She kept quiet company.
That is to say almost none.
Indulging in student fantasies from her bedroom. A career lost, life about to begin. She was 40 and single but still amused.
Jane was ordinary. Overtly there was nothing remarkable about her. Inwardly, she would tell you it was the much the same. A job in a pastry office - she posted pastries at the depot of an internet pastry seller - her job required conversation only with her colleague Mary and her boss Stephen.
Stephen was satisfied with her work, though wished she'd open up more; engage in get-togethers with the other pastry officers. Fun things like the annual staff beer and skittles evening at the Thorn's Foot or cornish pasties on the common - an innovation of Stephen's more and less well-attended that happened once a month - were an anathema to her and made it harder for Stephen to divert her attention towards an after-hours drink, alone, with him.
Mary was her other company. Fifteen years younger and just as drifting, Mary would be comforted that she could drift a few more years and still not end up like Jane. And Mary gave Jane a youthful hope, a freshness to her own ambitions which were by any standard modest:
1) To open a bakery
2) Make love to James Meek
Mary and Jane would spend two fifteen minute coffee breaks together per day. Lunch times were staggered for efficiency. These conversations over rosehip, hibiscus and biscuits were pure delight. For anyone listening: a drudgery.
Theirs was a shared imagination, a collective tale they sought to embellish between sips. Characters would be illuminated, killed off, forced together in matrimony, acrimoniously split apart. Given jobs, plastic surgery, fired, have affairs. Clothes were a particular speciality - coloured and designed to the finest detail and ensured they didn't clash.
It was a shared imagination, because it couldn't be said to belong to either individually. As months went by it became clear to both that what was in the mind of the other was perfectly recreated in her own. References to Miss Frimm's yellow slippers or David Hendryson's arm-worn bottle-green sofa initially admitted mild surprise but became commonplace as the other had already imagined not just the name but the garment or furniture piece exactly.
By eight months delighted conversations of the ever more convoluted lives of characters were no longer necessary. And this is why for the observer the drudgery set in. What seemed like innocent, playful exchanges with warm grins, some times outrageous laughter, at others gasps of surprise as they collectively unfurled a tale-twister subsided into dazed silence. You could have called it frosty with barely a hello as they took seats opposite each other, settling into a somnolent gaze over the edge of cups. But you might have missed the occasional look, eyes directed engagingly at the other, a lidless wink betrayed by dint of shining; knowing and understood. Enough recognition that they were on the same page that for the other it was just as miraculous but there was no need to say it.
For the story had not stopped. In the silence of their minds, what had started as dog walkers exchanging morning pleasantries on rainy park corners had born communities, council offices, systems of exchange, trade commisioners, corporate dealing pools, international credit facilities, grand sporting events and their accompanying stars, moguls and entertainers, world leaders and political games players. In short they had founded a mental civilisation.
But do not think the dog walkers, post office keepers, music hall entertainers had been forgotten. Far from it. Doing without public bodies and international actors was fine for a time, it was simply that Mary and Jane discovered that as personalities and dramas had multiplied they needed appropriate systems and institutions to allow them to play out as well as provide cunning set-pieces for more drama to unfurl. The play needed a stage and occasionally the stage would intervene to shake up the play. But the Stimmersons baby would still be born 7lb 5 and Adebola Gamaya would still be surprised in Ghana when the new stadium was built on his street corner.
There were two things they would not allow:
War and dictators.
Civil unrest was fine as long as it resulted in a warm hug-match between confronting parties allowing for closer union between governments and people and an unending dialogue that enriched the interests of both.
For Mary and Jane, the story stopped at the tea table. Folding and posting pastries to every corner of Britain, (soon expanding to Europe and the USA courtesy of the new past-fresh technology that treated the pastry as if it was frozen but allowed it to stay at room temperature, thus able to travel thousands of miles and still arrive ready to eat, without the need to bake or defrost. Delicious home-baked pastries at the click of a button, with next-day delivery and no need to leave your desk) absorbed their full attention. They imagined the varied destinations, the sort of mouths the food would fill, the people they belonged to. Occasionally one would linger before being parcelled, bring a tear to the eye, followed by a prayer for the well-being of the consumer and wishes of comfort for their loss. Though notice that this happened quite individually, without the knowing of the other though no doubt enriched their ongoing story as new characters came to mind as they sat in grey cubicles, surrounded by boxes of pastries, piles of wrapping and lists of address to which their packages would be farmed.
At the day's end a brief goodbye would part them, take them to separate flats and again no further imagining would embellish their utopia.
On the walk home they would stroll past advertisements for the Sims, conversations about Second Life and the marvelling hysteria it brought out in those around them, and chuckle wryly to themselves that such games needed things as clumsy as mouse pointers and motherboards, when a pastry office tea break was quite enough.