Friday, 1 July 2011

Flash Fiction: Self Help

Please don't judge me for what I did. It was a desperate situation and I needed help. If you want to view it as exploitation then so be it, but first let me explain.

I'd come home from work that Friday, late as usual and feeling fit to collapse into a heap of limp flesh. My shoes were pinching and my suit felt restrictive. Mary had been that day which filled me with dread. I checked the list I'd left her. She'd ticked off the items she'd done and intimated in her shaky handwriting that'd she'd be back next Friday. I always felt self indulgent having a cleaner. I live alone but I have a demanding job and I earn enough money to fund it. I pay the going rate.

I decided to defer my checking and unwind a little first but the nagging thoughts prickled at me and I failed to wait. "Item 1: Clean the windows." The sight of them bought back the rock in my stomach. They were smeary. Looking through the opaque windows, I spotted 3 cigarette ends, smeary with cheap lipstick, heaped in the soil of my potted Olive tree. Mary had promised me she would clear up her cigarette ends. It's a dirty enough fact that she smokes but to pollute my plants with her detritus left me nauseated.

"Item 2: Clean the oven." I opened the door with trepidation and the chemical smell of oven cleaner slammed into my face. I momentarily relaxed until I noticed that there was a dried on patch of food still remaining, the remnant of a casserole I'd cooked days before. I slammed the oven door with mounting irritation and set about stalking my territory like some crazed inspector. Finger marks on the mirror, a picture slightly askew and a grimy patch where she hadn't gone to the edge of the bathroom floor. I'll stop at that, the list could be endless. I was going to have to sack her.

I changed my clothes, got out my cleaning agents and began. It was midnight before I finished and my mood by this time was one of rage. I recall standing in the bath, scrubbing brush in hand, attacking the soap residue in the grouting with vigour and repeating a mantra: "This has got to stop."

Naturally I was exhausted the next day and by evening, when I'd finished the remaining jobs, I was jelly limbed and brain fogged, hands reddened and fit only to collapse into bed. My bad mood persisted. I felt I'd wasted my weekend.

It was on the Tuesday that I saw the poster. I think I only noticed it because it was lopsided. "First Steps in Overcoming Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: Come along to our friendly group. Wednesdays at 8pm in the Wexford Room at the County Library. All welcome." I knew I had to go. This couldn't go on. I'd started work on Monday tired and irksome. I needed resolution.

The following night I showered thoroughly, put on some neatly laundered clothes and arrived at the library a good 15 minutes early. I loitered just around the corner, watching as a motley assortment of people arrived, before finally skulking in at 19:57. The chairs were in a circle and a rather brisk woman greeted me. There were 8 of us. The woman, who I learned was called Yvonne, spoke to me, explaining the protocol and form.

A grey looking man called Norman began the proceedings. He spoke in a monotone, detailing his constant hand washing and angst about accruing germs by touching things. It all seemed faintly ridiculous and I couldn't relate to it. He was followed by a middle aged lady called Val who talked about her issues with checking things. Apparently it took her two hours to leave the house which was all very interesting in a purely abstract way but hardly germane to my needs. Next was Laura, an unconventionally attractive girl. The poor girl had what I believe is called "Health Anxiety", a condition that I personally would have termed hypochondria and would have initially judged harshly. Laura, apparently, spent most of the day checking her body for abnormalities. In between this she searched the internet for disorders. What a terrible life. I actually felt sympathetic. She was on the brink of losing her place at college as it was interfering with her ability to work.

It was my turn to speak next but I deferred which Yvonne said was fine as it was my first time there. The next three speakers were equally interesting, talking about their issues with fears about grime, their children, their marriages and health and how it affected their behaviours. However, this wasn't what I wanted to listen to and I must admit that by the time Sarah spoke I'd lost all hope of achieving what I came here to gain.

Sarah was quite a pretty girl but unobtrusive, the sort who could slip unnoticed into a room. My spirits lifted as she began to talk in soft child like tones. She'd been a school teacher and had lost her job through poor attendance. She was obsessed with cleaning, spending anything up to 12 hours a day cleaning her house. As she talked about her impossibly high standards and her perfectionism my spirits lifted. This was what I had come to hear. I knew this group had what I was looking for.

It took three weeks and a lot of guile but I finally managed it. I procured Sarah. She's honestly the best cleaner I've ever employed, very thorough. If you're ever looking for a domestic then I'd recommend an O.C.D. self help group as the place to look. It did entail a few little lies and pretending to have a mental health disorder was a chore but the results are worth it. My house is spotless and I don't have to lift a finger. I always think the ends justify the means, don't you?

Copyright 2011


Chris said...

This is the story that has been accepted for publication by a Canadian fiction magazine. Again it's a flash fiction so all written in 1,000 words.

lisaallen said...

Ha! Chris, brilliant short story!! Loved it, great twist at the end... Typical you!! X more please?!

Chris said...

Aah, thanks Lisa. That means a lot from such a prolific reader as you