Short stories for mums – We aim to please

Short stories for mums – We aim to please

What’s this? Am I really posting a short story on my blog, over a year after I last wrote a piece of fiction. Why, yes I am!

Hi lovely readers, you may have noticed that I have not been very active on the blog other the last 12 months. I have been busy raising three tiny humans and then coronavirus and lockdown happened and I haven’t really been in the best head space for writing. I have missed it though. I have been doing a bit of old school pen and paper journal writing but I have found it hard to craft blog posts lately.

To try and get into the swing of things and to encourage myself to start writing more regularly, I have decided to start posting regular pieces of fiction here on my blog again . Previously these stories focused on mums and mental health, (you can find those short stories here) I might still write about those kinds of issues but I also want to explore writing about topics other than motherhood too.

So, my first short story to relaunch my fiction series is called We aim to please.

Here’s a quick synopsis – 

Emily is a people pleaser. She always has been and worries she always will be. 

One day at work, Emily decides enough is enough and vows she is going to stand up to her boss and finally speak her mind. 

Will Emily be able to break the habit of a lifetime? Or will her opinions and views remain trapped on the inside. 

I hope you enjoy We aim to please. I am (obviously)  not a professional writer and have only ever dabbled in fiction writing so I would really appreciate your honest feedback. 

Happy reading!

Short stories for mums – We aim to please. 

 

I’m trying not to get distracted by the smudges on the glass as I stare at myself in the bathroom mirror. I have half an hour until my meeting with Simon. Only thirty short minutes left before I finally break the habit of a lifetime.

I stare back into my own blue eyes. I quickly dab away splodges of mascara, the black spots that give away the secret toilet cry I’ve just had. Another quick look around the bathroom confirms all the cubicles are empty and I am still alone. My reflection holds my gaze and I practice saying the same seven words I have been saying to myself for the past ten minutes, five of the seven are words that catch it my throat on an infuriatingly regular basis.

 

‘I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.’

 

No, it won’t do. There’s still not enough conviction in my voice. I try again.

 

‘I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.’

 

Where’s the confidence, the self-belief, the voice that is to be taken seriously? It is still coming out as a mumble, I sound like a child. I need to try again.

 

‘I don’t agree with you Mr Thom…’

 

The door to the toilets swings open and Sue darts into the cubicle nearest the hand dryers. Maybe she didn’t just see me talking to myself, hopefully I haven’t given her yet another reason to think I’m in need of psychological help.

 

‘Stressed about your meeting with Simon, are you Em?’ Sue asks from behind the cubicle door, confirming that she did in fact hear me pretending to talk to our boss in the grubby staff toilets mirror.

 

‘Umm, yes. I don’t like these monthly supervisions. I’m sure I’m stressing over nothing though.’ It’s clear to Sue, myself and ever the taps and the soap dispensers that I don’t really feel like my stress is unnecessary. I plough on with the lie regardless, smoothing my brown hair down and sweeping it in a professional looking fashion over one shoulder. ‘These supervision are never as bad as I think. Anyway, see you on the other side Sue.’

 

I don’t hear Sue’s response as I quickly slip out of the ladies and try to force my limbs into the walk of a confident woman who is not afraid to speak her mind. I may as well be trying to walk like an octopus.

 

When I reach the meeting room Simon is nowhere to be seen. The kettle in the corner shows no signs of recent activity so I fill it with water and bring it to life with a flick of the switch. I wonder where Simon is, he is so the type of man to get off on wasting a woman’s time. He’s probably down in the canteen getting himself a barista made extra strong coffee, while I’m up here waiting for him, wondering if I should also make him a cup of the same tasteless instant I’m making for myself. I don’t for a second think he’s considering whether he should buy me a latte or something and in spite of his presumed selfishness and the time and coffee granules I’m wasting, I busy myself making our drinks and sit down at the large table.

 

God, I don’t like Simon. I don’t think it’s because he’s my boss and is five years younger than me. His career progression is a mystery to me, he has no impressive qualifications and only possesses limited experience in this sector, yet he is somehow managing a whole team of people, each with a degree of 2:1 or above. I’m over that. I wouldn’t want his job anyway, management appears more of an exercise in popularity than a passion for the work you are telling everyone else around you to do.

 

I also know my dislike doesn’t stem from the fact that Simon is so devastatingly good looking that I clearly have no other choice but to repulse him. My hatred is a carefully constructed barrier to prevent myself from drooling every time his lean body enters the office and to stop me launching myself across the desk towards him. No, that’s definitely not the case (although, there’s no denying he is very attractive. In a parallel universe he is either a Hollywood heartthrob or a male swimwear model. Or both.). The reason I don’t like him is because he doesn’t really listen. He asks questions but doesn’t care about my answers. He loves the sound of his own voice, he just uses other people as a soundboard. Simon is definitely the type of man who has conversations with himself in the mirror on the regular and I am willing to bet good money he doesn’t question his sanity over it at all.

 

‘I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.’

 

Also, it pisses me off that he makes me call him Mr Thompson. He’s twenty five, he’s my boss not my teacher. I’m surprised he’s not written a new policy that requires us all to put our hands up every time we want to ask a question and to put our fingers on our lips when it’s his turn to speak.

