I have managed to file almost 30,000 words so far this month in National Novel Writing Month (#nanowrimo). It’s been a good experience for me because it has taken the seed of a novel and literally forced its germination. Belonging Places will be finished by November’s end. It is three novellas bound together by the common theme of finding your belonging place, and that place is always within. Here is the first chapter from the second novella, about a career woman who seemingly has it all, but does she?

ESTELLE’S STORY

Chapter 1

She flicked the cap machine on as she whizzed through the kitchen, brush in one hand, daycare lunch in the other. A quick, furtive glance at the kitchen clock told her she had exactly 10 minutes to get Corey ready. “Joel, Joel, we’ve got to go, can you hurry…please,” she yelled up the stairwell. By some miracle he would have heard and would miraculously appear down the stairs, on time. She knew he wouldn’t be doing that, so she called again, louder this time. “Joel, Joel. Come on!”

She grabbed a piece of toast out of the toaster and smeared it with vegemite. Corey was getting fidgety in his high chair. She smiled at him, as she reached for his coat and hat from the table. “Coming my little man. Just give mummy one more minute. Joel, I’m not kidding…”

She was about to tell her husband what she really thought about his lateness but he appeared round the corner while she was in mid-sentence. His blonde hair untidy, but in a suite and with his briefcase nevertheless. “In the nick of time, by the looks of things,” he said, planting a quick kiss on her cheek as he walked past, eager to get to the cap machine. Two cappuccinos coming up,” he said, getting the stainless steel flasks out of the cupboard on his way past.

“You are a lifesaver,” she said, unstrapping her young son, the image of his blonde haired, blue eyed dad, out of the high chair. “There you go baby. Mummy’s just about ready.” She kissed his round, still baby cheeks and ran the brush lightly through his hair. “Now, let’s get your coat on. It’s brrrr cold outside and I don’t want you getting brrrr cold.” Her son looked up at her with his big blue eyes, a smile on his face. She could have said anything to him, she thought, and he would still be smiling up at her. A pang of guilt shot through her. Why was she dragging her toddler out the door on such a cold winter’s day? She shook her head. “Now let’s not go through all that again Estelle,” she said, more to herself.

“What darling? What did you say,” her husband said, bringing her coat for her.

“Nothing. Talking to myself. Going mad actually, must be this new job promotion.”

He took Corey from her and pointed to the freshly brewed cappuccinos in their steel flasks. “You take these darling and I’ll go and strap munchkins in his car seat. Oh, and Estelle don’t forget your briefcase like yesterday.”

She looked at him as if to say ‘are you questioning my memory’. “Ok Joel, yes I forgot it yesterday, but we were in such a rush…”

“Like today,” he countered. “And I’m only trying to help.”

She waved him out the door and did a last minute check of the kitchen to make sure everything was off. She picked up a half eaten vegemite toast, the baby bag for Corey and her briefcase. One last hurried look in the mirror, and a mental note to get her long black hair cut on the weekend into a more manageable, shorter style, and she was out the door.

Hopping into the car with her son and husband, she heaved a huge sigh of relief. “Made it.”

He smiled at her and flicked the car into gear. “God the day has only just begun and I’m exhausted,” he said with a grin on his face.

She smiled a half-hearted attempt in agreement and fell silent. Corey dozed in the back. She had been up half the night with him. He had come home from daycare with the snuffles, a head cold picked up from one of the other 50 children there. Another pang of guilt. Stop it, she told herself. Just stop it. She leant her head back on the plush leather headrest of their Audi. Money had not been a problem for them for the past two years. Before, she was struggling to make it up the ladder in the editorial room, and he hadn’t been promoted to senior architect. Since then, they both had received promotions, she to Editor of the Woman’s Post and he to senior partner in Bladwell & Sons Architects. They had upgraded their home to a posh part of the city, and along with the move, bought the Audi. To anyone who noticed these things, they were a highly successful couple, with a beautiful baby boy. They had, quite simply, everything…and nothing she thought. She craved a day at home and reasoned that must be why she couldn’t lift herself out of her downer. She was just tired and nearing the end of her patience with the breakneck pace of her life, and its impacts on her family.

