Paul parked the van and stepped out into the drive. It was a grand old house, several stories, each cluttered with small, fragile windows. ‘A specialist job,’ he thought. ‘Good money.’
He rang the doorbell – an intricate gnarled gargoyle – and heard a voice call faintly, “Come in.” The hall was richly carpeted, with plush furnishings visible in all the rooms offshooting from it. Bouquets of flowers were strewn everywhere, messages of condolences attached to the stems. ‘Poor dear,’ Paul thought, ‘The husband probably used to clean the windows’. There was no one in sight.
“Hello?” he called. “Upstairs,” came the reply. After a moment’s consideration he climbed the stairs. She’d sounded frail on the phone. Paul remembered her creaking voice: “I saw your advertisement in the Yellow Pages. I could so use your services.” The ad was brand new, and already it was paying off. On the landing, he called again and received another reply, from an open door ahead of him. He stepped into the doorway –
The woman lay sprawled in a clawfoot bathtub in the middle of the room, a thin layer of bubbles preserving only bits and pieces of her modesty. Wrinkles, whether caused by age or the water, traced lattices across her skin. There was a wild, sorrowful look in her eyes.
“I…uh,” Paul stuttered, lost for words. Was this some sort of joke? A trap set up by his estranged wife to hasten the divorce? He held up his hands as if to protect himself from her unashamed nakedness.
“You came, didn’t you!” the woman snapped. “What are you waiting for? If you’re going to advertise…”
Paul ran from the doorway, down the stairs. The woman shrieked.
“But your advert – come back here you horrible man!” As he skidded round the corner at the stairs’ base, he collided with a low table and sent a vase of drooping lilies crashing to the ground.
“Vandal!” the deranged bat screamed from upstairs. Paul heard thudded footsteps – she was coming for him! He staggered back to his feet, blood dripping from where he’d caught his hand on the broken vase, and heaved the front door open.
“You lied!” he heard the woman shout, shrill with rage. “Your advert!”
Paul jumped into the van, slammed it into reverse and spun round in the expansive drive. Gravel flew up from beneath his tyres as he left the house behind with a roar of the engine…
Ten minutes later, Paul pulled into a layby. He had been driving without thinking, on autopilot, and now realised he had been heading towards his old school, in totally the wrong direction for home. The woman’s voice still echoed in his head. What had just happened?
The advert. He pulled out a copy of the Yellow Pages, flipped to W, found ‘Window Cleaning’… his ad wasn’t there. Confused, he turned back a page, maybe it had run over two…
There it was, with the smiling picture of him in front of his van, just above where ‘Window Cleaning’ was listed in bold. The ad read normally, it seemed:
“Paul Scott: Widow Cleaner. All jobs considered at hours to suit you. Friendly chap open to any assignment. Call now”
What was the woman –
Ah damn. That missing n.
Paul sat for a moment in reflection, then shrugged and threw the van into gear. Turned back towards the woman’s house.
‘All jobs considered…’