Sample of Ms Cellophane
What has this fine working week in store? My last Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. My last Friday. Then I am all washed up. Kaput. Gone. Finito.
From close of business Friday, won’t life be grand? No more soft voice tormenting my day. No Penelope or the perils she brings. No more of her white beehive hair towering fragrantly over my desk. She will have officially branded me a failure.
Elizabeth, Ms Failure. Past all perils.
I signed the paper just ten minutes ago — which is why I am writing my diary at work. What are they going to do to me if they catch me at it? Tell the boss on me? Sack me?
This is a notable moment and all notable moments get suitably noted. In my diary. Wherever I happen to be located at the time. This is a new guideline effective immediately.
Diaries are supposed to record happy moments, not moments like this. Not the very second I look at my termination of employment letter and think, ‘That is it — no more career and not much chance of a future job’. In my forties and a has been. Kaput. Gone. Finito.
I am not supposed to grin wildly when I say that, am I? Whoops.
I will take a moment and compose my face to look suitably sorrowful.
In other ways I have been a has-been for a lot longer than ten minutes. But who cares? I don’t. Ms Elizabeth, the Great Uncaring. Ms Elizabeth the Great Unconnected. That sounds a lot better than Elizabeth Smith, Policy Analyst or Elizabeth Smith, Project Manager. Maybe Ms Elizabeth the Extremely Joyfully Disconnected? Now we’re getting somewhere. Eliza Dunalot and Eliza aint Gonna Do No More.
I guess it is only a matter of time before I turn into Ms Cellophane and am completely transparent and unseen.
I did not go willing into that good night. I did not go gentle into that good night either. Worth noting, I guess. I kicked and I fought and Istruggled — and I was caught. Damn. And now I am there. Death. Since no-one my age is supposed to be without gainful employment. Merciless oblivion.
I need to find some things out about myself now. Maybe one of them is why this manic grin creeps onto my face when I am not focused. I did not want to be made redundant; I swear I did not. Yet now I am, here am I a joyous sod. A happy little lump of turd.
If I don’t do that self-discovery thing now, I will never do it.
Right now, the only self-discovery I am really interested in (when you get down to the deep and meaningful stuff) is the sort that involves using my credit card to the hilt, and maybe doing some repairs around the house. My final payout is crying out for attrition.
Do I want to voyage the world with a backpack and enter into discourse with lamas and monks and other extraordinary beings? Of course not.
All this is the same magnitude as Bronwyn’s suggestion about a decade ago that if I did not go bar crawling and find myself a man, it would be forever too late and I would be forever alone. It takes a strong friendship to deal with such strong words.
I do love this modern world. I bet Bronwyn wants me to go barcrawling in search of a job now, since I am patently so far over the hill that no amount of bar-crawling will produce me a sleeping-partner. I wonder if Bronwyn realizes that she is also over forty and, by her own definition, no longer female? Mind you, she is single again, not single still.
And I can’t think in a straight line, just as I can’t keep a straight face.
I just adore my role in this World of Redundancy. Failure. I am one of Such People in A Brave New World. Such a person am I. One determined to get a few minutes of babbling into my diary at Public Service expense, and to live my last week to the full.
I wonder how being jobless will differ from being single? Bronwyn is not the only culprit in me being conscious of my unmarried status, always. Do you know what really, really, really bugs me? Make that really, really, really, really, really. When people come up and ask about my family. I say my mother is fine. But they mean my husband and children. And I am not taking care of my mother in her old age, which would be a nice, self-sacrificingreason to be unwed: Mum takes care of herself much better than I could ever take care of her. I am a failure there too. To outside eyes, anyway. To Mum’s eyes I keep myself the hell out of her life and that is what she craves.
Don’t get me wrong; I am not scared. No fear. This redundancy was as essential to me as my existence. Even though I fought and I fit to avoid it. This moment should be one of the great moments in my life. It is one of the great moments in my life. And that is the sadness. I have to admit, my life is not that great.
I can’t even do Ms Average very well.
I try. I try very hard. I am very trying.
I have average looks and an average height, and averagely good skin and my hair colour is as average as they come. My hips are a bit on the massive side, and I could do with slender and beauteous thighs. I have a barely-above average university degree, which has been about averagely useful to me.
This is not a good line of thought. Slithering into the Slough of Despond; I guess I had to come down off that high.
