Story a Day for a Week in May…2


Okay! So it’s bullocks cooling off in the pond in the field over our hedge, not cows, and so they’re only distantly related to a pint of milk. But, then, so is my story for Day 2 of  ‘A Story a Day for a Week in May’ only distantly related to buying said pint of milk.

In today’s effort for ‘A Story a Day for a Week in May’, we meet Sandra again, Hugh’s long-suffering wife in yesterday’s story. She’s supposed to be buying that pint of milk, but it isn’t working out too well, as you’ll see.


Dogs and Cats and Cupboard Clatter

Early morning sun filtered into the waiting room through the newly cleaned vertical blinds, showing it to be empty apart from some floating dust motes and a wet mop which was just out of Sandra’s reach.

She’d forgotten it in her haste to get into the cupboard herself. ‘I mean, is he early? Or am I late?’ she muttered. Five more minutes, just five, that’s all she’d needed! Or ten. To be realistic, probably ten!

At least he’d gone, for the moment.

She opened the cupboard door a crack and blindly groped for the handle of the stray cleaning tool. When her disembodied hand failed to locate it, her head followed like the slow emergence of her childhood tortoise. The mop was stubbornly out of reach.

She pushed the door open a little more and hastily looked around. Seeing nobody there, she reached further out of the cupboard, was just about to snatch the mop when Doctor Watson popped back out of his consulting room.

Head and mopless hand retracted swiftly into their protective shell.

Doctor Watson, a dapper little man, white shirt neatly pressed, dark suit immaculate as usual, walked with a flat-footed roll, studying the papers in his hand, his manner that of a preoccupied penguin. Used to cutting his corners fine, his way was barred by the mop.

A wider sweep round that particular corner would have missed it, but Doctor Watson was proud of his economy of movement: the straight path, the direct route, these were his choices. So, he encountered the mop.

He stared at it. It stood its ground. When it refused to step aside, he lifted it and with a loud ‘Tut!’ he opened the cupboard door and plonked the offending implement inside and onto Sandra’s feet.

Thankfully all of this was accomplished without any inspection of the interior of the cupboard, where Sandra stood flat against the wall hoping to be mistaken for the hoover.

When the wet mop draped itself round her ankles, she decided against exclaiming loudly because, basically, she didn’t want her boss to realise she was there.

When Sandra applied for the extra job as cleaner, he had been aghast. ‘Not fitting, Mrs Gilmour. Not fitting at all,’ he’d tutted. ‘How would it look if one of our patients were to realise that you, the receptionist, were also the cleaner? It would undermine your position here at the desk,’ he’d stated.

There was no arguing with him: he’d decided.

‘No! We’ll go through the Agency as usual, Mrs Gilmour. Perhaps you’d put that in motion, would you?’

But she needed the extra work, so, although she had gone through the Agency, she had made it clear to them she had a cleaner already, but would like payment and conditions etc. to be arranged through them. That way, The Penguin need never know how she had accommodated both of their wishes.

Now here she was, trapped in the cleaning cupboard, the door firmly closed, no handle on the inside.

Her ear to the door, she listened as his footsteps receded along the corridor to the records office. If things went to plan, he would stay there for ten minutes, more if the first surgery was heavily booked: files to look out, records to study.

The next person in the main door should be the post boy: a potential rescuer.

Sandra waited, breath held and released as softly as possible, her face flat against the smooth, painted surface of the door, listening for footsteps.

On hearing them, she knocked softly on the cupboard door; not loud enough to attract attention from the records office, loud enough, she hoped, to be heard by the post boy, if it was indeed his scuffle.

She heard the lad stop in his tracks. She imagined his head cocked like a spaniel’s, listening. She knocked again. There was the sound of a little startled jump, followed by a rush to the desk and it took little imagination to see him practically throw his bundle down before turning tail and bounding out of the building.

Hearing his retreat, Sandra sighed. She should have guessed he’d be too timid to investigate anything so mysterious. He blushed if anyone so much as said ‘Thank you!’ for the mail: practically wet himself with excitement when given a smile. She always felt like patting his head, ‘Good boy!’ and offering him some chocolate buttons.

Time passes slowly when you’re cramped into a small cleaning cupboard, surrounded by all the necessary tools of the cleaner’s trade: when the gentle aroma of spray polish mixed with the stronger smells of toilet cleaner and bleach threaten to overpower you: when there is insufficient light to check your watch but you know instinctively that you are going to be late for your ‘proper’ job, and you haven’t bought the milk yet for everyone’s cuppa at breaktime.

The Bulldog should be next. Yes, here he comes, barking out his orders for the day, only no-one is there, at the desk, to heed him. She should be there, smiling sweetly, saying ‘Yes, sir. No, sir. Three bags full, sir!’

“Where is the woman?” he barked in his best British Bulldog Voice.

Sandra pulled a face behind the cupboard door.

At last, Pussy-Cat arrived. Dear, sweet Colleen, not quite a Sex-Kitten but a very Cuddly Tabby: single, thirty-something, curly blonde hair piled on top of a round, permanently flushed face; tight skirt, clingy top.

