Brian was chatting to Charmane on reception when Monica Page walked in carrying her large, bright blue cake tin. He hadn't so much been chatting with Charmane as leaning over the reception desk and trying to chat her up. From his position perched on the edge of the desk Charmane had to stare up at him with her large, green eyes, and he was perfectly positioned to casually stare down her cleavage. He didn't even have to lean forward to get the perfect view.
“I'm sure that Louisa is sure to win X-Factor,” he was saying, knowing that it was Charmane's favourite television show, when he saw Monica walking towards them with her bright blue cake tin.
“Oh look, it's Monica. I love her cakes!” Charmane exclaimed.
God, he never looked at the woman twice unless she was carrying that cake tin. She was one of the many dull, middle aged women that filled this company, women he tried to avoid most of the time. With her dull green cardigan and her dull brown hair. God, couldn't she at least try to make something of herself. His mum hadn't let herself go, she kept her hair dyed blonde and always took care over her appearance, and she must be the same age as Monica Page. If his mum could do it then Monica Page could at least try.
“Monica! Have you got cakes for us?” Charmane cried out, as she jumped up from her chair.
“Of course,” Monica Page replied as she made a bee-line for them.
Brain stood up from perching on the reception desk as she approached them.
“I've made orange chocolate cupcakes, would you like one?” Monica Page said as she offered them the open cake tin. As he lent forward he could smell the rich chocolate and orange aroma rising up from the open tin.
“Is the sky blue? I love your cakes!” Charmane exclaimed, as she reached in and helped herself to one of the dark brown cupcakes in Monica's Page cake tin.
“How about you?” Monica Page said as she offered the cake tin to him
“Thanks Ms Page,” Brian replied as he reached in and took one of the dark brown cupcakes. The little cake gave slightly to his grip, showing how moist and rich it was.
God, she might be another dull old bag but Monica Page could make cakes, Brian told himself.
Joanna lent forward on Katie's desk and said, “I've heard that she's applied for the Deputy Project Manager's role.”
“Caroline Griffiths? She can't organise changing her own knickers,” Katie replied, turning away from her computer screen.
“She thinks she's perfect for the job,” Joanna told her. She hadn't seen Katie for two days (Katie had been off on another training course, like she hadn't do enough of them already) and she was burning to tell Katie all her latest news.
“She does, does she?” Katie replied, her carefully plucked eye brows rising quizzically.
“She told me Monday morning, when she told me that she'd put in her application. She said she is what the Project Management team really needs. Someone with young and new ideas,” Joanna said, a flourish of superiority running through her voice. She didn't bother hiding it though because she knew that Katie felt the same way about Caroline Griffiths as she did.
“She did, did she? Well wait until she wants a reference from me, I'll put them straight,” Katie said, her back straightening with annoyance.
“Yes, and she's only gone and put Richard Jennings down for her reference,” Joanna replied, firing her final shot at Katie.
“The two-faced little bitch!” Katie exploded.
“I know,” Joanna replied, hiding the satisfaction she felt. She had now got her own back on Caroline Griffiths. That girl, only just out of university, had been getting far too much credit and praise ever she arrived here, while all Joanna's work went ignored. Just because she didn't have a degree and a thin waist like Caroline Griffithsshe lost out all the time.
“Look at that,” Katie said, staring off over Joanna's left shoulder. Joanna felt a moment of panic, was Caroline Griffiths standing right behind her. Hurriedly she glanced over her shoulder but instead she saw Monica Page walking towards them, carrying her big, bright blue cake tin.
“I could do with some of her cake,” Katie said. “Screw my diet.”
“Me too,” Joanna added.
“Monica, is that some of your wonderful cakes you have there?” Katie called out as she waved at Monica Page.
Monica Page walked straight up to Katie’s desk. As Joanna watched her the same thought came into her mind that always did when she saw Monica Page, the woman was so plain. Monica Page wasn't ugly or too over weight, she was just plain, but she didn't do anything to combat it. Dull and lifeless hair, a plain little face without a spot of makeup, and her dull and uninteresting clothes. If she didn't know Monica Page's actual age (She's seen Monica's HR file), Joanna would have thought the woman was ten years older than she was.
“They're orange and chocolate cupcakes,” Monica Page said as she held out the cake tin to them.
“Oh lovely,” Katie explained, as she reached in the cake pin.
Joanna could smell the cupcakes before she looked into the tin. A deep and rich smell of orange and dark chocolate. The sweat and citrus smell of the oranges lying on top of the dark and slightly bitter smell of the chocolate. Glancing into the cake tin she saw a layer of dark brown cupcakes, sitting in their paper cases, nestling close together in the tin, with several gapes were ones had already been taken.
“Don't mind if I do,” Joanna said as she too took a cupcake. She had earned this, she told herself.
Richard’s attention was caught by his PA Bonnie calling from his office doorway: “Monica Page is here and it's a cake day!”
He looked up from his desk and saw short Bonnie's small and slim figure stood in the doorway, her head nodding out towards the outer office.
“She's here,” Bonnie said.
“And we deserve some cake,” Richard said as he rose from behind his desk.
Monica Page was stood in the outer office, her large bright blue cake tin cradled in her arms. She was the type of woman who could easily just blend into the wallpaper, Richard thought. Nothing about her stood out. Her plain brown hair cut into an unimaginative bob. Her pale little face, not even her watery eyes caught his attention. Her short and dumpy body always covered in the same dull and shapeless clothes. Today she wore a dark green cardigan, at least two sizes too large for her, over a dull yellow dress that seemed to have been washed so any times that it lost what pattern it had.