I need to think about my future, not my ordinariness.
Thinking about my averagosity gives me a headache. One of those niggling ones at the top of the spine.
Time for a walk. I will smile sweetly all the while and convince the world of how totally happy and free of bonds and chains and external demands my life is. A Wonderful Life, in truth. And I will smile especially sweetly because the walk is during work hours, and I loathe my boss with a deep and abiding hatred, and aim to give her as much grief as possible during my last week under her gentle guidance. I bet she has me in for an interview soon, where she tells me exactly what I am to do with the short remainder of my misbegotten existence.
Miss Elizabeth the Joyously Disconnected needs a walk before she fades into something passing strange.
* * *
The walk Liz took was not as joyously disconnected as Liz herself. She started with her boss’s office. Music crept out through the edges of an almost-shut door: the Bee Hive was beavering away to the tune of We are the Champions.
Liz edged away from the pine door as if opening it would open Pandora’s box and she looked indecisively around the low-ceiling room that claimed to be an open office. Cream ceiling panels with mysterious stains, big sealed windows on two sides that did a very effective job of keeping light out, mauve and purple and cream and grey plastic and cloth hiding bowed heads in half-cubicles. Her lips narrowed with determination and she did a little circuit. Some desks she passed by entirely, others she touched lightly, and at two desks she stopped.
“Join me on my walk?” she said to one tall young man whose large brown eyes were wandering everywhere but his desk.
“Walking is bad for the soul,” he said. “And jogging is too fashionable. My exercise is far more specific than that.”
“I doubt I want to know.”
“Oh, I know you don’t want to know. What are you doing, anyhow?”
“Wasting time, I think,” Liz explained. “Saying goodbye to everything. Wishing that someone would throw a farewell party for herself in that office.”
“Wishing someone upstairs would realise the size of their error?”
“Oh yes, that too.”
“I didn’t know you were leaving today.”
“To quote Miri, ‘not, not, not’.” Andrew laughed. “I leave Friday. It’s today I needed the walkabout, though. Walkabout with coffee. Want some?”
“Just had one. You’re a vile addict, you know.”
“Oh, I know. If I weren’t I would be perfect, and where would be the fun in that?”
“You’d better go get your coffee before I say something you might regret.”
Andrew turned back to work. Liz moved away from his desk and crossed the muddy expanse of carpet. She continued with her tap-tapping farewell on the cloth partitions, but no-one noticed. It was as if she didn’t exist. And so she crept up to the big desk, full of papers and the day’s mail.Behind it sat Mirjana, her face just a furious frown, half-hidden by the computer screen.
“Boo,” said Elizabeth, quietly.
“Hi, Liz,” and a big smile wreathed Miri in content. Her next words demonstrated exactly why Liz sometimes called her “Marijuana”. “You have to teach me how you sneak up on people.”
“I could use it, I think.”
“I bet,” said Liz. “Is there anything I ought to be doing, mail I ought to be taking care of, supervision-ish things that ought to be sorted before I leave? Because if there isn’t, then I can also bet you have been playing computer games this last hour.”
Miri’s eyes blinked rapidly in pretend innocence. They both laughed.
“Don’t go, Liz,” Mirjana said. “Without you I will be unprotected. The Bee Hive will get me.”
“She might have to join the queue of everyone else who is after you.”
“True. You know, I thought it would be a lazy week.”
“You thought I would go on strike? I wish I could, but I have to sort things out. Not now, though. Now I am on walkabout. And I ought to let you get back to work.”
“Hints don’t work, you know.”
“So you don’t want me to get you a hot chocolate when I get my coffee?”
“You mean from the yummy place?”
“I do believe that is where my peregrinations will take me. I will miss it.”
“Get yourself a truffle as a farewell present?”
“You and chocolate have a special relationship.”
“Not as special as yours.”
“Life was standing still, waiting for Liz to fall into its trap.”
Elizabeth Smith, recently made redundant, thinks that her life is deadly dull. She feels like cellophane like people look right through her, like she’s not even there. A simple redecoration job involving a mirror turns her life upside down.
Through ominous horror and an unexpected romance Liz learns to become a whole person someone who takes up space in the world, and demands to be herself.
Part gentle love story, part bizarre horror tale, but never, ever boring, Ms Cellophane is a revealing look at one woman’s nightmare transforming her reality in unexpectedly amusing ways.