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Sushi for Beginners(2)
Marian Keyes

I can’t believe this is happening to me.

‘Ireland?’

‘Small wet place across the Irish sea,’ Barry offered kindly.

‘Where they drink a lot,’ Lisa said faintly.

‘And they never stop talking. That’s the place. Booming economy, huge population of young folk, market research indicates the place is ripe for a feisty new women’s magazine. And we want you to set it up for us, Lisa.’

They were looking at her expectantly. She knew it was customary to make stumbling, tearful, overwhelmed noises about how she appreciated how much they trusted her and how she hoped to justify their faith in her.

‘Um, good… thanks.’

‘Our Irish portfolio is an impressive one,’ boasted Calvin. ‘We have Hibernian Bride, Celtic Health, Gaelic Interiors, Irish Gardening, The Catholic Judger –’

‘No, The Catholic Judger is about to fold,’ Barry interrupted. ‘Sales figures are way down.’

‘– Gaelic Knitting – ’ Calvin had no interest in bad news, ‘Celtic Car, Spud – that’s our Irish food magazine – DIY Irish-Style and The Hip Hib.’

‘The Hip Hip?’ Lisa forced out. It was advisable to keep talking.

‘Hip Hib,’ Barry confirmed. ‘Short for Hip Hibernian. Young men’s magazine. Cross between Loaded and Arena. You’ll be setting up a women’s version.’

‘Name?’

‘We think Colleen. Young, feisty, funky, sexy, that’s how we see it. Especially sexy, Lisa. And nothing too clever. Forget downbeat features about female circumcision or women in Afghanistan with no freedom. That’s not our target readership.’

‘You want a dumbed-down magazine?’

‘You got it,’ Calvin beamed.

‘But I’ve never been to Ireland, I know nothing about the place.’

‘Precisely!’ Calvin agreed. ‘That’s exactly what we want. No preconceptions, just a fresh, honest approach. Same salary, generous relocation package, you start two weeks Monday.’

‘Two weeks? But that gives me almost no time…’

‘I hear you’ve wonderful organizational powers,’ Calvin glinted. ‘Impress me. Any questions?’

She couldn’t stop herself. Normally she smiled while the knife was being twisted because she could see the bigger picture. But she was in shock.

‘What about the position of deputy editor at Manhattan?’

Barry and Calvin exchanged a look.

‘Tia Silvano from the New Yorker was the successful candidate,’ Calvin huffily admitted.

Lisa nodded. She felt as if her world had ended. Woodenly she got up to leave. ‘When do I have to decide by?’ she asked.

Barry and Calvin exchanged another look.

Calvin was the one who eventually spoke. ‘We’ve already filled your current position.’

The world lapsed into slow motion as Lisa realized that this was a fait accompli. She had no choice in it at all. Fixed in a frozen scream, it took several long seconds to understand that there was nothing she could do except hobble from the room.

‘Fancy a round of golf?’ Barry asked Calvin, once she’d gone.

‘Love to but can’t. Gotta go to Dublin and interview for the other positions.’

‘Who’s Irish MD now?’ Barry asked.

Calvin frowned. Barry should know this. ‘A guy called Jack Devine.’

‘Oh him. Bit of a maverick.’

‘I don’t think so.’ Calvin strongly disapproved of rebels. ‘Leastways he’d better not be.’

Lisa tried to put a gloss on it. She’d never admit she was disappointed. Especially after all she’d sacrificed.

But you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Dublin was not New York, no matter how you sliced it. And the ‘generous’ relocation package could have been sued under the Trade Descriptions Act. Worse still, she had to surrender her mobile. Her mobile! It was as if a limb had been amputated.

None of her colleagues were exactly devastated at her departure. She never let anyone else get a go of the Patrick Cox shoes, not even the girls with size-five feet. And her generosity with bitchy and untrue personal comments had earned her the nickname Slanderella. Nevertheless, on Lisa’s last day, the staff of Femme were rounded up and press-ganged into the boardroom for the customary send-off – plastic glasses of tepid white wine that could have doubled as paint stripper, a tray with a desultory spread of Hula Hoops and Skips, and a rumour – never realized – that cocktail sausages were on their way.

When everyone was on their third glass of wine and could therefore be relied on to exhibit some enthusiasm, there was a call for hush and Barry Hollingsworth made his textbook speech, thanking Lisa for everything and wishing her well. It was agreed that he’d done a lovely job of it. Especially because he’d managed to get her name right. The last time someone had left he’d made a tear-jerking, twenty-minute speech lauding the unique talents and contribution of someone called Heather, while Fiona, the person who was leaving, stood by in mortification.

Then came the presentation to Lisa of twenty pounds’ worth of Marks & Spencers vouchers and a large card with a hippo and ‘Sorry to see you go’ emblazoned on it. Ally Benn, Lisa’s former deputy, had chosen the leaving present with care. She’d thought long and hard about what Lisa would hate the most and eventually concluded that M&S vouchers would cause maximum distress. (Ally Benn’s feet were a perfect size five.)

‘To Lisa!’ Barry concluded. By then everyone was flushed and rowdy, so they raised their white plastic cups, sloshing wine and morsels of cork on to their clothing and, as they sniggered and elbowed each other, bellowed, ‘To Lisa!’

Lisa stayed just as long as she needed to. She’d long looked forward to this leaving do, but she’d always thought she’d be surfing out on a wave of glory, already halfway to New York. Instead of being shunted away to the magazine version of Siberia. It was an utter nightmare.

‘I must go,’ she said to the dozen or so women who’d worked under her for the past two years. ‘I must finish packing.’

‘Sure, sure,’ they agreed, in a clamour of drunken good wishes. ‘Well, good luck, have fun, enjoy Ireland, take care, don’t work too hard…’

Just as Lisa got to the door, Ally screeched, ‘We’ll miss you.’

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