Home > Don't You Forget About Me(5)

Don't You Forget About Me(5)
Author: Mhairi McFarlane

‘Young lady – young lady?’

I turn and see Mr Keith is beckoning me over. I glance warily in the direction of the kitchen, but what’s Tony going to do, sack me again?

I approach. He’s dabbing his mouth with a napkin.

‘I’m sorry about what happened just now. If I’d known the consequences …’

‘Oh, it’s fine,’ I say. ‘It’s not your fault.’

‘In the future, remember honesty is always the best policy.’

I stare at him. He’s telling me off again? For fu—

‘I was honest. The chef was lying,’ I snap.

‘You’re saying he did cook me another meal?’


‘No he didn’t but he told me he wouldn’t so I …’


‘To keep my job! He told me to lie!’

‘And how’s that working out for you?’

I open and close my mouth and dumbly repeat: ‘He was the one lying.’

‘Anyway. I’ve decided not to write it up, so as not to embarrass you.’

My jaw drops.

‘That’s what he wanted! That’s why he sacked me! So you’d feel bad about saying how shit the food is!’

I’ve become shrill and everyone’s looking round now.

‘Write it up! Tell everyone what it’s like, say I was sacked, I don’t care!’

‘That’s not a very collegiate attitude, is it?’

‘Or …’ I say, I feel the room hold its breath, ‘I’ll write it up for you. I could write you a great piece about this place. No conflict of interest anymore.’

Mr Keith clears his throat.

‘Well. Employee of the Month.’

I’m about to mention the time the kitchen’s tub of Stork margarine had what looked like rodent footprints in it, and Tony used an ice cream scoop to take off the top layer and carried on using it. Or, I could get my phone out and show Mr Keith the text I just received. Yes, that’d do it.

Callum is looking over with an aghast expression. When his line of sight moves to the kitchen door I know what’s coming.

Tony swaggers out holding another plate of pasta, affecting a casual air of bonhomie. When he spots me, his eyes are pinwheels.

‘Can’t stay away when you’re not being paid? Go on, Georgina, on your way. This customer doesn’t want more hassle from you.’

Tony sets the plate down. It actually looks half decent – he might’ve Googled ‘carbonara’ and cracked an egg.

‘I’m not hassling him, he spoke to me. I came back for my coat.’

Any noises of scraping cutlery in the dining room are yet to resume, so it’s us and volare, woooooaaah oh.

At that moment, my eyes settle on someone beyond Mr Keith. A little girl with pageboy hair and a disproportionately large forehead, wearing a large paper crown with BIRTHDAY on it, tomato sauce splattered across her cheeks. She’s paused in the middle of eating penne marinara and along with her awestruck family, is listening to every single word in this unseemly stand-off. We’re ruining a kid’s fifth birthday. Given everyone’s poised to see what I’ll do next, I’m ruining it.

Some of my few good childhood memories are of the excitement of being taken out for dinner, eating chicken nuggets in baskets and hustling for a second Coca Cola.

‘Forget it. I only wanted my coat. I’m done,’ I say.

‘Don’t let the door hit you etc. etc.,’ Tony mutters. Then louder, to Mr Keith: ‘I hope her drama doesn’t keep you from enjoying your meal.’

‘I hope your meal doesn’t keep you from enjoying your meal,’ I say, and Mr Keith shakes his head in dismay.

I turn and walk out, conscious of the many pairs of eyes on me. I keep my focus at the level of the SPECIALS chalkboard, acknowledging no one. I never thought this job would go especially well, I didn’t think it would end with a dignity ransacking. The door falls shut behind me and I exhale.

I stride and stride some more and I’m still too het up to fumble for my fags. I don’t want this to turn into a panic attack. I remember what the counsellor said about concentrating on my breathing when I felt anxiety rising like a sea level inside me.

My phone pings.

Keep our date a secret yeah, Tony will go well ape if he finds out and sack me too lol

Tony’s already ‘well ape,’ it seems: another ping.

