The Christmas holidays had been great this year, no family dramas to speak of and lots of time out with my favourite people. Maybe that was why I was dreading going back to work so much. I always suffered from varying degrees of post Christmas blues but this year was different.
I hadn’t seen her for four weeks, four glorious Joan free weeks. Life had been so much easier, like it used to be before she started at Greenings and Co. The office had seemed more relaxed, meetings passed without incident and red faced embarrassment and rage, office politics had disintegrated into a familiar round of banter and coexistence.
I got to the office early; I wanted to be ready for her, mentally, physically and emotionally on the front foot. She was already there.
“Happy New Year Stranger! Did you miss me?” she shouted from her strategically positioned desk in the corner of the open plan office.
“Of course I did” I lied and smiled with equal tenacity. “Did you have a good time?”
She looked different, a slimmer, tanned, and ultimately happier looking Joan than the one that had stormed out of the revolving doors that early December evening. This threw me; I wasn’t prepared for this physical transformation, if anything she now seemed even more fearsome but in an eerie Stepford Wives kind of way.
Other people started to arrive into the office and she instantly lost interest in me. They too were caught off guard by the new look Joan and she was positively charming them, one by one. Compliments flowed like the newly glossy hair that fell effortlessly round her subtly padded shoulders; she was on a roll, even the girls from accounts who I had so often found sobbing and shaking in the toilets after a dressing down from Joan were getting drawn into this, this laughable charade. She had brought gifts for everyone and declared morning coffee to be on her .What on the outside was a cold, dreary, and so very depressing January day had somehow been transformed into some kind of surreal welcome back spectacle for Joan.
On the dot of 9 she motioned for us to leave for our weekly team meeting, not really a team in the true sense of the word, it was just me and her. We went into the boardroom, maybe she had changed, maybe I was wrong, people can change, and maybe this trip to New Zealand was just what she needed. We sat in our usual seats right at the centre of the large faux oak table, as if she had never been away. The room still had the faint whiff of cheap wine and buffet food from Christmas Eve but everything else was as before apart from the blinds, the blinds were open which was strange.
We exchanged pleasantries and talked about our breaks, her trip mainly as the old Joan that I knew so well began to creep through. I filled her in on all the projects that had been completed in her absence and took her through the workload and scheduled meetings for the coming weeks.
“Thank you Jenny, I knew I could rely on you.”
“Oh and before we finish up, you have until the end of the day to collect your belongings and leave the office, Greenings and Co don’t need you anymore.”
With that she straightened her jacket and stood up from the table. “You didn’t think I had forgotten about you did you? This was the one present I most enjoyed choosing.” She laughed and left the room with a slam of the door and a sweep of the hair; I was left in the room blinds wide open for all to see.