loyalty. She would put in the hours. She would dedicate herself to the role. She knew that was what they would be looking for.
But when she heard herself say it she sounded pitiful:
‘It’s all I know…’
It’s all I have ever done…
Charlie had thought her presumptuous to write an email of resignation so soon after the interview. But of course she wouldn’t click Send just yet, would she? She was getting ready, that was all – preparing for the future. Optimistic. He liked that in a person.
You keep at it, you go up and up, you get more money, you have more choices in life, you have fewer and fewer people telling you what to do, you finally get to the top and you gain control. That’s how the system worked. Why on earth would anyone want to be one of the minions, thought Charlie, doing everything for less money and less respect? Other people clearly didn’t have the drive, ambition or talent that he and Ellen had. Their loss.
Charlie poured them a glass of Pinot Noir while Ellen stared at the screen and chewed the skin around her thumbnail.
‘D’you think you’ve got it then?’ he asked. ‘You seem pretty certain you’re leaving.’
‘Hmmm?’ Ellen was lost in thought. Her eyes scanned left to right to left, quickly, as she read.
‘How long before you hear? Did they say?’
‘Oh yes. I’m sure I’m leaving.’
‘Now.’ She pressed Enter with a pronounced gesture and closed her laptop.
She was shaking. Her eyes were still flitting and she looked half-crazed as if she would explode into hysterical laughter at any second.
‘Jeez, El’, what if you don’t…?’ Charlie paused and necked his wine.
He’d always admired her gutsiness. ‘My missus has got balls,’ he often joked proudly. But he suddenly felt the exhilarating terror he’d experienced when he’d tried the fast slopes at Aspen for the first time. It was great when it all turned out all right in the end but the loss of control had scared the crap out of him. He began to shake too and poured himself another drink.
‘What are we doing with our lives, Charlie?’ she asked, standing up and pouring her wine down the sink.
‘Hopefully we’re getting to the top – that’s if you haven’t just become unemployed.’ He rubbed his forehead as panic made it sweat.
‘But why? What do we want?’ She was holding her car key and turning it over in her hands – as if it made them dirty.
‘A nice house. A bigger house. No mortgage. Nice cars. No one telling us what to do. To be in control of our lives. You know… and stuff. Holidays. Things. Comfort.’
Ellen released a huge breath and pressed the key onto the kitchen surface. She lined it up neatly next to her phone and her laptop and stepped back pushing her hands into her jeans pockets.
‘I’m going on a self-sufficiency course in Powys. I’ll get the train. I’ll phone you from the landline when I get there.’
‘You what?!’ Charlie spat wine and jumped towards her, reaching out for her shoulders. ‘You’re tired and stressed after the worry of the interview. Just sit down and we’ll talk. I think you’re having a nervous breakdown, love.’
‘Well, if I am, I thoroughly recommend it,’ Ellen laughed lightly and released herself.
Charlie squinted at her. ‘Are you leaving me? Are you having an affair?’
‘No. No. You can come too. I just didn’t think you’d want to.’
‘How long have you been planning this?’
Ellen looked at her watch. ‘About 47 minutes.’ She walked to the front door and opened it, picking up a rucksack from the floor.
‘And what about the job?’
‘What job?’ She raised her eyebrows and kissed Charlie’s cheek.
‘You can’t not work.’
‘Oh, I’ll be working.’ Her phone rang from the kitchen as she stepped outside and slung the rucksack on her back.
‘No. Earning a living. Just imagine for a minute not having the security of knowing you can afford a mortgage, go out for dinner, drive a car, be part of the financial world…’
‘I know. It’s exhilarating.’ Ellen grinned, wide-eyed. ‘I can feel the wind in my hair already.’
Her phone rang again and she strode away down the drive, swinging her arms. Charlie had started to follow her but he ran back up into the house and looked at her phone. A text appeared on the screen.
Charlie stared at the screen and downed another glass of wine.