“Holy crap, Marie, what’s wrong?”
She opened her eyes and found that Jimmy was standing over her, a concerned look on his face and car keys in his hand. He looked down at her, and she wondered when he’d got so tall.
“Marie! Marie, can you hear me?”
She nodded, and tried to move, remembering the chains holding her in place. Her arms and legs all moved, and her hand hit the leg of the desk. She looked at that now, puzzled again, and realised that she was sitting on the floor. Jimmy’s hand, now free of car keys, plunged down in front of her face and she flinched back.
“Marie? Let me help you up. What happened, why were you screaming?” He paused, looking at her. “Why are you on the floor? Did someone push you off the chair?”
“I don’t know,” she said. She took his hand, noticing that his skin was warm and dry, and felt faintly scaly like a lizard’s. He gripped her strongly and pulled, and she came easily to her feet. “I was… I was cataloguing,” she said. She looked around for the statue and found it on the desk still. “I was just deciding where to put the new statue.”
Jimmy looked over at it too, and then pushed her gently back down on to the chair so that he could pick it up. As he did so he looked surprised.
“It’s freezing,” he said. “That’s odd, how did it get that cold?” He put it down again, and she noticed that it stuck slightly to his skin, so that his hand pulled slowly away from it as though it were made of toffee.
“It was cold when I brought it in here,” she said. “I think it’s because it’s made of stone.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Jimmy. “Stone’s dense, it picks up the ambient temperature and maintains it for a while. Did you put this in the fridge while you were getting ready to open up? That’s really no way to treat the exhibits, and you’ll have to stop doing that. There are plenty of people out there who’d be pleased to have a job like yours you know, it’s indoors work and there’s no heavy lifting. Just a little bit of cleaning, a little bit of record keeping. I could get a replacement for you, no problem.”
“I didn’t put it in the fridge!”
“Then why is it this cold? What did you do with it?”
“I brought it in here and put it down there. It was cold when I picked it up too!” She pointed at where the statue had been. Jimmy shook his head.
“Look, it’s a stupid lie,” he said. “I can feel cold it is, and it’s not even cold in here. I don’t know what’s going on, but I want you to stop putting these things in the fridge, and I expect better of you. Don’t lie to me, but especially don’t tell me stupid lies. That just makes you look stupid, Marie.”
She felt tears pricking the corners of her eyes and knew that she was going to cry.
“Yes, boss,” she said quickly, quietly. If she could get him to go away then she wouldn’t have to worry about not crying in front of him. “I’m very sorry.”
“Well good,” he said. “You shouldn’t lie to me, Marie. There’s only you and me here most of the time, it’s not like I can’t help but find out. Now, why were you screaming?”
“I fell off the chair,” she said. “I was twisting around to get my pen off the floor, and I fell off the chair and hit my head. I screamed then.”
“Jeez, you must have a good pair of lungs then,” said Jimmy, and his eyes lingered on her chest for a moment. Then they’d moved back up and caught her gaze, and she looked into his pale blue eyes and felt for an instant like he was looking straight through her. “I heard you all the way out on the street. Can you be a bit quieter next time, unless someone’s actually trying to kill you?”
“Yes boss.” She was staring, she knew, but she didn’t dare blink in case the tears started.
“Fine, well I’ve got to go then. Get the statue catalogued and put it out there, and try not to get murderated in the process, hey?” He flashed her a smile as quick as a rattlesnake’s bite and turned away. “I’ll be out all day I think, so you’re in charge till I get back. Make you lock up securely, too.” He was walking away as he spoke, and she knew from experience that he never looked back. Which was fortunate as she was now crying silently.
Marie turned away when she was sure that Jimmy had left and her shoulders shook as she let her emotions overwhelm her. Jimmy was often unfeeling and unsympathetic and she’d never really got used to it but she’d learned to expect it. Even so, this time seemed much worse than usual, and there’s was a hollow, gnawing sensation inside her that seemed to bring the tears on. She cried silently still, hot tears nestling in the corners of her eyes until they ran down her cheeks and cooled, running chilly along her jaw line and dripping off the point of her chin.
“Are you ok?” Janet’s voice was warm, concerned, and she slipped an arm around Marie’s shoulders. “What’s happened? Did you drop something again?”
Marie shook her head, her voice deserting her. She half-turned, pressing her face against Janet’s shoulder and Janet drew her in slightly, comforting her. Janet’s hand brushed her fringe back from her face.
“What happened then? Did Jimmy upset you? You know he doesn’t really mean it, he just doesn’t think before he speaks. Ever.” There was a tiny acidity to Janet’s words, just enough to be noticeable without really needing question.
“Sort of,” said Marie, gulping air in through her sobs and spitting the words out afterwards. “I – I fell – off the chair.”
“Sounds like you needed a hand up, not a dressing down,” said Janet. “Did he tell you off?”
Marie shook her head and pulled away from Janet. She heaved a huge breath and blew it out, puffing up her cheeks until it was all gone. She felt shaky still, but stabilised and able to speak.
“Not quite,” she said, her words fast to try and keep the tears back. “I fell off and I think I must have screamed; he said I screamed like I was being murdered.”
“That’s an exaggeration then,” said Janet. “What a stupid thing to say!”
“Then he accused me of putting the statue in the fridge,” she said. “He said it was too cold.”
Marie pointed and Janet looked at it. “Ugly,” she said. “I can’t say I’d want that in my house. He thinks you put it in the fridge?”
Marie nodded. “But I didn’t,” she said.
Janet reached out and laid a finger gently on the statue’s arm. “Well it is pretty cold,” she said, sounding puzzled. “That is a bit weird. Didn’t you tell him that you didn’t put it in the fridge?”
“Yeah, of course I did. He wouldn’t listen, he just kept saying that I must have. Then he said I wasn’t to do it again.”
“Even though you didn’t do it the first time,” said Janet. “Well he’s just an idiot then, isn’t he?” Marie nodded and smiled now. Her makeup had smeared and her mascara was mostly black rivulets all down her face. “It’s not worth thinking about, Marie. Just ignore him, and go and get yourself tidied up. When you look like yourself again you’ll be able to put him behind you. He’s just a man remember, and they just want to think that they know everything.”
“Yeah,” said Marie. She heaved another huge breath, and shook her head slowly, her dark hair falling back across her face. “Yeah, I had better go and clean myself up, I must look a mess.”
“Not as bad as Jimmy even on a good morning,” said Janet, winking.
“And then I need to get the statue put away, and entered in the catalogue. Drat, I was hoping to get it all done before we opened.”
“We’ll open a little late then,” said Janet. “It’s not like we’ve got a queue of people waiting to get in.”
“One day though,” said Marie managing a weak little smile. “One day we’ll have them queueing round the block to get in. We’ll show them all!”