Paula offered Harriet the box of tissues. Harriet’s rheumy eyes glittered with tears as she blew her nose and threw the sodden tissue into the waste paper basket next to the couch. Her soft, round face was red and streaked with tears from the session.
‘I’m sorry, you think you’re doing okay then the slightest thing sets you off, you know?’
The recollection set her off again and Paula watched her sob and shudder with a clinical disdain.
‘I worry about Buffy all the time. He never liked her, and he could be so goddamn cruel to her.’
Paula took off her spectacles and let them dangle on the thin chain around her neck.
‘Harriet, you’re doing the best you can in a time of tremendous change. Some of those changes will be unpleasant to experience, but there is growth and progress even if you can’t see it.’
Harriet was weighed down with the burdens of caring. Paula glanced at the clock on the wall and gave the bright, wintry smile that signalled the end of the session.
Harriet looked at the box of tissues, packaged in pastels with floral arrangements snaking around them. She liked the tissues as they were impregnated with some kind of lotion that didn’t abrade her nose or eyes when she used them. She asked Paula where she got them from, which made Paula frown and furrow her forehead.
Paula told her that she would drop into the store on the way in. They were not particularly therapeutic, more pragmatic in that it gave her something to offer when words failed to redress the issue.
She liked Harriet, a well meaning, kind woman who wandered into a series of relationships that alternated between dull and histrionic. She had just left the latter, and if her records indicated, was about due for a dull one to resent any time now. Harriet got up, thanked her in a soft, exhausted voice and left her office. She kept saying the brand name over in her head so that she would not forget as she drove to the office.
Kelly sat in the front of the car, writing down the amount of time it took for the guards to transfer the takings from the manager’s safe to the armoured car. Her black, glossy curls were shoved underneath a ball cap and she wore black spectacles without any lenses in them. Her phone hummed and she saw it was Gary, so she picked it up.
‘That fucking dog.’ Gary said.
Kelly sighed without taking her eyes off the body armour ballet going on just down the street.
‘You could give it back to her?’ she said.
Gary shouted at the dog. His volume distorted the quality of his voice, turning it into a screech of rusted metal. She held the phone away from her ear until he had finished.
‘No fucking way, it’s my insurance policy in case she gets any ideas. I take the mutt everywhere’
Kelly bit her lip to keep the words from coming up. She had never met Gary’s ex, but she admired her. Gary Goodman was a stone cold threat. He looked like someone had grafted DeNiro’s head onto Schwarzenegger’s body and threw in Joe Pesci’s Goodfellas temperament into the mix to balance out that perfection. Kelly found it funny how Gary, for all his masculine projection managed to get himself twisted around these women. She had dated a few girls like that, but never let them into her head the way Gary did. Men really were the true romantics, and boy did they ever suffer for it.
‘So, we all set?’ she said.
Gary was relieved to talk shop.
‘So, it’s what three guards?’
Kelly checked her notes. She broke down the best way of doing it, and to her relief, he sounded impressed with her planning. Gary had been fraying at the edges for a while now, enough that Kelly had instituted an insurance policy of sorts, squirrelling away cash from jobs in a hold all kept in a storage unit that she rented under an assumed name. There was plenty of running away cash in there, but she kept saving.
From some people, you never knew how far to run before you believed yourself away from them.
Gary was a blunt instrument, but he knew his shit when it came to the job. It was everywhere else in his life that was a car crash.
The one last job myth was a fragile, easily refuted one but Kelly had been itching to get out for a while now. The naivete of that was its own appeal for her, no matter how hard the world tried to buck her out of her saddle, she clung on.
She ended the call and continued to watch for a little while longer before she drove away.
Sarah sat at the back of the boardroom, hiding the self consciousness that she experienced when she was asked to come in and brief the executives of Softness Paper Products. Her dreadlocks and distressed leather jacket frightened people, but these men and women were inured to everything but profit margins and product launches.
She accepted their stares of lust and disdain as tribute after a fashion. Marketing was a dismal, but necessary part of the corporate world and people like Sarah Mitchell were the diplomats between its domain and their corporate masters. Out of all the tailored suits and expense accounts, her word mattered more than theirs which was why she was there in the first place.
