To celebrate my e-mail working again, here’s a free short story.
It’s not set in the universe of Runaway’s Railway, and it doesn’t feature any of the characters from those books, but I hope you enjoy it anyway.
Feeding the fishes
“Two handfuls of pellets from jar one,” read Mary from the sheets of hand-written paper.
She unscrewed the top of a clear plastic jar which had a large “1” written in indelible marker. Two handfuls of pellets were duly scattered over the surface of the pond. The fish looked fat and well fed, as indeed they were. They showed little interest in the grudgingly provided food.
“Don’t know why they keep all these fish anyway.”
It was a large pond, taking up almost three quarters of the back garden. Tilde, her sister, boasted that it was almost six feet deep. Mary knew that this was true.
She blamed Tilde’s husband, Jon.
He was the genius who had first had the idea of the pond. He would confidently assure any listener that each fish was worth over three hundred pounds. Mary shook her head. From her point of view, the only place for a fish was on a newspaper.
She sighed and moved back inside where there were more fish to feed, each tank with careful instructions.
Fish feeding finally completed, she began cleaning the house. More accurately, she continued the cleaning of the house. It was incredible to her that they could go on holiday and leave the place in such a mess. When she went on holiday, she always cleaned her house from top to bottom first. That way, if someone came in to check the house she didn’t have to worry about what they’d think of her. Tilde and Jon didn’t worry about what anyone thought of them.
For the last week, she had tackled a room a day, cleaning, scrubbing, polishing… The wheelie bins were overflowing, but gradually the mess was conquered.
“How anyone can live like this is beyond me.”
It wasn’t as if they had children to worry about. All Tilde and Jon had to care about was themselves. In fact, all they did care about was themselves. Yet despite that, the house was a tip. During the week’s holiday – which they had insisted on calling a vacation – she had been cleaning the house in microscopic detail. Every year they went to Spain for a week, and every year she’d baby-sit the fish, and clean the house. She ended up doing it every year. She could not bear the thought of leaving the house so… squalid. There was no other word for it. They lived in squalor.
Mind you, as her husband Daniel had pointed out, there was a certain advantage in that routine. She had griped to her neighbors about it every year for the last ten years or so, explaining how she had cleaned everything. Everyone received an annual information overload on the subject.
She dusted the living room thoroughly. On the TV stand the dust looked like it was an inch thick. There was a dust-shadow where a Blu-ray player had been, cables still hanging off the back of the stand. Not a DVD player, oh no. A DVD player was too last year for Jon. No, it had to be a Blu-ray player. Time to clean the place up might be strangely lacking, but there was time to watch a Blu-ray disc.
Eventually she gave up shuffling the dust around and used a vacuum to shift the worst of the mess. Then she could dust and polish it. A ten second job that had taken ten minutes because of neglect.
A space that might have once held a Hi-Fi deck of some sort received the same treatment.
That was the story of every room, but all had succumbed to her cleaning. Not a speck of dust or a fingerprint left anywhere.
What really grated was that while Tilde and Jon might not earn much more than her Daniel, they didn’t do anything with the money. If Mary and Daniel had had the same money that they did, it would have been used far more wisely. After all, Daniel managed to keep their house maintained, and ferry the kids to different clubs, while Mary took care of everything else. By comparison Tilde and Jon’s house was all but falling down around their ears.
Mary and Daniel lived in a better house, in a nicer area, with three adorable – if horrendously expensive – children.
Tilde and Jon lived with a bunch of fish in the only house in the country that had decreased in value over the last ten years.
Mary doubted they even realised how much money they had. They certainly didn’t spend much, apart from on trivialities. Daniel had a shrewd idea, though. He had shown Mary his back-of-an-envelope calculations. He was smart like that. Mary had been surprised by the figures, and even a little impressed.
It was all so unfair.
Tilde and Jon did nothing with their lives, just coasting along. Meanwhile, Mary and Daniel put themselves out, trying to better themselves. And now look at it. Tilde and Jon had all the cash – which they never used – and Mary and Daniel had to scrape by. All that money, and they did nothing with it. Nothing sensible, anyway.
The Battle of the Dust complete, the hoovering could begin in earnest. General debris was dumped in the overflowing dustbin, clearing a central floor space. Furniture was shifted into the middle of the room, and the edges of the room were attacked.
“Oh, Tilde, you have excelled yourself – or was it that slob, Jon?”
Behind an armchair was the remains of a take-away curry, which appeared to be developing a life of its own.
“On with the Marigolds.”
She snapped the yellow rubber gloves on with an attitude like a soldier snapping a magazine into a rifle. She carried the offending item through to the kitchen. The kitchen had been a nightmare a week ago, too, but with a bit of attention each day, it was now almost usable.
“Not that they’ll thank me.”
Still, despite the kitchen units being rather battered, her husband assured her that the damage was only skin deep. Daniel was confident that the house only needed a few thousand invested to reach its full market potential.
“Could always sell the fish to get the money, I suppose.”
Once she finished with the living room, the house would be ready for the return of Tilde and Jon, scrubbed clean throughout.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tilde and Jon didn’t phone tomorrow. You wouldn’t expect it, not by the time they’d flown back, come through baggage claim and customs, and got a taxi. Actually, you wouldn’t expect it anyway, not from them. That was like hoping they would remember to send you a postcard. The next day, though, it would be strange if they didn’t get in touch.
When they didn’t phone, she’d pop around, just to check, and of course, they wouldn’t be there. That would be when she’d contact the police, who presumably had a routine for these things. She imagined it wouldn’t take the CID or whoever it was very long to find out they’d never caught the plane, or even taken their early morning taxi to the airport.
A quick glance would surely reveal to a trained officer the absence of the Blu-ray player, and other assorted oddments. All expensive electrical goods, the kind of things that might be removed in a burglary. As it happened, they had been safely recycled at the local waste facility, but who was to know that?
Any investigator would be sure to jump to the conclusion of a burglary gone wrong. Such a shame she had cleaned away all the evidence, but how was she to know?
After these miracles of deduction, it would only take the police a few minutes to work out why the fish were so fat.