Josie was new to the office but she could see more clearly than anyone what was going on… and how she could help
“It’s all in your mind,” Josie said, swinging a bauble she’d borrowed from the Christmas tree in the canteen in front of Gail’s eyes.
They both stood in the office of Grimes and Son Knitwear where they worked.
“You will fall pregnant, Gail. It’s a magical time of year.”
Gail raised her hand and stopped the bauble’s sway.
“No, I won’t. I’ve been trying for ages. Maybe Betty’s right, some people just aren’t meant to be parents.”
Her lips started to tremble as Betty scuttled across the room with a box of tissues.
“Oh, that’s right, Josie. Set her off again,” exclaimed Betty.
“I’ll be all right in a minute,” Gail said. Still, she made a dash for the Ladies’ where she could sob in peace.
“Maybe you should stop mentioning babies,” Betty said sharply.
To Josie, the office’s latest recruit of two months, Betty, the office spinster, seemed as dilapidated as the crumbling factory itself. She smiled slyly. When the factory closed down for the holidays Betty would be retiring.
“I’ve had an idea,” she said. “Why don’t you do something really nice with your last few days here, Betty?”
The woman scowled.
“What on earth do you mean?”
“When’s that new furniture coming?”
“It’s not new…”
“Exactly,” Josie interrupted. “It’s not new. Mr Grimes bought it on the cheap at an auction.
“But if you believe in something, you can work miracles – especially at this time of year.”
Betty snorted. “What utter piffle!”
Betty didn’t like her, Josie knew it, but then Betty didn’t seem to really like anybody. Crusty just wasn’t the word. Still, in five days time she’d disappear into retirement-land forever.
Josie couldn’t wait.
As soon as the new furniture was unloaded the next day, Josie hurried into the store room. She picked out a likely looking candidate – a fawn typist’s chair with a distinctive red band across the backrest. Red for a robin!
Yes, that’ll do nicely. It’ll make all the difference… if only crusty old Betty will play along.
“Well, look at this,” Josie said smugly when she wheeled the chair into the centre of the office.
Gail glanced round from her computer screen; her eyes looked red this morning.
“It’s the chair. The very chair,” Josie squeaked in excitement.
“Sorry?” Gail frowned.
“The nudge-nudge wink-wink chair. You must have seen it in the local paper. It’s the famous chair from Poddington’s Estate Agency. It was even on the telly. Sit on this chair and you’ll be in the family way by New Year.
“It’s caught four estate agents out at Poddingtons. They said they’d be getting rid of it. I’m sure it’s the same one. Look at it!” She beamed at Gail. “It’s unmistakable.”
In her own chair, Betty snorted like a disgruntled reindeer.
“What rubbish! You have no idea where that chair came from.”
Gail looked doubtful too. She always looked up to Betty for some odd reason.
“Surely it can’t be the same chair, Josie?” she echoed.
Josie glared at Betty.
“Yes, it can. I’d know it anywhere. Come on Gail, snuggle up to your new best friend.”
Gail glanced at Betty, who suddenly looked like Santa’s grumpiest elf.
“Piffle,” she snapped.
“Thanks anyway, Josie,” Gail said. “But I really don’t believe in things like that. It’s all a bit silly. Isn’t it… Betty?”
Josie sagged in defeat.
Three days to go now and Betty would retire. Just three days. Surely she could do something out of character for once; something from her heart not her cold, logical head.
Betty glanced down at her own tatty brown chair.
“Why don’t I have that new one?” she suggested.
Betty falling pregnant? Now there that would be a Christmas miracle all right. The magic chair had more chance of giving birth to footstools.
Betty snatched it away and wheeled it to her desk.
“There, that’s put an end to your nonsense,” she muttered to herself as she settled herself down. The chair squealed in protest.
What a mean-spirited old Scrooge you are, Josie thought. At this rate the whole factory will heave a sigh of relief the last time you walk out the door.
“Why is Betty such a stick in the mud? I’m sure the closer she comes to retiring, the worse she gets,” Josie said to Gail as they sat down over their sandwiches in the tinsel-strewn canteen the following day. She’d just suffered another morning of being ordered about by the humourless harridan.
Gail’s eyebrows knitted anxiously.
“Betty? Oh, that’s just her way. She’s always been one for straight talking. She’s really organised, though. I admire that, don’t you?”
Josie huffed while Gail picked at her tuna and sweetcorn sandwich.
“She really looked after me when I first got here,” she went on. “I’d only just left school. My typing speed wasn’t up to much and they’d just had a whole new set of computers delivered. I couldn’t even sort out the printer.”
She shredded the crust from the bread.
“If I hadn’t married Gary in Spain, I’d have liked Betty to be there.” She sniffed suddenly. “You know, she’s never even given me her address and phone number. I only have them because I checked our employee records. It’s almost like she’s all set to disappear forever at Christmas.”
What a sour old goat, hiding herself away, Josie thought.
Not that she could understand why anybody in their right mind would want to visit Betty after she retired.
She glanced to the clock. There was only a day and a half left to go now.
On Betty’s last day, a little chair sabotage seemed in order.
Josie raced through the snowy streets so she could get into work early. She wheeled the magic chair over to Gail’s desk then draped a bit of red tinsel over it especially. She barely dared to glance up when a dark shadow fell over her.
“Oh no you don’t, Josie!” Betty took a firm hold of the chair’s seat.
