It is a Tuesday morning in early May, four days after my dismissal interview. An interminable bank holiday weekend alone, fretting about the future, has left me drained and exhausted. Luckily Tadpole is with Mr Frog’s parents for two whole weeks, a stay which was organised long ago to coincide with the childminder’s holidays.
Fortunate timing, I will admit, as I am in no fit state to care for anyone else right now. This logic does little, however, to take away the dull ache that her absence provokes.
I fire off a short email to my soon-to-be-ex-boss, enquiring as to whether my dismissal letter is ready. I have a deadline to respect for my apartment purchase, meaning that I must pull out or confirm the loan within the next five days. The very last thing I need is to wait for the postman deliver a letter sent by recorded delivery snail mail.
Rather than spend the next few hours on tenterhooks, pacing and willing the phone to ring, I watch several episodes of “Lost” back to back, still clad in my Miffy pyjamas. Focusing on suspenseful television is a helpful displacement strategy: my own stress is put on hold, temporarily, while I worry about mysterious monsters in the jungle instead.
The phone trills at 2.30pm.
“Allô?” I answer, pretending I do not know to whom I am speaking, despite the fact that the caller ID is clearly displayed on my handset.
“Catherine? How are you?” my boss stammers awkwardly.
It is a shame it has come to this, because despite our differences and occasional fallings out, we did get on pretty well, as a rule. And now we don’t quite know how to speak to one another.
“Oh, you know, I’ve been better,” I reply breezily, making a supreme effort not to betray my nervousness.
“I think I should be in a position to give you a copy of your dismissal letter this afternoon,” he continues cautiously.
I sense a “but”, and am not proved wrong. “It really depends on whether you agree to write a letter asking to be excused from serving your notice period…”
Notice period? My mind races ahead. If there is a notice period, that means that I am no longer being dismissed for “faute grave”. My suspension will be transformed into paid leave, I will get my holiday pay, and a small amount of severance money. This is all good news.
But, if my suspicions are correct, writing the letter he is asking for would mean waiving my right to a paid two month notice period. Not good.
I mumble something about mulling things over and arrange to drop by the office at the end of the afternoon. I replace the receiver, and when I look down, realise that my hands are visibly shaking.
A rapid telephone consultation with a union juriste confirms beyond a shadow of a doubt that it is out of the question for me to write any such letter.
It occurs to me that my ex-boss seems to be playing the role of the good cop, who has, against all odds, negotiated the best possible deal he can on my behalf, whereas, in fact, the real aim might be to make me feel so pathetically grateful that I will willingly sign away my rights.
This impression is confirmed when I arrive at the office.
I sit, opposite my ex-boss, in his glass walled office, only a few metres from the desk where I once worked. He seems dismayed when I decline to write the letter, and makes a great show of consulting fellow partners (running up and down the stairs, taking calls from a nearby meeting room) while I wait, trying to keep a lid on my panic, and, through a supreme act of will, refraining from taking a peek at the letter of dismissal left tantalisingly on his desk every time he vacates the room.
At one juncture he returns to tear up a copy of the letter with a theatrical flourish. A dramatic gesture; but I note, with an inward amusement I take pains not to display, that the original copy remains intact on his desk.
“Well,” he says, “I don’t know what to do now… I’m going to be away for a few days … and it doesn’t look like we can resolve this today…”
I say nothing, motioning as if to pick up my bag.
“Wait, stay there, I’ll just try one last time,” he says, and heads down the stairs once more. When he returns, he picks up the letter, and takes it to the photocopier.
I appear to have won a small victory.
He walks me to the lift, a manila envelope clutched in my clammy palms, my legs decidedly wobbly.
“Of course, I can’t promise that I won’t take my case to the prud’hommes.” I say, as the lift doors begin to slide closed.
Because this is far from over, as far as I’m concerned.