What with all the difficult relationships with men, work's become somewhat hazardous recently. Everywhere I go, I see Derek. Or Chris. Both problematic, in different ways. And then there's Martin. It's enough to make a girl scan the media jobs on offer in London with the concentration of a prisoner trying to dig through a stone wall with a spoon.
It would be so easy to run away. And so tempting. All the stuff I could leave behind: the flat and all the useless junk I've accumulated, the city I've lived in all my life with its accretions of overlaid memories round every corner, the people. All the people. Just me, and Rammstein in a box, and a suitcase with clothes and a couple of books, getting on the train. A new phone with a new number in my pocket, the old one in the bin. Take down my facebook and twitter, change my email address, just....disappear. Be anonymous in a huge new place -
"Have you finished the Life's A Pitch press release yet?" asks my manager Jeremy at my shoulder. He is clutching a huge steaming cup of pitch-black coffee. We live on coffee in my office and we let it brew for far too long and it is like drinking a combination of tar and pure adrenalin. Considering the job of any media and communications team is usually highly adrenalised anyway, I'm surprised no-one has yet had a psychotic breakdown.
"Not yet," I say. "I'm waiting for the guy to come back to me with the finalised quote."
"Because it needs to go for approval."
"I know. I'm waiting for the guy to come back to me. He knows when it needs to go out."
"It needs to go out tomorrow."
"I know that."
"So you need to get it done."
"He knows I'm waiting for him. I rang him half an hour ago."
"Perhaps you could call him again."
I won't do. I've rung him three times already this morning, and the last time he sounded like he was getting pissed off. I don't want to risk making him angry, because we have to work together on this project for the next six months. He knows it's urgent, because I stressed that the last three times. Also, if I'm on the phone talking to him, then logically he cannot at the same time be doing what I have asked him to do, so I will actually be holding the process up by calling again.
However, Jeremy likes to feel involved, and I know from previous experience that these conversations generally end with something along the lines of "stop arguing and just do it", so it's easier to pre-empt the shouting by lying to him.
Jeremy returns to his desk. It is 20 feet away, and he cannot hear the substance of any phone call. I can see him sliding suspicious glances at me to see what I do. I flip through my notepad busily to give myself some thinking space, then pick up the phone and cradle it between my ear and shoulder and - with a little flutter of apprehension in my stomach which I pretend is not there - call Martin.
"Martin Falco, how can I help you?" he says briskly.
"You can stay on the phone and pretend I'm aggressively pressuring you for a quote," I say.
"Please hold," he says. Two seconds later an email pops up.
patty is on my case. ill help you if you help me.
I send back: ok
"Hello, Mr Lehane," says Martin.
"Hello, it's Alice, we spoke earlier about the Life's a Pitch release? I just wondered whether you'd had any luck with that quote."
"I spoke to you about an hour ago about the post-it notes missing from the stationery order. Have you been able to track down what happened?"
"I appreciate we only gave you two days to do this, but we do need to get this resolved immediately. It needs to go through the approvals process before being released tomorrow."
"I've checked the order form and it's correct." Martin is doing very well, but I can hear a wobble in his voice as he tries not to laugh. "I'd appreciate it if you can look into what's happened as soon as possible please."
"Yes, I understand the difficulties. But if you could get me something within an hour, that would be great. Could you call back and let me know how you are getting on at half past?"
"Perhaps you could update me this afternoon?" says Martin. "Coffee?" he whispers.
"4pm's the absolute deadline," I say.
"But we need something before that so I can work it into the story," I say.
"3pm?" asks Martin.
We say goodbye to each other and hang up. Jeremy, placated, is on the phone himself. I return to the report I was correcting. Five minutes later, my phone rings. It's the actual Life's a Pitch man, with the quote I wanted.
"Thanks so much," I say. "That's great. I'm sorry it was a short deadline."