Josie tried to yank it free. The poor chair squeaked as if frightened it might be torn in half like a cracker.
“You only have today left, Betty,” Josie gasped as they wrestled. “All I’m trying to do is give Gail a bit of hope.”
“Hope? This isn’t hope, it’s mumbo-jumbo.
“It’s inappropriate considering what Gail’s been through.”
Josie glowered. She didn’t have a clue what Betty was rabbiting on about.
“We can’t live in the past,” she announced loftily to the older woman.
Betty’s eyes blazed.
“Gail knows better than to fool herself with fantasy. You won’t sell false hope to a girl brought up in foster homes.”
Josie’s eyes widened. Foster homes? Gail? She hadn’t said a word, though Betty clearly thought she had. She’d likely seen them chatting and giggling when they put the Christmas tree up in the canteen and assumed Gail had shared her life story.
Was this something Gail had only confessed to Betty?
“She trusts you,” Josie snapped. “She listens to you. If you told her it was July instead of December she’d likely agree. Tell her this chair will work and it will.”
Betty gave the chair a sudden tug. It went spinning across the office, struck a bin and toppled over.
“You’ve killed it!” Josie yelped as its wheels spun. “Is that what you’re trying to do to Gail? Kill off her dreams?”
She glared at Betty. “Maybe you want to hurt her because you’re hurting. You know once you leave this place there’ll be nothing left in your life but… but a bungalow and a cat.”
Betty bared her teeth in a snarl. She pulled the chair upright, rolled it to her desk and plonked herself down on it.
“Piffle!” she snapped. “Absolute, mindless piffle!”
One hour and counting. The clock slowly ticked down Betty’s last minutes.
When Gail left to take some letters to the post office, Betty started to pace like a woman about to be executed.
Josie offered her a mince pie as her last meal.
“No thank you,” Betty said curtly.
“Did you ever want a family, Betty?” Josie asked.
“No, I did not. Thank you.”
“Not for a single second? You never, ever wanted a tiny baby lying in your arms. A tiny little life you helped to create?”
Betty’s gaze narrowed. She sat back down and turned away.
Had Josie talked herself to the truth? She gazed at Betty sitting so primly on the magic chair. Maybe it could work after all.
Betty’s pregnant,” Josie announced loudly when Gail returned to the office. “I told you there would be a Christmas miracle. Three wise men will turn up in a minute.”
Gail blinked at her, thunderstruck.
“Sorry?” she blurted, glancing over to Betty’s shocked expression.
“Oh yes, she’s going to give birth at any second. Gas and air, Betty. Gas and air. Push now. Push.”
“Take no notice of her, Gail,” Betty said crisply. “She thinks she’s funny.”
“Push, Betty,” Josie went on regardless. “Push hard; your offspring is going to weigh a whopping eight stone, four pounds at least.”
Gail and Betty stared at each other in confusion.
Josie hissed in frustration and snapped to her feet.
“You two really are hopeless. You both sit around hoping the other one will say something first.
“Gail, you always expect Betty to take charge. Betty, you just wait and wait for some tiny indication of being needed, don’t you? But if nobody asks, nobody gets.”
Josie glanced at the clock – thirty-two minutes and counting. She suddenly felt like tearing her hair out. They really did intend to drift apart at the end of the day just before Christmas, likely never to meet again. Just work colleagues, nothing more. There and gone.
“Gail would love to visit you over the festive season,” she told Betty sharply. “She’s just dying to be the daughter you never had.”
She glanced to Gail.
“Betty doesn’t want to disappear. ‘Motherly guidance’ is her middle name, after all.”
That’s what the magic chair would have said to them both if it could have spoken, Josie thought.
She dived for the tissue box, unsure which woman would crack first.
Surprisingly it was Betty. Seven years of repressed emotion held tight inside for the girl she’d taken under her wing as a sixteen-year-old was finally too much to bear.
“I would love to see you over Christmas and afterwards,” she sniffled at Gail. “I was sort of waiting for you to ask me.”
“I’d love to see you, too.” Gail’s lip quivered. “I thought you were just about to tell me, to be honest. I always wanted us to be closer than we are in the office.”
Tears and hugs followed. Then Betty noticed her empty chair.
“It… it did work, sort of,” she said, her voice faltering. She glanced to Josie, who crossed her arms and raised her brows expectantly.
“Oh, you’d best sit down then.” Betty tugged Gail over and sat her down. “Just in case it works again. Which, of course, it will,” she added, seeing Josie’s stern little glower. “You never know what will come along and help you, do you?”
She sounded shocked by her own words.
No, you never know what… or who… will help you in the end.
Josie sniffled as the hands of the clock hurtled towards five, feeling teary herself as the two smiling women made their way into the canteen all set for Betty’s leaving do and the firm’s Christmas party.
Josie hunted her mobile out of her handbag. A quick call might help.
“Hi sweetheart,” she said when a tiny voice said hello. “It’s Mummy. I love you so much.”
“I love you too, Mummy,” her four-year-old daughter replied.
She chatted on about what presents Grandma had been wrapping and how late Daddy said he’d be that evening.
Josie smiled at the magic chair across the room.
No, you never ever knew what might come along to help you, especially at this time of year.
She wandered over, sat herself down and leaned back into the chair’s welcoming embrace.
Any day now, she thought. Any day now, Josie. And you’ll be a mummy again, too.
We’re sharing another lovely Christmassy story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during December. Look out for the next one!