A week later Mark approached me with an idea that had almost undoubtedly been driven by Lucy.
He had arranged for me to have an interview the following week with Dave Smith, MD of Office Sanitation. His firm cleaned all of Parfitt’s properties as well as many others. Mark didn’t tell me how much Mr. Smith knew about Rose, but he couldn’t afford to lose Parfitt’s as a client, so I’m sure the job, whatever it was, was going to be mine. This was a deeply worrying turn of events and one that I hadn’t seen coming at all. My plan had been to have some fun being subservient to Mark in our house, not to be a slave to that Chinese tart Lucy or be farmed out as a professional domestic!
Mark and Lucy had obviously spent sometime planning this over the past week, as he then presented me with a piece of paper that was Rose’s Resume and biography that I was to learn for the interview. I read it, completely dumbstruck by what they’d prepared.
My real date of birth was 28th July 1988, however Rose Edwards was born on the same day but in 1963, I was supposed to be 53. I knew I could probably be seen as a woman in her 40s as Rose, but 50s, no way! I protested to Mark but he reminded me that the contract I had signed said “place of work may change”, I assumed that was just something he’d copied from one of his work employment contracts. I never for one minute imagined it would be used. And then he said Zoe had agreed to come over the next day to help me prepare and that Lucy would be on hand as well, as she had “offered” to take the day off to support me.
I read “my” CV and bio, Apparently I had left school with exam passes in Needlework, Cookery and Art but had failed anything remotely academic and since then I had worked as a shop assistant in various shops, all subsequently closed, or as a domestic cleaner and Mark, Lucy and Zoe would all provide references if required. My home address was supposedly a flat that Mark had purchased very cheaply at the other side of town last year. I’d never actually been into the place, but we’d driven past once in Mark’s car. It was all part of his plan to build his own private property empire, just in case he ever moved on from his Dad’s firm. I think it earned us about £400 per month rental income from a Polish builder. I remember thinking how unappealing it looked, it was on the 2nd floor above a Chinese takeaway in a part boarded-up parade of shops and that the area was decidedly dodgy. Mark however had seemed very pleased with himself at the time, so I’d not given it much further thought. Now from an official point of view at least, it was my home, but there were a few alarm bells ringing in my head.
To make matters even worse, I was a divorcee, struggling to make ends meet, so I was happy to do any cleaning work and I had two grown up children who had both left home.
Could I pull this off?? I must admit I had a tingling sensation all over me, it was a petrifying thought trying to become a 50 year old woman but strangely thrilling.
I decided what had I to lose? I had done amateur dramatics at University, so why not go for it, it would be scary, and humiliating but what was the worst thing that could happen - I’d get sacked. It was pure escapism and did have an exhilarating air to it! It was now Thursday. Lucy was obviously staying the night again and Zoe was turning up at 9 tomorrow. My interview was the following Wednesday at 2pm in Hemel Hempstead a few miles from Mark’s office. I spent the evening trying to speak, using even simpler phrases than I’d become used to and trying to ham up an East London accent which is supposedly where was Rose was brought up.
Thankfully, Lucy and Mark took a train into London that evening and wouldn’t be back until late, so I spent the evening rehearsing and fretting.
The next day Mark left earlier than usual, I think he was embarrassed about having been any part of what awaited me and after had I spent an hour waiting hand and foot on Lucy as she deliberately asked me time and again to help her choose what to wear, Zoe arrived. Unbelievably, I viewed Zoe as a respite from Lucy!
“Oh Rose, we are both going to have some fun today, I got quite excited yesterday thinking about what I was going to do. I don’t know when I last did a perm!”
“Perm” I shrunk in horror, but was secretly very excited at the thought of it!
Off to the bathroom we went and I instantly recognized the smell of hydrogen peroxide. My hair was bleached, rinsed and bleached again. I looked in the mirror and it was virtually white.
Dye was then added in a washed out grey colour before it was cut, a heavy duty setting lotion applied and small tight curlers applied all over the top of my head.
Lucy then appeared with one of those old fashioned hair dryers that she’s found in a retro store that miraculously still worked and I was placed under it for way too long and given “Hello” to read whilst Zoe and Lucy giggled away like two schoolgirls.
When the dryer was finally taken away and the curlers removed, Lucy covered me with the most awful smelling hairspray she could find. I had a pale grey bubble perm on top of my head tapering down to be straighter at the back and sides, where it finished half way down my ears and then it tapered down to the nape of my neck. When I put my glasses back on and looked at myself clearly I was absolutely amazed by the sight staring back at me. If I looked 40 plus before, I really did look like a style-less woman in her mid 50s who was somehow trying to cling on to an 80s perm, which was probably the last time the woman I’d become had cared about fashion. My hair was so dry, it was almost brittle, it had really been baked! Any last remaining vestiges of AJ had completely disappeared but somehow it gave me an incredible thrill thinking about this new woman I was becoming, a little more by each passing day.
