Heather’s Headache

‘I won’t be in today,’ Heather whined, in a suitably pathetic tone. She pointlessly massaged her forehead, as though Eric, her boss, could somehow see down the phone. ‘Got the most appalling headache. I’m really sorry.’

Eric, who she had caught on his mobile en route to the office, was all sympathy, as she’d anticipated. ‘And what a shame you’ll miss Paula,’ he added.

‘Yes, isn’t it?’ Grinning now, Heather crossed her fingers behind her back. ‘Oh well, we’ll catch up some other time, I’m sure. Hopefully see you tomorrow, Eric. I’m sure I’ll be much better by then.’

‘Don’t rush back if you’re not up to it, though.’

She put the phone down and punched the air gleefully, her recovery apparently instant and miraculous.

Paula was the very reason for Heather’s illicit sickie. She was an ex-colleague who was today making one of her, thankfully rare, visits to the office. A lunchtime table was booked at the local wine bar – a pub wouldn’t be stylish enough for Paula – so her former workmates could worship her over quiche and chardonnay.

Heather couldn’t understand why the braying monster had been so highly thought of before leaving the company three years ago to marry an accountant, whose money she liked to spend in designer shops, and give birth to Sasha and Saffron, their beautiful and gifted twins.

When she ‘worked’ there – Heather used the term loosely – Paula’s days were spent gossiping with chums on the phone, filing her claw-like nails, taking extended lunch breaks and leaving her jobs for others, usually Heather, to complete. She had soft-hearted Eric wrapped around her little finger.

Yes, the office was a far pleasanter place without her yappy, Yorkshire terrier voice and piercing laugh. And today Heather would be spared the bagfuls of photos from Paula’s latest Caribbean holiday, and the pitying remarks about her being single. ‘Still on your own? Bless. You can’t hang about much longer, though. Best thing that ever happened to me, the hubby and kiddies.’

Smiling, Heather curled herself up on the sofa for a blissfully idle day of TV.

******

Why was there never anything on when you were at home all day? After flicking irritably through medical documentaries and endless snooker, Heather jabbed the off button and picked up an old magazine to pass the time instead.

She reread it in ten minutes, then decided to make coffee. The biscuit tin proved irresistible, but in reaching up to pull it from the cupboard she managed to dislodge a mug, sending it hurtling to the tiled kitchen floor.

While sweeping the scattered shards into the dustpan, Heather tried to stop herself wondering whether sickies were in fact overrated.

It was lunchtime when she spotted she was low on loo roll. How infuriating, she’d only done the shopping yesterday. Oh well, her colleagues and dear Paula would be safely ensconced in the wine bar by now, so she could sneak into town to stock up.

Even if it did mean changing out of the pyjamas she was still lazily wearing.

******

Emerging from Tesco, Heather noticed the sale posters were still splashed across River Island’s window. Another five minutes, she told herself, just to see if they still had that turquoise top she hadn’t had time to try on at the weekend in her size.

They did. Plus numerous other alluring bargains. This was more like it, she thought, greatly perking up after her uninspiring morning.

Heather loved the jazzy, cool feel of new carrier bags, especially ones full of clothes, and virtually bounced out of River Island swinging them. Her workmates were probably on dessert now, and passing round the eighty-fifth picture of the twins in matching pink sunhats building artistic sandcastles.

‘Heather!’ The unmistakable voice stabbed right through her head.

A vision with shimmering black hair and a rind of make-up was rocketing towards her. Heather found herself ensnared in a hug.

‘Paula?’ She blanched and spluttered. ‘But how come…I thought you were meant to be…’

‘Oh of course, you won’t have heard. When Eric got to the office this morning he found it had flooded overnight. Leaky tap in the kitchen, apparently. How funny!’ Paula screeched with laughter. ‘He’s sent everybody home while he sorts things out with the plumbers, and had to cancel me for today. But I’ve rearranged for a week on Thursday.’

‘A flood? Is there much damage done?’

‘Not a lot apparently, apart from the carpet being sodden. And a bit whiffy, I imagine. Mind you, I told Eric years ago he ought to get rid of the threadbare thing. How are things with you, anyway? Met anyone sexy yet?’

‘I’m quite happy being single,’ Heather beamed defiantly. Inside she seethed about her wasted sick day, and the fact she couldn’t very well take another one next Thursday so would be unavoidably lunching with poisonous Paula after all.

‘How funny! Yes, it’s a shame I didn’t get to see all the gang today. Got some super piccies of Sasha and Saffy. Little poppets. You should hear some of the things they can say now. The other day – ’

‘Where are the girls now?’ Heather interrupted.

Paula appeared surprised at the question. ‘With the nanny, of course. What are you doing out, by the way? Eric told me you were on your sick bed. Headache worn off, has it?’ Her face was slappably smug.

‘I just nipped out for loo roll. And, er, Nurofen.’

‘Oh yeah, and a new wardrobe, by the look of it.’ Paula’s knowing gaze landed on the two heavy River Island bags Heather was hopelessly concealing behind her leg. ‘How funny! Well I won’t tell.’ Her eyes narrowed. ‘If you let me treat you to a cappuccino, that is.’

‘I should be getting back,’ Heather started to feebly protest.

‘Don’t be wet. I can afford it, after all. And I’m dying to show someone these photos. Come on.’

As she was frogmarched into Starbucks, Heather felt the agonising onset of a genuine headache.

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