Time to flex my creative muscles again with another short story.
Creativity is an unusual thing, and that’s for sure not an original observation. I’ve honestly struggled all week long to come up with a story concept for this week’s challenge.
I really don’t want to fail this at all, and especially not so early on. And then I had the germ of an idea, and it all came to me at once. Timing of the week being what it is, this one’s a little less polished than it might be, but hopefully it’s an engaging enough read.
For those coming here afresh, I’m trying to write a short story every week for a full calendar year; as the title suggests I’m now seven weeks in.
That means you’ve got six other stories to check out as well:
This is my second crack at a fifty two week challenge; if you want even more of my short fiction, you can buy a collection of the last challenge, called Fifty Two:
And if you want something entirely different, there’s also my B-movie novel, Sharksplosion. Yeah, it’s pretty much exactly what you’d think a book with that title might be like:
And now, on with this week’s story:
“Oh yes, he’s dead. Quite dead. Body parts everywhere, hell of a mess…”
The TV in the background blared away as Mary got on with the cleaning. She would have rather not had it on, but old Mr Breckinridge liked to sit and watch all day, and said he didn’t care about the noise of the vacuum while Mary got on with her job.
Well, he said he didn’t mind, but Mary had noticed that he always put the volume up VERY LOUD any time she even moved towards the vacuum cleaner.
That’s why she tended to wait until he dozed off, usually around half an hour after lunchtime to actually do any vacuuming. She could tell when Breckinridge was asleep rather easily, because his snoring rattled the windows, thanks to his overly large and long nose.
Once he was securely dribbling into his beard, she could do just about anything short of setting off a bomb and he wouldn’t notice.
She just had to remember to wake him up before she left, otherwise they’d get into another argument next Tuesday about whether or not she’d ever been there.
So for now, it was cleaning up the kitchen that would have to do. Mary could never quite work out how Mr Breckinridge managed to make such a quantity of mess in just seven short days.
Every Tuesday she knew that she’d be mopping, cleaning dishes and sneaking out increasingly large quantities of mouldy food while he wasn’t looking.
That was a lesson she’d learned on the first day she cleaned for him. He had gone into a red rage when she binned a loaf of bread with green fur on the side, claiming that “most of it” was still perfectly good.
She’d wanted to gag, but she reluctantly replaced it back in the bread bin. By the next week, there was a happy family of flies living in it, and she’d had to pour it into the bin, holding her nose all the time while Breckinridge snored.
Breckinridge was easily the worst of her jobs, Mary reckoned. Mrs Oville was a little scatterbrained and kept complaining that Mary was stealing all her jewellry, but her flat was so small that it barely took an hour to get through it all.
The rules said she could only do one job a day, paid all the same whether it was one hour or two, so Mondays were always easy pickings.
Tuesdays were Breckinridge, of course, and Wednesdays were open right now, because Mr Smith had passed away. The agency said they were working to line her up a new client, but it had been six weeks on less money, and Mary was starting to wonder if she was going to be stuck with just the four days of paid work.
Thursdays and Fridays she worked at the retirement home, cleaning the general public areas. It was hard work with a lot to do, but she could simply put on her headphones and get on with it, because there was no personal client to deal with on those days.
That was enough to get by, just, but only as long as she didn’t really do anything but work and go home to feed Mittens, her cat. Mittens was really Sarah’s cat, but Sarah was long gone, and Mary still hoped that keeping Mittens around might lead to Sarah’s return.
Maybe one day. But not today, when the dishes beckoned in Breckinridge’s overly hot kitchen. Mary set herself to scrubbing as the TV blared on and on.
“Now, do you want to bank your money, or risk it all on the mega-millions prize?”
The TV was still blaring as Mary finished up the kitchen, tying up a garbage bag filled with expired bulging tins of supermarket salmon and everything else that had made Breckinridge’s pantry smell quite so bad.
Breckinridge’s voice boomed out from the living room, not angry, but loud, because he really couldn’t hear even himself these days.
