Is there any point getting out of bed?
For almost twenty years Simone had got up at the same time in the morning. 5.30am without fail. She would get out of bed, drink a glass of water and hop onto her exercise bike for 40 minutes while watching the news. Then she would shower, check her emails and look over her schedule for the day while eating her breakfast. After that she would take her time getting dressed and leave for the office to arrive at 7.30am, at least an hour before anyone else.
After so long sticking to the same routine her body was set to wake up at 5.30am no matter what.
Even if she didn’t have anything to get up for.
Strictly speaking she hadn’t been fired.
I have not been sacked. I have never lost a job in my life. I’ve quit a few so I could move onto bigger things, but no employer I have worked for has asked me to leave. Ever.
Simone was on, what her bosses called, an ‘enforced career break.’ One of them even held up his hands and bent his fingers to make ‘quotation marks’ in the air. She’d never seen anyone do that in real life without irony.
She’d been expecting some repercussions but never imagined that they would actually investigate her actions. She’d been called into the boardroom a week ago for an annual meeting with her immediate bosses. They consisted of three elderly men that spent more time on the local golf courses than in their respective offices. They had sat on one side of a huge table that could seat twenty while she sat alone on the other.
They were concerned about her actions involving the Wilkinson claim. A few days prior Simone had approved the payment personally. She knew it would raise a few eyebrows but she didn’t think it would spark an investigation. They told her it was for the best that she take a little time off while the matter was ‘looked into.’
She was on full pay, which might have been a silver lining for most people but to Simone the time off felt like a punishment. She’d spent the week since that meeting in her flat, refusing to go out, or more accurately trying to think of things to do and coming up with nothing.
She rolled over and kicked off the sheets. The blinds in her bedroom let in light from the low sun. She’d been awake for hours trying to think of a reason to get out of bed. The structure of her days, her whole life, had been taken from her. She felt rudderless.
For the first few days she had kept to her original schedule, her normal morning routine only to get to 7.30am and realise she didn’t have anywhere to go or anything to do.
In theory she could do anything, go anywhere. She’d briefly considered taking a trip abroad, going and laying on a sunny beach somewhere for a few weeks, but there was no point.
A change of location doesn’t mean you get away from your problems. I can’t take a holiday from me. I wish I could. I wish, just for one day, I could swap brains with another person. Feel what it’s like to have someone else’s issues, get a break from my own thoughts, feelings and hangups. That would be a proper holiday.
Unfortunately, no matter where she went, she would always be there to spoil it.
She’d been told that a little time off might help her ‘get some distance’ and give her time to ‘think things over.’ Generalised platitudes that meant: ‘We want you to take some time off so we can figure out the grounds on which we want to fire you.’ Simone wasn’t sure what she was supposed to get distance from. The office? Her co-workers? Pressure? Stress? Those were all the things that thrilled her, challenged her, made it worth getting out of bed. As for thinking things over, she’d done plenty of thinking before approving the payment.
She’d thought back to her first job selling insurance. Her first boss always stuck in her mind. She had forgotten his name, but she remembered his face. He’d been a painfully thin man with sharp eyes and a long, stretched, face. He rarely smiled and never laughed but he’d taught her everything she’d ever needed to know about insurance. Once he’d spotted her potential as a sales person he’d called her into his office for a talk about her career goals. “Do you understand what insurance is, Simone?” She hadn’t responded, correctly assuming that the question was rhetorical. “Insurance companies are upmarket bookmakers. We are the respectable face of the likes of Ladbrokes and Coral. But, you see, we don’t dabble in horse racing or greyhounds, we take bets on much more serious matters. We accept bets on car accidents, burglary, property damage even death. Our customers pay us money in the hope that they never have to ask us for anything in return. When a person pays their car insurance premiums they are never hoping to have a serious accident so they can make a claim and get their moneys worth.
“Life insurance is a slightly different beast. The policy holder is placing a wager that they will die inside a set period of time. To take out a life insurance policy is to attempt to predict your own demise. People don’t like a life insurance policy lapsing. They see it as 20-40 years of wasted money if they live all of the way through it.
“The whole business is based on calculated risk. We set our premiums higher if we think there is a high chance we might have to pay out. Insurance companies are the casinos of life, and the house always wins when it comes to gambling. There is one small difference in that analogy, however, it is almost impossible for a player to win big from an insurance company without someone dying, legitimately.
