Lisa, a personal assistant, developed a knack of turning sideways and vanishing like an angelfish. It was an illusion, of course: if you looked closely, she was still there, but less than an inch thick. Most people did not look closely and this was her victory.
She discovered this talent outside the stationery cupboard on floor 7 — the Directors’ floor. She had been restocking their gilt-edged letterhead, a regular task because the Directors enjoyed sending out notes on fancy paper. She emerged from the cupboard and saw Pietr, twenty yards away in the squelchy-carpeted corridor.
Pietr was the worst. All the Directors considered themselves minor gods, but he had the additional trait of crazy expectations of the world around him. It made life hell. If you had to travel anywhere with him — to make coffee at a corporate event, say — then there might be a broken traffic light en route. Pietr would be furious. He took it personally. “I expect traffic lights to work,” he would splutter.
Lisa had once watched him rip the legs off a dining chair because the health and safety people had come round wanting to know if the firm provided ergonomic chairs for the staff.
Pietr exploded. Not in front of the health and safety man — he was too cunning for that — but later, when only Lisa and the cleaning lady were there. “These are the chairs,” Pietr said in a low, menacing voice “Those morons have no right to interfere in my business. If I see them here again, you’ll be sorry.”
This to Lisa. The cleaning lady spoke no English, or perhaps, spoke none when Pietr was around.
“Do you understand?” Pietr hissed.
“Yes,” said Lisa, because what else could she say? He was insane.
Then he tore the legs off the dining chair, said, “Look what you made me do!” and stalked off.
After that Lisa called in sick and started looking for another job, but there was nothing. She had to eat. She came in the next day and worked double hours because the other directors were on holiday and Pietr was furious with her.
She never saw the cleaning lady again.
Now, here she was, outside the stationery cupboard, with Pietr marching towards her, face like thunder.
Lisa thought about ducking back into the cupboard but then he might follow her in and what would she do then? He had a special hatred for her, or rather, she was his favourite, in a horrible way. She never answered back or caused him any trouble, and he loved it. She let him stand there ranting and blaming her for something the traffic lights had done, and he was satisfied that finally someone understood how the world had wronged him.
He was a big man and unashamed to use his bulk to intimidate other people. Lisa thought that even the other Directors were afraid of his lunatic outbursts. He prided himself on his unpredictable behaviour, heroically keeping everyone on their toes. Lisa was sick of it, sick of quivering, sick of how fast she jumped to placate him. Any other work crisis was a doddle by comparison. She was sick of it all, but she was trapped.
There was nowhere else to go. It was the cupboard or him, alone in this silent corridor, the deep red carpet like a runway to the premiere of The End. Pietr was angrier than she had ever seen him. This time, it would not be the dining chair he punished.
She turned sideways, eyes closed, trying somehow to minimise the impact.
And Pietr walked past her.
She opened her eyes and he was a few feet beyond her, paused, frowning. He swung his head about like a bison scenting a wolf, but his gaze passed right over her without connecting.
Lisa blinked. She swallowed, her mouth dry.
Pietr said, “Humph,” like someone in a cartoon, and stamped away to the Directors’ shiny lift.
He hadn’t seen her. He hadn’t seen her.
As the lift doors fizzed shut, Lisa glimpsed her reflection in their polished steel.
She was an inch thick. Flat. Thin. Nearly invisible.
She jumped, and turned to face the lift — and there she was, normal width. She pivoted sideways, and now she was a little chunkier, visible. A few seconds passed, her body burgeoning, then she was back to normal.
She thought of Pietr, with his purple cheeks and his piggy eyes, scanning for her.
At once she vanished. She was a wafer, a mere sliver of woman in the corridor.
She drew a calming breath — and reappeared.
She locked the stationery cupboard and walked the long way down the stairs, and by the time she reached the bottom she had a plan.
The Directors enjoyed a corporate jolly more than anything, and Lisa had to organise many champagne receptions and rooftop product launch events. At each of these, Pietr would seek her out, ready to criticise the clients, or the gross invasion of his privacy by airport security, and Lisa would vanish.
She made sure to do it when no other directors were near. As soon as another person came up, she would sidle away, then puff herself back up to regular size and smile charmingly, proffering a drink. She was better than ever at her job. She could slip through narrow gaps and be right on the spot when a client needed a top-up of bubbly, or a product information pack.
Meanwhile Pietr became confused. Without his regular punching-bag he began to expose his aggression to other people, even men. The other Directors edged away from him, signalling Lisa to shuffle customers out of the embarrassment zone.
“Hey,” Pietr called at this, the final event. The entire firm was at a glittering penthouse gallery, with Directors and staff mingling all around and the lifts delivering ever more clients to schmooze. Lisa was run off her feet. “You!” Pietr pointed a hard finger at Lisa.
Lisa turned sideways and disappeared, two feet from him.
He was incoherent, spitting. “You! I know you’re here!”
People stared as he stumbled and flailed. “He’s lost it,” someone muttered.
“I’ll find you,” he said. The clients startled and began to back away. “I’ll find you!”
“Call the police,” said another director to Lisa, who plumped into being right on cue.
Lisa smiled. “Right away.” She dialled 999 and handed the phone to the director.
Pietr windmilled his arms as Lisa twisted and vanished. “I’ll find you,” he said. “I know what you’re doing! When I find you …” But he was defeated.
Lisa slipped between the closed lift doors and rode down twenty storeys with a light heart and a client’s business card in her hand. “Call me,” the client had said, snapping her handbag shut in a confident way that Lisa admired very much. “You’re like the perfect PA. You can do better than this place. Call me.”
Lisa would call. She stepped from the lift and strode across the foyer, feeling lighter than air.