When I returned to the office, Minty was talking on the phone but when she saw me she ended the conversation. "I'll talk to you later. Bye." She resumed typing with a heightened color.
I sat down at my desk and dialed Nathan's private line. "I know you're about to go into the meeting, but are you all right?"
"Yes, of course I am."
"It's just . . . well, you looked worried."
"No more or less than usual. Anyway, why the touching concern all of a sudden?"
"I just wanted to make sure nothing had happened."
"You mean you wanted to be first with the gossip."
"Nathan!" But he had put down the phone. "Sometimes," I addressed the photograph, "he is impossible."
Normally Minty would have said something like: "Men? who needs them?" Or: "I am your unpaid therapist, talk to me about it." And the dark, slanted eyes would have glinted at the comic spectacle of men and women and their battlegrounds. Instead, she took me by surprise and said sharply, "Nathan is a very nice man."
Knocked off guard, I took a second or two to answer. "Nice people can be impossible."
"They can also be taken for granted."
There was a short, uncomfortable silence, not because I had taken offence but because what she said held an element of truth. Nathan and I were busy people, Nathan increasingly so. Like damp in a basement, too much busyness can erode foundations. After a moment, I tried to smooth it over. "We're losing a page because there's a demolition job going in."
"Bad luck to them." Minty stared out of the window with a sauve qui peut expression. "So, it goes on."
Again, it was unlike Minty not to demand, "Who-who?" and I tried again. "Are you going shopping this evening?" I smiled. "Bond Street?"
She made a visible effort. "I may be getting too fat."
Private joke. Bond Street catered for size eight. Since Minty possessed fawnlike slender limbs, a tiny waist and no bosom, this was fine. No assistant fainted at the size of her arms. But I was forced to shop in Oxford Street where the stores grudgingly accepted that size fourteen did exist. Ergo, together we formulated the Law of Retail Therapy: the larger your size, the further from the city center a woman is forced to forage. (Anyone requiring the largest sizes presumably had to head for the M25 and beyond.) Apart from that, Minty and I suffered--and, in our narrow retail culture, I mean suffered--from big feet, and the question of where to find shoes for women who had not taken a life's vow to ignore fashion was a source of happy, fruitful speculation.
The conversation limped on. "Are you doing anything else this weekend?"
"Look, Rose," Minty shut her desk drawer with a snap, "I don't know."
I said no more. After all, even in an office, privacy was a basic right.
I had to make a decision between two reviews because one had to be sacrificed. The latest, and brilliant, book on brain activity? In it, the author argued that every seven years our brain cells were renewed and replenished, and we became different people. This seemed a quietly revolutionary idea, which would have clerics and psychotherapists shuddering as they contemplated being put out of business. Yet it also offered hope and a chance to cut chains that bound someone to a difficult life or personality. However, if I published the piece, I would have to drop the review of the latest novel by Anna West, who was going to sell in cartloads anyway. Either the book that readers should know about, or the one that they wanted to know about.
I rang Features. Carol answered and I asked her if they were running a feature on Anna West.
Carol was happy to give out the information. "Actually, we are. This issue. Big piece. Have you got a problem?"
"I might have to spike our review so I wanted to make sure there was coverage in publication week."
From Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan, Copyright Elizabeth Buchan February 2003,. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Viking Press, a member of the Penguin Group, Inc.
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