Mary walked nervously into the living room. Breckinridge didn’t sound angry, but you could never tell what the clients might do next. That Mr Callaway she used to clean for was always trying to expose himself to cleaners, while Mrs Najawan would just talk and talk and talk to you about the old country for hours, not letting you get away.
Breckinridge could get angry, but he usually didn’t demand much.
“Mary… ah, there you are. Got a job I need you do.”
“Yes, Mr Breckinridge, what is it? Your lunch hasn’t arrived yet from the meals on wheels people.”
“No, no, it’s not that. I need you go get me something from the bedroom.”
“Your jacket is right there if you’re cold, Mr Breckinridge”
Mary couldn’t imagine Breckinridge was cold, because the heating was always turned up way too high.
“It’s not that. There’s a box, top of the cupboard. Last cleaning lady put it up there, stupid cow, I never could reach it after that.”
“Yes, girl, a box. A shoe box, says… oh, let me think…. yes, Wilfred’s Shoes in bold red print. Might be a bit heavy, but could you go get it and bring it down to me?”
“Certainly, Mr Breckinridge. Top of the cupboard, you said?”
Mary headed to the bedroom, where usually she’d just vacuum every second week.
The clients tended to get very tetchy about where they slept, always worrying about their privacy.
Or in the case of Mr Callaway, whether he could fool cleaners into going into there so he could flash them, but that was a different problem.
Mary looked at the top of the cupboard, which was stacked high with old suitcases and what looked like a violin case. No shoe box, though. She headed back out to the living room.
“Mr Breckinridge… are you sure about this shoe box? I can see some suitcases and a violin case, but no shoe box.”
“Oh, it’ll be behind the suitcases. Just shuffle them out of the way. I’m sure it’s there.”
Mary headed back, and started to move the suitcases, one by one. They were old and dusty, and surprisingly heavy, so she had to slowly transfer them down to the bed.
Once all of the suitcases were down, she peered carefully at the back of the top of the wardrobe.
There was an old rusty rat trap, some old magazines, wrinkled with time, and one cardboard shoe box.
She could just about make out the lettering that read “W..r.d S…s”, but any red tone it may have once had was long since faded away. Mary grabbed the box, placed it down on the bed and started hefting up the heavy suitcases.
Somehow, they felt heavier going back up than they did coming down, but eventually the stack was back in place. Mary picked up the shoe box and headed out to the living room.
“Now it’s time to SPIN THE WHEEL”
blared from the TV set.
“Mr Breckinridge? I’ve found that box you wanted…”
The ambulance came quickly, as they usually did in cases like this.
Mary had been through this before, and knew that she would have to wait around for the police to arrive, and which forms she would need to sign.
She’d called the office right after she called for the ambulance, so they knew that the contract would be cancelled for Tuesdays for now.
Lisa in the office had nicely asked how Mary was doing, and all Mary could think about was that she would now have a large gap in her work week, making it even harder to meet the rent.
The ambulance crew took the body away, leaving Mary alone in the house.
“You’ve won a NEEEW CAAAAAR!”
It dawned on Mary that she could switch the TV off, because actually nobody was watching it.
She sat in the kitchen. She couldn’t quite bear to sit in the living room, because there was only the one chair, and it was where… no, the kitchen would do, with its rickety single stool.
She looked across at the shoe box, which she’d left on the kitchen bench once she’d run to the phone.
Mary knew the protocol; she’d be checked over carefully by the police before they would let her go. Stories abounded about staff who tried to steal things from deceased clients, but Mary knew that she needed this job. Still, it wouldn’t hurt to look, would it?
She carefully pulled the ancient cardboard lid off the box and looked inside.
To her great surprise, there was a pair of very worn canvas gloves inside, the palms almost shredded to the fibres.
Something glinted in the hard fluorescent light of the kitchen beneath them. Carefully, she lifted up the glove.
Beneath it sat a medal, bright and gold. On it, clearly inscribed was “Xth OLYMPIAD LOS ANGELES: ROPE CLIMB” next to a photo of a young man.
No white beard, but Mary would recognise that long and prominent nose anywhere.
That’s when the tears started to flow.