Tuesday, April 21, 2020

The Audience Adventure - Day 7

When the confirmation pinged into Emma’s emails she immediately danced back to the website to try and fathom getting a refund but no matter how many FAQ pages she went to, or live chat options she selected she couldn’t seem to fathom how to do it without picking up the phone and she desperately didn’t want to use her phone in case Jack heard her talking and remembered again what she’d put him through.

Perhaps they would give her a refund at the reception, she mused whilst warming some baked beans for dinner. Probably not, she concluded gloomily. There was probably some small print that she’d not noticed, and wouldn’t have read anyway even if she had noticed. 

You’re an administrator for goodness sake.” She chided herself.

“Were an administrator.” The very worst of herself added. “You’re now a part time tree decoration duster and you’re not even doing that this week because you got crushed between two cars spying on the man you fancy who you have chased across the country.”

Every time Emma thought about the car reversing back into her and the horror of it all she had to really push herself to believe it had actually happened. Had she really been there? Squatting in the street? Why hadn’t she just stood up and walked away? Chances were Theo wouldn’t have even noticed her. What had possessed her to just sit there and get crushed?

She pushed the thoughts out of her mind and flopped beans onto the waiting buttered toast. Orange juice splashed onto her pyjamas and she didn’t even bother to wipe it down. She padded back to the living room, her eyes flicking to the heavily scrubbed patches of her hall as she went.

“Take someone to the spa.” Said an oddly optimistic voice in her head as she sat down, “Come on. We’re here now - we live in Bath, you need to start making friends. Who could you take?”

Emma racked her brains. She didn’t really know anyone in Bath. Except Theo, and there was a thought desperate to be thought louder that she really didn’t even know him if she was honest.

That left Fiona. Fiona was the only other person she knew in this entire city.

“Except Jack.” Blurted out a thought she was trying to smother with a pillow.

“Yes,” she responded, “Yes I could go upstairs and knock for Jack and say, Oh hi, it’s me; you remember, the person who got you questioned about whether you hit women when you were just trying to be a good neighbour? Would you like to come to a spa with me? Afterwards, I’ll see what I can do about getting you up on murder charges. No thank you, we’re never speaking to him again.”

So that left Fiona. Ok. How would that go? Emma decided not to dwell on it too much lest she overthink it and do something daft. There was a wheedling voice suggesting that perhaps if Emma spent more time thinking about what she was doing and less time following her questionable gut instincts then perhaps her life would be going better, but she turned up her inner stereo and drowned it out as she drafted a text to Fiona.

She decided to claim that the doctor had suggested perhaps a steam room and some light floating would be good for recovery and would Fiona like to come to? She hoped this would make it seem to Fiona like she really was trying her best to recover as quickly as possible because of how much she valued her job. She sent the text and then quickly added an amendment that read “Tickets are on me.”

Emma finished her beans and was surprised to see her phone light up barely a few minutes later with an affirmative response from Fiona. It was brief, but of course it was, but definitely said Fiona would join her and perhaps they could go after she closed the shop the next day. Emma agreed and went to bed that night with the smallest seed of positivity nestled in her stomach.

At 7:30pm the next day Emma was stood in the ladies changing room with a towel wrapped round her bikinied body and an enormous shawl of panic enveloping the whole thing. She stared in alarm at the perfect bodies of the other women getting changed around her; their smooth skin, their smooth skin and their smooth skin. Oh god, their smooth bastard skin! Emma pulled the towel out gently, still sheltered beneath the enormous panic cape, and looked at her own skin… not smooth. Not smooth at all. Her bikini line looked like two moustaches peering out over the tops her thighs, her legs were verging on downy, her arm pits resembled two pitta breads sheltering timid kiwi fruits. She pulled the towel in tighter around herself and shuddered.

“Why didn’t you think to shave?” She cursed herself inwardly.

“Because you didn’t even think of owning a bathing suit until you were on your way here.” Came the alarmingly calm reply.

This was very true. Emma had been strolling from her flat to the spa when it had suddenly occurred to her she hadn’t brought a bathing suit. When she’d been picturing the evening, she’d not got further than meeting Fiona in the foyer and practising saying hi without spitting at her or getting her arrested for grand theft auto. She’d not actually gone much further with the thought process.

She ducked in hurriedly to M&S earning a frown from the woman by the baskets who was hoping to close fairly soon. She pulled a handful of swimming costumes off the rack and raced to the changing rooms but found it impossible to get into any of the one pieces without having to bend into a shape her fractured ribs would just not allow. The tannoy was repeatedly honking at her the staff were trying to go home to their families for the evening and so Emma ran from the changing room grabbed the nearest bikini that looked like it might fit and threw it at the cashier.

