Changing Direction Part Two (The High Priestess, Major Arcana Series) by Francesca Astraea

white on purple text reading 'Major Arcana Series The High Priestess (Part Two) Francesca Burke'

Read part one here.

  As she ate, Freja alternately looked out the window and watched Alexandria clean. That smell, industrial kitchen cleaner, felt out of place, somehow. The real world felt further away than it had ten minutes ago, as though the Dutch family had taken the twenty first century away with them.

  Freja wondered what Alexandria did when she wasn’t waging war on chewing gum. She didn’t look like someone who would take a trip to the cinema or the mall, not unless she was looking for supplies for potions, or food for her familiar. Freja couldn’t picture her using Instagram or maintaining a business Facebook page for the ice cream parlour.

  ‘I know I’m being awful on this holiday,’ Freja mused. ‘I mean, we’ve only been here three days, but still. My parents and I saved up so much for this. Our first post-Corona holiday. We all sat around, when lockdown first started. My mum had our nan stay with us because she’s got a heart thing, both my brothers and I live at home, and my brother’s boyfriend came to stay because his parents are fake Christian shitbags. And Liam’s never actually left. So the seven of us are living in a three-bedroom house except the third bedroom is actually a utility cupboard that we panic bought a sofa bed and heater for, so my nan could have her own room. My little brother and I share my room now, so Jude and Liam get some space. I spend most of my evenings playing League of Legends with half the family and gin rummy with the other half. I do not know why I’m telling you this.’

  Alexandria smiled. ‘You sound like you have a nice family.’

  ‘Yeah. They’re all right, actually. Anyway, we sat around that first day and Jude insisted that we needed something to look forward to. He and Liam had to finish their masters degrees at home and both my parents were furloughed and Jude was adamant we make a plan for when this is over. My grandmother said “I’ve always wanted to see Gaudí’s buildings in person.” Jude was actually thinking that we should all go to the Scottish lochs, because that’s what we did as kids. But somehow it became a plan. Post-Corona, when it’s safe for all of us to travel, we’re going to Barcelona.        

  ‘Jude and Liam both graduated and joined a start-up delivering food to people who can’t get out, because they realised how hard it was to look after yourself when you’re housebound. I sold a bunch of things on eBay. Every penny after expenses went into a jar for Barcelona. It became a running gag, like, if we can just get through this, at the end there’ll be…’

  ‘An oasis?’ Alexandria suggested.

  Freja smiled. ‘Yeah. Exactly. One more day of rationing toilet paper before my dad risks going to the shops. One more month of not replacing conditioner because who can see us, and anyway I want to save up for something nice to wear in Barcelona. We did condition our hair,’ Freja added hastily. ‘With olive oil.’

  ‘Works better than conditioner,’ Alexandria agreed.

  ‘It really does. And now we’re here, and it’s safe to breathe on people, and we’ve been looking forward to this for years and I’m ruining it because I’m so preoccupied.’

  ‘What did your family say when you told them?’

  ‘I haven’t yet. I don’t know how to.’

  ‘You know they will be disappointed.’

  ‘I suppose. But… I think I’m more disappointed. I thought I had a few more good years at this place, even with the economy. There was scope to climb the ladder, maybe move somewhere else to something with more responsibility if the opportunity came up. My results were the best of the team’s most of the time. And now I have to look for another job, in this climate, that pays as well as the last. And I couldn’t sleep last night even after a day of climbing the steps at Park Güell, so I looked up job vacancies and the market is not fantastic. And then I thought, do I even want to be in this industry? When I was little I wanted to work in costume design. Or textiles. That sort of thing.’

  Freja looked down. ‘It’s just… it’s just embarrassing. I thought I was a valued, integral member of the company. And I’m not. And now I don’t know which direction to go in.’

  She returned her ice cream. She was on the next layer now, something purple that was just melted enough to not hurt her teeth. The blueberry and banana ice cream, with a layer of millions and trillions. It reminded her of her background on her work computer desktop, a midnight sky with a blanket of stars, somewhere too empty for light pollution.

