Christmas at the Barn

The stately rural setting of Knebworth House had been host to the
likes of Queen and Led Zeppelin, but the Hertfordshire estate had
never seen anything like this.
The Zone 10 Media Christmas party was in full swing. The entire firm
were there, mainly to take advantage of the free festive food and
drink, but enjoying themselves nonetheless. Annie clambered up from
the dance floor, after a mildy successful ‘Oops Up Side Your Head’ and
went back to her seat. She was determined to make an effort and enjoy
herself, and to prove that, as the new junior artworker, she was worth
getting to know.
Her colleagues were an intriguing lot. Craig, the Director, was brash,
overweight and “once took a boat trip with Elle McPherson”. Holding up
the bar was Gary, the Print Finisher, who was grunting and ‘comically’
pretending to hang himself by his Simpsons tie. Linda from Accounts
was sitting alone, thanks to filing a recent verbal harassment case
regarding Gary the print finisher. Barbara Thatch was absent, as she
could only drive to locations that allowed her left turns.
In a slightly merry haze of disco strobe, Annie realised her career at
Zone 10 may be a short one, and that an evening at home highlighting
her Bumper Christmas Radio Times may have been more enjoyable. Had she
got anything in common with these people?
After polishing off the catering pack turkey and trimmings, it was
time to return to the table for ‘Secret Santa’. On a busy deadline day
in early December, the promise of this event was an exciting
distraction from digitally removing a concrete bollard from an image
of a Citroën Saxo. One by one, badly wrapped gifts were removed from a
black bin bag, and given to their randomly selected recipient.
Annie had picked Jo, a loud bleached-blonde account handler, who had
clearly been receiving fashion advice from the female rejects of ‘The
Apprentice’. She had only been at the agency a few months, so knew
little about Jo. Playing it safe, she had spent her five pound Santa
fund on a mulled wine scented candle. It was clear that many of her
colleagues had not followed the rules and purchased a gift appropriate
for their match. A box of Guylian Chocolate sea-shells, a chenille
scarf and several bottles of merlot had all been suspiciously
‘recycled’ from unwanted gifts. The festive ‘Foam Finger’ that Linda
received from someone clearly had not, and had probably strengthened
her ongoing harassment case.
She heard her name shouted. Down the length of the table, saloon
style, slid her gift. Beautifully foil-wrapped with a ribbon, was a
small square box. She assumed from the lack of pound-shop paper, that
it was from Craig (wrapped by his P.A). She ripped at the gift, trying
to time it with someone else's ‘reveal’, so her reaction would not be
noticed by everyone.
Inside was a box made out of trendy recycled brown card, that
contained a mug. Not just any old mug, but an in-joke graphic
design mug - large and white with a square of ‘Process Blue’ wrapped
around the front. She smiled, not only because she had felt weird
about drinking from the communal company cups, but also because
whoever had chosen it, had thought about her.
After a decidedly messy‘New York New York’ with her boss, she decided
to call a cab. A little squiffy and full of Christmas pudding, she
reflected on the fact that, a year earlier, she was a penniless design
student, a term away from going out into the advertising world. The
evening had been somewhat a success - at least she had stayed under
the radar for gossip in the morning.
In the cab on the way home, she examined her secret Santa gift, and
wondered whether her brother would appreciate it as an extra stocking
filler. Opening the box once more, she saw something inside the mug. A
card. A small rectangle of bright white, hammered 270gsm.
And a message.
In Process Blue.
“Would you like a drink sometime? - Gary”
I wrote this short story to impress Solopress