She gazed at the blur of suburban Sydney as it whirred past the tinted glass of the Audi’s windows. They lived on the North Shore now and it was a longer drive into the City. She had found a good daycare a few suburbs along and they were approaching it. She called softly to her son. “Honey, we’re nearly at daycare. Nearly time to see Benny and Matilda. Corey, wake up.”

Her blonde haired son stirred in his seat as the car came to a stop at the daycare. “I’ll take him,” Joel said to her, unstrapping his seatbelt.

“No. I’ll do this. You know how he hates you doing it.” She unbuckled her seatbelt, got out and opened the back door. Her son, bleary eyed was beginning to look around eagerly for his two friends. “Benny,” he murmured.

“That’s right petal,” she said carrying him through the front doors. “Let’s go and find Benny.” She put him down and he ran toward the main playing room. A daycare worker was there to greet him. “Let’s go find your friends Corey, shall we?” she said brightly, and the little man grinned at her. Estelle could only look as his tiny, tiny legs disappeared through the door. She turned away. It didn’t matter how many times they did this, every time sent a shiver of anxiety through her. She just didn’t like being separated for a whole day from her baby.

Deep in thought, she returned to the car. Joel had his usual worried frown to greet her. “Ok, he got off ok?”

“Yep,” she said, glancing at her watch. “We’ll need to hurry now to beat the bridge traffic.”

They were mostly silent during the remainder of their journey into the City. Luckily they worked close by each other, and Joel had access to free parking in his building. From Joe’s building, she only needed to walk the two remaining blocks to the Woman’s Post head office, the magazine she had started on as a cadet journalist more than a decade ago. Now she was editor. She pulled out her I-pad and checked her schedule for the day. There was a meeting with the advertising manager scheduled for 8.30am, a mere 25 minutes away. She hoped she was on time. And then was an editorial meeting with the heads of department at 10.30am. Next, lunch with the Editor in Chief, and there was an afternoon brief with legal on the Bannister story they putting on the front cover – a story about a young woman who had been raped. It was a brave call to put her on the cover, but it was national rape victim’s week and the Bannister woman was topical at the moment, because she had fought back against her attackers and had escaped certain death. Her bravery was inspiring. It also helped that she was young and beautiful, and someone people could relate to – everyone’s daughter, she thought ironically.

“Umm, busy day honey,” she said, without looking at her husband.

“Me too,” he said without taking his eyes of the looming traffic. They would just make it into the City before the worst of the peak hour rush. It wasn’t long before he was manoeuvring the Audi into the spot that was reserved for him. He leant over and began kissing her goodbye.

“This weekend promise me no more bringing home work from the office,” he said.

“I won’t if you won’t,” she answered, playfully.

“Seriously,” he said, looking directly into her eyes, “we need some long overdue family time.”

She kissed him back then, a lingering kiss. “I know. I know. And we will. As soon as the Bannister story is done…but this weekend, I promise no work on Saturday. No I-pad, no mobile, just you, me and Corey.”

He smiled warmly and all was forgiven, and she was reminded yet again just how much she was still in love with her childhood sweetheart, even after a decade of marriage. She grabbed her briefcase and headed for the street exit.

“Later,” she said winking at him, as he too disappeared through the building’s carpark lift.

He blew a kiss to her, as the lift doors closed on him. She quickened her pace, to try and make the seven minute walk in five. Damn, she thought to herself, she should have brought her flats. The new heels crunched the front of her feet up, and irritated the bunion that was beginning to form on her right foot. She compensated and put most of her weight onto her left foot. Arriving at her building with exactly two minutes to spare before the meeting with Miranda Bonnington, she flew past her personal assistant.

“Mail, coffee and hold the calls. Thanks Suzie.”

Suzie gave her an understanding smile. “Sure Estelle, copy that.”

