2 years ago
The Xerox machine squats silently in the corner of the office, a testament to many a “butt” and “boob” joke that inevitably follows an office party, leaving many a red face in the morning.
She was no prude, but at fifty-six years of age, she’d seen many an office caper end in tears.
Take her boss for example; she had worked for Mr Richards since she left school early on at the start of the 2nd world war. Things were much simpler then, you had a code of ethical standards to live by.
Mr Richards had lately asked her to call him Steven, but she was set in her ways and found it hard to let go of her values. It’s a pity, because she had been in love with Steven for a long time now.
Only in her thoughts, of course she was an old spinster with nothing left to give.
She knew he was a bit of a womaniser, but his ex-wife was a real bitch, she took his home and his children away from him. Of course he flirts with the office girls, but it is all in fun. And Karen didn’t mind as they rarely lasted long.
Who am I to judge? She thought. Her fiancé Ted had just 48 hours left before he left for France. He wanted them to get married straight away, but Karen wanted a full church wedding. That last, heady night of his leave, she gave herself to him openly in a field full of poppies. It was such a sacred moment, she felt they were already married and nothing could separate them.
Two months later, Karen knew She was pregnant, she wrote to Ted, but got no reply. A few months later she had a telegram saying he had died in action. Her only link to him now was the child growing inside her.
Her parents stood by her, although they were horrified. The only condition was that Karen gave her child up at birth.
Before it became too obvious, Karen was sent to a convent for “Fallen Women”. Her daughter was born on a cold, blustery February day. She was allowed only one glimpse of her tiny face and soft downy blonde hair, before the nurses whisked her off. How she longed to keep her, but after three days, the nuns said she had died of bronchitis. Karen wasn’t even allowed to go to her funeral. She was in disgrace.
Her last link to Ted had gone forever.
News travelled fast around the neighbourhood, she never had the chance to marry or have other children, she was “spoilt goods”. Steven kept her job open for her and Karen eventually became his private secretary. She reminded him of his wife and children’s birthdays and often went out to buy presents for him to give. When his wife divorced him, Karen stood by him, secure in the knowledge that he had no idea of her feelings for him.
Then came the night of the office Christmas party. Normally, she would slip away quietly, but this year Steven persuaded her to join in. The combination of the alcohol, which Karen never drank and the nearness of Steven, allowed her to let her hair down. She remembered little of that night, except for a long dance with Steven, followed by a gentle kiss.
The party must have moved on, because Karen woke from a light doze to find herself all alone.
Still feeling happy, she downed some more punch, never knowing how lethal it was.
She had vague memories of shedding all her clothes and doing the unthinkable deed. Yes, she visited the Xerox machine.
Close up, it seemed much larger than normal, but her head was still fuzzy with drink. Pressing her cool naked body to the warmth of the machine, she became engulfed in a bright white light. It was so peaceful; she must have gone to sleep again.
Imagine her horror when she woke up the next day in the office, fully clothed in a short skirt and a clingy top. This was not her at all. Could she still be dreaming?
The clatter of high heels on the staircase convinced her she was awake. A hurried rush to the Ladies only confirmed what Karen already knew. A quick splash of cold water showed her face as she had been at sixteen. Is this what hangovers do to you, or had some fool spiked my drink? She thought.
She could not stay in there until home time, Hurrying to her desk, she was stopped by Steven before she got there. Catching hold of her hand, he rushed her into his office; Karen was too puzzled to do anything else except go along with him.
“Mary”, he said, “there is something really important I have to say to you.” although we have had some good times together, our relationship must end. I am tired of playing the field; I need to settle down again. I’m sorry if I have hurt you, but I’m going to ask Karen to marry me. She has stood by me all the years I played the fool, and now I want to make her my wife”.
Mary tried so hard to gasp out,” it’s me, I’m Karen,” but the words that came out of her mouth were quite different. “Steven, don’t leave me, I’m having your baby, and I love you.“
A long silence filled the room. At last he said, “Mary, I’m so sorry but missing Karen this morning made me realise how much I need her. Of course I will pay for the baby if you want to keep it, but there is something you don’t know. Karen lost her fiancée in the war, and her child was adopted, it was her choice. Surely, as a modern woman you can do the same.“
Not one word escaped their lips, in that moment, Mary and Karen fused together. Inside she was still much of Karen, but outside she was the cool, calm sophisticated Mary, the name she chose for the daughter she believed was dead.
In that moment, all her love for Steven died. How could he abandon his child so easily?
She owed far more to her beloved daughter Mary. Where and how she got here doesn’t matter.
They had a second chance at life and they would not waste a second of it.
As for Steven, Karen now knows the secret of the Xerox machine, and soon, Karen and Mary will have their revenge.
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