cleaning woman

Woman in white robe standing in kitchen

It was the towel that did it.

Karen returned home to her bungalow at quarter past six.This was her usual time after cleaning the offices in the evening. A day spent wiping down the surfaces of the food preparation areas. Scrubbing at stubborn coffee spills on counter tops. Vim usually did the trick for that problem. Vacuuming the coarse office carpets. Often in colours no respecting householder would have. Dingy greys, dark blues, grass greens. The toilets were always the worse. Particularly the executive loos. Maybe it was some sort of power play or a case of ‘because they could’ but the floors around the bowls were always covered with pee and carelessly discarded tissue. She really had to work her magic there to get rid of the smell and yellow tell-tales. 

Karen trudged through the open front door stepping over her husband’s discarded jacket on the floor. Precisely where she had told him numerous times not to leave it. She picked it up and put it on the nearby coat peg. 

She carried the bags of shopping through to the kitchen. He was there at the cooker frying. She watched as egg, sausage and bacon spat fat up the wall of tiles around the oven. Each little spit landing and leaving a yellow mark. Hanging there at first then gradually making a trail down the wall towards the surface of the hob where it rested satisfied. A mark of defiance. Defiant at her cleaning. The hours she had spent scrubbing those tiles white last week. The toothbrush she had used dipped in the best bleach then worked into the grout between each tile. The only way. All gone. All lost. Lost to the sizzling spit of a frying pan.

Karen left the shopping by the kitchen table to be sorted later. Made her way to the bedroom. Worn and unworn men’s clothes littered the bed and floor. A battlefield of linen. Reds, blues, greens intertwined with each other. Day used socks and sweaty underpants slept on her pillow. He was always such a dirty man. Unclean. She wondered what had attracted her to him in the first place. He had turned up at their date in a crumpled dark suit, crumpled shirt, crumpled tie. Unpolished shoes. Maybe she felt he needed looking after. That she was the one to do it. A challenge to be taken on. Or was it just to annoy her parents. Knowing his long hair and t-hs dropped for fs would be an a-front to their prim and proper ways. Whatever it was, they were married a year later and she set about trying to train him.

She left the bedroom. Went next door. Her favourite room of the house. She had insisted on the decor. It was her non-negotiable. A fashionable free standing bath. A wide white basin with victorian taps. A wooden bench on which rested three scented candles. Dimmable lighting to set a mood. Tiled flooring with heating. Her sanctuary. But it had been defiled. Again. Two used white, wet towels lay on the floor. In the middle. In the middle of her room. Her place. The clock work in her mind clicked another notch. The final notch. Rang the bell.

Karen made her way back to the kitchen. He was sat at the table eating his fry up. Bacon, eggs, sausages, fried toast. The frying pan had been dumped on top of the pile of washing up in the sink. She lifted it up. Turned around. Hitting him hard on the head. Metal against bone. There was a crack. He slumped in the chair.

He was always a slip of a man. So it was easy work dragging him from the kitchen to the bathroom. She looked with disgust at the trail of blood along the carpet. But she knew she had a fluid that would sort that out. She stripped him of his oil stained jeans and t-shirt. Damn that garage. And with a mighty heave, practised from lifting large vacuum cleaners up flights of stairs, she got him in the bath. 

She put in the plug and turned on the mixer tap. Something nice and warm. She fetched the large container of bleach from the cupboard under the stairs. Pilfered from work. There had to be some perks. She emptied the 5 litre bottle into the bath. Watching the gentle trail of the thick liquid hit the water. His skin. She would teach him how to be clean even if it killed him. 

She turned off the taps. It still wasn’t enough. He still looked grubby and dirty laying in the bath. Her bath. Something more was needed. Something to get him really clean. She went back to the cupboard under the stairs and lifted down the brush from the shelf. The steel wire brush. The one she used to clean the bottom of blackened pans. That would do the job.

She set to his skin. Scrubbing furiously. Scrubbing as if he were the pissed stained floors of the executive loos. The coffee  marked surfaces of the food counters. The tiles in the kitchen. The bath water turned red. She ignored it. She was doing good. Getting the grime away. The years of fried food, engine oil. Dirt on her clean sheets. A late night hand feeling for her arse leaving  fingerprints. He was always so grubby. She scrubbed away.

She pulled the plug and watched as the dirty water receded. A gradual reveal of her handiwork. A pinkish rim was left around the bath marking where the water had been. That would take some sorting but it had been worth it. She had finally taught him how to be clean to the bone.


Soup with meat and vegetable in white ceramic bowl

This all came about because I was ill. Some may say: What do you expect? You’re vegetarian. You lot are always ill. You need protein. Meat!

But that is just guff. I’m rarely ill. It was just the usual coming to the end of the term so winding down and immune system taking a break. So hence, I’m ill. I got a cold. A humdinger of a cold. On the scale of colds: a ten. 

So I was lying in bed feeling shit. What’s worse, I hadn’t even been offered a warm drink. Or food. Nothing. My wife had just left me. There. In bed. Suffering. In my misery of endless sniffles, sneezes, throbbing skull, hot sweats, aching bones, shivers.