 

‘I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.’

 

Why is it so easy to say this in my head? I know these words are going to get trapped in my throat, I know it’s going to feel like the sentence is strangling me from the inside. If I want to get anywhere in this job, in this life even, I need to let the words that are in my head be the same words that leave my mouth. I’m exhausted with the self-analysis or inevitable self-loathing and regret that follows every time I say what people want me to say, instead of saying what I want to say.

 

‘I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.’

 

This is easy. Yes, Simon isn’t here yet and I’m muttering these words under my breath in an empty room like someone deranged but can’t I just pretend the room is empty whenever his highness decides to show up and start this meeting?

 

In perfect sync with my train of thought, here is the man himself. Simon swings the meeting room door open and stares at me for a good few seconds too long before he starts to speak. A power move, perhaps? I’m past caring at this point.

 

I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson. I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.

 

I repeat the phrase again, this time in my head. I say the words over and over as I arrange my face into an oh-I’m-so-pleased-to-see-you-and-not-at-all-pissed-off-that-you’re-ten-minutes-late expression.

‘Emily, hi. You’re here for your supervision?’ Simon asks me as he strides towards the meeting table, laptop in one hand and a huge take out coffee in the other. No sign of a morale boost in the shape of a latte for me, I knew it.

 

Why is he pretending like he’s not sure why I’m here? Or is his uncertainty genuine? It wouldn’t surprise me. I’ve seen the state of this man’s online diary and it’s not pretty.

 

‘Yea, it’s our monthly supervision today.’ I confirm, I wonder if I need to give him a thumbs up for getting it right. No need, I watch as a smug little I Knew It smile lights up his eyes.

 

‘Fab. That’s great. Let’s get started then.’ Simon ignore the cup of coffee I’ve made him and placed two chairs away from myself. Instead he takes a stroll around the table and sits himself in the chair at the end, the black squishy one that spins around on wheels and, if rumours are to be believed, has a built in massage setting and a switch that turns on heating in the padded seat. I’m not sure why you would want a toasty bum whilst trying to hold an important meeting, maybe it’s something I’ll only understand if I make my way to the top of the career ladder.

 

Second power move of our interaction completed, Simon stares at me from his throne and begins talking at me about my job. He tells me what I’ve been doing, obviously he doesn’t ask. He checks his laptop to answer his own questions about certain clients I’ve been dealing with, it would be quicker for him to just ask me but he seems to enjoy telling me what I’ve been doing every day for the past month. The whole purpose of these meetings is for us to have a discussion about my work and for me to flag any problems I may be having or any ideas I might have about how we can move forward as a company. Instead, Simon takes big gulps of his coffee, tells me I have been off sick twice in the last four weeks. He doesn’t care why – it was a stomach bug – he just repeats more than once that regular sickness will not be tolerated.

 

‘I’m sorry, Mr Thompson. Next time I have a stomach bug I will still come into work and I will try my very best to not vomit all over my computer screen or shit all over the office floor.’

 

I don’t say that. Imagine if I were to say that!

 

‘I’m sorry, it won’t happen again. I understand. I’m sorry.’ These are the words that do manage to escape my body and I want to punch myself for saying them with such ease. It’s hardly a mystery why no one takes me seriously when I can’t even be honest to myself.

 

‘Good. I hope you do understand Emily because we can’t afford to have you not show up for work. I don’t have a secret hide out at the back of my office full of people eager to jump to your desk and start typing. But there are hundreds of people who are looking for jobs. So you do understand why repeat absence is not acceptable, don’t you?’ Simon stares at me, eyebrow raised. Ugh, why does that make him even more attractive? Now I want to punch him instead of myself. Maybe a bloodied nose would make it easier to despise the exterior of the man whose personality makes my skin crawl.

 

‘I can’t help getting food poising, SIMON! If there’s a queue of people lining up at the door for my job then please go ahead and give it to them. I don’t want to work for you anymore anyway.’

 

Just imagine!

 

Instead I say, ‘I understand. I promise it won’t happen again.’

 

The meeting passes with very little input from me. I nod, provide a few encouraging sounds of agreement and cautiously correct Simon when he says we have had five new clients in the past month. Naturally I apologise when I tell him he’s wrong. ‘I’m sorry Mr Thompson, we’ve actually had eight new clients since October.’ A nod of the head is all I get but I’m past expecting anything more than that.

 

I zone him out, he’s not really talking to me or seeking any input from little old me so I practice my line in my head as I know the inevitable question is coming.

 

I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson. I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.

 

‘So, Emily. Let’s talk about maternity leave, shall we?’ Simon claps his hands together and looks at me dead in the eye. I have no idea who he is getting his management advice from but ever since I turned 30 last autumn, at every monthly supervision Simon has felt the need to share his views on women who take maternity leave with me.

 

What is it with this assumption that all women suddenly become these crazy beings ruled by hormones and broodiness as soon as they reach the big three oh. If Simon took any interest in my life whatsoever he would know that I’m not in a relationship and have no immediate plans to start having babies. I won’t pretend I don’t see a family in my future but I’m good on the baby front for now, my ovaries haven’t started crying out to me in desperation yet.

