[Recession Flash – a story written for a flash fiction challenge at Do Some Damage]
He slit open one envelope after the other with his antique paper knife. Unpaid accounts, reminders and circulars. He considered fetching a third cup of coffee to maintain his ulcer, but he was sure his secretary would notice. She had cast strange glances at him when he told her he would see to the post himself. He toyed with the knife, stabbed a pile of letters on the surprisingly sharp point.
What could he do? Last year he had made fifteen per cent of his employees redundant. He had fired the old, the lazy and the incompetent, and though it had been unpleasant, he had known it was for the best. The annual accounts had been promising, and he couldn´t help noticing that the remaining staff pulled harder. They probably realized they could be next in turn.
He had been so sure that with spring, things would be better. With spring would come a surge of optimism, and people would buy more clothes, more shoes, more accessories. His accountant and his financial adviser had both been optimistic in January and hopeful in February, but now it was March.
“You will have to cut your expenses by another ten per cent,” his financial adviser said, not specifying how.
“We could lay off one of the secretaries and a warehouseman or two,” the accountant suggested. “We will have to find the last few per cent in the publicity department.”
Recession. His mind chased the word around in a nauseating spiral, and he wondered if he could tell his pretty secretary it was a flu. He had to get away. They would be much better off without him anyway.
“You already home, darling?” Elaine met him in the hall, twirling around in some almond coloured dress he had never seen before, falling into an acquired catwalk in front of him.
Oh, god, she had been shopping again. Not three days since they argued about her expenses, and here she was, showing off her gorgeous body in new threads, so certain that when she wagged those firm little breasts and buttocks of hers he would forget the price he paid. And none of his ready-made rags for her, the former top model.
She turned her back but twisted the upper part of her body, giving him a full view of all her advantages before she switched from the professional, cool air to a flirtatious smile. “What do you think? Twenty per cent off because it was me.”
“Drink?” He managed to get the word past his clenched teeth and put her G & T on the coffee table. “I had that appointment with our financial adviser today. He suggested we got rid of the flat and found something smaller. Or we could drop that holiday in Egypt.” He looked around him in the penthouse flat, not sure he cared about it anyway. Not any more. But she did.
“You can forget that.” She paused to swallow her drink. “Not the flat. It is just not on.”
“Elaine, you know that we have to do something. If you knew how many companies are packing in right now ...”
“Is it my fault if you can´t make ends meet? Why don´t you fire some of the old relics from your father´s time?”
“We laid off fifteen per cent of the staff right before Christmas, you know that. Our accountant says we must ...”
“So why not fire your accountant? Or that secretary, Ms Silicone Boob?”
“Our accountant? But we have to have an accountant.”
“No one is indispensable.” She poured herself another drink without bothering to offer him any. “I hate it when you are mean and crabby. You weren´t like that when I met you.”
He had stopped listening. What if he gave up the extra life assurance and the holiday. But Elaine in London with nothing to do would be a disaster. How on earth could he keep her off Bond Street for weeks? He had suggested Egypt in the first place because he knew she wanted to go to Paris.
He did not notice she had gone outside until the scent of daffodils from the park across the house reached him. The view which was the reason why they had settled for exactly this flat. He picked up his glass and followed her.
The low rays of sun dazzled him through the trees which were slowly coming into leaf. He put his arm around her, trying to gauge her mood. She accepted a kiss at the back of her shapely neck, but she didn´t put down her glass. He let his hand run down her bare arm, noticing her shiver and a new perfume.
“Aren´t you cold, love?” He tried to wrap his jacket around her without revealing that he already had a hard-on.
She seemed acquiescent until his hand strayed up her thigh inside the almond skirt. “You´ll crease my new dress.”
Frustrated and dizzy, he leaned over the parapet, measuring the distance to the pavement below. How many seconds would it take before ...? No one is indispensable. He bent down, seized her tiny feet and tilted her over the low wall.