Consulate |

Plan Ahead

by Alice Kuipers

Getting knocked up wasn’t part of the plan. I told Hamish, the black guy with the baby bird eyes, that I was going to get rid of it, and he got all weepy, worse than a little girl, so I told him not to bother coming round anymore, even though he’d been so sweet and lovely that for a while I’d have chosen him over sticky toffee pudding any time, but too much sticky toffee pudding and I want to puke, and I wanted to puke all the time anyway, so that was it for Hamish, and he wasn’t even Scottish with a name like that. Ria was glad he’d stopped snivelling all over me, said, despite all his mooning around, he gave off the impression he was better than her because he’d been to college, although I don’t know what he did there because he didn’t have much of a brain. I wanted to tell Ria that most people think they’re better than her, but it’s her own fault because she wears such nasty clothes she looks homeless, and she says the most stupid things sometimes that you feel like her mouth just fell out her ear. The scan made me feel a smidgen of love for the tiny beating pulse that they said was the baby, although it looked like a kidney bean. It was a good thing too because it turned out I was only eight weeks so I could take a couple of tablets and it would just wash out of me like a stain. With that done, I felt like I should get back to the act of doing what I wanted with my life, because otherwise I might as well have kept the baby and not made such a fuss about getting rid of it, I might as well have stayed with Hamish and lived in his flat and got fat and popped out three or four kids and made fish fingers for dinner and saved up for a bigger TV and maybe moved out one day to a bigger house in Beckenham, like one of those ones my mum’s friend had that we used to visit before they had the argument about the pitbull. For what I wanted, I needed money, and that was the problem. See, I’ve always seen myself as running a florists, ever since I was a little soppy girl who loved her mummy and daddy and used to pick dandelions and thread them together to make dandelion chains, like daisy chains. Daisylions I called them. That’s what I thought I’d call the shop, DAISYLION, and I might have even called the baby Daisy if it wasn’t flushed down the toilet on bloody sheets of loo roll. I wondered if I’d waited and not got rid of it, whether I’d have miscarried, because that happens to a lot of women according to Ria, who for all her homeless clothes and her nonsense chat knows certain things, what with her aunt a being midwife. But if I’d have waited to see if I’d miscarried, maybe I’d have felt less motivated to get the shop up and running. What with taking those pills, well, it made me feel like I had a duty to open the shop. DAISYLION would be for that little flickering bean I’d seen on the scan and thought I’d loved, even though I knew it wasn’t really love, because the notion of love had been knocked out of me by Adam when I was twelve and he was fourteen and he told everyone I was a slag just because I’d touched it, and I’d touched it because I’d loved him, that was all. To get the shop running, I had to get money. I had experience from my hours at the florist where I worked. But I needed money. A lot a lot a lot of money, and working for a florist that’s never going to happen. I tried the Prince’s Trust but they’d kept me waiting for a year before telling me it was too ambitious a plan. That’s the problem I’ve always had. When I told my career advisor at school I wanted to run my own shop, she said, “Listen, Eve, life just doesn’t always give you what you want.” But I knew exactly how to get what I wanted. That’s where I’m different. That’s what Hamish loved about me, so he said, that I was different. At least, I thought I knew how to get what I wanted. After four weeks standing for hours watching my breath puff out in tiny clouds, handing out the Metro to a raging river of commuters, I wasn’t sure the money was worth it. And it wasn’t even that much money, not once I’d added in the hours getting there and back, and took in the shame of wearing that orange show-her-up-in-the-dark plastic thing, and having to launch myself off to a shift at the florist, who was cutting my hours because of money troubles. Four weeks is a long time to hate the world so I quit, and I was back to square one after all the coffees I’d bought myself to stay warm, and the shopping I’d done to cheer myself up. The night after I quit, I was out with Ria at The Blue Orchid, and I turned around to chat with her but couldn’t find her anywhere. I thought she must be smoking, so I followed her outside and saw her Fiesta steamed up and shaking about. My first thought was that I was pleased she was getting some, but then the back door opened and Hamish staggered out, doing up his fly. A pain went through me and I longed for the washed out baby and Hamish’s arms wrapped round me and a little home