The Spaces in Between
‘Now, Ginny takes first pick of vacation time, on account of her having her little ones.’
I knew for a fact that Ginny’s kids were thirteen and fifteen – she told me that on my first day, two weeks ago. But I let it go and said nothing.
Una Roberts pointed to a row of pink stars. ‘And Samuel, he always takes priority around Passover – that’s like Easter to people of the Jewish persuasion.’
She made it sound like a tongue twister. And I would have laughed, but for her earnest expression.
‘And he’ll leave early on a Friday – in the winter months, you understand.’ (Yellow stars, unbelievably.)
I could have told her that I did Comparative Religious Studies at High School, and that I understood very well indeed.
‘Tajinder, you already know about (blue stars); and Mary-Beth likes to,’ she paused and cleared her throat, ‘Honour the Old Ways – she splits her days around the eight nature festivals.’ Then she sighed and turned back to the wall planner.
‘And how about you, Mrs Roberts.’ I figured it was time I said something.
She let slip a little smile. ‘Oh, I try to be flexible where I can – one has to be mindful that we are a multi-cultural society now.’ She shifted round and stared at the array of stars and extended marker lines. I couldn’t see an extra colour there, for either of us.
‘Christmas, Easter, public holidays mainly – it’s easier for me because I’m only ten minutes from home.’
I failed to see what difference this made to having time off from work. But I stuck with my winning formula and just nodded.
‘So anyway, Matthew, have a think about when you’d like your vacation time – no rush at all.’
I scanned the chart for gaps between stars and marker lines and thick red ink that shouted CONFERENCE and END OF MONTH FIGURES. I spied a space mid August and gazed upon it covetously.
‘That’s when I visit my mother,’ she said. ‘I just haven’t had a chance to mark it up.’ She plastered five green stars across the week, like barbed wire.
And we stood for a while, side by side, as if she was silently daring me to take my chances and pick again. I slowly extended a finger and she followed my lead, slapping the board like a flyswatter. July, August and September fell beneath her stubby arm, the flesh extending down into the top edge of October.
‘Early June will suit me fine,’ I said quietly, picking out the silver stars from the pot and readying the first one on the strip.
She glanced sideways at me, catching the corner of my smile. ‘Oh no dear, that won’t be possible. June we keep free wherever we can, just in case.’
And that was how I wound up taking my annual vacation in early November. And it naturally followed that I yearned for the sun and that meant a long journey. So the second year, when I weighed it all up, I figured there was little sense in going back to the job. After all, I was lower on the list than a week of “just in case”.
And working in a café seemed the perfect thing to do while I was figuring out what to do next, which was where Old Davey had his bright idea at the end of an evening shift. The big room out back – Davey said it used to be a repair room when the café was some kind of big electrical shop. Well, that became the first little theatre this place ever had. And folks got to like it. So we needed more people and some local talent.
Well, one cool June morning, this woman breezes in, with her hair tied just so and one of those smart embroidered jackets on. And under her arm is a play she’d just written, and she hands it to me confidently. Only she looks away as soon as I started to read it.
Three months later, we’re sitting together at the side, watching the big performance, her hand in mine. And that, kids, is pretty much how I met your mother. And that is why you should take any job on offer, at the beginning. Because you never know quite where it’s gonna lead.
And as the kids made a face and went outside to clear the tables, Martha stuck her head past the doorway and rolled her eyes. ‘Are you coming through? Because we’ve got customers and I want to get this place cleaned before curtain up.’
Derek Thompson is a writer and humorist living in West Cornwall. He writes fiction and non-fiction, but flash fiction holds a special place in his heart. As the saying goes: “Sometimes less is more.” His blog lives at: http://www.alongthewritelines.blogspot.com and you’re all invited.