Zoe explained that to keep the perm in shape I should ideally wear curlers and a hairnet at night and simply brush it through gently and spray it in the morning. She hoped it would last until her next visit as long as I only washed it once a week from now on. I had to hand it to that girl, she knew how to destroy a woman’s hair! I simply could not resist touching it and puffing the curls up further with my fingers. It felt so different to the way my hair had always felt. I was becoming lost in this new persona.
For some strange reason though I was actually quite growing to like Zoe, with her dry Aussie humour and we also discussed her tattoos and the salon where she worked as well as the fact that she’d ideally like to set up her own business. But whenever there was the risk of the conversation getting beyond the most superficial level, Lucy would intervene.
Then, as Lucy and I thanked Zoe prior to her departure, Lucy came back from my old room with a plastic bag of shopping. It contained a pale olive coloured business suit that was very outdated, it was collarless, and it even had shoulder pads and the fairly tight fitting skirt finished just above my knees. I hadn’t worn anything that short in about two months! I think it was actually a copy in polyester of a YSL suit that my mother had back in the 80s. I seemed to remember my mother seeing Joan Collins in Dynasty as something of a fashion icon for her at the time! Lucy told me to try it on, as I was to wear it to the interview next week. I “mis-matched” it with a lilac blouse, my blue handbag and the outdated blue court shoes that I hadn’t yet worn, with a simple string of fake pearls that she gave me and cheap gold clip-on earrings,. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the first time I’d actually work earrings as Rose. I certainly looked the part. Just to complete the look, she told me to hand over my wedding ring as she felt as a divorcee I wouldn’t wear one. I wasn’t happy about this, having already handed over my diamond engagement ring at the beginning of this experiment. But she then gave me two of the tackiest looking rings with fake stones to wear to complete my look. It was finally agreed that this was what I would be wearing for my interview. Lucy then took great pleasure in conducting a mock interview and admonishing me whenever I answered a question in my natural educated voice or with any words containing three or more syllables. She also reminded me to get some of the smokey smell absorbed into the suit. I also kept working on my low class uneducated English accent. It did take me back to some of my amateur dramatics days and was actually surprisingly good fun.
The day prior to my interview was my 28th birthday. I had wondered if Mark would remember and much to my surprise, when I walked into the kitchen on the Tuesday morning, hair still in curlers, there was a cheap card waiting for me with an awful drawing of a bunch of flowers on it. It was signed
“Happy Birthday to Rose from Mark & Lucy – You’re an Absolute Treasure & wishing you the best of luck with your interview”
“Mark & Lucy”, I could have screamed and there was no Love & kisses.
They had clearly become an item in the last few weeks and I was very much staff. Was my marriage really over I suddenly thought?
Then, before I could wallow in too much self-pity, they both appeared from my old bedroom with two small packages for me.
Mark gave me a box of chocolates, great I thought, smiling politely and pretending to be very appreciative, remembering that last year he had given me a Rolex!
Lucy’s present was smaller and when I opened it I could see it was Chanel No.5. My mother’s favourite perfume!
Lucy said she thought it would be a real treat for me to have an expensive perfume to wear, as she knew I couldn’t normally afford it.
I opened it and could instantly tell from the thin box and light glass bottle that it was fake. I managed to hide my disappointment and instantly said I’d try it and gave myself a generous dose. It smelt nothing like No.5, it really was pretty awful but I thanked her pretending not to realise.
She grinned to herself knowing she’d achieved another small victory. She told me to wear it to my interview tomorrow and I agreed that I would.
I was then informed that after I’d done my household chores she would spend another hour rehearsing me, for which expressed my gratitude.
I awoke the next day, spending time vacuuming and cleaning the bathrooms until about 10.30 when I started to get ready. Mark and Lucy had both left separately that morning, Mark to his office and Lucy to a meeting in the West End for one of her fashion clients who she apparently provided PR services for. Mark seemed to have forgotten, or pretended to have forgotten about my impending interview, whereas Lucy went out of her way to wish me luck and sarcastically reminded me not to forget to take my curlers out before I headed off.
I returned to my room and as usual opened the door to be hit by the smoky smell. I took off the tabard and housecoat and put on a new pair of tights pulling them up as much as I could over my saggy bum hoping there wouldn’t be too much of a crease at my ankles. However there was no escaping the fact that my hairy legs were now definitely starting to show through my tights.
