Part 1: A story about a meeting
“Right then, what have we got?” said Bev.
The weekly news meeting: held the day before deadline and sponsored by caffeine and panic.
Clara drew diagonal lines in the margin of her notebook as she waited for Beth, the chief reporter, to finish going through her news list.
Her main preoccupation today was what to make for tea. If she finished her page seven lead before lunch she could go to Tesco for ingredients before the council meeting at 2pm.
The buzz of Beth’s voice continued in the background as Clara remembered she needed to pick up carpet cleaner to get rid of the sardines her flatmate had smeared into the carpet the night before. She wrote “Vanish” in the margin.
“Clara, you can go,” said Kat, interrupting her train of thought.
Clara jolted and looked up at the editor. “Sorry,” she said, flustered, “What was…?”
Kat threw her an irritated look.
“Beth’s going to crown, so you’ll have to go knock the family of this dead kid in Greece,” said Bev.
“Oh, right…” Clara said, scrambling for a blank piece of notepaper and pretending to make notes. “Yes, sure.”
“Beth can give you the details and it’s probably going to go on front so, you know…” continued Bev, trailing off. There were times when the news editor failed to hide her lack of faith in Clara’s capabilities quite spectacularly.
“Do your best,” she said finally.
Clara nodded. “Yes… of course.”
“OK, what else?” said Kat with a businesslike manner, turning her attention to the rest of the newspaper.
Clara groaned inwardly. She’d so far managed to avoid all death knocks by virtue of the fact that Beth wrote the splash every week. Returning to her desk and swallowing a mouthful of cold tea, she grimaced at the task at hand and wasted another 30 seconds rearranging some pieces of paper.
“Do you know where you’re going?” said Bev, pointedly.
“Yes,” Clara said irritably. She was hardly in a hurry to go and ask a bereaved mother how her pissed up son managed to fall off a balcony in Kos.
Part 2: A story about death
Clara switched off the engine and took the key out of the ignition, letting her hand drop heavily to her lap. The rain pounded the windscreen at an almost horizontal angle, befitting the mood perfectly.
She briefly looked down at her phone, her thumb hovering over the number for the newsroom. She looked back at the street with its two-up two-down terraces and wrinkled her nose.
Clara had a choice, bought to her attention by a former colleague who’d recently quit journalism for PR. She could go and have the door of the house slammed in her face with a swift “fuck off”, or, she could wait 15 minutes, call Bev and say no-one was in.
She looked back at the phone and sighed heavily. As much as she wanted to, lying was not her strong suit.
Clara clattered down the empty street under a large floral umbrella she’d bought as a souvenir in Japan. It hadn’t survived the trip home well and tilted to the left, allowing rogue raindrops to soak through the pages of the notepad in her right hand.
“Bollocks,” she hissed, ink staining her fingers. She stuffed it in her bag and slowed as she turned the corner – yet another delaying tactic to put off the inevitably awkward conversation she was about to have.
Dithering for another few seconds outside the house, she rapped quickly on the door and stepped back, praying no one would answer.
The white PVC handle turned and a drawn face peered out of the small crack in the door.
“Hi,” Clara started, launching into the spiel she’d rehearsed in the car. “I’m so sorry to bother you I’m from the Gazette and I’m looking for Chris Taylor’s family have I got the right house?”
The woman stared at her.
“Sorry, what?” she said, hoarsely.
“Sorry,” Clara repeated nervously, “The Gazette. The local paper. I just wondered if you wanted to pay tribute to Chris.”
The woman looked bewildered and seemed to struggle for words.
“No… You’ve got the right house, but we don’t want to talk,” she said, closing the door even before the last words left her mouth.
“I understand, but if you change your mind…”
Clara held out a business card but the door was already shut. She pushed it through the letter box and looked up and down the street. Training told her to try a neighbour lest she return to the office empty handed.
An elderly woman answered and seemed all too happy to invite Clara in.
“Oh he was such a nice boy,” she cooed. “He used to help me carry my shopping bags when he was little, but then he moved away to live with his father some time ago.
“I haven’t seen him in years… So sad…” She tutted.
Perched on the edge of the sofa, Clara tried to place the smell in the living room and decided upon boiled cabbage.
“When did you last see Chris?” she asked, breathing through her mouth.
The pensioner edged over to the mantelpiece and held out a black and white picture of a young boy.
“This is my son, Peter,” she said. “He died when he was nine.” She nodded and grasped the picture in her hands. “Chris was a bit like him actually,” she said, staring at the image.
“Right,” said Clara, with a pause. “And, uh, what was Chris like when he was a boy?”
“Oh Peter was a lovely boy… yes he was. He was just like his dad. He had such good manners, he did. Such a sweet boy.“
Clara waited politely while the woman replaced the photo and slowly stood.
“Well, thank you so much for inviting me in, but I must be getting back to the office now. Thanks again,” she said, edging toward the door.
“Bye,” the woman said with a watery smile.
Back out on the street, Clara hurried back to her car. Once inside she placed her forehead on the steering wheel and wondered how on earth she’d ended up chasing stories about death for a living.