‘Pss, Meike,’ Peirene pulls me into a corner of the office. ‘I need to talk to you, urgently!’ she whispers. ‘Meet me in the loo in five minutes.’ She’s about to head back to her desk. Instinctively, I catch her by the sleeve.
‘What’s the matter,’ I ask in a normal tone.
The Nymph’s eyes widen in horror. ‘Lower your voice, please,’ she hisses, throwing an alarming glance over her shoulder towards James and our intern Julia. ‘I don’t want them to know.’ She pauses: ‘I really need to talk to you. It’s concerning the reputation of our company.’ Lines furrow her forehead.
Five minutes later we meet in the bathroom. Peirene’s behaviour in the office was most peculiar indeed. And so I, too, am now slightly concerned.
‘Have you observed James and Julia lately? Are you aware what they are up to behind your back?’ The Nymph is breathless. ‘You know, this desk arrangement in our new office doesn’t work at all. You are sitting with your back towards your assistant and the intern. They could do anything and you wouldn’t notice. In fact: You are not noticing. You are totally oblivious to what is going on in our office.’ Peirene is speaking so fast, I have problems following her.
‘Peirene, what’s the problem?’
She blurts out: ‘They are on their phones ALL THE TIME! For the last two weeks at least. They are not working. They are busy chatting to their friends. ALL DAY!’
The Nymph is now so agitated that she has flushed red.
‘But they are meant to be on their phones,’ I say while I wet a flannel and pass it to her. ‘Here, cool your face.’ Then I explain the phone calls: ‘James and Julia are working their way through all the Waterstones in the country, talking to the booksellers on the shopfloor. To see who has heard about us and whether they would like taster reading copies of our books. They had some wonderful response. Some booksellers are so excited to hear about us, especially in the smaller towns.’
The Nymph’s face has disappeared behind the flannel. I wonder if she is keeping it there for longer than necessary because she’s embarrassed having made such a fuss for nothing.
I’m wrong. When she pulls the clothes away, her eyes gleam with a self-righteous sparkle.
‘I’m pleased to hear that. Although, it doesn’t change the fact that while they are on the phone ALL DAY, I have to do everything else. ALL DAY.
The penny drops. I now understand what’s concerning the Nymph.
‘So, you are overworked?’ I ask. She nods. ‘Fair enough,’ I reply. ‘How about if I ask James to cut the calls short today and help you with other stuff in the office?’
‘Thank you,’ the Nymph sighs and the lines have finally disappeared from her forehead.
By Meike Ziervogel
Image by Richard, creative commons.
This blog was originally published as part of Peirene Press‘s series Things Syntactical. The Pain and Passion of a Small Publisher on 27 March 2017