Patricia's Dilemma

After a sickening journey through the space-time vortex, the trio arrived. Patricia was nearly sick. While Jemima was helping her friend, Charlie did something surprisingly cowardly.

"Oh, no, no - not this dimension. Anywhere but here!"

And he was off, mate. Disappeared into a puff of smoke, leaving his two young friends stranded in... well, wherever it was.

"That was proper, proper, like, cowardly!" said Jemima. "O... M... G...! I can't believe he just done that!"

Patricia recovered quickly and the two of them took a deep breath and decided to explore their surroundings. What else could they do?

The place looked similar to the last two dimensions. It was clearly inhabited by humans - no dinosaurs or anything. As they walked through town they saw an advert for "British Telecom Soap". That seemed odd but not terribly interesting so they let it go without comment. They came to what, to them, was Fourbar's Bakery, one of their favourite places. Here it was called "BT Bakers PLC". Whatever.

"You hungry, Patricia?"

Her friend laughed. Jemima took that as a "yes".

"D'you wanna croissant or somefink?"

Again her friend laughed and managed a "thank you".

The two friends entered the almost-familiar bakers' shop. The prices seemed very reasonable. Jemima wondered if money from their dimension would be OK.

"Hello, mate - can we have two croissants, please?"

The baker, who wasn't someone the girls recognised from their universe, had been staring at the wall. He moved around terribly slowly to stare at them.

"Your custom is very important to us. Please hold and one of our bakers will be with you shortly," said the fat brown-haired man, switching on a CD of Haydn's Serenade in F Minor at full volume and returning, ever so slowly, to his original position, staring at the wall.

The girls looked at each other.

After the same twenty-second loop of classical music had been repeated four times, Jemima (who was the braver of the two) banged on the counter.

"Oy, mate - I'm not bein' rude or nuffink but can we have our croissants, please?"

The man turned, almost painfully slowly, to stare at her.

"Thank you for your patience during this busy time. Please be assured that one of our bakers will be with you as soon as one becomes available."

He turned to stare at the wall again.

"Oh, shall we just go?" asked Jemima, to her friend's inevitable embarrassed laugh.

They suddenly became aware that no traffic on the road was moving. They found a 'bus and boarded it.

"Hello, can we have two tickets to... I dunno, where are we goin'?" she asked her friend.

"Back home, I suppose?" giggled Patricia, who hadn't quite got the hang of this parallel-world thing. "What the heck", thought Jemima - they might as well. If they met themselves... well, they met themselves.

She gave the necessary information to the driver, who simply stared at the road.

"Please enter your account number," he said.

"What you on about?" asked Jemima.

The driver explained, without taking his eyes off the road, that they'd need an account number before they could do anything. Jemima asked how that could be obtained and the driver pointed, again without looking at the girls, to a machine next to him. Each girl followed the driver's instructions: they intoned their names and addresses into the machine. It then told them that an account had been created for each of them and that they'd have to print it off.

Patricia tried first. A yellow light started to flash.

"Please load paper in the auto-sheet-feeder," said the driver, still staring ahead.

Patricia obeyed.

"Please load paper in the auto-sheet-feeder," said the man again as the yellow light continued to flash.

Patricia, giggling with nerves, put in several more sheets in the printer, which continued flashing its yellow light.

"Please load paper in the auto-sheet-feeder," said the driver, staring ahead.

"Oh, give it to me!" said Jemima, snatching a whole wad of paper out of the machine and ramming it into the printer, which finally stopped flashing its yellow light. Jemima smiled with satisfaction and started giving her friend a lecture about assertiveness... but then noticed a red light was beginning to flash. The driver swung round frighteningly quickly and fixed Jemima with a chilling stare.

 "Paper jam," he announced.

Jemima tried frantically removing sheets of paper but it was no good.

"PAPER JAM!" yelled the driver, pointing an accusing finger at her.

"We're very sorry," said Patricia, "perhaps we should leave. Sorry."

The two girls left and the driver stared after Patricia looking somewhat amazed. He punched something into his electronic notebook.

