Henry Monxton spent a lot of time arranging all the cans and packets in the kitchen cupboards so their labels were exactly parallel and facing outwards. It had driven his first wife mad. Wife number two, well, not much is known of her apart from Henry shaking his head and saying to whomsoever should enquire, ‘It’s a long story.’
When he still worked as an archivist he had an outlet for his orderliness. Now retired and every possession forensically neatened, he was bored and lonely. Just to know that someone was around, the sound of footsteps or humming would be enough. Even though he didn’t really need one, Henry thought employing a cleaner could be a solution.
‘Cleaner with impeccable habits required,’ he wrote. Then struck it through and started again. He wanted to state the lady in question would have nothing to fear in the bedroom department. How does one say that nowadays? In the end, quite out of character, he dashed off a few words and sent them to the newspaper classifieds.
Letters tumbled through his letterbox. Some smelled of scent. He discarded those. One typed sentence made his hand tremble a little.
‘I will reach parts no other cleaner can.’
Henry picked up his pen.
Three knocks on the door. Henry straightened his straight tie. Before him stood a tall, middle-aged woman. She wore a tailored suit, high-heels and carried a briefcase. Incongruous, Henry thought. He invited her in and she sat on his Chesterfield like a queen ascending a throne. She clicked open her briefcase and said, ‘Shall we start?’
‘Same time, next week, Henry?’ She took out her diary.
Henry nodded like a toy dog on a car hat-shelf. He smiled, still savouring the taste of her shoe polish tingling on his tongue.