Release Date: 28 March 2022
Genre: Contemporary fantasy
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Dorothy thought she lived alone…
But that was before she was able to communicate with the spirit world. Now she has a whole houseful of annoying invisible people who want to boss her around.
When Dorothy’s attempts to find a new job fail, the spirits convince her to offer her services as a clairvoyant. But her ability to communicate with the spirits disappears at the worst possible time.
Can she fake it long enough to restore contact with her spirit friends? Or will the world discover she’s just another fraud?
A standalone contemporary fantasy title about a middle aged woman in a midlife crisis. For the believers, the would-be believers, and the ordinary woman who wishes her life was just a little bit more exciting.
Bookclub discussion questions are available here.
Also available in audiobook.
The day the spirits first spoke to me started like any other Monday. I woke up twenty minutes after my alarm should have gone off. No time for breakfast. Quick shower, a dash of lipstick and a ponytail. Grabbed my battered old handbag.
As I unlocked the front door, a noise made me pause. Someone talking, a child. Not a very young one though. Teenaged maybe. But I lived alone and unless a child had somehow snuck into the house while I was sleeping, which would seem impossible considering the locked door, the logical conclusion was that I was hearing things.
I needed a holiday, that was all. I hadn’t taken a proper break in years and had even been called into work on Christmas Day. It wasn’t like it disrupted my plans since I had only intended to microwave a frozen meal and eat in front of the television. I didn’t have anyone to celebrate with, anyway. No friends to speak of and I hadn’t spoken to my parents in nine years. Not since my brother died.
They blamed me for his death. Nobody ever said it out loud, but I knew. He had tried to contact me the day he died. Left a voice mail saying he needed to talk to me urgently. I listened to the message on my lunch break. I heard the anguish in his voice, but I had too much to do that afternoon and figured I’d call him when I got home, when my boss wouldn’t be looking over my shoulder and I would have the head space to deal with whatever his problem was. But I ended up stuck at work until late and by the time I got home, I was too tired to bother. He was already dead by then, not that anyone had realised for three days. In all that time, I still never got around to returning his call.
The walk to the train station was as unpleasant as usual. I lived on a busy road and by the time I left the house each morning, exhaust fumes and car horns already filled the air. What wouldn’t I give to move out to the country somewhere? Be surrounded by grass and trees and cows. I inhaled deeply, pretending I breathed in clean, country air, and almost choked on the fumes belching from a passing truck. I made it to the station just as the train pulled in. It was a thirty-minute ride, then another two-block walk to the office.
I worked as an administrative officer for a small accounting firm. Once upon a time, we were called secretaries, but apparently that’s not politically correct these days. I don’t mind my job. Not really. It’s mindless, and some days it’s soul-sucking, but I wasn’t the sort who grew up knowing what they wanted to do with the rest of their lives and I don’t like to dwell on might-have-beens. So I go to work, do my job, and go home again.
“Morning, Mac,” I called as I passed my boss’s office. He grunted and waved, but didn’t look up from his computer. Mac — Mackenzie McKenzie — was one of those unfortunate people whose parents really didn’t think when they chose their baby’s name. He usually wasn’t very communicative, except when he wanted me to do something.
I unlocked my computer, opened my emails, and got to work. At ten o’clock, I went to the lunchroom to make a coffee. I have one coffee a day at precisely ten a.m. It’s a small vice, but I don’t have many of them. I don’t drink, don’t smoke and I’ve never taken an illegal drug. I don’t even take painkillers. So I let myself have a coffee a day and try not to think about whether that counts as an addiction. I always have two shortbread biscuits with my coffee. I guess that’s another vice.
I sat down with a sigh, thankful the break room was empty. Monday mornings were always manic. Mac worked right through the weekend, so I came in to two days’ worth of emails, mostly about letters he wanted me to type. Although he was quite proficient with email and could obviously type to some extent, he insisted on handwriting letters when I wasn’t around to dictate them to. Then he scanned them and emailed them to me. Like I said, it’s a job. It pays my mortgage.
Peggy walked in just as I finished my coffee. She was blond, pretty and vacuous. Mac had hired her less than six months ago and I was never quite sure what she did other than make another cup of coffee every half an hour. I hurried back to my desk, thankful to get away before I was forced to make small talk with her.
The rest of the day was uneventful. Oddly, Mac didn’t have much for me to do that afternoon, so I busied myself with some neglected filing. It wasn’t really one of my duties, but I can’t stand sitting around doing nothing. I popped into Mac’s office mid-afternoon to check whether he had anything else for me. He got a funny look on his face, shook his head, and swiftly busied himself with tapping away on his keyboard. More evidence he could really type.
When five o’clock arrived, I did one more check of my emails in case Mac had sent through any last-minute tasks. For once he hadn’t, and it looked like I was actually going to leave work on time. I had just retrieved my handbag from the filing cabinet beside my desk when Mac appeared in the doorway of my office.
“Dorothy, could I see you for a moment before you leave?”
