Friday, 4 March 2011

AS SWEET AS TREACLE SPONGE

What a relief that Philip’s gone. Don’t get me wrong, I’ll miss him loads but he was becoming a nag in the end. I suppose I should be grateful he let me stay in the flat. I mean, he could have sold it like he did the car. Twelve months without big bro. Actually, if I think about it too much, I might make myself cry. What was it he said to Mum and Dad?

‘I’m taking a year out to travel. I’m leaving tomorrow night. Sis, here are the keys to my apartment; don’t mess it up. Mum, can you keep Tibbs. I don’t trust her to look after him.’

Mum was devastated and cried instantly, wringing her white knuckles in her apron. Dad stood up, shook his head and made us all a cup of tea. There was nothing they could do to stop Phil. He was their golden child who could do no wrong, with his A- levels, degree and masters, great job and understanding employers. Then there’s me, Sam, the slightly over weight, lazy (I admit to that) so and so. Don’t get me wrong, I know my parents are proud that I’m a nurse but they say I lack drive and ambition, not in my job but in my life generally.

‘You’ve got no get up and go, Sam. Look at Philip, juggling work and his sports and fund raising. Don’t you want to achieve something in life?’

‘Yes,’ I think, ‘peace and quiet from you two.’

I got my wish and here I am, end of week one in Phil’s flat, living the easy life; house sitting. So I thought. Five minutes ago I opened an email from him; he’s in Tokyo. Can you believe that he thinks I won’t manage the up keep of his beloved flat (sorry, apartment), that he advertised for someone to share with me? He must have sent the photos pre-Tokyo 'cause noone would share looking at its present state. According to the message, I’ve got thirty minutes before he/she arrives. I really should read my mail more often.

I wonder what he/she’s like. The email said A. Man is coming. Does that mean it’s a man coming or perhaps Miss Man, or Mrs Man or worse Ms Man, or funnier Mr Man? I hope it’s Mr Tidy; Phil would kill me if he saw the state. Oh God, why do I spend so much time day dreaming? God, that’s the door.

I let her in. A. Man is a she, and a foot taller than my four-foot-ten squat body. I’m jealous as she’s athletic looking and wears make up.

‘Hi, I’m Abigail Man and you must be Sam Jones, Philip’s sister, right? I’ve just come round to introduce myself and I’ll be moving my things in the morning if that’s okay.’

The door is only open ajar, yet she shimmies through the space and walks into the centre of the room, where she pirouettes like a humming spinning top.

‘My my, not tidied up from the party, eh?’

‘What party? Oh yeah. I’ve been busy,’ I said, trying to cover up my gaff. ‘I just got Phil’s email, you know. He’s in Tokyo, you know and there’s the time difference, you know.’

Stop me now. How dumb do I sound? She’s sure to think I’m an idiot and a messy one at that.  

‘I’m sorry, Abigail.’ I say, inviting her to look at the mess again. ‘I’d love to offer you a drink but I’ve run out milk and chocolate hobnobs.’

‘Like I said, a quick hello. I’m off to Reno’s for a meal in ten minutes, so I’d better go; the taxi’s still waiting for me. If I could have a key that would be great.’

I give her the spare and watch her leggy legs trot down the stairs like a gazelle leaping over brush wood. Shutting the door with one hand, I reach with the other into my right back pocket for my mobile to text Joanne about my house guest. I correct her twice that she’s not my flat mate and it’s an apartment; it’s amazing how important words become and how chic and grand one feels, and obsessive and ridiculous one gets. Me? Chic? I tell her not to ring me and throw the mobile on the sofa as I make headway through the domestic disorganisation.

I can’t believe I’ve been at it for three whole hours. My gosh, I must be having fun and I’m not being sarcastic either. I’m feeling sweaty and giddy now. I wonder if I’m having a hypo like those skinny celebs in those mags. I’d better eat some chocolate just in case.

When I bend down to grab a bottle of lager from the fridge to accompany my medicinal chocolate, I catch site of myself in the oven door. I look like I’ve been in a sauna; my cheeks are bright red, and I can see them pulsing like Belisha beacons, and my short hair is now showing it’s natural curly, pre hot-iron state. I deserve these, I say to my reflection and I really mean it. I know I’ve done a fine job for once.

The next day, Abigail rings to say she’s on her way over with her belongings. It’s nine-thirty and I’ve just got out of bed. I run and open the windows, draw the curtains back, and run into each room spraying blossom air freshener like I’m graffiting an imaginary wall. Perfect. From now on I’m the perfect host. I’d better get changed.

Luckily, Abigail is delayed in traffic and so I’m ready thirty seconds before the key rattles in the lock.

‘Honey, I’m home,’ she jokes.

I thought she’d have brought more than the two cases, but she says she has some stuff stored at a friend’s house and she’s bringing them little by little; books mainly she says, for her work.

