Angels Page 2

But even Garv agreed that Elaine was terrifying. Shespokerealfast. Firingquestionsfromamachinemouth. How’swork? Whenareyougettinglisted? Her dynamic glamour reduced me to stammering inadequacy, and by the time I’d cobbled together an answer, she’d have lost interest and moved on.

But even if I had liked Liam and Elaine, I still wouldn’t have wanted to go out that particular night – putting on a big, fat, happy head is that much harder if you’ve an audience. Also there was a pile of scary manila envelopes to be dealt with at home. (Plus two soaps eager to tend to my needs and a couch that couldn’t do enough for me.) Time was too precious to waste an entire evening out enjoying myself.

And I was so tired. My work – like most people’s, I would imagine – was very demanding. I guess the clue is in the name: ‘work’. Otherwise they might call it ‘flat on your back on a sunlounger’ or ‘having a deep-tissue massage’. I worked in a legal firm which had a lot of dealings with the US. Specifically, entertainment law. (After we’d got married, Garv, on account of his general fabulousness, had been seconded for five years to his company’s Chicago office. I’d worked for one of the big legal firms there, so when we returned to Ireland three years ago I claimed to be well versed in US entertainment law. The kicker was that even though I’d done night classes and got some qualifications in Chicago, I wasn’t a proper lawyer. Which meant I got tons of the work, most of the abuse, but only a fraction of the moola. I was more of an interpreter, I suppose; a clause which meant one thing in Ireland could mean something different in the States, so I translated US contracts into Irish law and drafted contracts that should – hopefully – stand in both jurisdictions.)

I lived in vague but constant fear. Sometimes I had dreams where I’d left out a vital clause and my firm got sued for four trillion dollars, which they deducted from my wages at the rate of seven pounds fifty a week, and I had to work there for all eternity paying it back. Sometimes, in those dreams all my teeth fell out as well. Other times, I’m sitting in the office and I look down to find that I’m naked and that I need to get up and use the photocopier.

Anyway, the day the balloon went up, I was very busy. So busy that my new fitness regime had gone by the board. I’d recently realized that biting my nails was the only exercise I was getting so I’d hatched a cunning plan – rather than ring Sandra, my assistant, to come and collect my dictaphone tapes, I’d walk the twenty yards to her office and hand-deliver them instead. But no time for such self-indulgence that particular day. A deal with a film studio was about to fall apart: if the contract wasn’t finalized that week, the actor who’d attached himself to the project was going to walk.

For a minute there my job sounded glamorous. Take my word for it, it was as glamorous as a cold sore. Even the business lunches I occasionally had to go to at expensive restaurants weren’t all that. You could never truly relax – people always asked a question requiring a long and detailed answer just after I’d put a forkful of food into my mouth, and whenever I laughed I was haunted by an irresistible fear that I had green food stuck in my teeth.

Anyway, the scriptwriter – my client – was desperate to get the contract all sorted out so that he could get his fee and his family could eat. (And so his father might finally be proud of him, but I digress.) The US lawyers had come to work at three in the morning, their time, in order to try and close the deal, and all day e-mails and phone calls zipped back and forth. Late in the day we dotted the final ‘i’ and crossed the final ‘t’, and even though I was wrecked I felt light and happy.

Then I remembered that we were supposed to be going out with Liam and Elaine and a cloud passed over the sun. It wasn’t so bad, I consoled myself; at least I’d get a nice dinner out of it – they were fond of fancy-dan restaurants. But God, I was exhausted. If only it was our turn to cancel!

And then, just when it seemed that we were beyond all hope, the call came.

‘Liam’s broken his toe,’ Garv said. ‘His new flatscreen telly fell on it.’ (Liam and Elaine had every consumer durable known to man – and I stress man, not woman. Give me a mobile phone and a hair-curler and I’m happy. But Garv, being a man, yearned after digital this and Bang & Olufsen that.) ‘So tonight’s off.’

‘Great!’ I exclaimed. Then I remembered myself; they were his friends. ‘Well, not great for him and his toe, but I’ve had a tough day and–’

‘It’s OK,’ Garv said. ‘I didn’t want to go either. I was just about to ring them and pretend our house had been burnt down or something.’

‘Dandy. Well, see you back at the ranch.’

‘What’ll we do about food? Will I pick up something?’

‘No, you did it last night. I’ll do it.’

I had just launched into an orgy of switching stuff off when someone said, ‘Going home, Maggie?’ It was my boss, Frances, and her already? might have been silent but I still heard it.

‘That’s right.’ Lest there be any confusion. ‘Going home.’ Polite but firm. Trying to keep my prone-to-quaver-under-pressure voice free of tell-tale traces of fear.

‘That contract ready for tomorrow morning’s meeting?’

‘Yes,’ I said. No, actually it wasn’t. She was talking about a different contract, one I hadn’t even started on. There was no point whinging to Frances that all day I’d been frantically sewing up a great deal. She was an über-achiever, well on her way to being made a partner, and she’d made hard work into a performance art. She rarely left the office and popular opinion (not that she was popular, of course) had it that she slept under her desk and washed, like a bag lady, in the staff toilets.

‘Can I take a quick look?’

‘It’s not really laid out properly yet,’ I said awkwardly. ‘I’d rather wait until it’s all done before I show you.’

She gave me a watchful, too-long look. ‘Make sure it’s on my desk by nine-thirty.’

‘Right!’ But the good spirits engendered by being let off the hook for the evening had all leached away. As she hammered her heels back to her office, I looked appraisingly at the computer I’d just switched off. Should I stay and do a couple of hours on it there and then? But I couldn’t. I was all out. Of enthusiasm, of work-ethic, whatever. Instead I’d get up very early and come in and do it then.

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