Spring Cleaning

by Margaret McCubbin on Thursday, 8 December 2011

Martha Hobday's face puckered in distaste as she scoured the dead fly from her upstairs bedroom window. She did like to see a clean window, particularly now that she was living in The Close. Such a nice area as she always said to her husband Clive whenever he would stand still long enough to listen.

Her gaze refocused from the window itself to the view outside. Big, old, white-rendered houses, mostly detached, surrounded by well-tended hedges, neat gardens. Houses occupied by what she liked to think of as a better class of neighbour, much like themselves. She sighed happily.

Such a nice area.

Her attention was caught by movement from the house directly opposite as Mr Knight came out of his house and went into the garage. A slight man, late middle aged, wisps of greying hair escaping from beneath a flat tweed cap. His hands were encased in pink rubber gloves, and he was wearing a blue checked pinafore tied at the back, and covering his neat brown cords.

Probably going to work in the garage again, she thought. Always very particular about his garage was Mr Knight, spent a great deal of time in there. Although with that wife of his it wasn't surprising that he spent all his time out of the house. Dyed blond hair, far too much make-up. Always dressed up to the nines, teetering around on high heels, you could tell that she'd never done a day's housework in her life. Employed a cleaner for that, obviously hard work was beneath her. And a habitual sour expression, which, as Martha's mother used to say, looked like she'd been sucking on a lemon.

Martha shrugged and returned to her assault on the windows with a renewed zest.

          • As Anthony Knight closed his front door he glimpsed Martha Hobday at number 10, peering out of the bedroom window. Nosy old bat, he thought, always watching, always curious. He made a point of not looking at her, slamming the front door with a bright "See you later" to no one in particular and strode into the garage. He closed the door carefully – that would frustrate her, not being able to see what he was doing. He gave a little smile of satisfaction and began to clear up the garage. Floor needed a good clean today, wouldn't take long and then he'd have the rest of the day to himself.

            He picked up the bass broom and began to sweep, whistling along to the strains of Colonel Bogey coming from the CD player on the workbench, his shoulders rocking back and forth with the rhythm. He'd always liked military music, had even considered a career in the army at one time. But then he had met Sadie and then; well, then his life had taken a different path.

            He was distracted by the sound of two young boys walking past the gate, trailing behind their mother, both engrossed in their noisy game of "I Spy". As Anthony watched them from the small garage window, he thought wistfully that he would have liked to have had children. A son maybe, they could have gone fishing. Or watch the local football team play on a Saturday afternoon. But it wasn't to be. Sadie had made it clear at the outset that motherhood wasn't for her, children would have ruined her figure she always said.

            "And besides", she'd added, didn't she have her work cut out just looking after him?

            Colonel Bogey was still booming out from the radio, Anthony started to hum as he swept in time to the rhythm. Nearly finished now, just need to move out the freezer and give it a good clean. He'd have to be careful with it, though, it was Sadie's pride and joy. Even the cleaner wasn't allowed to touch it.

            He glanced over at it, massive, gleaming white, not a trace of mould on the rubber seals. Sadie wasn't one for spending hours in the kitchen, felt that her time was better spent with other things. And really she didn't like shopping – grocery shopping, that is. So the invention of ready meals had been a godsend to her, the freezer was now her best friend, and she cared for it accordingly. She would come out here once a week and lovingly scrape away any stray ice, tidy the contents, and finish off with a good polish with the Mr Sheen. She'd insisted on the biggest freezer they could find, and liked it to be filled to the brim with instant meals.

            "Well," as she liked to say, "life's too short to stuff a mushroom"

            And certainly Sadie had never stuffed a mushroom in her life. His forehead wrinkled slightly as he wondered briefly exactly what it was that Sadie did in lieu of stuffing mushrooms but he couldn't for the life of him think what it could be.

            Anyway, he'd enjoyed the last couple of weeks. He'd taken two weeks holiday from the Library and split his time between sorting the garage and then going off on various day trips. The evening before, he would plan where his next foray would be, he never went too far. He thought back to his last expeditions, Sidmouth had been ideal, he'd been there twice. They were building a new breakwater there, gargantuan stones heaped on the side of the beach awaiting assembly into a barrier against the encroaching seas. Perfect for his requirements really, and a great day out too.

            And then there was the day at the Forest of Dean, not quite so successful, although there was no question that it was a jolly good place for his day trip. It had been a beautiful day too, sunny, the forest dappled with sunlight, leaves rustling gently. A faint smell of pine and fresh leaves. He'd thoroughly enjoyed his little walk.

            Except for the dog of course, a Doberman – that had given him a bad moment. He couldn't fathom why anyone would want a Doberman, big pointy dogs, mean little eyes, no tail.

