Context of extract:
Museum Curator Molly Goode (central character) has just attended a museum funding meeting with her boss Evelyn Fox and the Chairman of the Trustees Mark Drew. Her suggestions that the museum should focus on more diversity and community based projects are rebuffed in favour of securing the ongoing patronage of the Wright family, headed by Georgina Wright (central character).
Molly returns to her desk defeated and dispirited.
When the meeting eventually drew to a close, Molly returned to her office, dropped her notes into the bin where they belonged, and slumped onto Fran’s desk with a heavy sigh.
“You’re sitting on my sandwich.” Fran pushed at Molly’s hip, encouraging her to stand.
“I’ve sat on your lunch? Oh my God, could this day get any worse?” Molly held Fran’s baguette, squishy in her hands, the filling of cheese and coleslaw oozing against the cling film. It was now less buoyant baguette and more flatbread, and pretty much summed up her morning. “Here, have mine.”
Molly rummaged in her floral tote bag, pulling out a wholemeal pitta bread stained pink by its beetroot, anchovy, and horseradish filling.
Fran held up a hand. “Please don’t take this the wrong way but your creative combinations are just a step too far for my more delicate constitution.” Fran stood with a groan. “Want anything from the cafe?”
Molly looked down, crestfallen, and shook her head.
“I take it the meeting was a great success.” Fran placed a motherly hand on Molly’s shoulder.
“Honestly it was chilling to hear them. Everything’s about money or prestige to them. I thought museums were for and about the people.”
“You’re sounding more like a social historian every day,” Fran said with an approving nod. “Although isn’t the art world, your world, all about that – status?”
“Not for me.”
“Good for you.” Fran placed her hands on her hips. “I think we need cake.”
“Have lunch in the square with me?”
“Sorry no can do, I’ve a shopping list longer than David Attenborough’s career. But I’ll see you later. So what will it be – Victoria Sponge or better still eclairs?”
Molly mustered a smile. “How about both?”
“Good choice.” Fran turned back at the door. “You know you’ll always feel disheartened if your approach is to work against them. The trick, if there is a trick, is to somehow find a way to achieve what you believe is right but that still delivers for the powers to be.”
“Is that how you handle Evelyn?”
“On my good days – yes. On my bad days lots of rude words shouted at the top of my lungs in the privacy of the ladies loo.”
Molly giggled. “Right. Noted.”
The instant Fran closed the door, Molly was engulfed by images of the Chairman with his expression of vacuous power on his face, his mane-like hair swept back, his tie tight against his collar moving with his throat as he spoke. He was confident in a bullish way that suggested at his heart he was insecure. His insecurity made him dangerous, and if she was not mistaken, that was likely the source of his power – not his knowledge, not his experience, but the fragility of his ego, charming when stroked, ferociously defensive when challenged.
Evelyn Fox seemed to be a master at managing him, stroking to calm and cajole. She appealed to his competitive nature by presenting the museum as a place of excellence. A leading institution indeed. She was the consummate manager of people. Molly closed her eyes at the image of Evelyn Fox with her pen raised to silence her. Molly’s temper rose. She needed to find a place to shout rude words.
Leaving the frustrations of her meeting behind, Molly headed to her sanctuary, a small public garden next to the museum. Aptly named Museum Square, the simply designed square patch of civic ground was bordered on two sides by parked cars. A collection of benches placed around the inside edge of the square separated the grass from wide borders. A diagonal path, broken up by tree roots, stretched across splitting half way along to encircle a large horse chestnut tree. This tree marked the seasons, signalling the changing patterns of the year. In winter, bare and stark against white skies, the tree seemed to shrink, huddled with those brave or crazy enough to stop awhile and sit. In spring tentative buds relaxed in the welcome return of the first rays of sunshine. In summer weighed down with the weight of green leaves children ran around its weathered waist and in autumn the bark of the squirrel could be heard from its lofty branches, disturbing the leaves to fall in their wake.
In all weathers and in all seasons, Molly would sit and eat her sandwiches on the same bench, flask at her side, the sprawling horse chestnut her faithful companion.
Basking in the calm stillness of the beautiful September day, she took off her shoes and let the grass brush against the soles of her feet. Resting her head against the back of the bench, she lifted her chin to the cloudless sky. The air was changing from the dry sandy notes of summer to the sweet musk of autumn. The leaves above her were fading and their greens had softened to mossy shades from vibrant lime. Even the midday light beaming through the canopy seemed weaker now, less luminous, its strongest rays falling on another person sitting on another bench, in another square, in another land.
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