  Freja wondered what her desk looked like now. Had anyone moved into it? If they were truly cost-cutting, they’d merge her role with Deepak’s role and have Anita take up some of the slack. That’s what Freja would do. The salary of the job ad flashed through her head like a slot machine jackpot. Six grand more a year for the same job. That was definitely Tony’s idea. The man could announce that complimentary tea and coffee now had to be paid for by a staff whip-round (suggested donation £3.50 a week) the same day as taking receipt of his new Jag and bragging about it. The number plate was supposed to say ‘director’, but everyone secretly thought it looked more like ‘dictator’. Freja wondered who else had been let go. Tim was famous for spending loo breaks on the phone to his mates, and everyone knew he kept Facebook messenger open while he was in meetings.

  Freja sat up. Was this because she had taken time off when Felix had his appendix out? She’d spent the morning with her phone set to loud, because he’d woken up in the night with a monster stomachache and NHS 111 said to go to A&E—which terrified him more than the stomachache, because lockdown hadn’t long been eased. She’d gone home at lunchtime after Jude rang that he was going into surgery. It was her only unplanned time off in four years.

  God, this ice cream was good. Was it laced with something? Had Freja’s taste buds been faulty until now? If the Oasis had a TripAdvisor listing, she would be writing an excellent review.

  Wait. Was she let go because she told Tony that the employer had a responsibility to provide adequate equipment so they could work from home? He hadn’t liked that she said it in a Zoom call with all twelve staff listening, or that everyone immediately agreed. He got round it by eventually buying some cheap laptops in a clearance sale and then demanding them back at once they returned to the office, so he could resell them.

  Or was it because he knew that she knew that he didn’t adhere to social distancing rules during lockdown? She had seen him when she was out walking with Felix. He was strolling along with a woman who was not the lady who popped in to say hello sometimes.

  ‘Excuse me,’ said a gently accented voice, ‘where did you get your skirt?’ Freja hadn’t noticed the door open. A woman about her age was looking down at Freja’s orange cotton skirt.

  Freja looked down, hoping she hadn’t dropped ice cream on herself. ‘I made it.’ It had originally been a pair of curtains, which was not something she advertised.


  ‘Yeah. I got fed up with none of my clothes having big enough pockets. And then I was reading about fast fashion, you know…’

  The woman smiled politely, like she did not, in fact, know. ‘Do you… do you make them for your job? Can I buy one?’

  ‘Not—not usually, but… if you send me your measurements, I could make you one when I go back to England? I still have the fabric.’

  ‘Yes! Please. That would be fantastic. And maybe…’ she paused. ‘My sister would like this too. We are staying near Las Ramblas. Could we… could we meet you here again? Tomorrow afternoon? I will bring my tape measure.’

  ‘Of—of course. Wow. Thank you. Um, do you have WhatsApp? I’ll give you my phone number.’ Freja grabbed for a clean serviette, only to find Alexandria at her shoulder, holding a pen and a piece of torn-off receipt paper.

  ‘What do you charge?’ the woman asked.

  ‘Oh, I’m—’ Freja did some hasty mental calculations. The curtains had cost her parents about forty quid a decade ago; her sewing machine and threads were a long-ago gift from family. The work itself wouldn’t take more than a couple of hours. Less, if she had a decent podcast on while she worked. ‘Would… would thirty euros be all right? Give or take depending on your measurements?’

  ‘Thirty… for each skirt?’

  ‘Um, yes.’

  ‘That is very reasonable for a handmade skirt!’

  When the woman had paid for her ice cream disappeared into the sunshine, having agreed a convenient time to meet, Freja sat back in her seat. She really hoped she had enough curtain left. Her own was a prototype, when you thought about it: she could improve upon it for her customers. Slightly different stitching, maybe reinforce the pockets. She had seen pictures online where people sewed custom labels into their garments, so everyone knew who had made it. What was sixty euros in pounds? Enough to invest in more fabric. Or—or maybe she could carry on with the upcycling thing. Her mum had a sack at home filled with Jude’s old shirts and some old duvet covers. She could think of half a dozen charity shops in her local town, filled with unwanted bits and pieces. She would definitely have to buy some sort of washing instruction labels. Maybe some business cards as well.

  Freja realised the last of her sundae was melting and scooped up the last mouthful. If she lived to be a hundred, she didn’t think she would enjoy an ice cream more than this one. She stood up and got out her purse.

  ‘Could I get a coffee, please, Alexandria? But I just have to pop out—I saw a stationery shop down the street and I want to buy a sketchbook. I have some ideas I want to get down on paper.’

  ‘Of course.’ Alexandria met Freja’s eyes over the counter. ‘Don’t forget to charge for the postage.’

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Copyright © 2020 by Francesca Burke

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

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