“You may be wondering, how do we get away with making a profit from a fixed game?” Again it had been rhetorical. He liked his own voice and didn’t value the thoughts of others that highly. “We need only one selling point. The biggest selling point in the history of sales. Three little words. Peace. Of. Mind. That’s all insurance is. We go out and tell customers how dangerous and scary the world is but we can offer them a lifeline. We can’t stop terrible things happening to them, but we can give them a monetary consolation prize if they do. Of course that is dependant on if they have filled out all of the forms correctly and disclosed all the most personal details of their lives to us and notified us of any changes to their circumstances in the life of the policy, but that’s for another day…”
Insurance was a gamble, just like life. Simone had used that principle all of the way through her career. Every sale she’d made had mentioned the words ‘peace of mind,’ it hadn’t mattered if it was a little old lady wanting to insure her pet Chihuahua or a captain of industry looking for public liability cover. Peace of mind got them every time.
Simone hadn’t bought a voluntary insurance policy in her life. She’d never quite bought into it all. She had no need for life insurance, she didn’t have anyone to make use of the money. She only had car insurance because it was a legal requirement. She figured she had enough money in the bank to take care of most of the problems that she could encounter.
Life was a gamble and she’d thrown the dice on the Wilkinson claim. She didn’t have much reasoning beyond the fact that it was the right thing to do. For the first time in a long time she’d let her better nature overrule her logic. In the moment it had felt liberating. In fact it had been the moment just before she made the decision when she realised in her mind that she was going to make it. That was the feeling she had yearned for. Justice. She had assisted natural justice and in the world she had lived in for her entire career that meant there would be retribution.
Now she had been left in limbo.
When your career is your life and it’s taken away, what’s left? Simone had been wrestling with this one for a few days now. It had become desperate when she decided to read through the series of Kurt Sampson articles that she had subscribed to at the beginning of the year. The examination of her life didn’t take long, apparently there wasn’t that much to examine once her job was taken out of the equation.
Simone heard the front door click open and slam closed. This was followed by footsteps over the marble floor and a bit of rustling from plastic bags. The footsteps softened as they met the deep carpeting of the lounge area, but Simone heard the padding sound as the person came closer to the bedroom. A tightly permed head of white hair popped around the door frame. “Morning Simone,” it said cheerfully in a broad Suffolk accent.
Simone rolled over, the sheet still covering her head. “Hello, Betty.”
“Do you want a cup of coffee, love?”
As Betty went to the kitchen, banging cupboard doors closed and rustling amongst the cutlery, Simone decided to get out of bed. She threw on a dressing gown and went to sit on the couch in the lounge.
Simone had lived in her apartment for 3 years. She’d paid a lot of money to have it decorated the way it was. Custom printed wallpaper in places, designer furniture and all the latest entertainment gadgets. In those three years Simone had spent the majority of her time in the flat sleeping.
She looked over to the open plan kitchen area where Betty was wrestling with the espresso machine. The kitchen itself was a thing of beauty. Sleek black worktops, matte silver cupboards and drawers, a chandelier style extractor and the best appliances available. It had every designer kitchen utensil that had ever been made but Simone could count on both hands the amount of times she had made anything more extravagant than beans on toast.
Simone’s lifestyle afforded her certain perks in life. She ate her meals at cafes and restaurants for the most part. She had never fallen into the habit of cooking for herself. She’d never needed to.
Betty bought the coffee over to Simone. “There you go, dear. That’ll wake you up, get you raring to go.”
“Still off work then?”
Simone fixed Betty with a hard stare. “Yes.”
“It’s no good looking at me like that, love. Ain’t my fault is it? Anyway, I’ll leave you to stew and get on.” Betty tottered away back to the kitchen to start her usual routine.
Simone had known Betty for a long time. She used to be friends with her Mum. She was the quintessential Suffolk lady. Plain spoken, no-nonsense and frighteningly insightful. She had more class than anyone she knew, but cleaned her flat for her and didn’t bat an eyelid. Nothing was beneath her, but there wasn’t anything above her either. I wonder if that sort of attitude comes with age or if it’s a blessing only a few people get?
Their relationship had always felt comforting, probably because it reminded her of the relationship with her own Mum. Technically, Simone paid Betty to clean her flat, but Betty dealt with Simone as though she was the employer, not the employee. Simone always had the impression that if she stopped paying Betty, she would still show up.
Simone turned on the TV. The first thing that appeared was three people sitting on chairs in a studio shouting at each other with a presenter trying to mediate. Betty walked through the lounge with an arm full of laundry. “Onto the daytime TV already?”
