Chapter 3: Night Horrors
That night Cass was lying in her childhood bed wide awake with the horrifying insomnia, which loomed up on her when she had drunk too much. She had wobbled up the stairs after being out drunk by her parents and passed out at 10 pm.
It was now 3 am on Boxing Day and she sat there in bed feeling like she was in some sort of horror movie. The soft toys, the teenaged pretentious books, the once loved CDs, all had a green sinister hue. All of them seemed to be mocking her. Reminding her of the impossible dreams she had once and the disappointment she felt that she had become. Every embarrassing episode she ever had, all the way back to wetting herself at kindergarten because she was too terrified of the teacher to interrupt her, rampaged through her brain.
Scrabbling shakily for some paracetamol and the water, which miraculously she had put by her bed before passing out, she hoped for some sort of salvation from the hangover terrors. Trying desperately to remind herself that all the fears and insecurities which were looming up from the back of her dehydrated brain was just a passing wave of consciousness. She was not slowly losing her mind. She rocked herself back to sleep clutching the childhood teddy bear, which always protected her from the monsters.
The next day she packed up that teddy bear, kissed her parents goodbye and returned back to London, claustrophobically wedged between her two nieces enormous car seats. Her hangover was not being helped by being bombarded the sick making cacophony of iPad games, the Wheels on the Bus blaring out of the speakers and Sergey’s Russian bellowings to friends in Moscow on his mobile. Every corner her sister took felt like Cass was on a racetrack. They finally took mercy on her, releasing her at her flat before heading up to leafy North London. Cass’ liver convulsed as she promised to meet them for the New Years Eve celebrations.
Her flat door lock clicked behind her. She tried to ignore the small red light of her work phone, she left at home over Christmas, flashing accusingly from the living room, just waiting in the dark like a psychotic ex-boyfriend.
Merry fucking Christmas she thought kicking off her trainers off, clutching her teddy bear, she crawled into her bed. Her alarm went off at 6.00am the next day and she was back in the hamster wheel.
Being over 30 meant that her hangover’s lasted. It appeared to her and everyone else for that matter, for every decade of drinking you live, you add a day to the recovery. Sixteen and illegally drinking the most foul drain cleaner would not touch you. Twenty, waking up next to your flat mate, praying you have your undies on and vague recollections of what happened equate to one day recovery but a life time of shame. Thirty, one day of nausea and one day of feeling that the world is going to end.
She pulled off the jeans she had slept in and dug out her running gear. She did not want to do this. She had to. She was a “City” lawyer in a “Legal 500” firm and that meant that she had to look the part, no matter what happened.
Cass remembered the looks she got at the beginning of her career when she ate a Danish pastry with her coffee for breakfast. An emaciated colleague, sipping on a green juice, winced and hissed loudly, ”You would think she would worry about the fat.” Since then, all Cass’ Danish pastries were consumed at home, with the curtains closed, sometimes by torch light.
The look of success is perversely linked with actual success in the City. So much so that even the men were now going for Botox and disappearing on long holidays for brow lifts. It matters that you have the intellect but the packaging is just as important to the charlatans at the top. She knew all to well that fatties, which barbarically means size 14, normally get over looked for promotion. So she ran every morning.
Cass always got into the office sycophantically early and left after everyone else. It embarrassed her but she needed to become a partner. Not for the prestige, not for the polo ponies and/or race horses and not for several houses, which you rent out to some poor bastard who pays the mortgage for you. Not for expensive holidays these partners all went. Cass could not really see what the point was, as they never saw or enjoyed it. Their time was spent checking emails and looking busy and important, ignoring their loved ones. They just wanted to brag they had been there to other busy and important people.
No, all she wanted was to get just enough money together to pay off her mortgage, have a bit in reserve and do something else, which is not both stressful and boring like the law. She could do it within two to three years as a partner. She knew that she was lucky enough to be in this position to get there swiftly. Sadly she also knew that some of her friends would not get there at all. To get there quickly she needed to be partner. So she pretended that she was ambitious and her career was her life.
To her absolute shame, she even commiserated with a partner who had to put down one of her many racehorses, even though this woman had in the same week made four secretaries redundant because the firm’s profits were not up enough.
Cass liked fine things but they were not essential. The people who behaved like these things were essential, seemed desperately unhappy to Cass. She was careful with her money and knew deep down you only need three thing to survive and feel secure:- food, clothes and shelter, none of which need to be the best. It sounded simple but simple sounds normally need complicated instruments. She was not so naive to think that it would not be achieved without some serious money.
She opened her “Christmas Day” email from the managing partner. He had actually sent it on Christmas Day, or as Cass strongly suspected, rang his beleaguered PA on Christmas morning to dictate and send it for him. It was a page long! Cass cursorily read it, ”As I sit here on Christmas Morning I think of you all……” it was like the Queen’s Message. It would have been funny had it not been serious. “Profits have not been what we had expected for the third quarter…. No bonus for the foreseeable future. We must count our blessings that last year there was no further redundancies, but if the profits do not improve redundancies will be inevitable …..I remind everyone that all fee earners must do at least 7 hours chargeable work a day and bill at least three times your salary.”
Cass thought, “You condescending ancient shit. We made a fucking huge profit last year you greedy twat! It was public record, moron! Do you have nothing better to do on Christmas Day? You sent this with the intention of making everyone feel inadequate on Christmas Day. We all have phones, which you expect us to have on us at all times. I do all these hours and all my own administration so I am going home at 10pm every night. You never had to do this in the Eighties when you were trying to make it. You even had half days on Friday to go down the wine bar and fuck your mistress in your Alpha Romeo, before getting home at six to your wife and kids. Happy place…you are almost there….happy thoughts.”
Cass went to make her coffee, she found the six cleaners doling out their cash wages between them from a paper envelope. They looked shifty and embarrassed to see her there. “Morning. Coffee?” Cass asked brightly. The lead cleaner said thank you but no. Cass went about her morning coffee as the women talked among themselves in Bulgarian. Cass was sure that only one of the cleaners was on the books and the rest were being paid below the minimum wage, but polo ponies do not pay for themselves, so partners have to make savings some how.