‘And how’s your Richard?’
Jill sipped her tea. ‘He’s okay. Got himself a job as a cook.’
Marion gasped in awe. ‘Really?’
‘Well, I say a cook. He’s chef de cuisine at one of those plush hotels in the West End.’
‘Don’t knock it. Everybody’s got to start somewhere.’
‘He’s hoping to work his way down, of course.’
‘And I’m sure he will. He’ll be flipping burgers in some grotty van before you know it.’
‘It’s a chip shop he’s got his heart set on, actually. In Lewisham, if you please.’
‘Well,’ said Marion, ‘that’s where the money is, isn’t it? Anyway, it wouldn’t surprise me, Jill. Really it wouldn’t. That lad could do anything if he put his mind to it.’
Jill sighed. ‘That’s what I keep telling him. Biscuit?’
The two women nibbled at their Garibaldis.
‘Jackie getting on all right at university, is she?’
Marion rolled her eyes.
‘Oh dear,’ said her friend. ‘That bad?’
‘Well, I don’t know what actual grades she’s getting, of course, she doesn’t tell me that, but the amount of time she seems to spend partying and mooning over those posters of dustmen I don’t see how there can be much left for writing essays.’
‘She’s studying to be a whore, isn’t she?’
‘That’s right. I said to her, I said ‘do you want to end up Minister for Overseas Development like your mother? Because if you don’t make the most of this opportunity you can kiss goodbye to any dreams you’ve got of going on the game.’’
‘Well, she’s only in her first year. Plenty of time for her to get her act together.’
‘I hope you’re right, Jill, I really do. I mean, you don’t want them to make the same mistakes you did, do you?’
‘Of course not.’
Marion popped the last corner of biscuit into her mouth and washed it down with another mouthful of tea. ‘Is that the new novel?’ she asked, eyeing a two inch-thick document on the coffee table.
‘First draft,’ Jill confirmed. She put her cup down, picked up the manuscript and flicked disconsolately through it. ‘You know,’ she added with a wistful sigh, ‘I’m starting to wonder if that greetings card industry job is ever going to happen.’
‘Don’t talk daft. You’re only forty-eight.’
‘Still, time’s ticking away.’
‘There’s nothing wrong with writing bestselling novels anyway.’
‘Well, maybe not, but it’s not exactly what I dreamed of when I was a little girl.’
‘May I?’ asked Marion, indicating the book.
Jill nodded and handed it over.
‘‘Fame and Fortune,’’ she read.
‘Yes. It’s sort of…. well, a work of speculative fiction, I suppose you’d call it. It postulates this alternative reality where your salary is proportional to how rewarding your job is.’
Marion spluttered in amusement. ‘What?’
‘Yes, I know. And you work your way bottom to top, you see? So you start with a company or something as, I don’t know, an office boy, and then you get promoted to a position above that. And in time, at least if you knuckle down and demonstrate the necessary aptitude, you might get to have a shot at being the managing director or something. Which is now the top position.’
‘Oh Jill, you are funny.’
‘In this world it’s the professionals who are the high earners; CEOs, actors, doctors, pop stars, novelists-‘
Jill laughed. ‘Well of course! And so these are the jobs you need to study for.’
‘So lawyers and scientists have to go to university? To do degrees in law and science?’
‘Yes. It’s the cleaners and checkout girls and car park attendants that don’t need qualifications under this system, they just learn on the job. But the thing is that they all live on an absolute pittance like the professionals do in our reality.’
Marion blinked uncomprehendingly. ‘But why on Earth would anyone do those crappy jobs in this world of yours if it wasn’t for the wealth and prestige they attracted?’
Jill smiled. ‘I know. It is a bit far-fetched, isn’t it?’
Rob Stuart was born in Cambridge, England in 1972 and lives in Surrey with his partner and daughter. Rob’s poems and short stories have been published in magazines, newspapers and webzines all over the world including Ink Sweat and Tears, Light, Magma, New Statesman, The Oldie, Popshot, The Spectator and The Washington Post and he has written the screenplays for several award-winning and internationally exhibited short films. His website can be found at www.robstuart.co.uk.