By and by the girls found their way home on foot - it wasn't really necessary to take a 'bus for a short hop like that anyway.

"O... M... G...!" said Jemima, looking up. Even Patricia wasn't laughing. For their flats simply didn't exist: instead there was the biggest statue of a telephone that they could ever have imagined... if, indeed, they had imagined such a thing.

They decided to find a bed & breakfast for the night. Again, BT B&B prices looked very tempting. They rang the bell.

"Hello, dear," said Stella Drummond, a girl they knew from school. They tried not to show their surprise.

"It's a lovely day, isn't it? Have you travelled far?"

She didn't seem like the posh, snobby Stella they knew. As she didn't recognise them, presumably they didn't exist in this universe.

Stella brushed her long red hair continuously, a habit she had in their world, too, and carried on chatting amiably to Jemima. She ignored Patricia as if she weren't there.

"Right, the first thing I'll need to take off you is your account number."

"I'm afraid the 'bus printer wasn't working," said Jemima.

"Oh, don't worry - I'll print you off one here."

She was as good as her word.

When she'd finished dealing with Jemima, Patricia asked about her account number.

"I can't reveal that to you, dear - you'll need to give me your account number first."

"I'm afraid I don't know what it is. I'm really sorry," giggled Patricia.

"Just a moment, please," said Stella, rifling through some pages. "Just a moment, please." And she carried on looking through them. "Just a moment, please."

And she continued looking rapidly through the file in front of her, forwards and backwards, backwards and forwards, forwards and backwards until the girls started getting giddy.

"I'm not bein' funny or nuffink but I'm proper proper tired - d'you mind if i go to bed?" asked Jemima.

"No," giggled Patricia and her friend went upstairs. Stella broke off from her labours to wish her a peaceful night and ask what she wanted to eat in the morning. When Jemima had gone, Stella returned to her "Just-a-moment-please" activities.

"Hold on," she said eventually and switched on exactly the same CD that the baker had played earlier. Patricia was getting to know Haydn's Serenade pretty well. Stella left the room.

After twenty-five minutes of the looped CD, a man with a big black moustache, a red face and piggy eyes entered, switched off the music and smiled at the girl.

"Hello? How can I help you?" he asked in a deep, slow, polite voice.

"I'd like to stay here, please," said Patricia, "but apparently I need an account number and I haven't got one."

"You'd like to stay across the road? Certainly. If you leave here by the front exit and cross the road you'll be there. Is there anything else I can help you with tonight?"

"Oh, er, actually, I wanted to stay here - sorry to trouble you!" chuckled Patricia.

"Right, well, because you said you wanted to stay across the road and now you want to cancel it, I'm going to have to charge you a cancellation fee and then set you up with a new account which allows you to stay here, does that sound reasonable?"

"Yes, certainly. Sorry to put you to all this trouble," apologised Patricia.

"Oh, it's no trouble. Hold on, please," he said, turning on his heel and walking out of the room (not forgetting to switch on the music on his way out of the door).

Twenty minutes later Stella returned and switched off the music.

"Hello, how can I help you?" she asked.

"I'm sorry about all this confusion I'm causing - I'd like to stay here, if that's all right," said the teenager to her host.

"Certainly. Can I see your account number, please?"

"I'm afraid I haven't got one - sorry," laughed Patricia.

"Just a moment, please," said Stella, switching the CD on again and leaving the room.

Fifteen minutes later tha man with the moustached was back.

"Hello, can I help you?" he asked.

"Is it all right if I stay here, please?" asked Patricia.

"I think they've sent you through to the wrong person. Just a moment, please,"

"It's all right - I'll sleep outside," said the girl, walking out and apologetically almost bowing to the man, who made a note on his electronic notepad.

So Patricia, the girl who never liked to hurt anyone's feelings, slept in a dirty old bath in the drizzle outside the BT B&B because she didn't want to make a fuss.

When Jemima came down in the morning she was treated to a sumptuous feast. When she'd finished she suddenly realised something was missing... PATRICIA! OMG, where was she? She tore out of the building, mentally kicking herself for forgetting her friend like that.

