So. Constance was definitely not pregnant. She’d been hoping that the pains were what she now knew they were. Hindsight – such a wonderful thing. So little sleep for no reason. Sitting at home, staring at the white gloss coat on the toilet door a foot from her face, she felt foolish for ever worrying. She glanced down. Strange, she thought as she stared at the packet on the floor between her legs. She’d never noticed that before. A little bit weird,
and sick, she thought. Why, oh why, she wondered, stomach queasing up at the thought, do they symbolise heaviness by small red drops? And she hated blood; abhorred the sight of it. This was well sick. Why not little red roses, or pansies or something? A small row of drops though? Almost like a colour-by-numbers. Just fill in the number of drops that best describes your current feeling. Urgh! Maybe later in the week I’ll be looking at less drops as I sit here. Only one drop today; must be almost finished. Yippee! Should I have them lined up from day one onwards; a little array of droplets on the packages, stacked up in a collage of menstruation? How quaint. What about night-times? Should there be another little row of moons (red of course; unless you’re royal and then they could be blue). Little moons for how many hours sleep I get before being rudely awakened by my overwrought system? Only a man could have thought up this packaging! Drops of blood; I ask you!
God she felt emotional. Maybe, she thought, viciously, men should endure menstruation, then they wouldn’t mock so much, accusing women of being ‘so girlie’. If John (The Tosser™) had had to put up with this mangling of his emotions – but what was she thinking? John (The Tosser™) never had any time for emotions. She really needed to pull herself together. It would get better. Things would improve. The sun always shines after a storm. Every cloud has a silver lining. Oh bugger. As if that kind of namby-pamby clichéd tat was going to help. If he’d had to put up with this he’d have fallen straight to pieces. And off the wagon. Moving his golf clubs or putting the wrong – furry tiger ones, I ask you! – covers on his clubs or not ironing his football socks with creases – who irons socks these days?! – paroxysms of anxiety for him. Aaaaaaaaaah! Tosser™! Constance should have ditched him long ago – and she knew that now. She sighed. Beth had been right about him. So had Lola. Actually, now that she came to think of it, had any
of her friends ever really liked him? Apart from Hannah, but she’d go after anything with a pulse. And probably some without if they were loaded enough… No; it suddenly began to dawn on Constance that all her friends had ever done was tolerate John (The Tosser™) for her sake. Oh, they were so fabulous. Such good friends and true. Except Nikki; but
that was another story… Who needed friends like John (The Tosser™) when she had
friends like these?
Constance almost fell off the toilet and head-first into the door trying to pull her clothes up,
as the insistent trilling of the phone goaded her. You’re not going to make it. You’re not going to make it. Bloody thing – it was almost guaranteed that she’d not get there in time, and the gloating machine would sit there grinning smugly at her as she wondered who it was and how important. Should she wash her hands? But then she’d never make it! Ohhhhh! Leave hands till later. Rush, rush. Come on girl, almost there. Got it!
She tried picking the receiver up with the palm of her right hand so as to have minimum contact with her fingers, pushing the answer button with the little finger of her left and wedging the device awkwardly in the crook of her shoulder and neck.
‘Hello?’ she panted into the silence of the other end, letting the single second of rising
expectation fill her with a tingle of excitement at the thought – just a minute and guilty thought – that it could be -
‘Where the bloody ’ell ’ave you bin?’
Instant deflation. From Cloud Nine to Stalag Luft Six.
‘Hello Keith,’ she mumbled into the mouthpiece, trying to hide her disappointment as she lifted her fingers to her nose carefully to sniff before realising what she was doing and
quickly dropping them to her sides, palms down and away from her body.
‘You could at least try to hide your disappointment,’ Keith grumbled in reply. ‘Anyway,’ he
rumbled on, like a testosterone driven juggernaut advancing to bulldoze Constance’s weekend into oblivion, ‘They’re working the weekend and staffing up, so’ – and here it came – ‘I need your sweet ass in there sugar to induct some lemmings for me.’
‘But –’ she tried to interrupt, knowing the futility of her protest even as she made the effort
‘So sorry,’ he bludgeoned on, ‘but I’m away all weekend in the country with some nice little
hottie I met in Ibiza. Booked it weeks ago.’ Now there was a surprise – not. ‘Besides, it’s your turn.’ The enormity of this blatant lie almost took her breath away.
‘What?!’ she exclaimed, the word slipping out before she could stop it.
