The drive was enough to bring anyone’s mood down a notch or two, the ubiquitous, sick looking, spindly young trees lining the sides of the endless grey motorway for miles and miles.
It took her back to all those early summer drives, in silence, in the car with her mother. She wound down the window a little and took a deep breath, sucking up the feeling of utter monotony that threatened to ruin her interview if she let it. There could be something good waiting at the end of this motorway too.
She rehearsed over and over the things she wanted to say until she turned off the motorway then switched to concentrating on finding where she was going.
The building was old but the interior entirely modern, that mail order office type furniture which too often comes in sickly primary colours and cheap looking wood. After giving her name to the receptionist she took a seat, she sat wondering if she would see where she could be working, usually departments that the public didn’t see were the last to be given the laminate and plastic makeover and the thought soothed her a little.
The door swung open half way and a portly man, who looked to be in his mid fifties leant through the gap.
‘Christina?’ he enquired without a smile, making her feel a fool for the ear-to-ear effort she had just made ‘Follow me please?’
The office they were interviewing in, presumably his, was reassuringly messy, stacks of papers littering every spare bit of surface and no doubt he had tidied up a little for the interviews. His face had a greasy looking layer of sweat on it, as if the exertion from moving was too much, his glasses slid down his nose and his too tight shirt bulged at the belly. With an awkward and unfriendly posture Christina reasoned that this was a man clearly uncomfortable in his own skin, and who appeared to take it out on those around him.
The first few questions threw her, all about her managerial skills, all she had practised was how to explain her expertise in the field of archiving. Realising she needed to pull the situation back before it was totally lost she did something quite out of character.
Leaning forward she seductively ran her fingers across her collarbone, opening her shirt a little more. She tilted her head to the side and looked up at him through her long lashes and took a moment to breath deeply emphasising the parting of her lips and the rising of her chest then began to answer his questions in dulcet tones usually reserved only for Ricky.
He was clearly paying more attention to her now, even if it was not to what she was saying. Feeding off his reactions she shifted position in the chair with every new question, to accentuate the length of her thigh and her round behind, or her flat stomach or her elegant shoulders.
She came out of the interview in somewhat of a daze. Like the crazy sexual energy she had been generating was all left in the room and she had stepped back outside as a different woman. Confused and wondering why she had acted this way, Christina had no idea if it worked or if she had come across as desperate, she remembered vaguely that he seemed to be liking it but the whole memory had a hazy quality about it. She couldn’t shake the feeling that what she had done was adulterous in some way and suddenly she felt guilt sticking like a lump in her throat.
She got back in the car and determined to make good time Christina drove in a state of pure single-mindedness knowing that at the end of this journey was a stiff drink and the relaxing company of Sandy that she craved right now.
She loved the smell of the pub, the stale beer washed from the surfaces but lingering still. The people, their perfumes. Arriving here, the ordeal of the interview felt over and she was smiling already. She’d called Ricky on the way to say where they were going for a drink, he answered sulkily that he may or may not come. Not in the mood to molly coddle anyone, Christina forgot about it and scanned the room for Sandy.
There she was… plus one. His presence hit her like a sledgehammer as she walked towards the table.
‘Hey how did it go?’ Sandy beamed; clearly her guest was entertaining her ‘Look who I found by the photocopier.’
‘Oh hi Sep how are you? The interview was a flop and I need a drink what does everyone want?’
‘I’ll go Christina’ Sep said, looking straight into her eyes ‘Then you can tell us all about it, what do you want?’
‘Vodka, on ice please’
Sandy waited for Sep to be out of earshot before turning to Christina.
‘That bad? What happened?’ she almost whispered.
‘Sandy I’m so ashamed of myself, I couldn’t answer the questions so I just acted like some kind of… I don’t know some tart.’
Sandy was clearly taken aback, this was new, something she would never have expected from Christina. She was no prude but neither was she one to manipulate people.
‘What did you do?’ Sandy leaned in closer.
