A Pay Check Away
Louise takes the scenic route home after completing one of her twice-weekly stints helping out at the local food bank. Having on several occasions lived hand-to-mouth herself she is glad to do her bit. Believing that such action is rarely truly altruistic Louise knows that she is more able to enjoy her own present relative good fortune if she gives a little time to aid others going through similar hardship to that she herself has often experienced. Warmed by the sun Louise removes her cardigan and stops for a minute to watch and enjoy the sparkling light dancing on the water. Her mood lifting after a soberingly busy morning she calculates the cost of coffee and a scone at her favourite beach café reckoning that if she economises a little on the weekly shop she can afford a treat. All the tables are busy but Louise spies Jan sitting at one. A chat with a friend is a pleasure to add to the one of eating and drinking something that she has not prepared herself. Feeling subversive she shares her buttered pastry with a seagull. Jan tuts and smiles and instead of juggling pounds and pennies in her head Louise counts her blessings.
As ever, Ruth is in a hurry. Rushing between meetings she rings the caterers one final time. Only the best for George’s ‘BIG-5-0’. Personally she’d rather they had a quiet, stress free, night alone at their favourite restaurant but she appreciates that her husband’s business is helped by some oiling of the town’s wheels. Feeding local VIPs with fiddly canopies and mid-range bubbly is indeed a regular necessity. Her own job, as a designer, for a small but creative clothes company, is both enjoyable and challenging but what she brings in is really only pin-money. The sexist stereotype of her labours gives her pause for thought as does the expectation, that given George’s importance, everything about their family and social life is her responsibility. But, busy as she is she has little time to dwell on her feelings about this, or indeed anything else. She can’t remember when she last watched a film, or read a book or had a little fun with her friends, rather than colleagues or significant acquaintances. She tells herself that on balance the sacrifices and compromises are worth it.
On arriving home Louise changes into work clothes. Following a three hour shift cleaning the most recently kitted out yachts at Bryson’s Luxury Leisure Homes (or Bryson’s Boats as she and her colleagues call it) there’ll be just time for a quick change into her dark blue uniform in preparation for a long night serving finger-food and alcohol at one of the big houses at the ‘posh end’ of town. Such luxury and decadence disturbs her despite the fact that it pays her wages. The yachts are indeed luxurious throughout. She worked in one last week with a price tag of almost four million pounds. The carpet fitter had just finished his work as she arrived to begin hers’. A nice enough bloke but sadly ignorant of the realities of life for many people he trotted out the ‘well if they will spend their money on fags and booze’ line when he found out about her volunteering. Not wanting to sink to the same offensive banalities Louise can’t help but put him in the ‘I’m alright Jack’ category.
Ruth only has time for a quick shower after returning home from work, supervising the decoration of the house and the garden in preparation for the party, visiting the kitchen to make sure that the caterers are on schedule and putting out George’s outfit for the night. She manages twenty minutes with the children before the au-pair puts them to bed but, as is often the case, she is left feeling dissatisfied by her all too brief contact with her daughters. Her mobile rings as she’s dressing. Her assistant Phil, still at work at 7pm, is clearly irritated that it is him and not her dealing with the problem of a lost order. Promising to go into work early the next morning, even though in theory it's her day off, Ruth ends the call after 20 minutes. Swiftly putting on her make-up and jewellery, including the diamond studs George’s secretary chose for her last Christmas, she reflects on the constant tension in her relationship with Phil. She knows little about his life, and the pleasures and pains within it, but whatever his reasons there’s no excuse for his unprofessionalism. Nobody’s irreplaceable after all.
Before she sleeps Louise sits in her tiny garden drinking a long, cooling glass of water. She is looking forward to a day off tomorrow. She thinks, given the good weather, she’ll have an outdoor swim and in the afternoon there’s a planned walk with a group of friends. On Sunday there’s another catering event – a sit down lunch this one – and the following week she has eight, or maybe more, cleaning shifts including three or four on the boats and the rest in the B&B at the end of her road. The waiting-on jobs are less regular, less predictable, but it’s a busy time of year so she’s fairly confident that there will be some work. So far it’s been a good season and if it continues so next winter - the time of year when paid occupation is always less frequent - will not be as lean as the last. No room for complacency but for now the never far away anxiety of how to manage her finances is at a distance; low on her list of concerns. Kicking of her shoes Louise sighs happily and picks up her library book.
Having paid the caterers and tipped the waiting staff Ruth pours herself a final glass of wine and takes a seat on the patio. Strung up lights still twinkling, the garden resembles a fairy glade but Ruth barely notices. She is tired beyond belief. Massaging her aching feet she moves her face muscles in a gurning-type twist to release the tension following hours and hours of forced smiling. Reassured that her house and garden will be restored, by others, to its usual pristine condition before she returns from work tomorrow she leaves her glass, alongside others, on the table besides her, turns out the garden and house lights and climbs the stairs. Perhaps tomorrow after work she’ll find some time to take the girls to the beach. She promised earlier that she's take them shopping but duty calls and there’s always Amazon. Undressing quietly in the en suite Ruth slips into bed beside an already sleeping George. As always another busy day for him tomorrow and she doesn’t want to wake him.
Once he is sure that Ruth is asleep, George quietly gets out of bed. His hands shaking he knows ANOTHER drink would calm him a little but he needs a clear, well at least less fuddled, head for what he has to do.
It’s no good, he’s been through the figures half a dozen time now and the answer is always the same; Byson’s Boats – he knows that’s what everyone calls it - the luxury yacht building company he has built from scratch is about to go bust. With the house already re-mortgaged and the bank unsympathetic – tonight’s conversation with its' local branch manager confirming this - it’s absolutely clear that there are some changes ahead.