‘Sorry sugar?’ His voice dripped honey – with hidden razorblades.
‘Nothing, Keith,’ she mumbled, almost apologetically, thinking better of further protest. Keith had a great way of crushing revolt in his ranks, and Constance already did far
too much work as it was, in her opinion. Better to eat humble pie now, than spend the next two weeks gorging all her spare hours on everyone else’s backlogs of paperwork.
‘Thank you sugar. Usual time in the morning. Have a good one.’ And he was gone, the slight, insignificant click on the line bringing the long uncorrupted stretch of her free-time that was Constance’s weekend to a sudden and catastrophically screeching halt.
‘Bugger,’ she profaned to the world in general. The world chose to ignore her.
‘Bugger, bugger,’ she tried again. Same response. She sighed. That was it then. Friday night – she glanced at the hall clock as its flower-laden face mocked her – six-thirty.
Great. Friday night alone again, without even the comfort of a long indulgent, lazy lie-in in the morning. Can’t even do the usual Bridget and sit and get drunk, eating Ben& Jerry’s and singing (and she had a decent voice to be fair) along with Christina because she was up again at – groan – four buggering fifteen. On a buggering Saturday.
‘Bugger!’ she shouted at the clock. It stared smugly at her and ticked on, shaving the seconds from her freedom. ‘Bugger, bugger, bugger!’
She moved into the living-room and sought the comfort of the CD rack. John (The Tosser™) had always moaned about her CDs –why couldn’t she just get all her music electronically and ditch the CD rubbish? Didn’t stop The Tosser™ taking half of them with him when he moved out four months, one week, two days – check watch – six hours,
seventeen minutes and – oh – fifty one, no, two, seconds ago, though, did it?
‘Bugger,’ she said to the bedraggled looking, depleted collection before her. ‘Not you Mariah,’ she added as her eyes flicked around the small alphabetically organised store of
music she still possessed.
‘Sorry Celine, but not tonight,’ she murmured as her eyes finally came to rest on the Stina
Nordenstam section that was her pride and joy. The Tosser™ would never have taken these. He never understood Stina’s music. ‘What’s this shit?’ he so eloquently asked the first time Constance had played her in his presence. He’d then spent fifteen minutes disparaging Stina and her work, pointing out at great length the finer examples of ‘crapness’ – his word – in songs she’d lovingly crafted and committed to disc. Songs he’d never even heard before (and wouldn’t ever again after he banned her music in his presence). Constance had felt like an idiot for liking her then, as she’d sat listening to his manly wisdom. But he’d never really convinced Constance, and he’d never stopped her passion for Stina’s songs. That small spark of being ‘wrong’, a defiance of sorts, was
something she’d savouredwhen alone. Putting her records on after he’d left the house, sitting there, sipping wine, or crunching her morning toast, a strange conspiratorial smile upon her face. It had become an almost religious and sacrosanct ritual for her. She guessed that even the true love she had felt – still felt – had felt –whatever – for John (The Tosser™), couldn’t crush some things.
So, on with the Stina and find something for tea.
Perhaps she could order Chinese. Yum. A quick look in her purse quashed that idea, and she couldn’t be bothered to walk to the cashpoint now. No, freezer-fare it would have to be – good old Cap’n Birdseye! A lifesaver as well as an extraordinary cook! She checked the fridge…yep, there was still a three litre box of wine in there. Result. Lifting it up, she reassessed the situation; okay, maybe a litre and a half, two at a push. Then again, she shouldn’t really drink with being up at four-fifteen. Groan. Bugger it. Just a glass or two.
Right! Supper on, pour the wine and…sing it Stina!
Constance knew that the extra glass of wine –or two – had been a bad idea as she stared
blearily at the clock and tried to make it explode through sheer will and hatred. After several head-thumping seconds she gave up on the Mulder and Scully method and resorted to throwing the offending timepiece in the corner.
‘Bugger,’ she swore again as it sat smugly on the untidy pile of dirty washing in the corner
of the bedroom, continuing to chime its misery into her life.
