by Allison Symes
Smash! Sally stopped cleaning Mr Harry’s table to see Ethel Price look at a broken plate with chocolate cake scattered everywhere.
Oh dear, Sally thought. Ethel’s Weetabix flew at warp speed earlier.
‘We all get off days, Ethel!’ Sally called. ‘I’ll clear it and fetch more cake.’
‘You won’t,’ the harsh voice came from the doorway.
Sally sighed. The new boss, Mrs Hathaway, had a gift for arriving at the most awkward moment.
‘Mrs Price needs more cake, Mrs Hathaway.’
‘I know that. Just clean. It’s what we pay you for. The nurses, the professionals, are the ones to be nice to the clients.’
Sally looked at Ethel. It stopped her swearing.
Ethel stared at Mrs Hathaway.
Sally started cleaning. She had to turn her back on the old dragon to do it.
‘You shouldn’t take that rudeness, Sally,’ Ethel said.
‘I am a contract cleaner, Ethel. I can’t afford to upset Mrs Hathaway, as she knows. Are you okay?’
‘Yes, just fed up I drop things. Mrs Hathaway is bringing my cake. The nurses must be busy.’
‘They always are,’ Sally moved though she had to fight the temptation to drop Mrs Hathaway a curtsey as the latter put Ethel’s cake down, scowled at Sally, and stomped off. ‘Someone got out of the bed the wrong side this morning. It wasn’t us, was it, Ethel?’
Sally smiled and resumed cleaning Mr Harry’s table.
It was a relief to reach six p.m. Today set a new record for spillages cleared.
Sally was donning her coat when Mrs Hathaway appeared.
Like the fairytale witch, Sally thought, trying not to laugh.
‘You’re not going home. I need my office spotless. The government inspection is tomorrow. There’s no overtime.’
‘I must get home to my little boy, Mrs Hathaway. My husband starts work in an hour. He can’t be late. I can’t be late.’
‘Your domestic arrangements are irrelevant. Clean or consider yourself fired.’
Sally took her coat off. ‘Can I make a call, Mrs Hathaway? I should warn my husband I’ll be late.’
‘If you weren’t gossiping with Mrs Price, you’d have more time, wouldn’t you?’
Sally sighed. ‘I’ll text him. Will I disturb you while I’m cleaning?’
‘No. I’ll be watching from the door. Get on with it.’
The one plus was the office wasn’t dirty.
Maybe dirt is too scared of Mrs Hathaway to be in the same room, Sally thought.
Papers needed stacking and some dusting was required, though Sally dusted everything.
The only comment was a grunt as Sally left forty minutes late.
Maybe the inspection is making the boss ratty, but why is she always like that, Sally thought. Tomorrow won’t be fun. Bob’s right. I should find somewhere else. The old dears are lovely but I can’t face working with her always. Everyone needs cleaners.
Sally entered the Peaceful Rose Care Home to find Mrs Hathaway looking at her watch.
‘Morning, Mrs Hathaway. I’m not late.’
‘My watch states you’re thirty seconds late. You lose an hour’s pay.’
‘No buts and if you want to earn any money, get to it. Ethel Price has been clumsy again.’
‘The poor soul can’t help it. She’s had a stroke.’
‘Just clean. The inspector arrives at midday.’
Sally preferred working alone but Mrs Hathaway shadowed her and gave a running commentary of how she’d do things better.
Every resident gave Sally sympathetic smiles, even Mr Harry, who usually slept in his chair, woke for food and drink, and slept again.
It was a relief when the inspector arrived. The woman looked nice. Not that it made much difference to Sally given Ethel Price spilled soup on the carpet in front of the inspector. Sally didn’t look at Mrs Hathaway though she braced herself for the sniping.
Once the inspector left, Mrs Hathaway delivered.
‘Get out. You’re fired.’
Sally reddened, embarrassed the dragon bawled her out in front of the residents. Sally heard crying but didn’t dare look at Ethel Price.
Sally walked out with as much dignity as she could manage. At least she wouldn’t see the dragon again and the world always needed cleaners. But the job search could wait till Monday.
phone hadn’t stopped ringing or so it seemed to Sally all week. Given she had
four interviews lined up, others could wait. The persistent beggars could leave
a message on the answerphone.
‘I’m sorry, Ethel,’ Mrs Hathaway said, ‘but I cannot get through. Sally hasn’t answered her phone all week.’
‘If she has a gadget saying who is calling and she spotted you, I don’t blame her. You were rude.’
‘I know, I’m sorry. I’ll keep trying. I know we need Sally back. The others work hard but something about Sally brought out their best. Even the inspector noted our cheerful cleaning team as an asset.’
Ethel snorted. ‘It makes a change for the government to be more on the ball than someone like you. You’d better get back to your phone. I will try not to drop my cake this time, but I’ve not been the same since my stroke. Sally, who was “just a cleaner”, knew that.’
Ethel smiled as Mrs Hathaway reddened.
‘Morning, Ethel, how are you? Good to see you!’
A beaming Ethel knocked her tumbler on the floor. ‘Business as normal, Sally?’
Sally looked at the spilled squash and grinned. ‘Isn’t it just? Now give me a mo and I’ll soon clear that.’
Sally didn’t look at Mrs Hathaway as she cleared up. Gloating wasn’t ladylike. Besides, Sally could savour that at home over a glass of something lovely with her hubby. Though remembering the call Sally finally answered would give her a warm glow for months…
‘Sally, please come back, we miss you.’
‘Even you, Mrs Hathaway?’
‘Yes, I was wrong…’
Sally thought those were the sweetest words she’d ever hear but now Ethel Price needed another drink and the mess would not clear itself. The world always needs cleaners.
About the author
Allison Symes, who loves quirky fiction, is published by Chapeltown Books, CafeLit, and Bridge House Publishing.
Her latest flash fiction collection, Tripping The Flash Fantastic, is out in Kindle and paperback.
Her Youtube channel, with book trailers and story videos, is at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPCiePD4p_vWp4bz2d80SJA/