WRITTEN BY NATALIE KLEINMAN
For Lara, the grind of daily life was starting to get her down – but a positive change can lie just around the corner…
Lara sat at her desk gazing out of the train window, watching the April rain beating at the pane, reflecting on the pain she felt within.
The day had begun normally enough. The usual mad panic getting the children breakfasted while Dave walked the dog. Making sure they were ready for Dave to drop them at school on his way to work. He was lucky. He worked locally.
Lara had to get to the station, only to be jammed like a sardine along with hundreds of other passengers. She dreamed of another kind of life, had done for years. A local job where the commute didn’t leave her exhausted before the day had even begun. At fifty-three though there was little likelihood of that.
Somebody’s laptop case was jammed against her thigh. It hurt. She didn’t protest. What could she have said? There wasn’t room to move and its owner might have been embarrassed – or not. She wasn’t the type to embarrass someone just for the sake of it. She suffered in silence but she suffered, anticipating the huge bruise that would later appear. She seemed to bruise far more easily these days. Lots of things had changed since she’d become menopausal. She hoped the symptoms would pass quickly.
The corner of a newspaper was wedged against her right nostril and to this she did protest even while she was imaging a cartoon in the next day’s paper with the caption, Something getting up your nose? There’s only so much one can suffer in silence.
“Excuse me but do you mind?” The reader rustled the paper but barely made any effort to remove it and was clearly irritated at the interruption. It ended up wedged against the other side of her nose but at least her nostril was free.
Lara let her mind wander, away from the crowds, away from the daily grind, to fields and parks and outdoor spaces where she could breathe. It was her favourite daydream and one without which she was sure she’d go insane.
Reaching her destination, the first thing she did was change her clothes. There was no uniform, it was just that she felt dirty every time she travelled on the train. Her building didn’t provide showers for employees, not like some of these new office blocks that seemed to climb higher and higher into the heavens. Maybe they too were seeking fresh air.
But at least she could have a wash and feel clean for the rest of the day. When it was time to go home she’d carry her clothes from the morning commute and, with two dirty sets of attire destined for the washing machine, she’d repeat the whole process the next day. The extra work it gave her in the form of washing and ironing was far outweighed by the need to feel human. If only she could get off the treadmill!
Connor had called her into his office at 11am. “Lara, would you mind coming in here. I’d like a few words with you if you’re not busy at the moment.”
He’d stood at the doorway but turned his back as soon as he’d finished speaking. He didn’t need to look to see if she’d heard and he certainly didn’t doubt her response. His voice had rung loud and clear across the communal workplace and as she crossed the room she tried to figure out what she’d done.
Nobody was summoned to the boss’s inner sanctum without reason and it would never be a good one. Even so she was unprepared for what followed.
It’s no reflection on your work, Lara. It’s just that the board has decided we have to cut back.
Who are you trying to kid, she thought. You are the blinkin’ board!
“I know you’ll only feel uncomfortable if you have to sit out your notice, what with the others watching you, sympathy and all that. I’m letting you go at the end of the day. You’ll be paid until the end of the term of notice. And there will be redundancy of course.”
He said it like he was doing her a favour.
Back at her desk she looked around the office. Sympathetic glances were cast in her direction. It seemed she’d been the last to know. Oddly enough her uppermost emotion was one of relief.
She’d been forced into an action she should long ago have taken herself and now she really would have to consider what had suddenly become a rather precarious situation. The rain still beat relentlessly on the windows and, unable to bear the murmured good wishes of her workmates, Lara left ten minutes early. Connor was hardly likely to dock her wages, after all. She glued a bright smile to her face and turned to wave and she went out. It was the best she could do.
Ah well, at least she wouldn’t have to endure the train for a while, not until she found another job at least. Another job! That was a joke. There were hundreds, thousands of people out there looking for work. Experience didn’t seem to count for anything these days. There just weren’t enough jobs to go around. What chance did she stand?