So here she was in the changing room, surrounded by the effortlessly glamorous middle-class women of Bath, wearing a loose fitting halterneck bikini with enough body hair to get her shot for being the missing link. Emma howled at herself internally… god she was tired of being a fuck up.

“I’ll just have to style it out.” She thought, defiantly miserable, “Body hair is perfectly normal. I should just pretend I’m really proud of it.”

She got to her feet and headed out to meet Fiona in one of the steam rooms.

After 10 minutes in the steam room Emma had no idea what was more uncomfortable… the intense muggyness and resulting inability to breathe, or the complete lack of conversation with Fiona. In films when people sat next to each other in steam rooms or spas there was a companionable silence, but between her and Fiona it felt like you could actually hear all the sentences they were contemplating being started and dropped before they were ever birthed.

Emma was so deeply uncomfortable from the heat, the company and the desperate fear that if she didn’t keep her knees firmly locked together one of them would brush against someone and they would run screaming from the steam room complaining about spiders.

Emma tried to think of something to say to Fiona, but everything she could say about herself kept leading back to the big things that she didn’t want Fiona to know:

  1. That she was an unstable psychopath
  2. That it was definitely a good idea to fire her before she burned down the shop

She tried to think of questions for Fiona, but they either seemed too invasive or like they would naturally lead to Fiona asking something back that Emma didn’t want to answer. She sat and sweated. Perhaps it would be less awkward up on the roof pool? Emma turned to Fiona,

“Shall we go up to the roof pool?”

“Lovely.” Said Fiona, and they stood up. Emma climbed the stairs with an awkward waddle trying to keep her thighs pressed as closely together as she could to screen her sprawling bikini line. It wasn’t so much a line as a scrum. They reached the roof pool and went to have a little shower rinse before dipping in. Emma ran her hands through her hair, enjoying the water, and then clamped her arms down after catching the eye of a woman looking at her monster pits in horror. 

A small, grumpy voice in Emma’s head told the woman to piss off. Why shouldn’t she have hairy arm pits? Then Emma reminded herself that really, it was herself that was so mad at the hair, and she tried to give herself a break. My pits my rules she thought and joined Fiona in the pool.

The pool was no better at cultivating conversation and Fiona and Emma floated lazily occasionally muttering things like “It’s nice isn’t it.” And “Better than being at work.” At one point Emma said “lol” out loud and then vowed to google “How to make friends” when she got home to avoid ever being in this situation again. Emma glanced at her hands; the tips of her fingers were turning all pruney. She circled around to tell Fiona - that’ll kill fifteen seconds, she thought, maybe even twenty-five if Fiona says “mmmhmmm, so are mine” and shows me. But as Emma floated round to Fiona, she caught sight of her head just as Fiona took a huge deep breath and ducked under the water.

“What’s she playing at?” Thought Emma, wondering if it was a game and whether she should do it too. She watched Fiona frantically twist about and swim away towards the edge of the pool. Emma followed, unsure of how quickly to do so to not seem weird or rude. Fiona came up by the edge of the pool and leant her arms up out on the side, keeping her back firmly to Emma and flicking her long hair down around her face. Emma joined her.
“Was that nice?” Emma asked. Fiona looked dreadful. Mascara was running down around her eyes and she looked… she looked frightened. “Are you alright?” Said Emma, worried. 

Fiona wiped the water off her face with a hand. “That man, over there - with the blonde woman in the pink swimming costume.” Fiona did a sort of backwards nod so she could indicate a direction without turning round. Emma subtly slid her eyes across and saw the man she thought Fiona meant. Emma was good at watching people without them knowing and she saw the relief in Fiona’s eyes when he was discreet.

“I see him.” Said Emma, “Who is he?”

“Is he with that woman?” Fiona asked, her voice squeaking. Emma tried to subtly watch as best she could. They certainly seemed close, but it was hard to tell in a swimming pool. Ooh! He put his hand on her shoulder, that seemed intimate and… oh, yeah, he was passionately kissing her. That was a clue.

“Er, yeah… yeah, I think so. Well, yes - they’re kissing.” Said Emma, and then, seeing the positively heartbreaking look on Fiona’s face, she added “Is that ok?” Even though it quite patently wasn’t.

All Fiona said was “Oh God.” And then disappeared back under the surface of the pool. At the point where bubbles started to flood up from her mouth Emma reached down and yanked her back up to the surface.

“What’s the matter… who is he?” Emma hissed. Unsure why she was whispering, there was no way the couple could hear them from the other side of the pool.

