“What’s this in aid of?” Julie stood before Tina’s desk, her chest heaving, her face red. She was holding out a sheet of paper torn from the wall above the sink in the staff kitchen.
“What it says,” said Tina, keeping her eyes on her monitor. Julie let out a roar of contempt. She held the paper as though it were a scroll and read it out in a declamatory tone.
“A message from the cups,” she began. She rolled her eyes and cleared her throat but Tina wasn’t watching. Tina continued to type – or affected to. Julie went on. “‘Please don’t leave us unwashed and lying around like neglected children. Put us to beddy-byes in the dishwasher.’ What is this shit, Tina?”
“People need to wash up their cups,” Tina shrugged her narrow shoulders. She pressed her thin lips together so Julie wouldn’t see them tremble.
“But this!” Julie brandished the poster. “This passive-aggressive bollocks. We’re not children, Tina. Look at this: there’s a clipart picture of a cup and saucer with googly eyes. And it says THANK YOU with about twenty exclamation marks, for crying out loud.”
“I’m not prepared to discuss this with you, not while you’re being so emotional, Julie.”
Julie roared again, out of frustration this time. She turned away and Tina held her breath; perhaps Julie was about to leave – but no, she merely closed the door. Gently – which surprised Tina. Usually Julie went in for the all-out slam. Tina’s eyes darted around for potential escape routes. She didn’t like having the buxom frame of Julie between her and the exit. Julie pulled up a chair and sat.
“Is this about me? Is it? Some kind of dig?” Her voice was even, measured, all anger abated.
“Not if you wash your cups,” Tina sniffed, keeping her eyes averted. Perhaps she should switch on the intercom then everyone in the outer office would hear and could come to her rescue if Julie turned ugly. Uglier.
“Not that bit. This bit. The bit about the abandoned children.”
“It doesn’t say ‘abandoned’, it says ‘neglected’.”
“Oh, you would say that, wouldn’t you?” Tina sprang to her feet and snatched the paper. She tore it into pieces, sobbing with fury.
“Tina!” Julie reached out. “Tina – love.”
Tina recoiled. “Don’t you ‘love’ me! You never loved me.”
Julie shook her head. “I knew you working here was a mistake. Listen, I’ve told you before. I gave you up for adoption because I couldn’t give you the life you deserved. I was too young. No prospects. But look at you now: office manager, team leader. I am proud of you, you know.”
Tina sniffed. She rooted in the sleeve of her cardigan for a tissue and blew her nose.
“Look,” Julie smiled, “You’ve got to know me. I’m not the mothering sort, am I? Although it’s not me leaving the mugs out.” She leaned in, confidentially, “I reckon it’s that Janice in Accounts.”
Tina looked up from behind her crumpled tissue. “Really?”
“Bet you any money. You see, if you want to know something, just ask. No need to dress it all up in silly notices, is there?”
“No,” Tina giggled. “Feel silly now.”
“Well, there’s no need, is there?” Julie moved to the door. “Send her in, shall I? Janice?”
“Just a minute.” Tina composed herself and sat up straight. She pointed an imperious finger at the chair Julie had just vacated. “I’ve had a word with HR about you cooking your fish in the microwave.”