What I’m working on at present has been percolating away in my widdle head for quite some time, brewing away until the words have come out to form sentences on my screen and turn into a cup o’ romantic comedy-mystery-thriller. It’s a housekeeper and her boss story.
I’m calling Cleaning House.
Here’s a small sip, which begins the morning after Mae’s employer has returned from a business trip, and shortly follows the departure of his overnight female guest…
The chair at the small table in front of the bay window squeaked softly as he had a seat. She served him whole-wheat toast, the scrambled eggs topped with béarnaise, and set his coffee beside his blue plate. He smelled clean, of orange, bergamot, and a whisper of spicy nutmeg that blended with the aroma of coffee. The scent suited him.
“Will you join me for a cup?” he asked.
“Yes, of course.” Mae sat with him and sipped her mug of black Sumatran-Latin American blend, while he ate his breakfast with gusto.
“Why are you so good to me, Mae?” he said, savouring the simple plate of food as if he’d never eaten anything more heavenly.
“Because you pay me.”
“I pay, you care, just like a patient who visits a psychologist.”
“Yes. Except you don’t tell me any dark secrets about yourself.”
“No, you figure out those all on your own.”
“Miss Samarakkody, Indian or perhaps Sri Lankan?”
“Would you approve if she was single?”
“It’s not my place to approve, sir. You pay me, remember? I’m here to scrub your toilet and cook your breakfast.”
“Would you approve if I paid you more?”
“Are you offering me a pay rise?”
He chuckled and found untold delight in another mouthful of scrambled egg. “How long have you been with me now, Mae?”
“It’s been five years since your previous housekeeper left your employ and retired, so five years, sir.”
“It seems much longer.”
“Like eternity in hell.”
He laughed again. “I’ll be home in Hades for the next three or four weeks. It’ll be a month of compiling reports for head office, paperwork, and such other hellishly mind-numbing bits of boring, so I’ll be needing you here to keep me fortified.”
“I’ll make certain you’re appropriately well-fed to deal with the dullness, sir.”
“See that you do.” He gulped a mouthful of coffee then returned the cup to the table and lifted his fork. “What did you get up to while I was away this time?”
“I discovered Caspar left an indecently large sum of money in a trust. It’s taken some time to tend to and understand.”
“Define indecently large.”
Mae told him the figure.
A forkful of egg paused at his lips, his brow quirked and he gave a little nod. “I’d say that’s decidedly indecent. I had no idea being a gardener could be so lucrative. Clearly, I’ve chosen the wrong career. Well, with that amount, even after tax, you’re set for life.”
“I’d be set for life if Caspar were still with me—and if property maintenance on old buildings didn’t involve plumbing. There was a leak in your ensuite that warranted repair and I had to replace your toilet. It was better that you weren’t here. Quite messy. Would you have any idea how the bowl cracked, sir?”
Neatly, with a cloth napkin, he blotted béarnaise from his lips. “Perhaps you scrubbed it too hard.”
“Well, I am rather deadly with a toilet brush, but I hadn’t thought of that, sir.”
He sighed, and returned his napkin to his lap, a shrewd little smile on his lips. She knew it amused him that she was both his housekeeper and landlady who lived in the converted Regency house next door. “Mrs Graham,” he said, “will you be increasing my rent to cover the cost incurred in this minor renovation to the lavatory?”
It amused her that he addressed her formally when their roles shifted from employer and employee to lodger and property-owner. “I hadn’t considered that either, sir.”
He spread her homemade marmalade on his toast. “Sir. My previous housekeeper scorned the idea of calling me sir, and yet you call me nothing else, despite our arrangement.”
“I trained in butling and house management. While generally the title of sir is reserved for royalty or knights of the realm, of which you are neither, any other form of address would be inappropriate, sir, unless you would prefer Colonel.”
“Now, with that I’d expect you to salute. Every time,” he said with a grimace, and then his mouth was full of toast and the grimace had turned to a grin…