‘I don’t even really know, I was just suggestive, making him notice my me, my body.’ Christina was blushing by now.
‘Oh babe, don’t worry there’s nothing wrong with using your feminine charms a little.’ Sandy gave a little laugh ‘I thought you’d agreed to sleep with him in exchange for the job or something! Ha!’
Sandy was such good company, straight to the point, infinitely kind, her life was so messed up and she had such a great sense of humour about it that your own problems felt trivial when you were with her.
‘Vodka, on ice’ Sep interrupted the moment, leaning between the women to put the drinks on the table. ‘So about this interview…?’
‘The interview was fine’ Sandy shot in ‘Christina is being characteristically modest is all.’
He winked at Christina, in a way that was a little too knowing. Oh god had he heard something?
‘So I was just telling Sandy about what her name means, it’s really pretty isn’t it?’ He eased right back into the conversation like they were the oldest of friends. God he’s so smug, Christina thought realising that she resented his company right now, she wanted to feel at ease and she couldn’t around him.
‘You big flirt!’ Sandy laughed
‘It comes from Alexandra, which is one of the epithets of Hera who was queen of the Gods in Greek mythology.’ His smile was full of charm and Sandy was lapping it up. ‘Christina, now that is the name of an early Christian saint who was tormented by her pagan father.’
He paused to gage her reaction, ‘She broke up his golden idols and distributed them amongst the poor, needless to say he was annoyed and there are a number of gruesome things he supposedly did to her including a snake pit, iron hooks and a furnace.’ He was laughing as he said this and Christina kept the guise of good humour despite secretly thinking ‘Great Sandy is a mighty goddess and I’m some tortured martyr.’
‘So what’s Septimus all about then?’ She said smiling, it was starting to feel like a game now, where she would match his charm and not let him get the best of her.
‘Ah Septimus, just means seventh ladies. Simple as that.’ He said coolly ‘But I am the seventh of my fathers sons, and he was Septimus too.’
‘So you’re the seventh son, of the seventh son?’ Where have I heard that expression before?’ Said Sandy tapping the table trying to recall.
‘We’re supposed to be special… ancient prophecies and all that spooky bullshit’ he said in a mock scary voice, the kind you’d use to tell children a ghost story.
Sep broke into a laugh and Christina found herself joining in at the sound of his goofy voice, she liked people who didn’t take themselves too seriously.
‘The Good and the evil which path will he take….Both of them trying to manipulate….The use of his powers before it's too late’ She joined in playing air guitar and giggling.
‘Seventh son of a seventh son!’ They screeched together in a Spinal Tap fashion.
‘So you like Iron Maiden? Funnily enough I’m familiar with that one!’ He added slightly flushed.
‘Rock and roll baby’ Christina replied, her eyes twinkling.
The evening passed and she warmed to Sep gradually, his cocky one-sided grin was less annoying when he was laughing at himself. His face seemed more sincere when she caught him looking at her anticipating her reaction. The combination of alcohol and easy conversation meant that the embarrassing interview was long forgotten by the time she left the pub.
When Christina got home, Ricky was in bed. She really had stuck to her promise and stayed out late, it was quarter past one. Some sort of congealed mess that was once a kebab lay in a noxious looking plastic tray on the worktop. How can he eat that crap?
The sight of that made her decide to go to bed hungry and cringe at the thought of getting up in the morning. She crept under the covers and fell almost instantly into a fitful sleep full of strange dreams.
She was sat on the throne between the two giant copper pillars again, in her blue gown but this time there was a giant marble hall before her. Sandy was approaching her slowly, smiling, dressed in a flowing, white dress with hair delicately pinned back like a Grecian goddess, a high crown on her head. A peacock followed her gracefully, her arms full of pomegranates.
With a mischievous look on her face Sandy began to throw the pomegranates at the copper pillars. It’s tiny jewelled fruit suspended in the air between the pillars to form a bead curtain and the two women laughed manically as the shells of the fruit smashed and fell to the floor, splattering their faces and dresses with purple juice.