‘Okay,’ she ranted, ‘I’m up, I’m up,’ as she crawled onto the floor and across to her
nemesis to disable it. Succulent silence filled the room once more, a faint light beginning to filter through the slats of the blind as she sat staring dumbly at the now silent instrument in her hand, watching the hands shave more time from her day. In the loneliness of the miserable moment, Constance felt like the only person left in the world; locked in that 28
Days Later instant that utter solitude brings at times like these. Her overwhelming feeling of sadness assailed her once again, as she sat there contemplating whether paying the rent and eating was a good enough reason to haul her weary body from the floor and stumble off to work, rather than back to the sweet sanctuary of bed on a sickie. She tried so, so hard not to burst into tears. And failed miserably. The most terrifying thing, as she dragged herself to her feet and into the depressing confines of the bathroom, was the knowledge that this wasn’t down to her system’s screwed-up cycle – it was the way her life made her feel.
Constance couldn’t remember how she’d driven the six long miles to work, and she certainly wasn’t going to win any beauty contests – she’d even forgotten her mascara, and
realised how strange she looked with just eyeliner on – but she’d made it in. To be greeted by the lemmings. ‘The lemmings’ was Keith’s delicately non-PC term for their new starters, or inductees. Theirs was a fickle business, recruitment. Many of the staff in Constance’s establishment she likened to fast-food – never quite enough there to satisfy your needs, gone as fast as they appeared, and after you’d got one, you needed more almost immediately. And when you’d finished them, you wondered why you’d bothered. The term ‘staff turnover’ must have been invented for the Recruitment business.
Constance thought that by now, they must have employed virtually every person in the local area. And many from outside. She guessed that if the local dole office ever burned
down, they could ask her for a complete set of records. No wonder she had – in fact they all had - a constantly obscene workload to hack through.
The day’s dozen victims were the usual disparate bunch. In fact most were more desperate than disparate – as usual. All except one. Looking at his Health and Fitness form as he handed it to her she saw that his name was Daz Cunningham – not Darren, but Daz. Interesting… He was quite impressive too; tall, quite well-built and a little rugged – not scruffy though, but just enough rough to take the edge from his looks. And those big brown eyes that reminded her of the cat in Shrek 2. Oh. Ho.
Then she noticed the silence and suddenly realised that twelve pairs of eyes were watching her expectantly.
‘Ah, ok,’ she muttered, feeling her somewhat previously morning-pale face start to colour. ‘Fine. Everything is…fine. With the forms. So,’ she rallied, ‘Yes.’ She grabbed
the hi-visbility vests from the stack on the table beside her, handing them out hurriedly as she felt her cheeks glowing brighter than the safety equipment she was distributing.
‘The tour. Follow me.’ She almost dashed into the sanctuary of the warehouse, hearing them bumping and muttering behind her as she moved through the door of the canteen and into the large airy space beyond.
All the way around the premises she imagined that she could feel but a single pair of eyes upon her back, and by the time they’d returned to the beginning, she was feeling foolish
and paranoid. Yet every time she’d turned to address the group, she had found him regarding her intently. Hmmm.
Later, sitting in the canteen, nursing a coffee whilst cursing the fact that she’d forgotten the paracetamol in her mad dash from home, she couldn’t help her mind wandering back
to Daz Cunningham. Yet all she seemed to be doing was comparing him to John (The
Tosser™). And he wasn’t winning. Hmmm.
‘Hey doll, what on earth are you doing here?’ The greeting broke her reverie. Looking up she found Rob walking towards her between the small bistro tables that the management had thought gave the place a café-bar feel. He looked flushed and slightly frantic – nothing new there – as he unstrapped his rucksack from his broad back and removed his cycle helmet.
‘Just sittin’, chillin’.’ The old lines slipped mechanically from Constance’s lips. Rob failed
to respond with his stock reply, just dropped into the seat beside her with a great exhalation of breath and proceeded to help himself to a huge slug from her coffee.
‘Don’t mind, do you Doll?’ he asked, belatedly.
‘Feel free. That’s my life,’ she sighed, smiling half-heartedly at him.
‘So what you doing here?’ he asked again.
‘BTK rang me and requested the pleasure of my attendance on OT.’
A smile spread across Rob’s features. ‘Snap. Guess he’s screwed up then. There’ll be headlines tomorrow when he gets back!’ Rob was almost gloating; BTK – or Bloody Terrible Keith as they’d nicknamed him – was renowned for his perfection. Even at five in
the morning, on a weekend, after the staff Christmas party the night before, with free-flowing booze from a free bar, Keith still managed to be immaculate – no stubble, not one hair out of place, no B.O., no garlic breath, suit immaculately pressed, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. And he never screwed up, he was never late, he never over-staffed, never screwed up, never lost his temper, had impeccable manners, got on with all of the clients and the management, and never screwed up. He never screwed up. Ever. That kind of catastrophe he left to lesser mortals – like Constance and Rob. Oh dear. SNAFU, BTK.
