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Sushi for Beginners(4)
Marian Keyes

‘I’m the one who’s sorry, Ashling. I’m going to have to let you go.’

‘Because of a simple mistake? I don’t believe you!’

She was right not to. The real reason was that the board of Woman’s Place were concerned about the plummeting circulation figures, had decided that the magazine was looking ‘tired’ and were on the hunt for a fall guy. Ashling’s cock-up couldn’t have come at a better time. Now they could just sack her instead of having to shell out a redundancy payment.

Sally Healy was distraught. Ashling was the most reliable, hard-working employee one could have. She kept the entire place ticking over while Sally came in late, left early and disappeared for Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to collect her daughter from ballet lessons and her sons from rugby practice. But the board had made it clear that it was either Ashling or her.

As a sop to her long years of faithful service, Ashling was allowed to hold on to her job until she got another one. Which, hopefully, would be soon.

‘Well?’ Ashling smoothed out the front of her jacket and turned to Ted.

‘Fine.’ Ted’s shoulder bones rose and fell.

‘Or is this one better?’ Ashling pulled on a jacket that seemed to Ted to be identical to the first one.

‘Fine,’ he repeated.

‘Which one?’


‘Which one makes me look more like I’ve got a waist?’

Ted squirmed. ‘Not this again. You’re obsessed with your waist.’

‘I haven’t got one to be obsessed with.’

‘Why can’t you go on about the size of your bum, like normal women do?’

Ashling had very little in the way of waist but, as always with bad news pertaining to oneself, she’d been the last to find out. It wasn’t until she was fifteen and her best friend Clodagh had sighed, ‘You’re so lucky, having no waist. Mine is tiny and it just makes my bottom look bigger,’ that she’d made the shocking discovery.

While every other girl on her road had spent their teenage years standing in front of a mirror agonizing over whether one breast was bigger than the other, Ashling’s focus was lower. Eventually she got herself a hula hoop and set to it with gusto in her back garden. For a couple of months she rotated and whittled, day and night, her tongue stuck earnestly out of the corner of her mouth. All the mammies from the neighbouring families looked over their garden walls, their arms folded, nodding knowingly at each other, ‘She’ll have herself hula-hooped into an early grave, that one.’

Not that the non-stop, obsessive whirling had made any difference. Even now, sixteen years later, there was still an undeniable straight-up-and-down quality to Ashling’s silhouette.

‘Having no waist isn’t the worst thing that could happen to someone,’ Ted encouraged from the sidelines.

‘Indeed it isn’t,’ Ashling agreed with unsettling joviality. ‘You could have horrible legs too. And as luck would have it, I do.’

‘You don’t.’

‘I do. I inherited them from my mother… But so long as that’s all I inherited from her,’ Ashling added, cheerfully, ‘I figure I’m not doing so badly.’

‘I was in bed with my girlfriend last night…’ Ted was keen to change the conversation. ‘I told her the earth was flat.’

‘What girlfriend? And what’s this about the earth?’

‘No, that’s wrong,’ Ted muttered to himself. ‘I was lying in bed with my girlfriend last night… I told her the earth was flat. Boom boom!’

‘Ha ha, very good,’ Ashling said weakly. The worst thing about being Ted’s favourite person was having to be the guinea-pig for his new material. ‘But can I make a suggestion? How about, I was lying in bed with my girlfriend last night. I told her I’d always love her and never leave her… Boom boom,’ she added wryly.

‘I’m late,’ Ted said. ‘D’you want a backer?’

Often he gave her a lift to work on the back of his bike, en route to his own job at the Department of Agriculture.

‘No thanks, I’m going in a different direction.’

‘Good luck with the interview. I’ll pop in to see you this evening.’

‘I don’t doubt it for a minute,’ Ashling agreed, under her breath.

‘Hey! How’s your ear infection?’

‘Better, nearly. I can wash my hair myself again.’


Ashling eventually decided on jacket number one. She could have sworn she detected a slight indentation roughly halfway between her breasts and her hips and that was good enough for her.

After agonizing over her make-up, she plumped for muted in case she came across as flighty. But in case she looked too drab she brought her beloved black-and-white pony-skin handbag. Then she rubbed her lucky Buddha, popped her lucky pebble in her pocket and looked regretfully at her lucky red hat. But just how lucky would a red bobble hat be, if worn to a job interview? Anyway, she didn’t need it – her horoscope had said that this would be a good day. So had the angel oracle.

As she let herself on to the street she had to step over a man who was sound asleep in the front doorway. Then she pointed herself in the direction of Randolph Media’s Dublin office and, walking briskly past the Dublin city-centre gridlock traffic, repeated over and over in her head, as advised by Louise L. Hay, I will get this job, I will get this job, I will get this job…

But what if I don’t? Ashling couldn’t help but wonder.

Well, then I won’t mind, well, then I won’t mind, well, then I won’t mind…

Though she’d put a brave face on it, Ashling was devastated by the turn of events with Mrs O’Sullivan’s couch. So devastated that it had triggered one of the ear infections that always showed up when she was under stress.

Losing one’s job was embarrassingly juvenile, not the kind of thing that happened to a thirty-one-year-old mortgage holder. Surely she should be past all that?

To stop her life unravelling, she’d been job-hunting with a passion and putting herself forward for everything remotely feasible. No, she couldn’t lassoo a runaway stallion, she’d admitted in her interview for the wild-west ranch in Mullingar – she’d actually thought the position they were interviewing for was an administrative one – but she’d be willing to learn.

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