When she found Patricia in the bath she was nearly in tears.

"Why d'you stay there?"

Patricia started to explain how over-worked the staff must be and how she must have confused them, what with not having a proper account number and all.

Jemima, who had enough money to be a millionnaire in this world, insisted on taking the Patricia for a really good breakfast in town.

They arrived at the local branch of Telecom Burgers and were greeted by none other than Mrs. McCluskey from school who now seemed to have taken up serving fast food for a living.

"Hello, Mrs. McCluskey!" said Jemima.

"Hello. Do I know you, dear?" asked the teacher-cum-fast-food-operative.

"No, probably not. My friend just spent all night in a bath and I really want to get her a good breakfast," said Jemima.

"For egg roll, say 'egg roll' and push the hash key. For salad, say 'salad' and push the hash key. For all other enquiries say 'other' and push the hash key," intoned Mrs. McCluskey robotically.

"What d'you want? Salad?" Jemima asked her friend.

"Would it be really cheeky if I asked for some onion rings? Sorry, Jem - I'm proper starvin'!"

"Yeah, course - I still can't BELIEVE what they done to you last night! That was well out of order! 'Other'," she said, pushing the button which looked like a little cross-hatch (she'd already learnt from items in her B&B room that this was one of their favourites in this dimension).

"Certainly," said Mrs. McCluskey, "for your telephone calls to Nigeria that's £429.82; for your telephone calls to Belgrade that's £97.50; for further help, please wait."

"NO-wah!" shouted Jemima. "We just want some food Mrs. McCluskey - it can't be that difficult!"

"Just a moment, please," said Mrs. McCluskey.

Patricia laughed. "Don't worry, Mrs. McCluskey," she said "Sorry to put you to all this bother."

Mrs. McCluskey smiled and punched something into her electronic notepad.

"Hold on, Patrica," she said gently, all hint of her former robotic voice now vanished.

"She knows my name?" said Patricia.

"Please take a seat over there. I'll bring you some Telecom Cola and some BT tea," said Mrs. McCluskey. "It's on the house."

The two girls sat on a the ripped red plastic seat while Patricia downed as much Telecom Cola as she could and then offered her tea to her friend, worried that she'd be missing out on it.

A man with dark glasses and a very suave jacket entered carrying a briefcase.

"Is this her?" he asked Mrs McCluskey as he entered and pointed to Patricia.

"That's her," explained Mrs. McCluskey.

"Patricia, hi - I'm Marc Sethargis, one of the local directors of BT," he said, shaking her hand.

"Can I borrow her a moment?" he asked Jemima, who agreed. He took here out and walked up and down outside. Jemima looked through the glass. She'd never seen her friend looking so elated. She was dying to know what had happened.

When they returned, Marc turned to Jemima.

"Your friend has a very serious choice to make. A very serious one. I think you two should chat it through. Ok, two..." (he pointed at the girls) "...brainstorm and I'll be back in ten minutes."

Once he'd gone Patricia could hardly contain herself. Everybody had spotted how polite she was, how she seemed (at least on the surface) to accept that the Established Order made sense and how she never ever lost her cool. As a result he'd decided to offer her one of the most coveted positions in this world: working in the BT Complaints Department. She would be rich beyond her wildest dreams. She'd be allowed to holiday for months on islands that were for BT officials only where they never asked for your account number or said "The situation is this: your letter has been overlooked - here am I sorting it out right now" or played repetitive CDs at you or anything. The snag: Marc knew all about parallel dimensions and Patricia would have to stay. Her friend, unfortunately, was too fiery and they'd be glad if she went back to her own world: they could offer her nothing here.

Through the window came the strains of Haydn's Serenade in F Minor. This time it was being played by a live orchestra and being conducted with panache by Mr. Sethargis, who danced very lightly to it and occasionally looked through the window of the fast-food outlet to smile or wink at Patricia. Suddenly the canned music which had seemed so irritating now seemed really beautiful - they continued it right through rather than stopping after a few seconds.

This would, if Patricia agreed, mean the parting of the two great friends.

And they both knew it would probably be forever.

The End

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