Alone in the admin office, Janice twirled on the secretary’s chair. Then she removed the plastic dust cover from the Selectric, aligned the application form with the roller and turned the knob to feed it through.
She wasn’t being deliberately deceitful: the secretaries couldn’t spare a typewriter during office hours, and it was pure coincidence she’d stayed late on the day David Pargeter left early for a dental appointment. Crazy upsetting people when there was no guarantee she’d make the shortlist. She’d save her apologies for when, or if, she required a reference.
Her mum had been right about the attraction of the AIDS post: the combination of social stigma and terminal illness triggered her inner Mother Theresa. But despite championing the downtrodden since childhood, Janice was no self-sacrificing saint. Wary of burnout, she balanced her benevolence with personal ambition. She’d make her name at the cutting edge.
There had been a point, midway through her training, when she’d considered jacking it in. It wasn’t the depth of deprivation, or the limitations of the resources available to meet unlimited demand. It wasn’t the Kafkaesque complications of the benefits system, or the sheer volume of stuff to learn. Janice’s enthusiasm had dipped when it dawned on her the rough ground had been broken, the era of innovation past. Nothing new could be unearthed regarding the dissatisfactions of the role of housewife, the politics of disablement, social justice in underprivileged communities or parent-child attachment. Adoption, which had incited her interest in the profession, had been commandeered by a social worker in the city where Janice trained and there’d never be a bigger scandal than the children told they were orphans and shipped to Australia without their parents’ knowledge or consent.
Matty Osborne had revived her sense of purpose. Nowhere better to battle discrimination than an asylum, or so she’d thought, until her mother drew her attention to the medical wards where young men’s vitality leached away.
Their predicament mirrored Matty’s: shunned by society; robbed of their futures; punished for having sex. Were AIDS patients hit harder because they died physically, in addition to socially and psychologically? Unable to judge where best to deploy her skills, Janice would let fate decide. If she applied and didn’t get an interview, she’d dedicate herself to psychiatry with renewed zeal.
Yet she hesitated to put her fingers to the keyboard. Having drafted her application at the weekend, she already had the words. But that was prior to Matty passing her probationary period at Tuke House. Why strive for a greater challenge now?
Because she couldn’t publicly take credit for Matty’s placement, while making no progress where she could. The Times and Star had published her appeal for family or friends to make contact. So far, no-one had.
Wheeling back the chair, Janice sprang to her feet. Her mind full of the Nottingham job, she hadn’t bothered to check her pigeonhole on entering the room. Now, as if she’d wished it into being, she found a folded sheet of purple A5. The call must have come in as the secretaries grabbed their coats, after Janice had left her office but before reaching theirs.
Resuming her perch on the swivel chair, she spun around, and around again. Then she released the application form from the typewriter, tore it into confetti and threw it in the bin. Taking a breath of professionalism to temper her exuberance, she picked up the phone.
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