Clearing Things Up

Submitted into Contest #93 in response to: Write your story about two characters tidying up after a party.... view prompt

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Fiction Friendship

I’m still not quite sure how Shaun and I ended up doing the tidying up after Miriam’s leaving do. Still, here we are. And I suppose at least it means it will get done fairly quickly as we’re not likely to stop too much for chit-chat, or for much chat at all beyond the purely polite and practical. I wonder that he came at all, after all, it’s not something you can force folk to do, but maybe he just liked the idea of some free drinks and nibbles. I say nibbles – it was quite a spread, really, I can’t remember when I last saw a vol-au-vent, but very tasty they were too, though the taste was tinged with sadness. Oh, how I’m going to miss her! It’s all very well people saying she’ll still be very much alive and well and be in touch, but it won’t be the same. She was always so much more than a work colleague to me. She was my friend, my mentor, the person who always took me seriously and yet somehow made sure I didn’t always take myself too seriously. I had known for a while that when Don retired they would be moving back over to Lancashire, they have relatives there, after all, and it would be selfish to try to persuade her otherwise, but to the last minute I had this sneaky hope that she might change her mind and decide that we were her real family. I feel totally rudderless and I don’t look forward to work on Monday. Oh, I’ll do my job as well as I can. Miriam would have expected nothing else. But it’s as if the heart has gone out of it. I keep looking at the banner saying “Good Luck in Your New Life”, complete with hearts and horseshoes, and don’t know if I dread taking it down or think we’d be best taking it down first. Not that I’m going to mention it to Shaun. He wouldn’t understand. He’d probably say something sarcastic.

I’m still not sure how Denise and I ended up doing the tidying up after Miriam’s leaving do. I almost wonder if it was someone’s idea of a joke, though I’m not quite sure who. Any minute now I keep expecting her to burst into tears – she’s been pretty close to it all afternoon. Oh, I know that makes me sound awful and unsympathetic and all that. And it’s not even as if I don’t like Denise. What she doesn’t seem to realise is that this might be the best thing that’s ever happened to her. God knows, it’s about time she grew up and cut the proverbial apron strings. Sometimes I swear she even felt she had to ask Miriam permission to go to the toilet. We’ll all be better off without her. Miriam I mean. And if that sounds cruel, well, I can’t help my thoughts. True, Denise was the worst, but the way people saw her as some kind of guardian angel and font of all wisdom – it grated on me. And talk about power going to her head with that Safety Officer business. It was never even an officially recognised post, but of course nobody argued, and did as they were told when she treated us like four year olds. And look at Denise now, perching on a chair to reach something. Oh dear, this will never do! And I know this isn’t to my credit but ….I can’t resist.

Even if you hate violence, the way I do, there are times when the very sound of a seriously smacked face has a decided appeal and I have just come very close. The way Shaun just said in that nasty sarcastic way of his, “Oh dear, the cat’s barely away and the pet mouse is playing – she’d have words with you for THAT!” Not that he’s wrong, but she would also have been entirely in the right and meant it for my own good. Though (and not that I intend saying such a thing to HIM) okay, maybe at times she did take it too far, but better err that way than the other. In all her time here, at least all the time I’ve known her, the pages of the accident book have remained empty, and that has to be a good thing. Okay, so she didn’t always practise what she preached. Again, not that I’m going to tell HIM, but the last time I visited her house (oh, how I hate the double meaning of the word “last”) she perched on the arm of a sofa, never mind a chair, to replace a light bulb, but she made such a joke of it and said, “Pretend you haven’t seen that”. Of course I had a laugh and asked, “Seen what?” Anyway, home and office are two different things – aren’t they?