“He’s… he’s my boyfriend.” Said Fiona thinly, she was sniffing and although the pool water made it hard to know for sure, Emma thought she was probably crying.

“Oh god the cheating bastard!” Said Emma, a bit too loudly and a few people turned round to look, “Sorry.” She hissed to Fiona, “What a rat. Shall we march over there and shout at him?”

“No!” Said Fiona, panicked. “God no, there can’t be a scene.”

“Why not?” Emma replied indignantly, “If he’s cheating on you then you have every right to confront him.”

“Um,” Fiona avoided eye contact, “Well, not exactly. The, um, the woman he’s with… that’s his wife see. If she’s sees me here she’ll think we planned it. We’re supposed to be over since they got back together.”

Emma was dumbstruck. Quiet, moody, surly Fiona was another woman for an absolute cad in Speedos? She’d not seen this coming. Emma glanced at the clock on the wall.

“Well, we have to get out soon - our two hours is nearly up.” How had two hours managed to pass? She thought time had been stood still for most of the afternoon.

“We can’t!” Said Fiona, looking so pale and terrified that Emma was worried she might pass out. “You’ll have to go down to reception and extend our stay. I’ll pay them whatever they want but we have to stay.”
“I don’t think it works like that.” Said Emma, worried about having to trek all the way down stairs and bargain with the perfect looking spa staff.

“Well it’s going to have to.” Said Fiona, with a look that managed to somehow convey the very real threat of Emma’s job depending on it without actually saying anything that might land The Christmas Shop in any human resources hot water.

Emma relented and pulled herself out the pool, grabbing the nearest robe to cover herself with, and barely registering the annoyed “hey” from whoever the robe belonged to. She padded down to the reception and stood, dripping onto the marble foyer among the other fully dressed guests.

“Oh well,” she thought with a wry smile, looking down at her legs, “At least some people might think I have leggings on.”

She reached the desk and the beautiful man behind it looked surprised to see a very wet woman in one of their bath robes on this side of the building.

“You’re not supposed to…” he said, and Emma decided to cut him off and just go for it.

“I know, yes…” she said bluntly, “Listen, the friend I’m here with isn’t feeling very well so we need to extend our stay a little longer than the original two hours. Would that be possible?”

The man frowned, “No, I’m afraid not… if your friend is unwell she really needs to leave immediately - we can’t allow her to stay on if she needs medical attention.”

“No, she doesn’t… she’s not going to be sick or anything.” Emma was starting to panic. “It’s more of a heart thing.” The receptionists’ eyes flicked to the defibrillator hanging on the wall. “No! Not like that,” Emma added hurriedly, “It’s more of a…” she watched his gorgeously lashed eyes narrowing and wondered how best to get what she needed… “It’s more of a she’s just spotted the man she’s having an affair with is here with his wife and she is really worried that if she gets out of the pool now the wife will notice and pull all her hair out of her head.”

Emma stopped talking and just stared blankly at the receptionist whose eyes were now about as wide as it was possible for eyes to go. Emma ran through her hand through her hair and saw his wide eyes flick to her armpets and his nose wrinkled involuntarily. Then his eyes made their way lower down to where her dressing gown had fallen open and for a brief second she thought he was staring at her breasts. Then she realised it was the panoramic bruising across her ribs that had caught his eye. She tightened her robe gently over the evidence of her folly. “We’ve been having a bit of a tough time of it lately. Everything’s been a bit bollocks.”

The man seemed to melt in his seat and a smile dawned over his face. He nodded to Emma and they hatched a plan.

15 minutes later Fiona and Emma had been snuck from the pool by two of the loveliest staff Emma had ever encountered. She couldn’t believe how friendly the receptionist, whose name had turned out to be Matt, had been. He’d taken pity on the tired, bruised looking waif and her adulterous friend and offered to smuggle them out of the pool and away into their own private chill out room complete with jacuzzi and bottle of prosecco. Emma couldn’t believe their luck.

She and Fiona settled onto loungers and sipped at the prosecco. Fiona’s tears had dried and she was sniffing and laughing a little to herself.

“What a mess.” She said, a touch hysterically, “I keep promising myself I’m going to stop seeing him… I keep promising myself I’m going to get my life together, find a better job, get a man who will commit to me. Or at least stop being with a man who won’t commit to me. I just never do it. I just stay stuck in these ludicrous patterns. I’m such a coward. I wish I could be like you.” She rolled over to look at Emma who was astounded to hear anyone say something like that, “I wish I could just up sticks and run across the country,” Fiona continued, “You’re so brave. It’s so romantic.”

Emma felt her skin flush with pride and shame. It wasn’t nearly so romantic if you knew the truth, she thought sadly.

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