Charity Begins at Home

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

Pamela raised the cloth and peered out from underneath the buffet table at the back of the empty ballroom. “Would you take a look at this!” she called out. “Some lowlife upended a massive platter of tiramisu that’s been squashed into the carpet. What an absolute waste. There’s gotta be $250 worth of smashed cake right here, not to mention the elbow grease it’s going to take to get this out of the pile but do they care? I very much doubt it.”


Craig sighed and said nothing but grumbled quietly to himself as he continued to remove satin ribbons and silky drapes from the chair backs. They’d only been going at it for an hour but he was already daunted by the prospect of them bringing the room back to its pre-party state. Pam was right; super wealthy people were the worst for not giving a toss about the real world. So they drop $250 worth of cake; no problem; there’ll be some little marionette waiting in the wings to jump in and clean it up for them. Unfortunately, right here and now, he and his wife happened to be those very puppets.  


His back ached. They’d been there from the beginning of the party many, many hours earlier with the action happening around them, continually having to keep a discreet eye on the guests. The directive to all wait staff had been the same; make sure drinks keep flowing and food is plentiful, never too far out of reach. The success of shindigs like this one depended on guests leaving at the end of the evening with full tummies and laughter still ringing in their ears. And by all accounts, the majority of party goers had exited the building in exactly that state of mind. Some had practically skipped out, high on life, while a great many others stumbled, having imbibed a little too much of a good—and free—thing. Sadly, the dessert spillage had gone unnoticed in the great scheme of things.


A pianist-come-singer in the foyer welcomed new arrivals with classic hotel tunes played on a highly polished baby grand. Pam would love to have stopped to listen but she did not have the luxury of relaxation. Besides, she’d almost tripped over her own feet in the desperate act of preventing a rotund, tipsy gentleman from using the glossy surface as his personal sherry glass depository. Twice! She’d initially tempted him to move on with the lure of more alcohol. “Here, let me walk you inside to your table,” she’d smiled through gritted teeth, “and we’ll grab another sherry for you on the way, shall we? I’m sure you’ll be much more comfortable sitting down.” Twenty minutes later he was back by the piano, beer in hand, doing a crazed impersonation of a Jackson Pollock painting, sloshing the oversized glass of amber liquid about his immediate vicinity as he attempted to out-sing the singer, much to the amusement of his toadying gaggle of onlookers.


During one point in the evening’s proceedings, Craig stepped out from the commercial kitchen, tray of hors d oeuvres in hand, to witness a cluster of wait staff appearing to be similarly occupied with various cliques of socialites seemingly ignoring common etiquette, including one group of elegantly dressed dowagers who’d congregated in a gossipy circle just inside the French doors. Presuming it was their birthright to affectation, they’d lit up cigarettes in long, Hollywood-style holders with no qualms about flicking ash over the carpeting and wafting smoke in the faces of irritated invitees but had been diplomatically persuaded to take the extra few steps across the balcony threshold to the fresh outdoors. This was, Craig pondered later, a masterful accomplishment of tactical manoeuvring. He wasn’t so sure he could have been as tactful as the staff who’d managed to move them on without being howled down in the attempt.


Pamela returned to the function room lugging sponges and full buckets of warm soapy water in each hand. She added the remaining tablecloth to the tall peak of linen behind her and knelt down to begin the arduous task of removing the expensive mountain of Italian dessert from the floor.


“Here Honey, I’ll give you a hand with that.” Craig managed to drag the solid teak table away from the scene of the crime without adding further insult to the pain spreading from his lower back into his hips then hunkered down beside his wife. It wasn’t fair she had to suffer the menial tasks their bank balance subjected them both to. Some Financial Advisor he’d turned out to be. Flashy mover-and-shaker money man by day, cleaner by night. What a joke. But Pamela, to her credit, had never once complained. It astounded him how unfazed she always seemed to be about having to get her hands dirty. Literally. She was always first to knuckle down, roll up her sleeves and dig in; his number one supporter, believer, confidante. It was hard to believe she’d grown up in similar circles to the very people she was now cleaning up after.

If it weren’t for her he’d have packed up their apartment and moved them back to the country moons ago. He might’ve taken that clichéd job at the bank and lead a perfectly mediocre existence in the small town he’d grown up in but Pamela had insisted they stick it out. Her confidence in his abilities often overwhelmed him. Besides that, he was excellent with numbers and had begun accumulating friends in high places. He truly did believe they would come out the other side of this downtime all the better for their sacrifices.


Pamela wrung the sponge out over the bucket. It was exhausting work after such a long night and from the looks of the cavernous room littered with the detritus of the evening’s festivities, there were several hours still ahead of them. Tomorrow was Saturday so they could indulge themselves all they wanted with a long lie in. She hated seeing a man of Craig’s obvious intellect hunched down on hands and knees scrubbing floors but they were in this together for better or worse just as their vows had dictated. It wasn’t all bad, though. They’d had a rip-roaring night. 


“You should’ve seen me trying to haul Henry Baker away from the poor pianist tonight,” she laughed, hitching her red sequined dress a little higher up her thighs. “What a mammoth task!”


“That man is three times your size, Pammie. You should’ve come and got me.”


“Nah, you had your hands tied schmoozing up to Tania and Senator Patterson. Anyway, I handled Henry. He seriously thinks he missed his calling as a rock star. But more importantly, the piano is intact, which is the only outcome I was really hoping for. The hire mob are coming to collect it on Sunday afternoon so we’ll get our deposit back on that for sure despite a couple of close calls.”


“Y’know,” Craig said, loosening his bow-tie, “if this turns out the way I’m thinking it will, our Women’s Shelter charity will make enough money to be able to move straight into the building we looked at last month. I’m blown away by the response. It was well worth taking the few extra shortcuts.” He tapped on the side of his bucket. “Having to forgo a cleaning company to tidy this mess up just saved us a few thousand for a start and I can’t tell you how many pledges for donations I took tonight.”


“Oh, that reminds me...” Pam reached into her bra and flashed a hundred watt smile and handful of cheques at him. “We’ll be all right, you’ll see. Now get scrubbing!” 

May 14, 2021 12:22

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