of our own. Hamish saw me and called out, but I was already running in the opposite direction. I popped into a garage and bought myself a bottle of vodka and drank myself out of the sentimental mood I’d got myself in. I had to walk back home alone because there was no way I was going back, getting in a car with Ria. There’s something about vodka and long empty roads with orange street lights streaking the pavements, the polluted night split only with the occasional flash of a car headlights. And it was only because a motorbike tore up the road just as I was about to cross that I stopped and looked up, and there, lit up for a second in the window on the other side of the street, was a sign. Money For Nothing. Cursing the motorbike driver who was already sucked up into the dark, I crossed the road. Now, I’m no fool, but I couldn’t help myself having a peek. No-one gets money for nothing, that’s what my dad used to say before cancer ripped up his insides and left him like a sack, all saggy and empty and lying around doing nothing. He used to say other things too, like, “The universe is a washing machine full of lost socks and we’re all lost socks.” Or, his favourite, “Take the time to make the time.” He’d pull out a sheet of paper and write on it in big letters PLAN AHEad with the “d” all squished up against the side because he’d deliberately run out of space. Anyway, he wouldn’t have bothered with the sign, but there I was, so pissed I could hardly read, reading it all the same. Money For Nothing Sell Us Your Imagination We Pay Good Money I looked at the shop. It was so bright and shiny you’d have thought it was an estate agents or a fancy hair salon where you can pay three hours’ wages to get your eyebrows plucked. The large window had nothing but the sign painted across it in plain letters, not swirly like inside a Valentine’s card. Through the window I could make out a polished cement floor with a reception area to the right. It was too dark to see much else, and I was shivering cold so I hurried myself back to the flat I shared with Ria’s cousin Arya, who’d given me cheap rent in exchange for looking after her greyhounds when she was away, which it turned out was most of the time. They were racing dogs, and I always felt proud when they came in the top three, like I had something to do with it. Next day, I finished early at the florists. Because of the credit crunch she’s been cutting my hours which is why the Metro had been helpful, even if it had killed my brain cells with the cold and the idiotic public taking their free papers, most of them not even bothering to say hello. Not that I need to have hellos thrown at me like scraps to a starving hamster, but one or two would have made it bearable. Maybe not. It took me a while to find the Money For Nothing shop again because I’d been drunk the night before and, stupidly, I hadn’t looked at the name of it. When, eventually, I tracked my steps back and found it, I saw it didn’t have a name. Just a black storefront with that big window and the scrubbed insides. I watched the woman sitting at the reception, a willowy grey haired lady who stared into the space before her like she could see something I couldn’t. She jumped like a mouse when a man came out of one of the back rooms. He was younger than her, maybe fifty, and his back was stooped as if life had been heavy on him. He smiled and gave the woman a key, and she reached under the desk and pulled out a bundle of twenty pound notes. There must have been at least six or seven of them. I pushed the door open and went inside. The man smiled the same smile at me as he had at the woman, a blank smile like a person working on the Underground gives you if you ever ask them anything, and tucked the money into his wallet. “See you soon,” he said. The woman spoke in whispers. “As you wish.” It reminded me of that children’s film, the one with the stable boy and the princess, but I don’t know if it was because of what she said or the soft way in which she spoke. I said, “I’m interested in what you do here.” I was trying to be relaxed and sound confident because suddenly I felt like I did on the day I went to see my dad in hospital and he’d just been told he was dying. Sad. But mainly out of my depth. The woman turned her shiny fishscale gaze upon me as the man slipped out the shop. “Of course,” she whispered, and gave to me the key which had recently been returned. “Room Three is available.” “What do I have to do? How much will I get?” “Think of it like getting a fake tan. Take everything off, lie on the machine, close it over you, and then, depending on how long you lie there, we’ll pay you. Twenty pounds for every fifteen minutes. There’s a clock you’ll be able to see. If you manage less than fifteen minutes, we’ll work out the exact amount.” She smiled. “I always need the calculator for that.” “And what do you get out of it?” “Think of it as worth our while,” was all she said. I was in that room quick