 

Here he goes, talking about how maternity leave is a holiday, declaring his opinions as facts.

 

‘Mums can pump breast milk right from birth, there’s really no reason why they can’t return to work after a couple of weeks recovery time.’

 

‘Women expect too much from their employers these days.’

 

‘It is totally possible for women to work after only three hours sleep.’

 

‘Mums can bond with their babies outside of working hours.’

 

His views are so atrocious they’re almost laughable. The first few time’s he spouted these unforgivably blatant sexist, misinformed and discriminatory statements at me it took all my energy to not let my jaw fall down and smash all the way through the table onto the scratchy grey carpet. I should have reported him to HR but obviously I didn’t do that. I didn’t want to lose my job but more maddeningly, I didn’t want Simon to be mad at me. Maybe I am just a child trapped in a woman’s body? A scared little girl who doesn’t want to get in trouble.

 

I have often wondered how a man of Simon’s age holds such opinions and believes in them so strongly? I feel like someone needs to have a frank and brutal conversation with his parents. A few times I have gently tried to push his train of thought back onto the correct track, the one that belongs in this century and not a time where the patriarchy was never questioned but I’ve always been too scared to push hard enough to make any difference. My voice is never loud enough, or confident enough. I’ve never felt brave enough.

 

I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson

.

‘It’s ridiculous, this expectation for a year long holiday. A holiday paid for by their employers! Don’t you agree, Emily?’

 

I stare at him, the words begin to simmer at the back of my throat. You can do this Emily. I take a breath, I picture the words sliding up into my mouth and flying off my tongue like a jet leaving the runway.

Say it.

 

‘I don’t think you’re wrong Mr Thompson.’

 

For. Fucks. Sake.

 

I hate myself sometimes, I really really do.

 

Simon, who has not battled with an ounce of inner turmoil during this conversation smiles and taps his hands hard twice on the table in victory. In this moment I don’t know who I hate more, myself or my boss.

 

‘Excellent. That really is excellent to hear Emily.’ He stands and leaves his empty coffee cup on the table, I guess I’ll put that in the bin then. He starts making his way to the door.

 

My declaration of disagreement retreats, embarrassed, away from my vocal chords and slides down into an uncomfortable knot in the pit of my stomach.

 

‘Make sure you pencil in another meeting for the same time in four weeks please Emily. I’ve got another meeting now with head office. Happy Monday.’ Then he’s gone, through the door in a blur of grey and white and no idea that he’s basically put me through thirty minutes of torture.

 

Maybe I need therapy? Maybe I need to delve deeper into the archives of Dr Google? This people pleasing, this ease with which I ignore my own thoughts and feelings to gratify someone else’s really needs to stop.

 

I’m too poor for therapy. I’m too anxious to scroll past page one of google. For now I’ll have to settle for a counsellor in the form of my best friend Molly. I’ll phone her tonight.

 

Back at my desk, the office is empty as everyone has cleared out onto the high street in search of a lunch better than the company canteen can offer. I catch my eye in the computer monitor. I’m ashamed to look at myself, I don’t want to hold my own gaze. I promised myself I would stop the people pleasing, that I’d let the words in my brain run free for once. I couldn’t keep that promise and I am so angry at myself.

 

I don’t agree with you Mr Thompson.

 

I waste the rest of my lunch hour talking to my slightly distorted face in my computer screen. If I keep up this momentum, maybe I can correct a lifetime of silencing myself by my next monthly supervision.

 

The rest of the day passes in an uneventful blur of emails and phone calls and video conferences with clients. As five o’clock arrives I start packing up my bag and Sue wanders over to my desk.

 

‘Fancy a few drinks? I know it’s Monday but isn’t that more of a reason to get a bit tiddly?’ She smiles at me and my fondness for Sue grows at her use of the word tiddly. I like Sue but I don’t want to go out drinking with her tonight, I feel like saying no is not an option available to me though.

 

I don’t want to go to the pub. I want to go home, eat whatever left overs I can find in the fridge, I think there’s some lasagne, watch Netflix, phone Molly and quite possibly have a cry about how pathetic I feel.

‘So, pub? Yes?’

 

‘Go on then Sue, let’s go to the pub.’ I link my arm through hers like we’re school girls and pretend to be absolutely ecstatic at the thought of getting hammered on a Monday night.

 

I need to get this people pleasing thing under control. Maybe it is only going to happen when someone tells me that’s what they want.

 

‘Emily, your people pleasing has to stop. Please refrain from only saying what you think other people want you to say and start saying how you really feel. Do you agree we need to stop this behaviour immediately?’

 

‘I, for once, actually agree with you Mr Thompson.’

 

Imagine!

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Are you a people pleaser like Emily? I would love to hear your experiences in the comments. Also, if you have any constructive criticism or writing advice I would love for you to share in in the comments.

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1 Comment

  1. June 5, 2020 / 9:44 pm

    Hi Wendy I love your short stories! So glad they’re back, perfect for a quick coffee break read. Thanks for posting and can’t wait for the next one xxx

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