Characters: Marie Theres, Octavian, Mariandel, Rosina, Lindoro, Susanna, Cherubino, Dorabella, Fiordiligi, Tosca, Cavaradossi, Mimi, Radames, Aida, Amneris, Elektra, Countess Geschwitz, Lulu, Violetta, Manon, Sycorax, Charlotte, Werther, Sophie, Brunnhilde, Donna Elvira
Setting: AU Devil Wears Prada
Author's Note: Dedicated to MezzoAlex!!
The ringing of a cell phone shattered the relative morning peace. Every single soul froze and stared at the vibrating device in Mariandel's trembling hand.
It rang again.
Everyone in the room scattered as Mariandel breathed a silent prayer, flipping open the cellphone as she did so.
"Good morning Marie-"
"Call Floria and inform her that we will be having dinner at the Palais Garnier on the 22nd when we are in Paris. Also tell her to remind Cavardossi that the painting i commissioned should be ready and waiting by next Tuesday. Inform Manon that the run through will be at 2 this afternoon and that she should be ready, she's had enough time to throw together something decent for me to look at. Then tell Geschwitz that no, i do not want an article from her on the depravity of whatever godforsaken hellhole she goes to for drinks at night. I expect clean reportage from her on the lesbian and gay chic this city is so famous for, not some purple prose that embarrasses both us and the reader. I expect a redraft from her no later than noon today. Then make sure Elektra has her feature on responsible mothering filed by today. I want to read it to make sure she hasn’t gone off on another tangent like she did with her last article. Also, call Susanna and have her meet with that lovely new chef, some Sycorax or other - tell her i expect an article about how to combine exotic ingredients, no later than next Wednesday. Angelina is to write a companion article on various different takes on pasta. I will be in at a quarter past nine. I don't need to tell you what i expect when i come in. See to it that it is done."
The line clicked dead in Mariandel's hand. She stared at the phone and sighed audibly. Then, shaking herself, she set off to inform the various editors unfortunate enough to have incurred Marie Theres' wrath. Today was going to be a long day.
At a nine a.m. sharp (as usual, Marie Theres arrived 15 minutes early to everything) Mariandel stood ready and waiting in Marie Theres' office with her cousin, one Octavian Rofrano, on hold. A steaming mug of Earl Grey tea sat on the table. Wordlessly her boss swept in and extended an imperious hand. Wordlessly Mariandel handed the device over and scurried out of the office, tugging the door shut behind her. It was painfully obvious that her boss was involved with Octavian in some way. Nevermind that both of them were in committed relationships. Mariandel knew she only had her job because of Octavian, and so wisely kept her mouth shut. She'd heard the grim rumours that she was only being kept because of her striking resemblance to her cousin; either way, Mariandel did not want to entertain the thought of the fallout that would ensue if and when the relationship ended. Given her cousin's wandering eye, she had had her resume ready and waiting since the first day she started working at Tempus Fugit.
At exactly a quarter past nine the door to Marie Theres' office flew open and Mariandel rose to accept her phone. Hastily stowing it she confirmed that she had indeed managed to carry out all of Marie Theres' previous orders. A curt nod and the editor in chief was striding out of the office, no doubt to terrorise one of the other editors. Mariandel scurried back to her desk and sat down. A very long day, indeed.
Marie Theres returned two hours later, a satisfied smirk on her face that meant she had gotten into a fight or two and won. Glancing at her boss’ schedule, Mariandel winced when she realized that it had been Carmen that Marie Theres had locked horns with. The society “Who’s Who wearing what” column Carmen had filed the day before had featured not just the diva Floria Tosca, but also the debutante sisters Dorabella and Fiodiligi in a less than flattering light. The mention of socialites Amneris and Aida feuding over the same man (Radames, Mariandel recalled vaguely) was no help either.
