Maureen, the outside windows are still grimy,' said MissJones.
'Oh, are they Miss?' replied Maureen, dusting the shelves.
'Clean them again.'
'It's just that it's so windy.'
'They must look terrible from outside, from the Harrison's window.'
'The window cleaner comes round this area Wednesdays miss'
Miss gave her a stare.
'You cleaned them last week, didn't you?'
'And the week before?'
'But today it's too windy for you.'
Maureen nodded her head. 'I know the window cleaner Miss. Brian.I could speak to him.'
'Do you think the wind might blow you away?' Miss laughed. 'It would take an incredibly strong wind to blow you away Maureen.'
Maureen looked down at her protruding belly and covered her face.
'I will go out now Maureen. When i come back I expect those windows cleaned. Perhaps you are friendly with another cleaning lady? One who does not mind cleaning windows? Maybe you can ask her to come by and I'll pay her instead. Oh, and give the bathroom another going over would you? Really scrub those tiles if you don't mind.'
Miss left the room.
Maureen sank into the sofa. She rubbed her belly. She had already given the bathroom a good scrubbing. It had not been dirty anyway. How could it be when it was scrubbed twice a week? She looked at the window. True, it was filthy. But the wind! She had better clean it though. If Miss found another cleaner, Bobby would get angry. That would be 60 quid a week gone: 20 pints,10 packets of 20s. Booze and fags would have to be packed in. It would be hard to find another cleaning job what with the way things were and all. She thought of how Bobby's face would be if she told him she had gotten the sack. It would go as red as those roses over there on the table. And her face would be as red too, then black and blue, like those tiles.
First, she'd clean the bathroom again; then, the windows.
But there was nothing wrong with those tiles. Nothing. She scrubbed the tiles anyway. Tears landed on the tiles. Trembling hands clenching a sponge swept them up in the bleached water and rubbed them into the tiles. When it was done, she stood up. No doubt Miss would still find fault. Perhaps she should not have mentioned the window cleaner.
She went into the living room andstood before the window. She looked out and into the Harrison's back room. Perhaps Miss had gone there. Perhaps she was looking at the windows. She would be mad. She looked at her watch. Ten more minutes to keep her job. Then home. Daytime TV. Linda and the baby might pop round. Linda would moan about Gary as she always did. She would cook dinner for when Bobby got home from the pub or the bookies. More TV. Then some time alone when Bobby went back out. Then he would come home and then he...
The door opened. Miss was standing there.Maureen soaked the sponge in the bucket. She opened the window as Miss came toward her. Maureen stood on the chair and then climbed onto the ledge. She had done this time and time before yet her knees trembled and she shuddered. Miss was watching her the whole time with that look she had when she was not satisfied and she knew that Maureen's income swayed in her balance, a knolwdege that made her lips curl up ever so slightly at the end.
Maureen climbed out on to the ledge. Normally, when being on the receiving end of that look she would give a half smile, her teeth hidden, her eyes dead, or look the other way; but this time she gazed into Miss's face as if it were a mirror and she were a vain woman. Miss' eyes grew quite wide when she realised she was being looked at in such a way. Maureen liked seeing the expression on Miss's face. She felt her days were numbered, and not just in Miss' employment.
Perhaps, thought Maureen, I won't be going home tonight. Perhaps I'll be going someplace better.
'It's very windy Miss', called Maureen not taking her eyes off her.
Miss came closer to the window. The look was gone. Maureen had the look now, like a mirror that freezes the reflections of those who gaze into it. She could see the fear in Miss' eyes; the same expression she herself had worn so often when looking at Miss as she ranted and raved about the tiles, the kitchen shelves or the windows.
Maureen began to sway a little, mirroring the branches.
'Really, it would have been better to get a professional to do it when it's so windy', said Maureen.
Miss stood before the open window.
'Ok Maureen, it's ok. Come back in', Miss said, her voice like a snake imitating a nightingale to lure what it believed to be a foolish mouse.
Maureen wiped the soapy sponge over the window. 'No, it's alright Miss. I've got a job to do. Got to earn my keep. Got to keep my familu, too. Have you seen my Bobby Miss?'
'Well, he likes his beer and fags Miss. Now Miss,' her eyes were red, tears streamed down her face. 'Did you check the bathroom Miss? Cleaned it good I did. Just like you told me.'
Maureen looked down. Below her were the flowerbeds. She looked above at the grey sky. She looked back at Miss.
'Oh it's so windy Miss', she held out her hand. 'Let me back in.'
Miss took her hand and Maureen stepped closer. She took her eyes off her for the first time to look at their clasped hands, both hands wrinkled and spotted, the only similarity they shared other than thier sex. Maureen tried to shake free of Miss' hand; Miss tightened her grip. Maureen tried to wrestle free, screaming as she did so, screaming for Miss to leave her alone. She screamed that she was sorry about the windows, that there was no need to be so angry. Finally, Miss's hands fell from Maureen's and Maureen screamed. The screams caused the Harrisons to look out their window and see Miss hanging out the window, looking down at Maureen lying in the flowerbeds, looking down, as she had, until the end.