At least it was quiet at the moment. With only her and Cathy in the office Alice could get some work done, or at least try to: Cathy’s constant aimless chatter was as distracting as ever.
She looked around the office, as she often did when she wasn’t able to concentrate. She sighed: it was disgusting. It wasn’t really an office, but a corner of the warehouse partitioned off by cheap timber frame and plasterboard, with no ceiling. Four desks were crammed into it, even though three would have been tight. On the desks and around them were piles of tattered paper files, stacked in no order Alice could see, and various bits of rubbish in between. Barry’s desk, in particular, was scattered with various forgotten takeaway cartons and boxes, some of which had scraps of old food still in them. The computers they used were ancient desktops; the one Alice was stuck with was running Windows Vista. Then, over it all, was the grime, the weird, sticky layer of grime that always seemed to return however much Alice cleaned her desk. It was vile.
A pair of raised voices floating over the partition caused Alice to start. It was Barry and Tyson, and, as usual, Barry was shouting about something, and from the accompanying too loud laugh of his moronic son, she guessed his ire was probably directed at one of the warehouse workers. She shuddered, but at least when Barry was out there being horrible to them he wasn’t in the office with her.
Alice’s relief was short-lived, as the voices got closer, with Barry still in full cry. The door to the office crashed open and she shrank into her seat. Barry marched in – he could move surprisingly quickly for someone so fat – with Tyson trailing not far behind.
‘I can’t get my breath, I tell you, I can’t get my fuckin’ breath. These thick twats, they can’t get nothin’ right.’
There was no need for Alice to ask who or what Barry was referring to: she knew she would find out.
‘How do you put three crates of best English garden strawberries in that corner where the rain gets in? Eh? How? Ruined, the lot. Well, they’re coming out of his wages, the soft cunt.’
He stopped and looked around him. From the corner of her eye, Alice could see that Cathy had turned away from her monitor and was staring at Barry, open-mouthed. Mistake.
‘And what are you looking at, you old cow? I’m paying you to sort out them orders, not gawp at me. Get back to it!’
He gestured towards Alice.
‘At least prissy tits here knows to keep grafting, even if she’s fuck all use at it.’
Cathy, looking like she had been struck, turned back to her computer. As annoying as Cathy could be, this was one of the few times Alice was glad she was there: she could be relied upon to draw Barry and Tyson’s attention by simply being her normal stupid self.
Barry had paused, and was staring at his desk.
“Where’s that half a kebab I had left?’
Oh no. This could be bad. Luckily, for once Tyson had heard a question he could answer.
‘You already had it, Dad.’
Barry turned, looked at him in disbelief, and then looked back his desk. For a rare, brief moment, the office was not just quiet, but silent. This did not last long.
‘Right, that twat’s getting it. Wasting produce like that? He’ll soon fuckin’ know about it.’
He barged past Tyson and through the door to the warehouse. Smirking, Tyson followed. Alice waited for a few seconds and then, as she knew would happen, Cathy got up to close the door.
‘Ooh, the mouth on him. I shouldn’t be talked to like that. It’s not right.’
Alice shrugged. Now, at least, she could breathe.
She found herself, however, unable to concentrate on her work. Instead, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her phone. It was the first time she had used it since getting off the bus just an hour and a half ago, and her browser was still open on the last page she had viewed: ‘From Girl to Woman: Sheffield Young Feminists’. There were two groups, one for under-18s and one for adults; the latter met at The Workstation on the first and third Tuesday evenings of the month. Today was the second Monday, so there wasn’t one tomorrow. Perhaps she could go next week.
Dwelling on this, Alice was nervous. What would such a meeting be like? Who would be there? She was sure they’d all be women who were going or had gone to university. There wouldn’t be many people like her. Would she fit in? At that moment, Barry’s shouts from the warehouse grew even louder and, hearing him, and looking around at Cathy, Alice knew she had no choice. She had to try.