Marie Theres, being the loyal friend that she was to more than half the people mentioned in Carmen’s column, had decreed that Carmen was to revise her column by 8 am this morning. Mariandel was guessing that the revisions were not comprehensive enough. She shivered. Marie Theres on a calm day was a force to be reckoned with. But when she got angry… Mariandel trembled again. In the year that Mariandel had worked or Marie Theres, she had witnessed her boss raise her voice exactly once, and that was to defend her godson Cherubino from some paparazzi that had called her up. Apparently he was being seen about the town with a young woman too many. The language she had used in that conversation with the paparazzi still made Mariandel blush. Who knew such a refined woman could swear (and in so many languages too!) like a sailor? The threats she had leveled at the journalist had not been taken seriously, but by the time the journalist had realized just who he had insulted, it was too late. He found himself thoroughly blackballed in the entire industry. Mariandel had no doubt he was now working some menial job, forever nursing his hatred of Marie Theres.
Meanwhile, Marie Theres had sat down at her desk and began thumbing through Geschwitz's redraft, sipping idly from the fresh cup of Earl Grey Mariandel brought for her. A red pen slashed its way methodically down the page, and Mariandel grimaced at the thought of having to return the edited draft to Geschwitz. The poor woman was close enough to another breakdown already, having been abandoned by her latest, most temperamental and eccentric lover by far, Lulu.
Just as Mariandel was contemplating slipping Geschwitz some Valium before delivering the bad news, the steady clip of heels in the hallway had her looking warily up. Proceeding at a rapid pace, quite like a woman with a mission, was one pissed off looking Brunnhilde. Mariandel gulped. No doubt word had just reached the statuesque German that Marie Theres was going to reduce Brunnhilde’s sports section of the magazine to a mere column. Mariandel squeaked out a hasty “hi” as the Amazonian stalked past and into Marie Theres’ office. Deciding now would be a good time to take cover, Mariandel fled the editor in chief’s office for the relative safety of the literary department’s offices.
Ten breathless minutes later she arrived at her destination. She knocked, slightly panicked when she saw the scowl on her host’s face. A quick jerk of her head and Mariandel slipped in, collapsing into a chair.
“Marie Theres is out for blood. Brunnhilde just stormed her office about the reduction in her section.”
This earned her a sympathetic grimace.
The literary editor scowled again for good measure and scrambled up, pouring Mariandel a good three fingers of brandy. Taking a tumbler full herself, they clinked glasses and downed the alcohol in one. Charlotte rubbed at her neck, rotating it and wincing as a series of pops were heard. She sighed.
“I’m sorry for what you’re going to have to go through, Mariandel, but I am swamped today. You’re going to have to leave soon else it’ll be me having the conversation Brunnhilde’s having with Marie Theres now.”
“But Charlotte –“
“No. I have an article on Goethe to rewrite, and another on the romance of letter writing to draft. And then I have to call and check up on Sophie… Ever since Werther died…well. She’s been taking it badly. She thinks it’s her fault that she didn’t cheer him up enough that day… And I… I …”
Mariandel watched as emotion broke Charlotte’s voice and clouded her eyes with emotion. The steady ticking of Charlotte’s watch filled the silence. Two breaths later Charlotte raised distraught eyes to regard Mariandel.
The command didn’t need to be repeated. Mariandel set her tumbler down gently and enveloped the other woman in a hug. A brief squeeze was all she received in return before she was being pushed gently to the door. She let herself out and proceeded down the corridor, shaking her head at the heartache both Charlotte and Geschwitz were going through. She even considered sympathizing with Brunnhilde for a second but then remembered how much the woman terrorized her, and dismissed the notion with a terrified squeak.
She gave another loud squeak and turned. Giving her twin looks of concern were two other editors, Elvira and Rosina.
“Y-y-yes?” she managed to choke out, trying to calm her hammering heart. She really did need to grow a backbone, she reflected.
“Are you alright?” Rosina asked, gently.
Mariandel gulped in a breath and nodded, pressing a hand to her chest.
“Are you sure?” Elvira fixed her with a piercing look and Mariandel quailed.
The two older women looked at each other before Elvira shrugged and Rosina smirked.
“Would you look this over for us, Mariandel?” Rosina held out an article for Mariandel to take. Trembling, she did so and began to read the flowing script that occupied the page.
“What’s this?” Slightly calmer now Mariandel’s curiosity returned, and she skimmed the handwritten article she was reading with much interest. It was a feature on abused women who had been cheated on, and the psychological ramifications it had on them.