She dreamed again of open spaces, the smell of newly fallen rain, of freshly cut grass, even of stables, remembering how much she’d loved being in the stables where she’d volunteered as a teenager. There wasn’t anything like that nearby but their suburban house was nicely situated, adjacent to the park, far enough out of the city to feel semi-rural – if you had a good imagination – but close enough for the journey into town to be considered practical. Only now she didn’t have to be practical any more. Couldn’t even if she wanted to.
She wondered how she was going to tell Dave and the children. They were old enough to understand – she hoped. One late teens, the other early twenties, she’d been trying to come to terms with the fact that they’d be moving on in the not too distant future. With one still studying and the other on the very bottom rung of the job ladder they might have to hang on for longer than they’d originally thought.
In the meantime, they were her kids, they lived at home, and she and Dave would give them every small luxury they could in such difficult times. All those things she’d promised them. A new this. A new that. All that would have to wait for a while now, if not forever. There was little chance of her finding work in the current climate.
A picture crossed her mind of the days when the children were small, Bobby on the swing in the park going far too high so her heart was in her mouth watching him. Janey on the roundabout, much more nervous than her big brother. Teddy’s predecessor playing with the other dogs.
Lara had always preferred being outdoors, even when the weather wasn’t great.
Her journey home was if anything more miserable than the one that morning into work. She could feel the belt buckle through the carrier bag pressed against her thigh and knew she have another huge bruise the next day, and it was the opposite leg! At least she’d have a matching pair. Her sense of humour reasserted itself. She was, after all, a half glass full sort of person.
Breaking out at her home station – it always felt like breaking out anyway – she headed for home. It wasn’t all that far so she decided not to get the bus, thinking the exercise would do her good. In any case the extra hour of daylight after the clocks had sprung forward allowed a glimmer of the evening sun which had miraculously come out as she’d moved away from the ticket hall.
And so had her smile. She was almost grinning as she walked, slowly at first and then increasing her pace as by now she couldn’t wait to get home and tell Dave the news. Not the news about her job, although of course that would have to come first.
No, her news about what she’d decided to do instead. It had been there in front of her all the time. Only the responsibility of being a wife and mother had prevented her from taking it forward before, but being let go had given her an opportunity to do something she’d always wanted, something she’d never dared try. Now she had nothing to lose. Okay, she wouldn’t be earning very much, nothing like the salary she’d just had taken away from her. But she wouldn’t have the cost of a season ticket either. That used to take a big chunk out of her wages before she even started.
It might take her a little while to build up a clientele but she knew enough people who wanted her services immediately because they’d already asked her. She’d just always said no before.
Routine was something that had enabled Lara to organise her life so that it worked for her as well as the rest of the family. Far from resenting the fact that she had to prepare dinner almost as soon as she walked through the door, it had always been something to focus on, her favourite tunes blasting away on the radio and she peeled, scraped and stirred. She smiled as she remembered over the years either Janey or Bobby yelling at her, “For goodness sake, Mum, will you turn the volume down. I’m trying to do my homework.”
Wasn’t it supposed to be the other way around? They were rarely in the house at that time now, usually out with their mates and scraping in just in time to join her and Dave at the table.
It was a given that they would clear the table and do the washing up while she took Teddy for his second walk, her way of unwinding at the end of the day, doing a job she didn’t enjoy.
So you see, Dave, it’s too good an opportunity to miss. You know it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. It’s just never been practical before.
“And you think it is now?” he asked, gently but doubting.
“I tell you what. I’ll look for another job but in the meantime I’ll see if I can make it work. If something comes up all well and good. If it doesn’t, who knows? I wouldn’t be the first person to change careers at my age.”
“When you put it like that there’s no argument really, is there.”
Teddy liked nothing more than to have all his friends around him. She’d take him for a nice long walk this evening. It may prove to be the last time they walked alone. Tomorrow there were at least three others she knew would join her, she knew. She’d always wanted to be a dog-walker.
Already she felt ten years younger.
Suddenly she felt free.