It doesn’t surprise me I got left. Sometimes I swear she doesn’t even know I exist. Things are such that when I get home from work she always tells me: I’ve eaten. Fix something for yourself.

So I do. I make myself something to eat. And sit alone at the dining table. Just me. The food. A glass of wine. No company. No conversation. She sits in the living room watching Strictly. Catching up on the highlights and the gossip. So when no food came when I was in bed. Gravely ill. It didn’t surprise me.

I guessed it was a “fix it yourself” situation. I wasn’t hungry for a big meal. Just something to tide me over. Keep me going. So I looked in the fridge bucket and came across a few spuds and a leek. Soup. That was the answer. 

I chopped the leek into pieces. Peeled and chopped the spuds.  Threw it all into some water with salt. Let it come to the boil and simmer. The water rolling over the veg in a gentle wave motion in the pan. Over and over. A rolling ocean of veg pieces. When the veg was soft, I turned off the heat. Got the hand blender and set to the mixture. The pieces breaking down. From large to small to a blend of lime green. 

A dash more water. A touch of milk. I don’t like my soup too thick. I don’t like it to hang on the spoon like tinted slime. Ghostbusters’ Goo. I like it to pour off. Fluid. And quick. A bit more heat to the mixture. When it was just right. Just bubbling. I ladled it into a bowl. Two-thirds high. Retired to the table. Consumed. Just me and the soup and the empty house. My wife long gone on an errand. Or work. Which, I don’t know. She doesn’t tell me.

As I sat there. Sipping my soup. I wondered how many days would it be before my wife would check if I was OK and had eaten. One day? Two? At all? Would she even think to? Or were we now so distant it was a foolish question to ask. I know we are both busy. Me with my work. Her with her office job. But surely we weren’t broken? 

I finished the soup. Washed up the bowl. Pan. And things. Returned to bed.

Shivers. Cold. Sneeze. Watering eyes. The coldness of the bed would not improve even when she came to sleep. We stay on our own sides. Each distant from the other. When this started I don’t know. Just one day. Like other things. We just stopped. No longer together. We stayed in our spaces. 

I decided something had to be done. I had to make a stand. Raise the issue. Start a discussion. A dialogue. Put us back on track. But how? 

Then it came to me. A neat solution. I would just eat soup. A bowl of soup each day. Just one bowl. Nothing more. Surely, she would notice my weight loss? Worry if I am eating? Ask about my welfare? Then we would talk. Become one again. It seemed the perfect plan.

So day two. She’s at work. I make soup. Leek and potato soup. One bowl. Consume it. Wash up. Bed. Cold. Shivers. Sneezes. Watering eyes. Sleep.

Day three. She’s at work. I make soup. Leek and potato. One bowl. Consume it. Wash up. Bed. Cold. Shivers. Sneezes. Watering eyes. Sleep.

Day four. I get up. I feel much better. Shower. Dress. She goes to work. I shop. I make soup. Vegetable soup. One bowl. Consume. Clean. 

She comes home. Makes herself something to eat. Watches Strictly Highlights. Says nothing. My trousers keep falling past my waist. I think I need a new notch on my belt. But she says nothing.

Two weeks have past. I’m still on soup. The Xmas holidays have ended. Goodwill to all men. Hah! I only had a bowl of soup on Christmas Day. I fixed it myself. She didn’t notice.

I’m back at work. In the classroom with kids. My ribs are beginning to stick out. I’m sure of it. New notches on my belt. I’ve had to buy new shirts and trousers. Still nothing. I could be starving and she wouldn’t notice. What do I do? Do I carry on? Will she ever notice? But I’ve come so far. It’s so important. But I’m hungry. I need something else to eat. All she ever says is: I’ve eaten. Fix yourself something. I’m wasting away. I’m not sure I can go on. When will she notice?

It’s been a month. She hasn’t noticed. Each day I have soup. A single bowl of soup. I need more nourishment. I need something with bite. Something to sustain me. I feel light-headed and dizzy. My thoughts lose themselves. I’ve just got in from work and she is watching more Strictly Highlights. She’s just said: I’ve eaten. Fix yourself something.

I go to the kitchen. Reach for a bowl. Not once has she checked I’ve eaten. She doesn’t care. I’m invisible to her. She only loves celebrity dance. 

I return to the living room. See the back of her head. It’s focused on the TV screen. Not focused on me. It doesn’t see me. I look at the bowl in my hand. Empty. Rage fills me. Courses through my body. Hot. Red. She didn’t even ask. She didn’t even notice. After all this time. I cry: Fix it yourself! She turns towards me. Eyes wide. The bowl is in the air. I’m bringing it down.

I put the pieces in the new blender. Add some seasoning. A touch of chilli for some punch. Some hot water. And blend. I watch the pieces become smaller. Then nothing. Mix. Swirl. Liquify. I add a touch more hot water. I like my soup to pour off my spoon. Not stick there like tinted slime. Ghostbusters Goo. I pour it into a bowl up to the two-third mark. And cut some fresh French Stick to go with it. I sit at the table in the house. I sip the soup. It’s meatier than I’m used to.