Was it just a cock-up or a wake-up call too? Marcus knew the latter category well. Valentine’s Day had been welcome, because it made him realise the depth of his feelings for Bree and hers for him. At the other end of the scale had been his ex and business partner Deni’s sudden stop, her inner fragility revealed.
Now there was this: several thousand copies of the latest edition of The London Idea still at the printers awaiting distribution, plus the hundred copies in the office across the road from where Marcus was now sitting in Al’s Café. Lifting the first copy each month from its tightly bound bale was usually a thrill and so it had been till he flipped it over and saw his glaring error.
Wake-up call didn’t even come close; it was more like a klaxon call for an exodus. Maybe it wasn’t on the scale of the Oscars gaffe, but it was in its own way serious and Marcus was solely accountable. Deni cast her commercial gaze over the layouts and made changes, but he had final sign-off. Deni had done her part: she’d forwarded on the ad agency’s edited ad for Marcus to send on to the designer. Simple enough. Only he’d got distracted by Deni. And Bree. On top of all the reservations about the futility of his working life.
Or his life in general? He was still concerned about the significance of his mudlarking venture on the South Bank last week. He’d convinced himself that he’d embellish the incident to share, he was meant to be creative after all. Say he’d joined a flash mob. Stumbled onto a publicity stunt. Or a cool pop-up bar. The reality had been much more dull, and Deni had undone him with a look of disappointment. He’d told the dreary truth about scrabbling in the mud for a stranger’s necklace chain, in vain. There’d been nothing to show for his efforts, except his ruined Onitsuka trainers.
His dismay persisted, now focusing on the fact that he’d been really proud of this month’s magazine. Its release date was just prior to St Patrick’s Day so he’d given it an Irish flavour to make it relevant. He’d compiled a diary of events and sourced tickets for gigs. He’d written a feature on the outreach programmes of the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith. He’d liked the staff when he’d met them and hoped they’d be really pleased with his work. He’d planned to take copies to some events they’d invited him to. Talks. Screenings. All opportunities to increase his reach into the community around him and beyond. Only if the print run saw the light of day. If the whole job didn’t need to pulped and reprinted at Marcus and Deni’s own cost. Or maybe the issue would be written off, just cancelled, to the chagrin of all contributors.
And worse: how would he explain it to the media agency and the client? How would he explain it to Deni? Could she sack him from the business he’d partly established?
He’d told the guys in Al’s café, but it hadn’t felt like a practice confession. They claimed to recognise Marcus now but was he really here that often? He associated the place with a hangover but since Brighton he’d stemmed his weekly consumption. No, they were just being polite, which was cool, but it didn’t help Marcus feel like any less of an impostor: someone who was pretending to be successful, who only acted like he was a legitimate player in the London arts scene. He couldn’t dislodge the fear that this mistake was the first of many. Or perhaps the first to be revealed …
Marcus wasn’t entirely irresponsible. Surely that wasn’t why his family presented him with so few obligations; it was simply that there were plenty of them up in the Midlands to keep life ticking over. He was doing well with Bree, even though he’d never expected to get involved with someone again so soon. It had been impossible to let Bree go elsewhere, painful to think of her with someone else. But he’d failed with Deni. He hadn’t seen her crash coming. He should have been more observant.
He should have watched as he’d been watched. Not by the readers or sponsors who’d soon be demanding reparations for his oversight, but people beyond The London Idea. Back in January, on Blue Monday – officially the most miserable day of the year – he’d had an approach about a job. He’d been headhunted, more or less, to become a corporate writer for a ‘real news’ website. He was promised security, editorial freedom, and a large readership. To say he was sceptical was an understatement but he’d been tempted. Who wouldn’t?
He’d said no, because he hadn’t wanted to leave Deni. She’d accuse him of selling out. But how could he have been so sure of that? If the magazine ended Deni would be free to stretch her wings properly, though he wouldn’t expect her gratitude. After all, she’d be the one who’d left him. And he could switch off more easily with Bree, who worked much harder than him, piecing work together to make ends meet, but refusing to scrimp on new experiences. If his income was more reliable it would free them up to have more fun. There was a lot to regret in his rejection of an easy escape.
But he didn’t want to fall in with everyone else. He found routine dispiriting: gym before work, squeezing catch-ups into phone calls on crushing commutes, skipping lunch to save money for after-work drinks, then TV, then bed. His freedom put him a step ahead of others. It wasn’t a privilege to be easily surrendered, which meant he had to find a way to keep going, didn’t it? Give the people who were watching something worth looking at.
First, he had to confess his mistake and face whatever music the alarm bleated out.