“Where’s Mrs G?” Bulldog demanded.

“Sorry, Doctor Drummond. Must be indisposed, or possibly out fetching the milk for elevenses. Can I help you?”

Dear Colleen. Sweet, sweet Pussy-Cat. Always ready to soothe and stroke the troubled brow.

“Ermph! Yes, I suppose you’ll do.” Doctor Drummond, second partner in the Health Centre practice, growled and grumbled through his list of requirements for the day.

By the time he had finished and moved off to his room, Sandra had broken out in a bit of a sweat, brought on as much by the realisation that her chances of getting out of her predicament undiscovered were diminishing with every passing second, as by the fact that her oxygen supply was also diminishing—with every passing second.

She could just see the merest slither of light under the tight-fitting door, none at all round the edges. She would have admired the excellence of the craftsmanship if she had thought of it, or of anything much at all. In fact she was beginning to feel decidedly sleepy…

Colleen was alerted to Sandra’s plight by the noise emanating from the cleaning cupboard. The noise of brooms and mops falling over, buckets being kicked, plastic bottles of cleaning products crashing against the closed door, a strange moaning as she approached to open it.

“What on earth are you doing in there?” she asked as Sandra tumbled out at her feet.

“Dying,” Sandra croaked.

“You can do that later.” Colleen looked around the, as yet, empty waiting room. “Quick! Get up before anyone sees you,” she said, helping her to do so while deftly closing the door on the devastation left in the cupboard. “Can you get to the loo?”

Sandra nodded. “Think so.”

“I’ll meet you there in a minute. Just as soon as Fiona gets in. Meantime, you get cleaned up a bit,” she indicted the baggy, old jogging bottoms and t-shirt Sandra wore for her cleaning jobs. “And see if you can do something with your hair!” This she added with a distasteful look at the strange muddy-brown, pony-tail arrangement atop her friend’s sweat-soaked head.

“They’re not dirty, actually,” Sandra said, in defence of her favourite trousers.

“Just go,” hissed the Pussy-Cat.

By the time Colleen sidled into the staff ladies’ room, Sandra had indeed ‘cleaned herself up’ and looked more like the neat, tidy receptionist expected by the doctors she worked for: brown hair brushed and styled to lie demurely on her shoulders, eye make-up applied discretely, crisp blouse and tailored skirt.

“That’s better!” Colleen purred. “More like yourself. Now, in three sentences, no big words, can you please explain what on earth you were doing in the cleaning cupboard dressed like a disreputable teenager on the run?”

“Three sentences? Right. One,” Sandra ticked it off on her finger. “I am, in fact, the phantom early-morning office cleaner. Two, I slept in this morning because I worked late last night cleaning another two offices. And three, The Penguin arrived before I had time to clear away and get changed. Oh! And he inadvertently locked me in the cupboard. But that’s four, so probably too much information?”

“What on earth are you doing all these jobs for?”


“But why?”

“Because I need it?”

“But all these jobs?”

“Just two, actually. Office cleaning and,” she looked at her watch, “the one I’m about to lose because I should’ve been at the desk forty-five minutes ago.”

“I covered for you. Told The Peng… Doctor Watson you were sick. They probably all think you’re pregnant.”

“Great! Thanks!”

“Well, what did you want me to say? That I found you skulking in a cupboard dressed like a tramp on a bad day?”

“What is it you’ve got against my leggings?”

“Is that what they were? I thought they were Hugh’s pyjama trousers. The ones he threw out because they were too old and had lost their elastic.”

“Okay! So they’ve kneed a bit.”

“And really! Ninja Turtle t-shirts are so passé!”

“Okay, okay. So I don’t always look my best while I’m cleaning.”

“Which brings us back to the point,” Colleen remarked. “Why the extra jobs?”

“Oh, Hugh’s out of work again,” Sandra sat down on one of the toilet seats. “We’re absolutely desperate. We’d kind of run up a few debts, thinking he’d make great commission.”

“Spending money before it was earned?”

“Got a new flat, new furniture to go with the new image of the new job.”

“Only the new job fell through?”

“You get the picture.”

“So how many jobs is he doing now?”

“I told you, he lost his job.”

“And he’s out cleaning too?”

“Of course not. Don’t be silly.”

Colleen shook her head and fluffed up her tail. “Sauce for the goose, sauce for the gander. Equal opportunity and all that.”

“Try telling that to Hugh,” Sandra muttered, remembering the row they’d had when she’d suggested he joined her in office cleaning. Well, as close as you ever got to a row with Hugh.

‘CV. Not sure it would look good. Desperate, sort of,’ he winced.

‘But we are desperate!’ she’d said. But she knew what he meant. Office cleaning didn’t sound quite the next step on the ladder to success.

“Anyway, how long d’you think they allow for vomiting break?” she asked Colleen.

“Yeah, you’re right. We’d best be getting back to work. Conversation to be continued at coffee time.”

Sandra’s hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, heck! I forgot the milk! I was going to nip out for it after getting cleaned up.”

“Well, you’d best do it quickly now. If asked again, I’ll tell them you’ve nipped out for a pregnancy test!”


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