Read Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes Online

Authors: Sue Watson

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Humor, #Women's Fiction, #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary Fiction, #Humor & Satire, #General Humor

Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes (2 page)

BOOK: Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes
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1 - Chunky Kit Kats and Leafy Lunches
 
2 weeks earlier...
 

It was five past nine when I finally flung myself through the door of the glass-fronted office building in downtown Birmingham on that fated Monday morning in June. As I sprinted to my desk I could see my boss Mary-Jane Robinson, or MJ as she liked to be called, loitering by the coffee machine watching me all the way with a twisted smile. Clad in a tight, black pencil skirt and a pristine white blouse, MJ’s taut, wiry frame hinted strongly at self denial and leaf-only lunches. Unhappy and unfulfilled she may be, but I had to hand it to her, her legs looked good in those killer heels.

“Morning, MJ!” I called with fake cheerfulness as I landed at my desk, deliberately taking a huge bite of buttery croissant and slurping my cappuccino.

“Oh, hello Stella,” she said slowly as she passed my desk and ascended the stairs that led to the upper level, where her office was situated. At Media World, the space was open plan and the TV executives were positioned on balconies above, from which lofty positions they could see everyone and make note of any battery hen that strayed from its pen.

MJ paused on the balcony outside her office for a moment, sweeping her eyes across the floor below. “Diet Coke!” she barked at her assistant and catching my eye, she gave me a nasty sneer, marched into her office and slammed the door.

The sneer slightly unnerved me but I quickly logged on to my computer, absently removing a collection of crisp packets and chocolate wrappings from the keyboard and thinking that the diet would definitely start now.

“Morning Stel,” said Valerie, the producer of
I

the Countryside
, “I see the bitch queen was watching your entrance with her usual venom.”

“Hi Val,” I said. “Yeah, she was probably wishing she had my fabulous curvy body. I’m only a few minutes late, for God’s sake.” Val smiled.

“Why is it the execs only seem to notice when you arrive late, never when you leave late?” Val said. “I mean, what time were you here till on Friday, in the end?”

“Midnight,” I said with a scowl.

“Wow – that’s dedication to duty!”

“Not really. MJ decided that for some reason best known to her, she needed the pilot for
Forgotten Families
biked to her flat before today. “Sometimes I think she only does it to make my life harder.” I sighed.

 “Well I know that everyone involved thinks it’s great – just don’t let her take all the credit.”

“Thanks Val. I just wish the filming could have been a bit nearer home, I think the title says it all!” I said.

Forgotten Families
was a new series I was producing for the daytime TV audience. It involved people being reunited with family members they’d never met before due to adoption, emigration or divorce – think
Surprise, Surprise
on a daytime budget with a genetic twist.

I pulled out my file for the programme, full of dates, case studies and format ideas and began to get to work. I knew MJ had probably seen the programme by now and that feedback was on the way. Even though I knew it was good, the thought of what she might say almost put me off my mid-morning snack of a chunky Kit Kat and a small iced bun...but not quite – a girl needs to keep her energy levels high; it’s all about metabolism. Unwrapping the Kit Kat and biting into the solid chocolate coating that yielded to thick, crispy wafer crunch I wondered for the hundredth time how one person could have this effect on me. Over the years, childless, husbandless MJ had cultivated special venom for her own personal antichrist: mothers trying to hold down a career. This venom was directed at all mothers working at Media World but I was special and invited extra-poisonous doses.

Once upon a time (in a land far away) I was deemed to be a high-flyer at Media World with the owner of the company, Frank Moores, saying he loved my creativity and even offering me an executive producer position. Of course I was very flattered and considered it carefully, but I eventually turned it down because it would have meant even longer hours and being away from my daughter Grace and husband Tom. Meanwhile, MJ was snapping at my heels, spending a lot of time around Frank, arriving early, working late and appearing to be very efficient. It was therefore no surprise that soon after I turned the job down, it was given to MJ. I guess it must have seemed like a bit of a hollow victory for her and ever since then she’d seen me as a threat and never missed an opportunity to lash out and knock my ideas or the work I was doing. If she could do this in a public arena, I reckon she gave herself extra points. At first this was just annoying but over the years as she rose through the ranks this became more and more of a problem for me. I wiped my sticky fingers – time was ticking on and I had work to do, so I pushed in a last mouthful of iced bun and with it pushed thoughts of MJ to the back of my mind and got down to business.