Okay, maybe I went too far. The stuff about the pet mouse was just nasty, but I couldn’t help myself. And she did take it with a degree of dignity, I’ll give her that. No doubt she was thinking of one of Miriam’s pet phrases, “Rise above it”. But make sure you’re using a safe means to do so and not standing on a chair. All the same, not that I’m telling HER, perhaps being a bit of a stickler for Health and Safety isn’t entirely a bad thing. I still remember that awful accident when I was working for the builder’s merchant and Mike got crushed by a massive pile of slates that weren’t secured properly. Oh, he came through, but had months of pain and could never take up his old job again. Miriam would never have let that happen. Okay. But they are two different environments and she still took things to extremes. Even if she did, to use that dreaded phrase, mean well. Perhaps she did save us some nasty accidents, and I suppose I should be grateful for that. But no matter what Denise says (not that she’s actually said anything) she could be a control freak.

Damn and blast that man! He’s set me to thinking things I don’t want to. But that’s silly because Miriam never ever claimed to be perfect. Anything but. She’s very self-deprecating. Okay, she has her little ways. We all do. So why am I suddenly thinking about that business with the coats? About how she always said, “Coats off!” even if you were only staying for a couple of minutes and the weather outside was freezing. And she meant it. Until the offending coat was off, things went no further. It had to be hanging on the peg, not just draped over a chair. But it was quite endearing. Wasn’t it?

One of the few things that Denise and I were agreed on was that it wasn’t exactly environmentally friendly to use disposable plates for the buffet. I was about to say that no doubt Denise was agreeing with She Who Must Be Obeyed, but Miriam actually kept her views on the subject to herself. Now, though, I fancy we’re both relieved. Doing conventional washing up, whilst never exactly a pleasure ( I know some would disagree!) can have a certain appeal when it’s companionable, a duo washing and drying. It sort of enforces conversation whether you want it or not. Scraping off paper plates and depositing them in the bin (at least it’s the recycling bin!) doesn’t have that effect. And they’re not breakable. I remember that time when I managed to accidentally knock over the mug that Miriam’s granddaughter had given her, what she called her “special mug” and break it. It was a nice mug, yellow with little blue stars on it. Here goes, I thought. But come to think of it she was very nice about it, said these things happen, and put the broken bits in the bin without any fret or fuss, and never mentioned it again.

I miss just washing up with Miriam. And I’ve never been a person who enjoys washing up. But the trouble is one thing is niggling at me, and I know it’s incredibly petty but something I won’t miss is the smell of the bleach that she always insists on soaking the cleaning cloths in. Including the dishcloths, though she never really approved of dishcloths. I remember once she brought in this little information DVD about the number of germs that accumulate on a dishcloth and how there are more than on a toilet seat. It was pretty gross, though it only used graphics. Well, at least most of the time. I did once say that the smell of bleach made me feel sick, and she smiled and patted me on the shoulder but said that I would feel more sick if I got food poisoning because of bleach on the dishcloths. I thought of saying that I never used bleach at home, or at any rate only in the toilet, but thought better of it. I suppose on reflection she does tend to take things to extremes. Oh, I don’t mean she’s some kind of germophobe or whatever, but I swear she actually LIKES the smell of bleach.

I don’t normally like sweet things too much, but just the residual smell of the crumbs of chocolate cake left on the plates makes me crave another slice. I suppose I should have saved a slice to take round to Gran when I visit her at the care home this weekend. She most certainly DOES have a sweet tooth. I mentioned that when I was talking about her 85th birthday last year, and on Friday, before I was going to visit her, Miriam brought in some chocolate brownies she had made herself. “Just a bit of a gift for your Gran,” she said. “Hope she likes them.” She did, very much. That was kind of Miriam. And even though we never got on well, if she knew I was visiting she’d always say, “Give her my regards,” and – well, okay, sometimes I did say, “Oh, the lady who made the brownies sends her regards,” but somehow it stuck in my throat to say it. I don’t suppose that really reflects well on me.

I’m going to miss Miriam like hell and no it WON’T be the same without her. But yes, she can be irritating. And I don’t for one minute think she’d deny it herself.

I never really got on with Miriam and I’m not going to be a hypocrite now, but she definitely had her good side and maybe I never appreciated it enough.

May 12, 2021 06:43

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1 comment

M. Waseem Khan
01:46 May 24, 2021

story on love for a God plzz! 😋

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