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Sushi for Beginners(5)
Marian Keyes

At each interview she went for she repeated over and over that she was willing to learn. But of everything she’d applied for, the job at Colleen was the one she really, badly wanted. She loved working on a magazine and magazine jobs were rare in Ireland. Besides, Ashling wasn’t a proper journalist: she was simply a good organizer, with an eye for detail.

The magazine arm of Randolph Media was on the third floor of an office block on the quays. Ashling had found out that Randolph Media also owned the small but growing television station, Channel 9, and a highly commercial radio station, but these apparently operated out of different premises.

Ashling came out of the lift and scooted down the corridor towards reception. The place seemed to hum with activity, people rushing up and down carrying bits of paper. Ashling thrilled with excitement that peaked into nausea. Just before the reception desk, a tall, messy-haired man was deep in conversation with a tiny Asian girl. They were speaking to each other in low tones and something in the nature of their exchange gave Ashling to understand that they wished they could shout. Ashling hurried on; she didn’t like rows. Not even other people’s.

She realized how badly she’d misjudged the make-up situation when she got a gander at the receptionist. Trix – that’s what her namebadge said she was called – had the glittery, luscious-sticky look of a devotee of the more-is-more school of slapplication. Her eyebrows were plucked almost into non-existence, her lipliner was so thick and dark she looked as if she had a moustache, and her entire head of blonde hair was caught up in dozens of tiny, evenly spaced, sparkly butterfly clips. She must’ve had to get up three hours early to do it, Ashling thought, highly impressed.

‘Hello,’ Trix growled in a voice that sounded as though she smoked forty cigarettes a day – which coincidentally she did.

‘I’ve an interview at nine thi–’ Ashling halted at the sound of a loud yelp behind her. She looked over her shoulder and saw the messy-haired man nursing his first finger.

‘You bit me!’ he exclaimed. ‘Mai, you’ve drawn blood!’

‘Hope your tetanus is up to date,’ the Asian girl laughed scornfully.

Trix clicked her tongue, flung her eyes heavenwards and muttered, ‘Pair of gobshites, they never stop. Take a seat,’ she told Ashling. ‘I’ll tell Calvin you’re here.’

She disappeared through the double doors and Ashling wobbled down on to a couch, beside a coffee table which was strewn with all the current titles. The sight of them sent her nerves into sudden overdrive – she so badly wanted this job. Her heart was pounding and her stomach sloshed bile. Absently she rolled the lucky pebble through her thumb and finger. Through a gauze of trembling anxiety she was semi-aware of the bitten man slamming into the gents’ and the little Asian girl stomping to the lift, her curtain of long black hair swishing to and fro.

‘Mr Carter says go on in.’ Trix was back and doing a bad job of hiding her surprise. For the past two days she’d been plagued by nervous interviewees who’d been kept waiting by her desk for up to half an hour at a time. During which Trix had had to hold off ringing her friends and fellas and deal with the interviewees’ pleading questions about what their chances of getting the job were. And to add insult to injury, she knew for a fact that all Calvin Carter and Jack Devine were doing in the interview room was playing rummy.

But Calvin Carter had been deserted by Jack Devine, and he was bored and lonely. Might as well be interviewing someone as doing nothing.

‘Come!’ he commanded, when Ashling knocked timidly on the door.

He took one glance at the dark-haired woman in the black trouser-suit and immediately decided against her. She just wasn’t glamorous enough for Colleen. He didn’t know much about girls’ hair, but he had a feeling that it was usually more elaborate than this one’s. Wasn’t it normal to have a kind of interfered look to it? Surely it shouldn’t just hang there on her shoulders, being brown? And fresh-faced is all very well when you’re a milkmaid, but not when you’re an aspiring assistant editor of a sexy women’s magazine…

‘Sit down.’ He supposed he’d better go through the motions for five minutes.

Breathless with the desire to do well, Ashling sat on the lone chair in the middle of the floor and faced the man who sat behind the long table.

‘Jack Devine, the MD for Ireland, will be here shortly,’ Calvin explained. ‘I don’t know what’s keeping him. First up,’ he turned his attention to her resumé, ‘you better tell me how to pronounce that name of yours.’

‘Ash-ling. Ash as in cigarette ash, ling to rhyme with sing.’

‘Ash-ling. Ashling. OK, I can say that. Alrighty, Ashling, for the past eight years you’ve been working in magazines…

‘Magazine, actually.’ Ashling heard someone giggle nervously and realized helplessly that it was herself. ‘Just the one.’

‘And why are you leaving Woman’s Place?’

‘I’m looking for a new challenge,’ Ashling offered nervously. Sally Healy had told her to say that.

The door opened and in came the bitten man.

‘Ah, Jack.’ Calvin Carter frowned. ‘This is Ashling Kennedy. Ash as in cigarette ash, ling to rhyme with sing.’

‘How’s it going?’ Jack had other things on his mind. He was in a foul mood. He’d been up half the night in negotiations with technicians at the TV station, while conducting almost simultaneous negotiations with a US network to persuade them not to sell their award-winning series to RTE but to Channel 9 instead. And as if his workload hadn’t already reached critical mass, he’d been charged with setting up this stupid new magazine. The last thing the world needs is another women’s magazine! But, if he was honest, the true source of his grief was Mai. She drove him insane. He hated her. He hated her so much. How had he ever thought he was mad about her! No way was he taking her calls. Never again, that was the last time, the very, very last time…

He swung himself behind the table, trying hard to concentrate on the interview – old Calvin got his boxers in such a bunch about them. In a moment or two he knew he’d be expected to ask something that sounded vaguely relevant, but all he could think about was that he might be bleeding to death. Or dying of rabies. How soon did the foaming at the mouth begin? he wondered.

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