            He personally preferred a smaller animal, something like a West Highland White, a smiley little dog, one you could sit on your lap and both have a snooze together. Unfortunately Sadie didn't like dogs, too messy, too much trouble. So he hadn't been able to have one of his own.

            His face temporarily took on a pensive expression, but then it cleared as Colonel Bogey began to build to a crescendo. He was now marching confidently, head up, hips swinging, his brush colliding with the floor on each beat, his pinny flying out on either side.

            He remembered that the music had reached this point on that other day.

            He had been cleaning his black shoes. He'd carefully laid out newspaper over the top of the freezer – wouldn't do to get Cherry Blossom on the lid. He was polishing with gusto, humming along enthusiastically, the music rebounding around the walls of the garage. Noisy. Too noisy to hear Sadie come into the garage until she was right up against him, face puce with fury, eyes wide, teeth bared.

            "What do you think you're doing, you stupid man?" she had shrieked "I've just polished that freezer and you're putting your filthy shoes on to it. Get them off now! Now! Now!"

            He remembered that little specks of froth had spattered on to his face, and on to his newly cleaned shoes.

            And so he hit her.

            With the car jack.

            Five times.

            He had fought down the rising panic, pacing anxiously while trying to collect his scattered thoughts. He'd walked to the garage door and stared out of the small window. While he was in turmoil, the people around him were carrying on as normal – how could that be? An old man walking, leaning heavily on his stick, dog by his side. Clive Hobday sawing up logs. Martha Hobday stepping out of her gate, shopping trolley trailing obediently behind her. A teenager plugged into his iPod.

            His eyes swivelled back to Clive Hobday. His face cleared. Of course, that would resolve his problem. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself, left the house and crossed the road, forcing himself not to run.

            "Hi there old man," he called from the gate

            Clive stopped piling logs, wiped his brow and looked up.

            "Afternoon". Clive, unlike his wife, was a man of few words.

            Anthony took another deep breath.

            "Wonder if I might borrow that chainsaw for a couple of days. Got a rotten apple tree in my back garden. Been putting off getting rid of it. That saw would make light work of taking it down." He spoke as casually as his racing heart would allow.

            "Sure. To tell the truth I'd be glad of an excuse to stop. Snooker's on the telly, and as the wife's out for a couple of hours..."

            Clive left the rest of his sentence hanging in the air between them, then winked conspiratorially, handed over the saw and darted into the house.

            With the assistance of the saw, Anthony had divided his wife's lifeless body into manageable portions, and laid them carefully into the freezer – her freezer – in among the Waitrose Cottage Pies and the M&S Lasagne. Quite appropriate, he thought, really: she'd be pleased to be laid to rest where she had been happiest.

            So now, every few days, he would remove two or three little sections and wrap them up in The Daily Telegraph. He had an enormous heap in the corner of the garage, the number of supplements you got every weekend was enough to wallpaper a house. Although the pile was going down now, he'd delivered his parcels all over the place. Sidmouth was best. It was easy enough to bury a couple at a time under the next section of the breakwater, the following day the cranes would lift the giant rocks safely on the top, sealing them forever.

            He wouldn't go back to the forest, though, that dog had been far too interested in the contents of his rucksack. The owner had given Anthony a couple of suspicious looks before towing the resisting dog back to his walk. No, he wouldn't go back there.

            He reached for the Telegraph, and picked up the supplement on the top of the heap. It was the cookery supplement. He realised with a broad smile that there was a recipe on the front for stuffed mushrooms. His head bobbed in approval. Sadie would appreciate that.

            So where to go today? He quite fancied Cornwall, plenty of caves there, and he liked Cornwall. He'd been there on holiday a few times, lovely coastline and soft rolling fields. Problem was, he couldn't go too far because of course Sadie would start to defrost and leak all over the boot. He shook his head emphatically. No, Cornwall would have to wait.

            So Lyme Regis it would be. Yes, he nodded emphatically as Colonel Bogey reached its rousing climax, Lyme Regis it is.

            He stripped off the pink gloves and untied the pinny, hanging it carefully on the coat hook on the wall. He changed out of his work shoes and into his best loafers. He turned and, with a little smile, very gently, but unequivocally, placed his work shoes on the top of the freezer, closed the garage door and climbed into the car. He turned on the CD player and drove cheerfully out of The Close.

          • At number 10, Martha Hobday had finished cleaning the windows, and had moved on to the brass door knocker, burnishing it to a bright gleam. As she stood back to admire her handiwork she caught sight of Mr Knight getting into his car. She raised her hand to him and watched as he gave her a jaunty wave and then took off up the road, the strains of Colonel Bogey receding as he disappeared from sight.

            She turned back to the front door with a contented little smile.

            Such a nice area.


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