as a coke addict after his dealer. It was a small room with posters of sunny places on the walls. Bermuda. Barbados. I stripped down, checking for dodgy looking cameras. It was too good to be true. I paused before I lay on the machine. I’d do fifteen minutes. See what happened. If I didn’t get my money, I’d feel an idiot but it wouldn’t be the end of the world. I lay down and closed the machine over me. It was just like fake tanning. Warm and comfortable. Made me feel like I was on holiday, although within a minute or two, I couldn’t think where I wanted to go. I lay there, warm as toast, wondering if I’d get a tan, and whether I wanted to do another fifteen minutes after the first fifteen was up. I’d have to see if they paid me first, no matter how toasty I was. I forced myself up, rubbing my forehead because there was a slight pain but nothing major. I thought what I’d text Ria if I was still speaking to her, but found it hard to think up something clever. And what did it matter because I’d just made twenty pounds lying on my arse? I gave the key back to the woman, whose eyes looked like, looked like, looked like, well, they were really green, and waited for my money. She gave it to me and I almost laughed out loud. This was a doddle. Unbelievable. I’d done nothing. Given them nothing, and they were giving me money. “I’ll go back on the machine right now,” I said. She shook her head. “Only one visit a week.” I could have kicked myself. “But I could have stayed on as long as I wanted?” She nodded. “Regulations.” “That makes no sense. If I could stay on as long as I wanted, why does it matter if I go on twice in one day? I need to make this money.” “Think of us as archaeologists. We dig away and each minute gives us a deeper layer. When we start, we’re at scratch again.” “Layer of what?” “Of your imagination.” I stuffed the twenty into my jeans pocket. Mad. The woman was mad. But who was I to argue? I said, “I don’t need of one of those. I don’t have much of one myself, not like I did when I was a kid.” “We’d use kids if we could. Regulations.” “Who owns this get-up?” Seemed like a better way to make money than owning a florists if I didn’t love flowers so much. “It’s a project. I’m the organiser.” “Look,” I said, “are you sure I can’t go back in, seeing as you’re in charge?” She half-turned away. “See you next week,” she whispered. It was a long seven days with all the money I could have made going through my mind like sheep at night when you’re trying to sleep. I bumped into Ria, but I didn’t say a word to her, even when she yelled at me that Hamish wasn’t that good so why did I even care? Then I had Hamish on the phone saying he’d only done it because he’d been so lonely without me and the baby. “What baby?” I said. He put the phone down and I honestly didn’t know why. If anyone should have been pissed off, it should have been me. The next visit, I only had time to do an hour. It irritated the hell out of me, but my mum had phoned begging me to come and see her and with her drinking I don’t like to leave her when she asks. Trust her to call the only day I got off early this week. And the Money For Nothing shop had funny opening hours too, so the only other time I tried to get in, it was closed. Hence the hour. Eighty pounds. And a bit of a headache if I’m honest, but nothing worth keeping me away. When I got to Mum’s, she was trashed and so I helped her up to bed. She was all arms and legs and I almost shouted at her for mucking up my chance to earn a full day’s pay for lying in the machine. Mum lay on her bed with her eyes all fuzzy and said, “You alright, darling? You look a little spaced out,” which coming from her was so ridiculous I couldn’t help but laugh. Next week, I’m going in for the full eight hours. I’ve taken time off from the florist, although it took me ages to come up with an excuse. In the end, I told her I was sick, but I was standing right in front of her so she must have known I was talking crap. Then I’ll have the beginnings of a nest egg. I don’t know what I’m going to do with all the money. Mum has always said if any of us got a bit of money, she’d like a new washing machine. I could get her one. I feel like there was something I wanted with the money. Something really important. A headache is hanging somewhere heavy in my brain and I just can’t remember what it was. Hopefully when I’m lying on the machine next week, earning my cash, I’ll have time to think about it. Hamish might have an idea what I wanted, but him and Ria see each other all the time right now so I won’t go near him. And I’m still not talking to Ria, slutty tart, so she’s no help. My period came today which always fucks about with my hormones. I lie down on the bed with my hand on my stomach watching the breath make my flabby flesh rise and fall. I’m more hormonal than I’ve been for years, all weepy and pathetic. But then I think of the money I’m about to make, get myself up and stop making such a fuss.