“An article we were thinking of submitting for next month’s issue.” Elvira’s tone held a faint note of pride in it.
Mariandel looked up sharply.
“Does Marie Theres know?”
“Well, no, but we were hoping that you would –”
“No. Absolutely not.”
“But she likes you! Maybe you could persua- ”
“She likes me, but not THAT much. I’m not indispensible, you know.”
“But – ”
“No. If you want to have this published you are going to have to fight for it yourself. I should warn you though – she’s not in a good mood today. Try tomorrow. Brunnhilde just went in, all guns blazing.”
Both Elvira and Rosina winced, then paled a bit at imagining the wrath Marie Theres must have unleashed. Trembling, Rosina took the sheaf of papers back.
“Where did you get the time to write this anyway? Don’t you have an Agony Aunt column to write and you an article on female empowerment to edit?” Mariandel cocked her head as she regarded Elvira and Rosina in turn.
“And who did you interview?” she added as an afterthought, leaning against the wall and enjoying the discomfit that flitted across the two women’s faces.
“We’ve finished our work for this month’s issue.” Elvira muttered, cautiously. Rosina nodded in agreement.
“I sent the final edition to Marie Theres a week ago. She said no changes were needed.”
“As for who we interviewed…” Elvira began, trailing off as she gave Rosina a look.
“Well. We interviewed each other, really.” Rosina confessed, when Mariandel raised an eyebrow.
“Yes. Well. Giovanni was a few years ago. I’ve moved on.” Elvira attempted to look haughty and unaffected, but a dull flush crept up her chest.
“… Right.” Mariandel drawled. She’d learnt long ago not to goad Elvira. Especially not when she was in grappling distance. The last person who had mocked her about how her great lover Giovanni had left her high and dry now had an iffy jaw after Elvira dislocated it with a sound right hook.
“Yes. And I have Lindoro. Well. As much as his eye wanders, that is.” Rosina hastily changed the subject, well aware of Elvira’s tendency towards violence. Mariandel nodded in silent agreement, pushing off the wall as she checked her watch. Half past one. Time to return to the dragon’s den.
“I have to get back for the run through. Good luck with the article. Make sure I’m out of the office when you go in for the pitch, will you? I can only take so much in one day.” Mariandel flashed both women a quick smile. She could hear frenzied whispering behind her as she departed, and she shook her head.
It was such a pity such nice women like them had to go and fall in love with right bastards.
Five minutes later she returned to meet Manon flouncing into the office. A team of junior editors trailed behind her, each dragging a rack of clothes and accessories behind them. A quick look at Manon’s face nearly sent Mariandel scurrying away again. Manon was not ready, that much was obvious. All Mariandel could hope for was that Marie Theres had won her battle with Brunnhilde, and that Octavian had done the decent thing and called as he should have during lunch.
Twenty minutes into the run through and Mariandel was quaking in her shoes. Manon was being torn to metaphorical shreds and there was not a thing she could do but take notes and surreptitiously hand out tissue paper as the woman sobbed silently. With a final insult about how Manon only cared about little antique tables (though Mariandel had to agree on that, the last one Manon had so proudly bragged about was hideous. Mariandel knew because she had to walk past it every time she went to Manon’s office.) Marie Theres dismissed Manon and her team, commanding Mariandel with a glare to stay. Giving Manon a sympathetic half smile Mariandel stood by Marie Theres’ desk, awaiting her orders.
“Take this to Charlotte. Have her look over it and then give it to the art department to include in the mock up.”
A page of rounded, cursive script was thrust at Mariandel.
“Yes, Marie Theres. Is there anything else?”
“Send Violetta and Mimi in. They are due to give me an update on that feature we were going to have on that doctor, the one attempting to treat tuberculosis in India or something.”
“Yes, Marie Theres.”
An elegant hand waved at her and Mariandel took her leave, grabbing her purse as she did so. A quick call to the offices downstairs and two terrified medical correspondents were on their way to Marie Theres’ office. Right. That was settled. Now lunch, before going to see Charlotte again.