“Sure, Mac, what’s the problem?”
His forehead wrinkled and he looked at his shoes.
“Let’s talk in my office, hey?”
I tried to conceal my sigh as I set my handbag on my desk and followed him down the hallway. It drove me crazy that he would leave me sitting around half the day, then load a bunch of tasks on me just as I was about to leave. It seemed today was no different after all.
We reached Mac’s office and he stood aside to let me enter the room first — an unusual courtesy from him — then closed the door. That probably should have told me to be worried, but my only thought was that the matter must be confidential.
“Dorothy, this is somewhat of an awkward thing we need to discuss.” Mac’s chair squeaked as he sat. He cleared his throat and stood up again, then positioned himself by the window, one hand tapping on the sill.
I waited, puzzled by his behaviour. Should I have brought a pen and notepad? Maybe he intended to dictate something for me to type but wanted to impress on me its importance first.
“Dorothy, I’m afraid we lost two of our biggest clients over the weekend. FBA has decided to hire their own in-house accountants and Jacobs Industries has taken their business to another accounting firm.”
“That’s terrible.” I started to get a sneaking suspicion about the reason for his nervousness.
“As you know, those two clients alone comprised almost forty percent of our work.”
I waited silently. I didn’t intend to make this easier for him.
He cleared his throat again and stared out the window.
“Dorothy, I’m afraid we’re going to have to let you go.”
Now that he had actually said it, my mind went blank.
“Of course, you’ll receive a redundancy package and I’m happy to write you a reference.”
“Of course,” I echoed, wishing I could think of a suitably crushing comment. Perhaps I wouldn’t walk out feeling like such a loser if I could think of just the right thing to say, but my mind was blank.
Mac cleared his throat again and looked longingly out the window.
“Well,” he said. “I should let you go. I mean, I should let you clear out your desk, that sort of stuff. Just forward me anything you haven’t finished yet and I’ll—“
He stopped, perhaps catching himself before he said he’d get someone else to do it. Maybe Peggy would have to become something more than just office decoration.
“Yes, of course. I’ll just get my things.”
I rose, still feeling like I should say something meaningful. I should tell him how much it hurt that he had chosen me — a hard worker who had been with him from the start — rather than the waste of space that called herself Peggy.
Then I heard a voice in my ear. It sounded as if the speaker stood real close to me, but of course there was nobody in the room other than Mac and me.
“You should wish him well with his love child,” the voice said.
I had no idea what that meant. Mac was one of the most straight-laced people I knew. He had been married for almost thirty years and I’d never heard even a whiff of office gossip about an affair.
“Don’t let me keep you, Dorothy.” Mac’s face showed his discomfort and it was clear he wanted me gone as quickly as possible.
I turned away and put my hand on the doorknob.
“You heard me, didn’t you?” the voice said. “Why now, of all times? But anyway, are you really going to leave without saying anything? You’ll regret it forever if you do. Go on, wish him well with the baby. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it. After all, he checks his stocks every hour, then emails his accountant. He was trying to come up with the money to retire in less than five years, but now his mistress is having a baby and his retirement plans are in limbo. He’s desperate to figure out how to pay for this baby without his wife finding out.”
I coughed to cover the sudden laugh that threatened to burst out of me. Was there any chance the voice might be right? At that point, I wasn’t wondering who the speaker was, or why he was invisible, only whether he told the truth. He was right. I would regret it if I didn’t say something. Finally, I turned back to Mac, who was again staring fixedly out of the window.
“I wish you all the best, Mac.” He turned back to me, his face surprised at the sincerity in my voice. “I hope everything goes well with the birth.”
I left before I laughed, but not so quickly that I missed seeing his face turn tomato red.
There wasn’t much to pack up in my office. Just my coffee cup and a small framed photo of my brother. I stashed them in my handbag, then deleted all my emails. I’d be damned if I was going to help anyone pick up the pieces after I left.
I had worked for Mac for ten years and yet it took less than ten minutes to prepare to leave. The front door shut behind me with an obnoxious squeak and I tried to feel good about walking out for the last time. I hadn’t even thought to ask how many weeks’ pay the redundancy package would be. Perhaps I should have tried to negotiate. I pushed the thought away. It was over and done with. No point going back to argue now.
“That was a pretty crappy way to let you go,” the voice said as I set off at a brisk walk.
I ignored it. There would be time later to wonder whether I was losing my mind. For now, I wanted to get home before I fell apart. It had been just Mac and me originally, back when he first started the business. It had grown since then and a lot of staff had come and gone, and yet after everything, I was still there. I would have thought that counted for something. That if he had to let someone go, it wouldn’t be me. But apparently loyalty and hard work mean nothing. I sniffed and blinked away a tear. I wouldn’t let myself cry until I got home.
“He was horrified when you mentioned the baby.” My invisible companion sounded like he was smiling.
I didn’t smile back and I didn’t respond. The voice fell silent, leaving me with only my thoughts for company on the ride home.