Monday 16 April
Tonight was the first and last date with Geoff. 43 solid minutes I listened to him droning on at one point. I texted Jules at 7:01 telling her he’d just started talking about mushrooms and at 7:44 he was still going. Who knew there was so much to learn? Apparently, he recently bought a food dehydrator. I think he might be one of the most boring men alive. He kept leaving his left hand awkwardly on the table too, palm up. His fingers wiggled now and again so I think I was supposed to put my hand in his. It probably smelled like mushrooms.
Pushing her sunglasses higher on her nose, Keren marches on towards the bus stop. Squinting against the sunshine she ruffles her hair for the sixth time that morning, her silver bracelets jangling against each other. The bus turns the corner just after she reaches the bus stop and she sashays on board. Sitting next to an awkward-looking schoolboy, she feels guilty as a scarlet flush creeps from his neck up to his hairline, but it’s either sit next to him or ask the dour-faced businesswomen to move her fat briefcase from the only other empty seat.
The bus journey isn’t a long one, but Keren has come to enjoy the extra time to herself in the mornings, listening to Alanis Morissette and reflecting on the countless disastrous dates she’s subjected herself to of late. Her luck is bound to change at some point, it’s a matter of probability. The more frogs she kisses, the sooner a less amphibian-like man will appear. ‘You’re being too fussy’ her mother would insist, ‘you need to lower your standards.’ But that’s not the problem. Fussy is not a word Keren would use to describe herself when it comes to men. Her nose is crooked and her left ear pokes out through her hair, so she certainly doesn’t expect Johnny Depp to sweep her off her feet. Even Eamonn Holmes would be in with a shot, if he could make her laugh.
Keren doesn’t get her looks from her mother, much to her disappointment. Martha is often told she looks just like Julia Roberts, with a mane of fiery hair and a beaming smile of perfectly white teeth. Keren’s dad, on the other hand, resembles Martin Clunes. Well, at least he did the last time Keren saw him. Of all the things he could have given her in the decade he hung around to be her father, oversized ears would not have been her genetics of choice.
Passing through the city centre as it begins to stir, the bus makes its daily three-minute pause at the stop opposite the train station. On the pavement, a young woman fusses over a chubby baby wearing an oversized yellow sunhat. Wriggling in her pushchair, her face breaks into a gummy grin as she lunges forward to pull on the woman’s hair. Glancing up at the bus window, the woman smiles as she catches Keren watching them. Keren returns her smile as the bus pulls away, merging back into the flow of traffic. Turning away from the window, she focuses on the road in front of her, ignoring the sudden tightening across her chest.
Hurrying across the road, Keren runs up the steps to her building, to avoid being late again. June yells her daily greeting as she rushes through reception, waving enthusiastically from behind the front desk. Despite working here for five years, June has never once called her by her actual name. Instead, she calls her Karen. But too much time has passed to correct her, so she smiles and returns the wave. The open-plan office is large and bright which makes it difficult for latecomers to sneak in unnoticed. She takes a sharp left and darts down the narrow corridor behind the toilets, before silently sliding in behind her desk. Her PC bursts into life as Jules appears and sits on the edge of her desk, handing her a mug of tea.
‘Well? How did it go?’
‘Why was he talking about mushrooms?’
‘Because he’s dull. So very, very dull.’
‘Did he try and kiss you?’
‘Yeah, it was awkward. He started to lean in, so I grabbed his hand and shook it for ages.’
A mouthful of tea spurts from Jules’s mouth and onto the carpet; she laughs and wipes it away with her shoe, ‘I wish I’d seen that.’
‘It wasn’t my finest moment. How was your weekend?’
‘Pretty good, had my fifth date with Tom.’
‘Not that you’re counting.’
‘I like to keep track of these things. We had a picnic at the beach which was really nice until a massive seagull did a shit on my top.’
‘I actually thought Tom was going to pee himself, but he held it together.’
‘I’m glad it’s not just me that kind of thing happens to.’
In the last three months, Keren had skidded in dog poo, screamed as her sandwich was stolen by an aggressive seagull and watched a small child throw up on her shoe – all in front of potential suitors.
‘He wants me to meet his sister next week so that’ll be interesting.’
‘Meeting the fam, eh! Hopefully she’s not a bitch.’
‘Shit, Pervy Pete’s on the prowl already, look out.’