The cafeteria was mostly deserted when Mariandel sat down with her rice pilaf and a much-needed afternoon glass of white wine. Both were paid perfunctory attention as Mariandel read through the manuscript before her. It was, as she had expected, a draft of Marie Theres’ Editor’s letter for this month’s issue. Sipping her wine, she began to read.
“This issue marks the hundredth issue of Tempus Fugit, a magazine founded with the express purpose of curating the best of the best for the modern woman. As I reflect back on the decade I have been editor in chief, I find myself wondering once again about the title of the magazine. Tempus Fugit. Time flies. It seemed like just yesterday that I was making the first decisions about what was to be in our maiden issue. We, as women, have such strange relationships with time. Time’s passage is traced in every line on our faces, every strand of white in our hair. Time is measured in the number of years we have left to producing a child. Time is quantified in how we fit into our dresses. No woman is exempt. I remember as a small girl growing up in Vienna with my aunt a saying she had. “Die zeit, die ist ein sonderbar Ding.” Time is such a strange thing. She used to say it to herself, when she put on her makeup every day. I used to watch her, and think her strange for saying it. Time could be seen in every clock face; what was strange about it? But now I know better. Life has taught me not to underestimate Time, that great thief of all we hold near and dear. As we celebrate these past hundred issues, let us never forget why we choose to pursue excellence in life. Why remembering the small things like how to write a proper letter matter. Or why reading the works of a master like Goethe make us better people. This issue is testament to the sacrifices we have made to Time, the late nights and missed birthdays and forgotten dinners that the women of Tempus Fugit have had to endure. This issue, I salute them, and I hope you, too, dear readers, will appreciate our dedication to our pursuit of excellence, and of perfection.
After all, we do not know how long we have left.
Marie Theres Windenburg
Editor in chief”
Mariandel finished reading Marie Theres’ letter and set her wine glass down. Wow. She didn’t know the old girl had it in her. Not for the first time Mariandel was struck again by how fitting it was that Marie Theres was the editor in chief of Tempus Fugit. There was wisdom about her that few saw; those who did often chose to ignore it, for they were discomfited by such a woman who held such great gravitas, such power. Mariandel shook her head and blew out a low whistle. Wow.
She grabbed the sheet and made her way back to Charlotte’s office, bringing a cup of hot chocolate with her as she did. Charlotte needed the cheering. When she did arrive at the literary editor’s office it was to find her friend on the phone with her sister.
“…yes Sophie, I will be back by your next birthday. Don’t worry about it. I’ll take care of it. Yes, I will.”
She caught sight of Mariandel, who proffered the cup as a gesture of peace. Rolling her eyes she returned to her conversation while waving a negligent hand that Mariandel should take a seat.
“I have to go now, sweetie. I’ll talk to you when I get back, alright? I love you. Bye.” She replaced the phone in its cradle with a sigh.
“Let me guess. Editor’s letter?” Charlotte held her hand out for the letter in question and Mariandel handed it over. She rose to leave.
“Take care of yourself, Charlotte. Say hi to Sophie for me.”
Charlotte waved at Mariandel again, already engrossed in deciphering Marie Theres’ script. Mariandel grinned and let herself out, returning to Marie Theres’ office.
She smirked to herself as she passed through the various departments. Humming a happy tune, she found herself in a surprisingly buoyant mood even as she made her way back to the dragon’s lair. Despite herself, she found herself developing quite a soft spot for her demanding boss. Mariandel held no illusions that she was not by far the most qualified for her position, but Marie Theres had taken what she had been given and had tried her utmost to groom Mariandel. For that, Mariandel was grateful. There was much she owed to the editor, if she thought about it. Simply observing the woman had taught Mariandel so much about what it was to be a woman. She’d seen the different facets to the great lady, and from what Mariandel had seen, she wouldn’t have traded her last year here for anything in the world.
She rounded the corner to Marie Theres’ office. As though sensing her presence, that authoritative voice rang out.
A quirked grin flashed across Mariandel’s face and she shook her head once in amazement, before she schooled her expression into blankness again.
She stepped into Marie Theres’ office.
“Yes, Marie Theres.”
No, not for anything in the world.