“What is this?” Simone didn’t watch TV a lot and had never been home during the day.
“It’s one of them shows where people go on and talk about their personal problems. Usually it has something to do with cheating spouses and DNA tests.” Simone continued to watch, horrified, as the woman on TV explained that she had three kids with three different fathers and was pregnant again but she didn’t know if her current partner was the father. “Sometimes they all have a bit of a scrap. It’s a bit like counselling really. Watching some of the people on those shows makes you feel better about your own life.”
Betty chuckled to herself. “Well, you live in your own little bubble. You don’t have to worry about folk like that.” She was about to shuffle off towards the laundry room when she stopped and turned back to Simone. “So, what are you going to do today. You’ve been moping around this place getting under my feet all week.”
“You only work three days a week.”
“Yeah, and you’ve been here all day on each of ‘em, getting in the way.”
“I live here.”
“So? I work here. ‘Bout time you got out and did something.”
It was true Simone had stayed indoors for almost a full week, slowly driving herself mad. She didn’t get any calls or emails. Nobody seemed to care how she was getting on.
Why should they? Most of the people I work with dislike me and my family don’t know I’m on a (air quotes)‘career break.’
It was a prefect time to go and spend more time with her Dad, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. She wanted to hide what had happened from everyone. She didn’t want them to see her as a failure. Even if she felt like one.
I’ve got a certain reputation to uphold.
“What would you suggest,” asked Simone.
Betty stopped and pondered for a moment. “Seems to me like you need a hobby, love.”
* * *
Simone had a shower leaving Betty to her work. She walked into town, which wasn’t very far from her apartment. She hadn’t walked the route lately, usually strolling into the town centre from the office. She couldn’t help noticing how many empty shops she passed and was shocked by how many tattoo parlours there were.
It was mid-week so the town centre was relatively quiet. Even so, Simone was surprised by how many people were about.
Don’t these people have jobs? She always imagined that everywhere was empty during the week as people were at work.
A kindly looking man approached her, he held a clipboard and wore a jacket with a logo on the front. “Excuse me can I ask you one question?”
“You just did,” said Simone casually strolling past.
A hundred yards down the street there was a woman with a clipboard. She bounded around between groups of people trying to catch their attention. “Excuse me,” she said. “Do you have time to save a dying child?”
Simone was struck dumb for a second. It was such a jarring pitch that she was instantly interested. Not from a charitable point of view, but to see where the woman would take the sales pitch after such a brave opening.
Simone already had several charity payments set up but as the pitch progressed she realised she would take another. The woman’s daring first line was the opening gambit of a flood of lines that played on the customers sense of guilt and sentimentality. Simone had no idea which charity she had signed up to but applauded the skilful sales technique.
She carried on through town and a few minutes later was confronted by another jolly person with a clipboard. “Hello, do you have a few minutes to talk about the plight of the panda bears?”
Simone stopped. “I think you need to move down the road a bit. They’ve got dying children just down there. I don’t think you can compete.” Then she continued merrily on her way.
Betty had told her of a craft shop in town where Simone might be able to do a bit of ‘hobby shopping.’ It was tucked away in a side street opposite a small church. She had to go into a gate and behind the main row of shops to find the entrance. The shop itself was large, but the floorspace was stuffed full of shelves and stands containing an abundance of pastimes.
There were racks of paper and cardboard of every colour and thickness, spools of ribbons and shelves heaving with paints and pastels. Simone had never been a keen artist or had any creative spark at all. Everything seemed so quaint and alien. There were dolls houses stuffed with miniature furniture that gave her the creeps. She carried on and spotted stands full of threads and needles for sewing and embroidery, then her eyes strayed to a wall stuffed with balls of wool.
Knitting? Her mum used to knit. She remembered the steady clicking of the needles as she had tried to watch TV as a child. Gaudy balls of wool would be transformed and combined into a garnish scarf or jumper. Her mother used to make soft toys too. In fact, Simone thought she still had one at home or in storage somewhere.
She spent a good half an hour browsing through a few books and knitting patterns featuring models that were strangely young and handsome for a product aimed at an older audience, before putting together a starter set with the help of the nice lady that ran the place.
She paid a surprisingly small amount of money for the contents of her huge bag and wandered back into town.
That’s right Simone, the answer to all of your problems is knitting. Why didn’t you think of it before. Idiot. She felt a strong urge to go back into the shop and return it all.
But she didn’t.
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