She was introduced and stood up, the buckles on her jacket rattling like bones as she walked to the front, next to Gary, the executive officer who had introduced her with a polite enthusiasm.
‘Your product doesn’t suck.’
Her tone made them all pay attention. Sarah had an English father and American mother, a perfect storm of his sarcasm and her passion, harnessed into whatever she set her mind to achieving. Her accent brought colour to the cheeks of some of the men who shifted in their seats as she looked at each of them in turn.
‘What you have to do, what I can do for you, is set up counter-viral marketing to make your rivals look bad.’
She broke it down for them. How she had evolved from street teams through to online operations, groups of people who went across the internet, talking up products and leaving reviews to boost a product to a new level of recognition. She was not offering that to SPP.
No, this was black marketing magic. A little bad news, a photo opportunity, some targeted trolling online and she could damage Goodness Tissues enough to allow SPP room for their Special Kindness range of facial tissues.
By the time she had finished, they had agreed to her budget, based on a set of projections that were pure fiction and she walked out with one pressing question on her mind.
How the fuck was she going to pull it off?
Harriet had run out of tampons, and the queue in the druggists was too long to bear. Gary was not returning her calls, and all she wanted was to hear Buffy’s earnest panting over the phone, try to talk him into giving her the dog back. She rubbed her aching stomach as she shuffled into the store, hoping that she could avoid being late for work.
The pyramid display of Goodness Tissues made her chuckle as she stood by it. They had introduced a new range and she made the association with Paula as she looked at the different patterns and promises of comfort and relief they made. She saw the box that Paula always had to hand and put one in her basket.
When she looked up, she saw the woman smiling at her. Long, dark curly hair and dazzling brown eyes that were almost black underneath the lights of the supermarket. She had on a jacket that was a little too thick and long for the time of day, but her frank gaze made Harriet blush and sizzle like a burger on a grill. She smiled back at her, a tug of want pulling inside her chest. A moment danced between them before them and Harriet opened her mouth to speak.
Sarah stood there, looking at the display of Goodness’ new product launch. She gestured to Ernesto, the boy who packed groceries, now with the equivalent of a month’s wages in his account and ready to end his brief, uneventful tenure in retail with a final display of directed bravado.
If only the woman would get out of the way.
She watched Ernesto’s courage start to fail him, judging by the perspiration that was beading on his forehead and how he kept unclenching his hands. She glanced at the woman in front of the display and followed her gaze to the other woman.
The gunshot rolled in from outside, and she watched Ernesto turn pale and look out at where the security truck had parked.
Kelly kept her gun in her jacket, not wanting to frighten the woman who was looking at her. She had an earnest kindness to her, a belief in the world that manifested in the kindly smile she gave. Kelly saw that there was no ring on her finger, and bit back a slight twinge. Turning out married women was her sport, but this was one woman who spoke to her in a single look.
The gunshot was her cue to move, but she stood there and looked at the woman.
Harriet was paralysed by the sound and she turned around to see. Another barrage of gunfire sounded and she shrieked. She felt a thin hand on her shoulder, pulling her away.
Sarah watched the two women moving backwards, raised her phone and started to film.
As the sirens sounded, she knew that this was going to be perfect.
Harriet and Kelly started to fall backwards, toppling the display over when a familiar, high yipping bark started and the shuffle-slap of tiny paws against the tiled floor made her cry out.
Buffy came forward, its fur dark and wet but its eyes gleaming with hope and adoration in its eyes.
Kelly’s back throbbed from where it hit the tiles and she managed to hold onto the gun in her jacket and the woman. She was already getting up and gesturing for the dog to come forward. Kelly cursed Gary that he would bring the fucking dog was proof enough that he had gotten what he deserved.
Harriet took Buffy in her arms, concerned at the blood on its fur, but it did not whimper. She looked around at the scattered boxes of Goodness tissues, then at the face of the woman who grimaced as she got to her feet.
They smiled at one another.
Sarah dashed away, already sending the video, imagining the reaction when it went online.