DICK MOVE, princess. No job for you here now and anywhere else either once I put the word round. BLACK LISTED enjoy your next job on the pole

I stab out a reply:

LOL. Tony, your surname isn’t Soprano. You might know more about Italian food if it was

I’m not really that flippant about his threat. Sheffield’s mid-priced bistros are quite a small world and I can’t pay next month’s rent now. I’m not used to making enemies, I’m usually a champion smoother-over. Appeasement is my middle name.

Although maybe I’m kidding myself: a third text arrives from my sister, Esther, who I’ve never really succeeded in smoothing over:

Are you bringing Robin on Sunday? Sending Mark to Sainsbury’s in morning so would be good to get numbers, swift response appreciated. Rib of beef. Let me know if any allergies to Yorkshire pudding or whatever too.

That’s how Esther always communicates with me on text, like I am a lazy temp at her accountancy firm. Although the near-sarcastic last line is a particular tilt at Robin.

No he’s out of town! Thanks though x

I’m also a world-class white liar. Robin and my relatives are a bad combination. I tried two family events with my boyfriend and decided to rest the integration project indefinitely.

I turn the corner and psychologically, being out of sight of That’s Amore! helps slightly. This is fine, this is nothing. It’ll be a tapas bar in two years’ time, the sort where they microwave gambas pil pil so the frozen prawns are the same texture as contraceptive sponges.

Plus, Robin’s going to love the material from my firing this evening.

I can hear myself drafting and redrafting the key passages already, anticipating the points where I expect to get a laugh. At school, everyone used to clamour for my stories, I was good at them. If I went on a terrible summer holiday, I spun it into gold in term time. George, tell the one about …

Jo once said, admiringly: ‘Mad things always happen to you, how are you a magnet for mad!’ (that could sound like she was doubting me, but Jo is never ever snide. She only ever says exactly what she means) and I explained: I notice things. Appreciating the absurd was a useful skill in my childhood.

A snap snap snap with my pleasingly heavy silver lighter, in trembling hands, and the tip of my Marlboro Light glows. I suck in a big whoosh of nicotine and I feel better already. It’s not tenable to give up in current circumstances.

It’s an early winter evening, the sort of cold where the air in the middle distance looks smoky, and you can sense a weekend evening getting going. The swell of people in Broomhill, the scent of aftershave mingling with perfume and burble of chatter that comes with being two drinks to the good.

I can see my reflection in the window of Betfred and shift from foot to foot. As much as I argue back with Mum when she says things to me like: ‘scruffy is charming in youth but doesn’t age well, Georgina,’ I am starting to wonder if my playful taste in short dresses and liquid eyeliner is going a bit Last Exit to Brooklyn.

‘Be careful with that heavy make-up as a blonde. One minute you’re punk like Daryl Hannah in Blade Runner, the next you’re Julie Goodyear.’

Boy, how I’ll miss Tony’s beauty tips.

I open a message to Robin, then think again and press backspace to swallow the you’ll-never-guess-what-these-twats-have-done-now rant about the termination of my employment. I have a Friday evening free all of a sudden – this shouldn’t be thrown away on a prosaic text.

I want to be stylish about it.

On one of our first dates – I say dates, actually it was being invited round to Robin’s flat to drink red wine, until he eventually flapped a takeaway leaflet at me around 9 p.m. and said: ‘Have you eaten?’ – Robin said: live your life like this song.

The song playing was Elvis’ ‘Suspicious Minds’ so I asked: what, suspiciously?

He has a stack Hi Fi with a turntable at the top, which is now old enough to be a fashion statement, with volume lights that ripple.

‘The way it fades back in at the end. It’s already brilliant, but that is genius because it’s unexpected. That’s the moment that turns good into true greatness.’

Robin hunched over, rolling his joint.

‘… Everyone thinks you have to do everything a certain way. Monogamy, marriage, mortgage. Two point four kids, because what will you do with the second half of your life otherwise. Washing the car and the roast chicken in the oven every Sunday. William Blake called them “mind forg’d manacles”. People don’t want to get rid of the rule book, it scares them. We’re all living in captivity.’

I thought I could really fancy some roast chicken. I knew this was an implicit warning to me, as much as Robin sharing his world view.

(‘If he was going to settle down, he’d have done it by now, Georgina.’ Ta, Mum.) I was determined to appear unfazed.

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