I was so consumed by budgets, press plans, facts and figures that time – and several more tasty titbits – slipped past without me noticing. Suddenly I looked up and the clock on my computer said 5pm. I was just thinking about packing up and wondering why MJ hadn’t commented on the programme yet when an email pinged through to my computer.

Stella,

I have some feedback for you. Meet at my desk at 6pm.

MJ

 

Bitch!
6pm was exactly when After School Club closed, as she well knew. My eight-year old daughter already spent more time at the club than I would have liked and now it looked like she’d be the last kid at the gates – again. My stomach lurched and I felt sick. If I could capture that feeling and bottle it I could make a fortune from slimmers all over the world. I swear if someone had offered me a Flake (even a dipped one) I couldn't have eaten it.

I pulled out my mobile and frantically called Tom but his phone was switched off. I felt a flicker of annoyance as his voicemail clicked in.

“Tom, it’s me. I need you to collect Grace, something’s come up at work. Call me,” I said, crossly. I shut the phone and checked my watch. The meeting with MJ was in 55 minutes which would give Tom enough time to get back from the studio and pick Grace up, presuming he got my message in time. Why was the damn phone off?

I tried not to waste time worrying and began pulling everything together for my meeting with MJ. As I looked through the documents I felt my confidence surge; this was a good programme, and even MJ would have to see that. I smiled and allowed myself to daydream about actually getting a compliment from her. I was feeling quite good until I realised that 40 minutes had slipped by without me noticing and Tom still hadn’t called me back about Grace. Then to my horror, a hurried early-morning conversation floated out of my subconscious and danced before my eyes. Tom was on location; he was a cameraman and was filming on a late shoot. Christ! What was I going to do about Grace?

I glanced up from behind my computer to see MJ’s skeletal form seated above. Her hard, dry meanness seemed to emanate from the balcony, stretching toward me like long, bony witch fingers. I made some hurried calls to some of Grace’s friends’ mums.

“Hello Lara, it’s Stella Weston here. We met once at the school’s Bring-and-Buy Sale, I’m Grace’s mum. I’m so sorry to have to ask, but...” and I explained my predicament.

“Oh I’m sorry, Stella,” said Lara. “Katie’s going to Brownies and we’re about to leave. Hope you can find someone to help! Bye!” I felt another wave of guilt; Brownies was just one of the things Grace couldn’t do because she was always at After School Club.

I made another couple of frantic calls, all the time watching MJ casually slurping Diet Coke, laughing with executive colleagues, watching a bit of TV and picking at a miniscule sandwich. If I wasn’t so upset, I’d have been furious. She obviously had nothing to do all afternoon and had put my meeting right at the end of the day just to cause the utmost disruption to my life. Yet I couldn’t bring myself to call her to say I couldn’t make 6pm because that’s exactly what she wanted me to do. That would prove that I couldn’t cope and give her more ammunition with which to take pot-shots at my career.

At 5.55pm, five minutes before Grace would be the only child left at the school gates and just as I was contemplating jumping in my car and driving like Jenson Button through the outskirts of Worcester, I got through to Emma Wilson. Grace was friends with her daughter Alice and I had her mobile number in my phone from some long-forgotten party or outing.

“Emma? Hi, it’s Stella Weston here. I am so, so sorry to ask but I’m desperate. Grace is at After School Club and I’m stuck at work. Is there any possibility you could save my life and pick her up?” I held my breath. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I hardly knew these people because I never had time to stand and chat at the school gate and here I was asking them to collect the most precious thing in my life.

“Oh, hi Stella. Erm yes, that’s fine – we’re not too far from the school so I’ll take her back to my house, shall I?”

