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EXTRACT: Aisling and the City by Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght

By October 23, 2021No Comments

We are delighted to have a hilarious piece from the penultimate book in the ‘Aisling’ series, Aisling and the City, by Sarah Breen and Emer McLysaght, as our extract this week…


‘Hold it flatter. Flatter. FLAT-TER.’ I thought I was the business sailing into number 84 nice and early on Monday morning but of course I can’t get my new swipe card to work. Raphael has to roar across three perfectly functioning turnstiles to me at the fourth, where I can hear the impatient sighs of other very busy and important people behind me. I frantically mash the card down into the scanner, starting to sweat into my already damp Fancy T-shirt that I’ve paired with the pencil skirt again.

My T-shirts are separated into Fancy T-shirts, Normal T-shirts and Bed T-shirts. Fancy T-shirts have a bit of shape to them, have a nice neck and sleeves and might come on a hanger rather than a shelf in the shop. You might get two for twenty-five euro in Marks and Spencer or find a gem among the cowskin and ripped jeans in River Island. Normal T-shirts are ones you might wear with jeans or leggings and are mostly black but might also remind people that you saw Ed Sheeran in Croke Park or completed a 5K in aid of Barretstown or the Chernobyl Children.

Bed T-shirts were more than likely once Normal T-shirts that have gone a bit raggy. Or might be on the more garish side of the charity 5K or supermarket charity-bag-packing spectrum. A Fancy T-shirt rarely makes its way down the ranks to Normal or Bed T-shirt because I mind the Fancy T-shirts like anything, and anyway they’re not long or comfortable enough for leggings or bed. Raphael has given up shouting at me and is just staring, with his hand on his hip, when a firm hand glides me aside and there’s a merciful beep. ‘Is it your first time using a swipe card?’ Damn. I had wanted to get in before Aubrey today so she didn’t think I was a slacker. At least she can see that I’m arriv- ing at half-eight, though. I wanted to be first into the office to get my bits straight on my desk and my planner all open and ready to go when Mandy and I sit down for some executive brainstorming.

As the lift doors slide open, though, and people scurry past holding pages and touching earpieces and looking like they’d been there all night, basically, an image of Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada shivers through me like someone has just walked over my grave. Aubrey gives me a little nudge and I just manage to avoid a collision with a man misting a plant while striding and talking. I walk towards our cubicle just as a phone on a nearby desk bleats. The girl who answers it looks like Pippa O’Connor and even has her jacket shrobed over her shoulders. Ruby and Sadhbh taught me all about shrobing, but I could never get my denim jacket or my good North Face to sit right. American Pippa leans back in her chair and tinkles, ‘She’s here,’ and the busyness hets up into overdrive. Are they having me on? Are they actually doing the bit from The Devil Wears Prada where they’re all terrified of Meryl Streep and she comes in roaring about Harry Potter and Demarchelier?

I glance down at my Fancy T-shirt, which is just plain black, but I’m wondering which designer two seasons ago decided I would be wearing it on this very day. I wish I could ask them to make the sleeves a bit longer. Has anyone ever truly coveted a shorter capped sleeve? ‘Is everything alright?’ I whisper to Aubrey as we sit down opposite each other. ‘I mean, should I be doing something?’ ‘Just look alive,’ she whispers back. ‘She hates any slouch- ing around or bad energy. You must know that?’ I think back to my previous working experience with Mandy, and it’s true that she really got stuff done when she set her mind to it.

She managed to convince Pat Cowap to hose down the road outside his farm the day before the Coburn–Dixon wedding, and he was apparently heard whistling ‘Born in the USA’ when he was doing it. For a man so notoriously lazy as Pat Cowap that his cows started bringing themselves in to be milked, that’s some impressive hustling. The nerves that have been fluttering around in the base of my stomach all morning start coming to a slow boil as Mandy’s impending arrival looms. ‘Stop that now,’ I tell myself. ‘She asked you to come here. She thinks you’re a great worker. She told the New York Post that her A1 staff in Ireland managed to get The Peigs to perform at Ben and Emilia’s wedding.’

Majella has had a Google Alert set up for The Peigs ever since she first laid eyes on Don and decided she was going to marry him. The fact that he’s now in a serious relationship with one of her good friends and she’s a married woman hasn’t shamed her into cancelling it. She emailed me the New York Post article with a big circle around ‘A1 staff’ and wrote, ‘That’s you!’ I practise a bit of my deep breathing from the Calm app, open my laptop, get straight into my emails and write the date in my planner. Mandy will put me to work in good time once we’ve had a catch-up. Relax, Aisling. Relax. Mandy arrives into the office in a flurry of hellos and did- you-get-that-thing-dones and five-minutes-at-nine-thirty-Joshes and she’s already past me and into her office when I realise she’s you-made-it-Aisling-did-you-bring-me-any-sausage-d me in a fly-by.

She says sausage the way Americans say sausage. Saws-udge. It’s sausages, plural. Why can’t they get that right? It’s the same with math. They put so much effort into getting Lego wrong, insisting on calling it Legos. Or, to be more precise, ‘lay-goes’. You’d think they’d stick an S onto the end of ‘math’. And no, I haven’t brought her any of Carol Boland’s sausages from BallyGoBrunch. Sure, I’d have to declare them to Customs. I’ve seen enough Nothing to Declare to know how many pests and spores I could be carrying on my feet, never mind in a kilo of raw meat. I’m dithering at my desk, wondering if I should follow her into her office, when she pops back out again and shouts, ‘Gangbang!’ from her door.

I look around and see a girl Aubrey introduced to me as Melissa from Sales, three men I think might all be called ‘Josh’ and the rest of the office picking up iPads and laptops and heading for Meeting Room 1. American Pippa deshrobes and grabs her elaborate-looking coffee, and Aubrey grabs her computer and scoots after her, calling, ‘Alexia, can I get numbers from you for Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Thanksgiving pot luck? I know it’s months away but we need to start letting the caterers know what each guest is planning to pretend to bring.’ My hand is on my planner, but it looks like nobody else is bringing paper and a pen. I consider my laptop for a second but decide to stick with what I know.

I can always transfer any notes onto it, and besides, I’ll be having some kind of one-on-one with Mandy after this, surely. Maybe she’ll mention there’s an office tucked away for me. Aubrey showed me a truly remarkable array of spreadsheets during my mini orientation on Friday. I’m looking forward to getting stuck in. I wonder what my first project will be? I read that the Brangelina twins are about to turn fourteen. Surely there’ll be a bash. I wouldn’t say no to the J.Lo Wet Water event either.


Aisling and the City,
published by Gill Books,
is available now.