Pete Sutherland is manager of the sales team and Keren’s least favourite person in the building. At least seven hours of his working day are spent in a bad mood, shamelessly ogling every female member of his team. A short, plump man always wearing an oversized suit and extremely shiny shoes, he strides towards Keren as Jules disappears behind her desk partition.
‘Morning Keren, can I have a word please?’
Keren follows him to his office, rolling her eyes at Jules as they pass. It isn’t the first time Keren has been called into Pete’s office this month and she knows it won’t be the last. Pete leans back in his leather seat, clasping his hands behind his head as Keren perches awkwardly on the edge of the plastic chair.
‘So, Keren, how do you think things are going?’
‘Hmm.’ He leans forward to rest his elbows on the desk. ‘Of course, this isn’t our first meeting since I started here.’
‘Yes, I’m aware of that.’
In the five years since Keren joined the company, she had never once been someone who needed a ‘Sales Development Plan’. At least, that was until Pete took over her department.
‘I’m just not convinced you’ve made the improvements we discussed in our last conversation. Do you think you have?’
Exasperated, Keren leans back in her chair and crosses her arms, ‘I’ve hit my target for the last three months and brought in four new clients. So yes, I think I have.’
‘Yes, that may indeed be classed as an improvement, but when you compare that to others, to Jeremy for example, it’s still not the level we expect.’
‘Well I’ll just have to try harder then, won’t I.’
‘I’d advise that you do, yes.’
Scraping the chair across the carpet, Keren ignores Pete staring at her legs as she stands up and marches from the office, her favourite brogues clicking across the dirty white floor tiles. Throwing the door of the canteen open, she checks the room is empty before disappearing into the kitchen and taking a deep breath, ‘Arsehole!’
Sunday 29 April
Joined a boxing class in an attempt to sort out this muffin top. Got quite into it until Keen-Bean-Kev from last month showed up. Disaster. Thought I’d seen the last of him after he slavered on me at the bus stop. He spent the whole time giving me death stares in-between jabs. Suspect he was imagining my face on the punching bag. So awkward.
‘I really quite fancy boxing, is it hard work?’
Chewing through another chunk of chocolate brownie, Keren waits for the coffee machine to finish whistling. ‘Yeah, I was sweating way more than I expected. Although not as much as Kev, it was dripping off him. The rage must have increased his body temperature.’
Val laughs and takes another large bite of lemon drizzle cake, ‘You’ve earn’t these calories though, worth it.’
‘Definitely. It’s funny because I sometimes think back to that date and wonder if maybe I was a bit hasty in turning him down.’
‘You mean cutting him off.’
The date hadn’t gone well last month. Conversation had been strained and Keren politely made her excuses to leave after one only drink. Kev had walked her to the bus stop and pushed his lips onto hers before she had a chance to object. She waited until he was out of view before wiping away his saliva and ignored the text messages she received every day for the next week.
‘Well yeah, same thing. But as soon as I saw him this morning I remembered why. Honestly expected him to throw something at me.’
‘You’re not having much luck Ker, where do you even meet these people?’
‘Online, nights out, that’s about it. I’m still waiting for you to set me up with someone sporting excellent facial hair and top chat.’
‘I’ve asked Josh loads of times, but he said all his decent mates are coupled up.’
‘Sounds about right.’
Keren runs her finger around the edge of the plate and sucks her finger, careful to catch every crumb. Guilt-free cake had become the best part of her exercise regime.
‘What’s Josh up to today?’
‘If I tell you, you can’t laugh.’
‘Okay. What is it?’
‘He’s finishing a jigsaw.’
‘Sorry, what?’ Keren rests her chin in her hand to stifle a laugh.
‘I said, don’t laugh!’
‘You almost are! He’s a bit OCD when it comes to things being left undone. His parents stayed over recently, and his mum brought a jigsaw. Apparently, our company isn’t enough. But anyway, she left it at ours for when she next comes to visit but Josh has been hovering over it since. I’ve told him just to put it away in a cupboard but he’s being really weird about it. He can’t just leave it alone but he’s colour-blind so it’s taking him forever to finish it. I’ve told him if it’s not done by the time I come home I’m taking it apart and we’ll tell his mum it fell off the table or something.’
‘See, not laughing. There is definitely nothing funny about your colour-blind boyfriend losing his shit over a jigsaw.’
© Lynsey Macready