Then something connected in Constance’s booze-fogged brain and she realised.
‘Keith won’t be back tomorrow, Rob,’ she explained gently, sympathetically. ‘Tomorrow’s Sunday. Not Monday.’
Constance’s heart went out to her friend and colleague as she saw the realisation dawn and slowly spread across the rugged, fake-tanned features. ‘Shit. Shit, shit, shit,’ he
exclaimed as his head fell into his hands. Poor Rob – he’d done it again. Rob’s life was so hectic that he had a tendency to confuse things rather a lot through not paying proper attention. Being a party queen may have been a riot, but boy did it cause carnage with his organisational abilities.
‘Shit,’ he reiterated, just in case Constance had missed the point - that he’d got the point - the first time. ‘I’ve just ridden like Larry from Oliver’s to get here. My arse is like a cherry.’ He shot her a glance. ‘From that damn racing seat, doll. Honestly, it’s like riding sitting on a razor-blade; cuts you in two. Especially on these roads – they’re as full of holes as a catholic’s condom. And I’ve left that little honey asleep and snoring like Billy-o, just so that I can get here, panicking that I’m late yet again, and then find out that yet again I’ve screwed up. Shit,’ he finished lamely.
‘So you’re supposed to be in tomorrow?’Constance asked, cringing as she did so, already
knowing the answer but asking anyway, sympathising with the fact that by the time Rob managed to get the chance of another lay-in, it would be at least another two weeks of very early starts for him.
‘Shit.’ His succinct answer was all that was necessary to tell her what she already knew.
‘Want another?’ he asked as he finished her coffee and pulled himself up from his chair, to make his way disconsolately towards the coffee machine brooding in the corner.
‘Go on then.’ Poor Rob. He was always messing things up, and Keith always seemed to revel in his mess.
Watching him pumping coins into the machine’s slot and pressing the familiar buttons,
Constance thought about the day ahead and came to a decision.
‘Look Rob,’ she said as he turned with a brown plastic cup full of brown plastic liquid in each hand, ‘why don’t I go home and you take over. Then I’ll work tomorrow for you.'
He approached and placed the cup before her, his mouth opening to form the expected half-hearted protest. She raised her eyebrows at him and a hand to forestall his
‘Look,’ she continued, ‘I’ve got next weekend off because I was supposed to be going away with John.’
‘The Tosser, trademark,’ Rob intoned automatically. Constance’s heart spasmed at the sound of her own words, but she found the pain more manageable and familiar by now –
‘Ho,’ she continued, swallowing down the sick feeling she always got when she thought
about the coming weekend, ‘anyway, we can tell Keith that something came up so you couldn’t work Sunday and you rang me to explain and we swapped and so…’ She trailed off. That should have been enough explanation, even for Rob. Surely?
Rob sat and sipped from his cup, thoughtfully. Then he sat forwards and stared imploringly at her.
‘Honest, Rob,’ she murmured, letting him off the hook again, ‘it’s no problem. My bed’s calling to me anyway and I could do with the sleep.’ She trailed off, feeling a little numb, her body beginning to relax already, longing for the caress of the quilt and Bedland. God knew, she could definitely do with the sleep.
‘Hard night, Doll?’ he asked, already knowing the answer even as he spoke. ‘Another Bridget moment?’
‘Another Constance moment you mean. That’s my life Rob.’
‘Oh, Constance. Why’d you let that…that…that little cock, John The Second treat you so? You my dear, are a honey, and he never deserved you babe.’
They both laughed at the implied ‘little cock’ jibe – Constance had never been able to keep from drunkenly gushing her feelings and personal stuff to Rob. They’d been close
friends from their days together at college, and his reference to ‘John The Second’ was a reminder to her of another of her exes from that time – John The First (or He of the Big Cock as Rob so delicately remembered him).
‘Come on Doll. Are you sure? I mean - ’
‘Will you shut the fuck up,’ she exploded dramatically at him – and they both collapsed into the giggles as the sweet and sour remembrance ripped into her heart again.
She remembered that day so clearly – almost photographically. John Little Cock (The Tosser™) had taken her shopping. Or as she actually remembered, he had gone
shopping with Constance tagging along, as usual, and she guessed that she must have wound him up just a little too much that day when he was obviously already having a bad one. Constance never knew why he was ever in a bad mood or why he was having ‘a bad day’, because he would never have confided in her – a bit too ‘girlie’ for his machismo to take, showing emotion in front of his ‘little woman’.