She drapes herself on the red leather chair, fanning out her flared, blue skirt and pulling down her contrasting yellow jumper over her invisible tummy. I leave the peacock preening whilst I (ever dutiful servant), fetch a tray with two plates, knives, butter and jam for the breakfast of coffee and croissants she’s brought. Not wanting to show myself up in front of Abigail as a gannet, I surreptitiously make myself a peanut butter and banana sandwich, disguising its preparation and consumption with exaggerated banging of cupboard doors, and clinking of cutlery against crockery.   

Abigail informs me that Philip has filled in some details about me, mainly my job and that I work shifts. She says she works as a freelance writer and doesn’t have to work from home because the laptop allows her to be mobile. She will work in a café or library when I do nights so the apartment would be quiet during the day whilst I sleep. How considerate.

‘There’s no need, honest. I’ve three alarms to wake me up most days, so don’t feel you have to keep out of the way on my account.’

‘Okay, but please tell me if I’m a nuisance.’

‘Ditto.’

She takes out various items from her handbag and gazes at her flawless complexion, dabbing imaginary crumbs from the corners of her mouth. After applying some luscious red lippy, she stands up and brushes creases off her skirt.

‘Right, I’d better go. I’m going to get some groceries in for us. I thought we could take it in turns; this week I’ll buy, then it’s you. Is that okay?’

She spins round and heads for the door, missing my guppy face surprise. ‘What?’ I mouth in silence. If that half eaten, single croissant is anything to go by, I’m going to starve this week.

Not long after she leaves, the phone rings but it isn’t the house phone or my mobile, unless I’d accidentally changed it in my sleep to some terrible Euro trash beat. Where is it? Too late, it rings off. I toss cushions in the air like I’m a juggler and there it is where Abigail was sat. I nearly hurl it behind me with the shock when it goes off again. What shall I do? It wouldn’t do any harm to answer it, would it?

‘Hi, it’s Abigail’s phone, Sam speaking.’

‘Is she available, it’s Bruce Kenworthy? Can you tell her I’m coming over with her stuff? Just tell her.’ He put the phone down.

He doesn’t sound angry, more agitated and I get the impression he isn’t going to hang around long when he arrives. I’ll just put the phone down on the table. I must resist the temptation to seek a peek at her messages. Yeah, that’s a bit low, isn’t it?

It’s goes off again.

‘Hi, its Abigail’s……’

‘You can cut the pretence or is she with you?’

‘Hmm….?’

‘Look, I can’t talk long. Just answer, yes or no, okay? Is she there with you?’

‘Yeah,’ I say, playing along.

‘Okay. I’ll email you or text you so you’re not put in an awkward position. I’m sorry I couldn’t meet you in person but the agency said you were excellent and I can see you’re experience is varied. I thought I should warn you though, Sam is very nosy and if she sniffs you out, just get out of there. Send me a weekly report and expenses and I’ll make sure you receive any enhancements promptly.’

‘Yeah.’

‘Okay. See you later.’

I don’t believe it. I check the phone scrolling down to received calls. It is Phil. What’s going on?

I haven’t got time to think as there’s an impatient knocking at the door. When I open it, a short, stocky guy stands there looking around nervously, tapping a clip board with his pen.

‘Number sixteen, right? Just sign here,’ he says, keeping hold of the board as if I was going to run off with it.

I look down at the two tea chests and notice too late that he’s run off down the stairs without a care.  Great, I’ll drag them in myself shall I? What’s up with everyone today? Hang on a minute that was Phil on the phone. If anyone’s being fooled it’s not going to be me. What’s he playing at? Logic. Think logically. Facts. What are the facts? Well if he thinks I’m nosy I’ll be Little-Miss-Nosy-Parker. Let’s have a look in the chest shall we, all open and inviting.

So, A-bi-gail. What se-crets are you hi-ding in here? Books, books and more books. Interesting photo album; modelling shots if I’m not mistaken. Shoe boxes full of shoes? No chance. There’s a label on the front of one that reads nerdy jewellery and when I lift the lid I see chunky, florescent necklaces, earrings and rings, very much like those I own. Thanks, A-bi-gail. Love from Sam-the-Nerd. Another shoe box contains posh jewellery, another wigs and another make-up. All this stuff looks like a young girls dressing up box. What is she doing with costumes?  

The other tea chest appears to be securely sealed so I can’t tamper with it without Abigail realising I’ve been snooping, although the delivery guy could have done it. No, I’d better not. I need more clues.

I make myself a hot chocolate to keep my strength up and leaf through a book Abigail left in the table. I pick it up and flick the new book smell into my face when a business card falls out from a fifth of the way through. I call the number.

‘Hello, Artisan Casting Team. Rachel speaking, can I help you?’

‘Yes… I…er… wondered…er… what does your company do exactly?’
 
‘We cast models and actors.’

So, that’s the game; actress plays spy to catch out sister. That’s a red card for you Phil. Payback’s going to be as sweet as treacle sponge. 

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