He know her job was to verify and check people’s different expenses claims, whether they were personal expenses or claims for funding for their different work projects. He'd seen her signature counter-signing all his expense forms for so long. Beyond that he knew nothing else about her, but he didn't really care. She was just one of those many little and unimportant people who populated all the offices that he'd ever worked in. She was just one of those little people who did their jobs, never caused any problems and never got to be noticed.
Three times a week she brought in home-made cakes into his office, and they were fine and delicious cakes which he always looked forward to.
“What cakes do you have for us today?” Richard asked her, as him and Bonnie stopped in front of Monica Page.
“Today its chocolate orange cup cakes,” Monica Page replied, but Richard could already smell the sweat and appetising smell of them.
Monica placed her cake tin under her desk as she sat down on her work chair. There were two cup cakes left in the tin. One for her mid-morning break and one to go with her lunch. She always worked it that way, always left herself with a cup cake or piece of cake for her mid-morning break and one to go with her lunch. It was one thing to bring cakes into work but it was a completely different to give them all away and leave none for herself.
She switched on her computer and readied herself for work.
She'd started bringing in cakes to work when her mother had died. Being the youngest and not married, unlike her two sisters and brother, it had fallen on her to look after their mother when her health failed. She hadn't complained but then she'd learnt as a child that there was no use in complaining. For ten years she'd looked after her mother and worked at the same time, her mother wasn't cheap to care for. She'd always baked cakes; it was the one thing she was really good at. She'd bake cakes for her and her mother three times a week; it was one of the few things that her mother didn't complain about. Her mother certainly complained about everything else Monica did or didn’t do.
When her mother did die Monica had felt a strange sense of relief, her years of waiting on the miserable old woman, and worrying about her when she was at work, were gone. But with her mother's death there came a great hole in her life, no longer did she have to rush around looking after the ungrateful old woman. Her sisters had swooped in to take over their mother's funeral arrangements (They'd never shown any concern when their mother had been alive), and Monica was left with nothing to do.
To fill her time she had baked. Cake after cake after cake. She told herself it was to give her mother a true send-off, all of them to be eaten at the tea after her mother's funeral. She didn't admit to herself that she needed something to fill her time, she wasn't used to just sitting down and relaxing. She'd spent so much time running around fulfilling all her mother's demands.
Her mother's funeral had not been the great send-off she had hoped for, barely twenty people attended, and this included her mother's four children, and two of their spouses. Even less people came back for the funeral tea. Afterwards she was left with a pantry full of cakes and no desire to eat them.
She was due back in work the next day (she barely got seven days compassionate leave) and decided to take in one of those cakes with her. To her surprise people liked her cake and actually went out of their way to ask for a slice of it. The next day she took another cake into work and found that people who had never spoken to her in all the time she had worked there were making a beeline for her because she had cake. The more times she brought cake into work the more people would speak to her. Suddenly people at work liked her and she liked the attention, even if they were only talking to her because of the cake she was carrying.
When the supply of cakes she had baked for her mother's funeral ran out she just baked some new ones. She still enjoyed baking cakes; there was something satisfying about it, the satisfaction of seeing the end production of her efforts, a beautiful cake. That cake she'd take into work the next day and find herself the centre of people's attention again, even if it was for only a few minutes.
She loved the attention those cakes brought her though. It was better than any drug. People smiling at her, people happy to see her, people seeking her out, people talking to her in friendly and open terms, and all because she was carrying one of her cakes. Holding a cake, suddenly work was not that endless stretch of boredom and loneliness. Previously people had only spoken to her to complain about their expenses or beg her to hurry up with them. With a cake in her hands people almost treated her like a human being they wanted to see.
Part of her knew that she was only buying people's attention with those cakes, and that part of her hated herself for doing so. She was being the sadness of people, the unliked schoolgirl who buys friends with presents and gifts, and those friends would only stay her friends if she carried on giving them presents. She was now trapped into a cycle that she didn't know how to break. She would spend her evening baking cakes, only to just give them away the next day. Instead of leaving her home and starting to find a social life that she had been denied by the years of looking her mother, and that she had so longed for. But she couldn't stop herself; she couldn't go back to that time when everyone at work ignored her, to that soul crushing time of loneliness.
So each night she baked a cake, or cupcakes, or sweat muffins, or soft cookies. Something sweat and tasty. The next day she would give them out at work. She'd give them out to different people on different days of the week, making sure she got the most attention. If people didn't get a cake every day then they seemed more pleased to see her when she did have cake.
She hated herself for buying people's attention this way but she loved the attention it bought her.
She felt someone watching her, hovering on the edge of her vision. She looked up and saw Caroline Griffiths hovering in the main corridor of their open-plan office. She was slowly moving from one foot to another. She was so tall and thin, dressed in a bright green slim dress, she looked like a reed blowing in a breeze, Monica suddenly thought to herself, and she smiled at the thought.
The moment Caroline Griffiths saw her look her way she made a beeline straight for Monica's desk. Monica felt her mood sinking; the woman was obviously wanting something to do with some expenses claim.
“What can I do for you?” Monica asked her, as Caroline Griffiths draw level with her desk.
“I was wondering if you had any of your lovely cup cakes left? I've had a really crappy morning so far,” Caroline Griffiths asked, in her soft and light voice.
“Sorry but they have all gone,” Monica replied, the last two were just for her anyway.
“Oh, never mind,” Carol Griffiths said, her body slumping down with disappointment, before she turned away and began to walk out of there, her back firmly turned on Monica.
She might have considered sharing her cup cakes with Caroline Griffiths if the woman had only talked with her, shown some interest in her as a person, instead of just seeing as a human vending machine dispensing cake.
That's all these people saw her as, a human vending machine, she thought. One day she'd bake poison into her cakes and that would finally show those people.