They’d been looking towards the following weekend – another they’d booked to go away
together – and discussing plans for it, and Constance had said she’d like to travel down on the Friday evening after work so that they could maximise their time away together. He wasn’t buying it. He’d said that he would be far too tired after work to drive that far and they should wait until the Saturday morning. Why couldn’t she be patient? She was always pushing too much, demanding too much from him, and so on. She’d offered to drive, despite probably being tired herself, but thinking it worth the effort to spend the extra night together. He’d scoffed at the idea– he wasn’t going to let her, a woman, drive him anywhere, for any reason. She guessed that she should have dropped the subject there and then, but she so much wanted that extra night together that she persisted. That was when she must have pushed him too far, because that was when he’d said it. Right there in HMV, in the middle of a Saturday afternoon crowd, as loud and clear as day. He’d turned to her, stopped dead in his tracks, his face a hands-breadth away from hers as he’d leaned down towards her to almost shout the words;
‘Will you shut the fuck up.’
Just like that. A statement; not even a question. Then he’d turned and walked off, carried on shopping like nothing had happened. She’d been stunned, and, looking around at the faces that had stopped to stare at his outburst, she wasn’t the only one. Flushing hotly, eyes to the ground before her, she had shuffled after him.
That seemed to be the start of the end. The rest of the day had passed in awkward silence – awkward for Constance – he’d never even seemed to notice how she once more
retreated into herself, just like the old Constance. He’d gone out with his friends on the night-time on a boy’s night-out, and failed to call her on the Sunday. They’d stumbled through the following two fruitless weeks of misery – the weekend was a total disaster –hardly speaking, seeing each other less often, texts dropping to a minimum necessary to maintain a sorry caricature of a relationship. By the end of the following week, just before Christmas, she’d had enough of the paranoia and suspicions running round in her head. She’d called him to tell him her fears and that she needed to talk through it, connecting only to his ansaphone yet again, leaving a despairing, desperate sounding message, and he’d just replied by text. ‘I thnk we shd stp cing each othr’.
By this point – two days later by the time he’d bothered to text – she’d become too numb to register the reply, or care. He obviously hadn’t. He’d never bothered to text or call to see why she never replied, or if she’d received the dumping-text in the first place. And that was that. Goodbye John The Love of Her Life, hello John (The Tosser™) and Celine.
The voice dragged her back from the edge of despair’s deep abyss once more, to the pit of anguish that was her life, and she looked up to find Daz looking questioningly at her.
‘Huh?’ she managed, totally destroying any cool she may have had left.
‘Sorry,’ he apologised, ‘but you asked me to come and find you when I’d finished that job
you gave me. For reassignment.’Reassignment? This guy was too good for the place. Far too much initiative.
‘Ho. Right,’ she managed, gulping down the rest of her warm coffee and pointing to Rob, who she suddenly realised was watching the pair of them with a knowing twinkle in his
eye, and the little half-smile on one side of his mouth that meant he’d picked up on something subversive.
‘Erm, this is Rob, Daz,’ she introduced, feeling somewhat strange. ‘Rob is my fellow team member, and he’s going to be running the rest of the shift.’
Rob stood and offered his hand in greeting, his eyes never leaving Constance’s face. She had the decency to blush. ‘Pleased to meet you Daz,’ he oozed. ‘If you’d like to follow me. See you Monday, Constance,’ he lilted over his shoulder, leaving her in the canteen, as in life, alone once more.
Constance had been asleep for maybe six hours when her mobile started to blare the tinny tones of Hong Kong Garden at her.
‘Uh?’ she muttered into it when she finally managed to locate it on the floor beside the bed where it had vibrated itself to with a clunk from the top of her bedside table.
‘Connieeee! How the bugger are you girl?’
‘Tired. Need sleep. Go away.’
‘Connieeee! Don’t be shy. I’m coming round tonight.’ That was the thing with Beth – she never waited for an invitation – she had an open one whenever she liked as far as she
‘No. Can’t. Work ’morrow.’
‘Nonsense, Connie. I need to talk to you.’
‘Tomorrow. Go away. Now.’
‘Tush, Connie. I’ll be round at seven of the clock. Ciao for now!’
‘Gnnnnh.’ Click. Sweet, sweet dreams, please come take me away once more…