Carol scrunched up her face against the freezing rain, and it occurred to her then, as always, that doing so made absolutely no difference. If anything, it probably just hurried along the onset of lines on her forehead, which bothered her more than she cared to admit. It had been a bad day.
She’d overslept, skipped breakfast, missed her train, and then Darren had called. Fucking Darren. She’d been planning to dump him for weeks, but she’d never managed it. Darren was boring. Darren was stupid. Darren was crap in bed. Darren was also hard to shift. He was always just sort of there, with his big, pathetic brown eyes and some ridiculous tale of woe. Then she’d feel guilty and chicken out.
“Sorry,” he said. “I’ve met someone else.” Carol was stunned.
“You what?” she whispered.
“Her name’s Donna. We’re moving in.”
“Well, you can just piss off, then, can’t you,” she said, hating herself for how hurt she sounded. Donna was a slapper’s name anyway, she thought, but checked herself for thinking something so unfeminist, and then felt cheated out of her rage.
After that, the day was a catalogue of failures. She’d forgotten her umbrella, and arrived at work, drenched and freezing, to find her appraisal had been moved to 10 o’clock, giving her twenty-seven minutes to dry out and calm down.
“This isn’t good enough,” Mr Wilmot shouted. Her pompous, priggish boss narrowed his eyes over his glasses. “You’re sloppy. You miss deadlines. And today, when you should be looking to impress more than ever, you’re half an hour late and you look like you’ve spent the night a ditch. This is your final warning. Either you shape up or you’re out.” Carol swallowed, blinking back tears.
“Yes, sir,” she muttered, and dashed out, praying to make the ladies’ before she started crying. It took her fifteen minutes to collect herself, and when she emerged from the bathroom, she saw Wilmot ambling past, carrying his briefcase and an umbrella that probably cost more than her car.
“Early lunch, is it?” she muttered to Sheila, who sat opposite.
“His mum’s in hospital. Stroke,” Sheila said, and Carol felt like crying all over again.
Wilmot wasn’t married. He didn’t have kids. He lived alone. His only family was his mother, and without her, he’d have nobody left. It niggled at her the rest of the day, sapping the last of her concentration so that she spilled her coffee and burned her tongue on her soup. She wanted to seethe, wanted to hate him, wanted to think up creative and revolting ways for him to meet his maker, but she couldn’t. She felt sorry for him.
When the wretched day was over, she wanted to drown her sorrows. She wanted to hide in the pub with a bottle of red, but in the end, he’d denied her that, too. There, sitting at the bar by himself, was Wilmot. She sighed.
“Hello, sir,” she said, and sat down beside him.