I could have cried. “Emma, you’re an angel. I will pick her up as soon as I am done here. Thank you so much.” I hung up the phone and had to take a few seconds to compose myself.

Val was back at her desk and had overheard the frantic phone calls. She was shaking her head and putting on her jacket. I looked at her enviously – Val would be home in time for her kids tonight. In the same boat as me, Val knew exactly how hard it is to reschedule when a late meeting is ‘popped’ into the diary. It would be easier to organise a full-scale war or a royal wedding, complete with catering and security.

“They make you feel nothing but guilt in this job,” she said, “guilt if you can’t go to the meeting because you have to pick up your kids, guilt if you go to the meeting and don’t pick up your kids – you just can’t win.” She shook her head sadly and grabbed her handbag. “Speaking of which – I’ve got to go, the childminder leaves in ten minutes. See you tomorrow!” And Val hurried out of the door. I watched her leave, and wondered what I was doing. Why was I still here, when I should have been at home with my child?

There was no use putting it off any longer. Having had all day to stew and with the stress of finding someone to pick up Grace I was feeling very tearful walking up the stairs to MJ’s lair.
Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum
. My mouth was dry and I could barely swallow, and when I tried to, it felt like my throat was folding in half.

When I finally reached her office MJ saw me but didn't acknowledge me. This was a woman who would have excelled in Nazi Germany. I stood awkwardly at her desk while she continued to deliberately ignore me, gazing avidly at a piece of paper. Another Diet Coke was delivered by an almost-invisible lackey and suddenly a flicker appeared under the  fiercely straightened brown hair that framed her face. I moved to stand directly in front of her, eager to get it over with – but she was enjoying this too much so she twisted away from me a little more and carried on studying the paper. She eventually glanced up, feigning surprise and looking me up and down with deep, thin-girl disapproval at my love of chocolate and lack of control.

Unsmiling, she said; “Take a seat Stella,” gesturing towards a very low chair on the other side of her desk. As soon as I’d sat down (my knees almost touching my chin) she picked up the DVD of my programme and slammed it down on to her desk, glaring at me.

“Unbroadcastable!” she said.

I felt my chest tighten. What the hell was this?

 “Why didn’t you get her to cry on camera? I
told
you I wanted tears!” MJ glared, grabbing the disc and waving it aggressively, her forehead creasing in anger. She was referring to the contributor who had been dramatically reunited with the child she’d given up for adoption 40 years before. My fear was suddenly replaced with fury and injustice, and my brain filled up with all the things I knew I should say.

I could have made her cry, MJ. I could have told her she was a bad mother. I could have added that she was a stupid bitch and had ruined her child’s life – she’d probably have cried for the camera then. What you said you wanted were ‘real people, feeling real things’. They are not performing monkeys and, as programme-makers, we have a responsibility to the people we film. Not that you’d know that, as you’re just an inexperienced, talentless bully!

But as usual, I didn’t say what I really felt – I pushed it back down. As MJ glowered at me over her desk I felt my confidence slipping away and made a vain attempt to defend my work.

“MJ, the woman is beside herself. Anyone watching this can see on her face the torment that she’s lived with for 40 years. She had to give her baby away; her life has been torn apart.”

MJ didn’t respond, it was as though I hadn’t spoken. She just carried on in her usual, tight tone. “This programme isn’t good enough. I won’t allow it to be broadcast.”

I felt a huge weight suddenly pressing down on me. All those hours, all the work the team had put in – not to mention me being away from Tom and Grace – and it was all for nothing. I knew she was wrong; it was a damn good show.

 “Stella. I will have to get someone to rescue this – someone who knows what they’re doing.”

My eyes were stinging and my chin was seriously starting to wobble. I couldn’t speak.

“Anyway, there was another reason I called this meeting,” she suddenly announced in a more composed, almost triumphant voice. “I’m making some staffing changes in my department. As you are clearly not suited to working in Documentaries, I have arranged for you to work in another area.”

BOOK: Fat Girls and Fairy Cakes
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