She smiled, shut her door and made herself comfortable behind the huge oak desk that had been at the Post for almost a century. She settled into the leather chair and kicked off her shoes under the desk. Firing up her computer, she took note of the messages already on her desk and began prioritising them. She grabbed her notebook and pen, a legacy of being a journalist. She took them into every single meeting she attended, whether it was with the Prime Minister or to lunch with the Chair of the Board. Pen in hand, and sifting through her emails, she was ready for Miranda when she walked through the door.

She liked Miranda, but they rarely agreed. Miranda was, after all, the enemy. She was concerned primarily with making her bonus, and ensuring that sales revenues were met. On the other hand, Estelle was always concerned with preserving the editorial quality of the magazine. They often fought, always over a request for advertorial, the kind of content dressed up to look like a story, but designed to ‘sell’ the advertiser’s products. More and more, the commercial realities intruded for Estelle and she knew that sometimes she had to give into Miranda, but not always.

Today’s meeting was over a big pharmaceutical account Miranda had landed, and she wanted editorial support for a four page advertorial feature she planning for them. They were supposed to be talking about what stories might populate the feature and Estelle had made up her mind to be hard arsed about it. It might be an advertorial feature, but it was also going to contain meaningful and helpful content, in keeping with the ethos of Woman’s Post. Estelle could have done without the meeting today with Miranda; she didn’t really feel like a fight, but she was also conscious of the Board’s expectations of her, and that was to deliver a product that brought in revenue. Content was one thing, sales were another and the two were supposed to work seamlessly together to produce the revenue. She sighed heavily, wondering what was wrong with her today. From the very start, she had been dragging her heels. Her PA phoned. Miranda was outside her office. “Send her in Suzie, thanks.”

Miranda flung the door open with such confidence and strode in, in her nine inch heels. Estelle wondered how she walked in them, when she could only manage ‘sensible’ stilettos with her bunion. She got up and extended her hand.

“Miranda Bonnington. How are you, sit down.”

Miranda fired back. “Estelle Wainwright. Long time between meetings.”

“Yeah. Sales must be going well,” she said, immediately regretting her sarcasm.

Miranda sat down in her impossible straight, short skirt, and gave her long, honey coloured hair a flick, pretending to ignore Estelle’s comment.

“Well, let’s get down to business, shall we. You might have heard that I’ve got the Raine account and we want to do a four page feature. I was wondering if I could have Steph Jones to work on it?”

Estelle closed her eyes and forced back the cynical smile that had begun to form. So typical of Miranda to want control, and taking a backdoor approach to get it.

“You and I both know that Steph is one of our lead writers and is actually working on the Bannister story at the moment. What I can give you is Dianna Greenway, but under my direction not yours. You and I both know my journalists do not answer to you Miranda. In any case, you have your sales feature writer, why not use him?”

It was Miranda’s turn to smile cynically. “You and I both know that he’s not up to the job. The Raine account needs a quality writer…”

“Which is why you can have Dianna under my supervision. You’ll get your quality.”

Miranda sensed she did not have the power in the conversation. “Ok, I can work with that, but I want to suggest the story leads.”

Estelle nodded. “Sure, send me your suggestions and I’ll consider them.”

Miranda was not going to be rolled that easily. “Well I was talking with one of the Board yesterday and they are also on the Raine Board as well. Turns out he wants the best possible stories done, and I suggested something on their leading market position…written non-commercially of course.”

“Alright Miranda, you’ve made your point. We’ll include that story in our mix. But I really need to cut this meeting short – got to get to the editorial meeting later this morning and I’ve a million and one things to do before then.”

Miranda got up, stretching her legs and smoothing her skirt like a panther arising for her morning walk. There was definitely something feline about her, Estelle thought.

“Well, I’ll be in touch, via email. Saves time.”

Estelle smiled at her. “Yes, that’d be the shot. Email.” As she watched Miranda slink her way out of her office, in her nine centimetre heels, she knew she had won the battle but Miranda had also made her point too. She needed to watch that one more closely, she thought. She yawned, and sipped her coffee which was cold. Swinging around in her chair she took in the view of the city’s skyline. What a view, she thought. Immediately Corey came into her mind, and she knew he’d be having little lunch by now.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s