I See You - Clare Mackintosh Page 0,1
and grimaces in solidarity. I accept the eye contact fleetingly, then look down at my feet. The shoes around me vary: the men’s are large and shiny, beneath pinstriped hems; the women’s heeled and colourful, toes crammed into impossible points. Amongst the legs I see a pair of sleek stockings; opaque black nylon ending in stark white trainers. The owner is hidden but I imagine her to be in her twenties, a pair of vertiginous office heels stashed in a capacious handbag, or in a drawer at work.
I’ve never worn heels during the day. I was barely out of my Clark’s lace-ups when I fell pregnant with Justin, and there was no place for heels on a Tesco checkout, or coaxing a toddler up the high street. Now I’m old enough to know better. An hour on the train on the way into work: another hour on the way home. Tripping up broken escalators. Run over by buggies and bikes. And for what? For eight hours behind a desk. I’ll save my heels for high days and holidays. I wear a self-imposed uniform of black trousers and an array of stretchy tops that don’t need ironing, and are just smart enough to pass as office-wear; with a cardigan kept in my bottom drawer for busy days when the door’s forever opening and the heat disappears with every prospective client.
The train stops and I push my way on to the platform. I take the Overground from here, and although it’s often as busy, I prefer it. Being underground makes me feel uneasy; unable to breathe, even though I know it’s all in my head. I dream of working somewhere close enough to walk to, but it’s never going to happen: the only jobs worth taking are in zone one; the only affordable mortgages in zone four.
I have to wait for my train and at the rack by the ticket machine I pick up a copy of the London Gazette, its headlines appropriately grim for today’s date: Friday 13 November. The police have foiled another terrorism plot: the front three pages are rammed with images of explosives they’ve seized from a flat in North London. I flick through photos of bearded men, and move to find the crack in the tarmac beneath the platform sign, where the carriage door will open. My careful positioning means I can slide into my favourite spot before the carriage fills up; on the end of the row, where I can lean against the glass barrier. The rest of the carriage fills quickly, and I glance at the people still standing, guiltily relieved to see no one old, or obviously pregnant. Despite the flat shoes, my feet ache, thanks to standing by the filing cabinets for most of the day. I’m not supposed to do the filing. There’s a girl who comes in to photocopy property details and keep the cabinets in order, but she’s in Mallorca for a fortnight and from what I saw today she can’t have done any filing for weeks. I found residential mixed up with commercial, and lettings muddled up with sales, and I made the mistake of saying so.
‘You’d better sort it out, then, Zoe,’ Graham said. So instead of booking viewings I stood in the draughty corridor outside Graham’s office, wishing I hadn’t opened my mouth. Hallow & Reed isn’t a bad place to work. I used to do one day a week doing the books, then the office manager went on maternity leave and Graham asked me to fill in. I was a bookkeeper, not a PA, but the