”Would Mark let me shave them soon?” I hoped.
I added the lilac blouse and tight skirt, before removing my curlers and giving my hair a light comb, before adding a heavy dose of the sickly hairspray and the “Chanel” perfume which I then dropped into my handbag.
I clipped on the earrings and added a light touch of makeup and then for the first time in two months the 2” heels. I noticed in the mirror that in the last two weeks my teeth had already started to go at least three stages darker. A few more weeks of this and the overall effect would undoubtedly be that of a rather seedy looking cleaner – wonderful, it had become so absorbing and the need to transform myself was becoming irresistible. I spent a few minutes deciding what bag to take, the blue one would go much better with my blue court shoes but intentionally chose the beige one, thinking that lack of coordination somehow made me look more sad. I slipped my house-keys, plastic purse, old Nokia and cigarettes and lighter into the bag along with my tiny makeup bag containing powder blusher and lipstick and finally I folded up a copy of my CV, added that to the bag and with glasses on, I was ready.
As I came down the stairs I heard an enormous crash of thunder and the heavens opened with the first rain for at least three weeks. I dashed back for the horrid burgundy raincoat and in the under stairs cupboard managed to find a pink collapsible umbrella that I was forced to buy when I got caught out in a heavy downpour earlier in the year. I’d always hated it and it must have slipped through the net when Mark got rid of my things, but it worked perfectly for Rose. I had to catch two buses to get to the interview and although I’d left more than enough time, I was starting to become more than a little nervous. I walked the half-mile to the first bus stop and just before I got there a lorry went past far too quickly and went through an enormous puddle that absolutely soaked me. Thankfully the raincoat took most of it, but my brand new tights were covered in muddy splatters. I also noticed that the shoes were being to look a little decidedly muddy with not a hint of a shine left. After not too long a wait, the bus arrived and the driver with a “Hello luv, you look a little sorry for yourself” greeted me
“Thank you” I replied, “I didn’t realize it was going to rain this heavily”
Thankfully, the next bus arrived relatively quickly and deposited me about a 10 minute work from Office Sanitation’s HQ on a pretty unappealing looking industrial estate. It looked as though I would be a good ten minutes early but with the rain still coming down I had no choice but to go straight there rather than kill time. I rehearsed my lines to myself as I made my way.
There was a small car park in front of their two storey building with a few rather old cars parked in it, along with what I imagined were a couple of sales rep’s Fords and finally a very shiny new Jaguar that I could tell belonged to Mr. Smith with the number plate DS777.
A young black girl with hair extensions sat behind the reception desk as I nervously introduced myself as Mrs. Rose Edwards, my maiden name, it did make sense, as I still had a bank account in that name so I could be paid. The receptionist sounded pretty thick but did offer to take my wet coat, which I handed over as I took a seat in the small but very clean reception area.
On the coffee table were a few Car magazines and a copy of today’s Times and The Daily Mail. I could have devoured the Times as I was so out of touch with current affairs, but thought that The Mail would be far more suitable for Rose and so I picked that up. I had no idea that the Labour Party was at war with itself but decided to not look too interested until I came to the Women’s’ pages inside. There I read about “The supermodel who’s a supermum” juggling career and family, making no mention of the retinue of staff and nannies she undoubtedly employed in the background.
It had got to almost 2.15 and Mr. Smith had still not arrived, so I plucked up the courage to remind the receptionist of my presence as she seemed to have forgotten me, spending the time either flirting with one of the sales team or chatting on the phone to a friend. She told me however that Mr. Smith knew I was there, but he was in a meeting and would be with me soon.
With that a man emerged from the office behind her with a large middle-aged black woman, possibly another interviewee. He said to Savannah, the receptionist, that Mrs. Anthony was to complete one of their employment forms and would start next week.
She was kind enough to remind him of my presence but he said he had an important phone call to make and that I’d have to wait, not looking in my direction at all. It was as if I was invisible! Well this is how cleaners are treated I thought, especially ones with only three exam passes.
After another 15 minutes he returned saying Mrs. Edwards, please come with me, without a hint of an apology. AJ would have stormed out way before now, but I felt as a broke middle aged woman desperate for any cleaning work I could get, I would have to stay, sitting there all day long if necessary.
I looked as helpless as I could in the interview as he asked me a few basic questions about my background and he made a few sexist remarks that I had to ignore. He then asked when I could start and I said next Monday, He told me to fill in the form outside with Savannah and she would tell me when and where to be on Monday, but it would be evening work in one of the offices they supported in or around the St. Albans area. I was to make my own way to the sites but an overall and equipment would be provided. The pay would be £6.95 per hour, just over the minimum wage and I would be on a what was called zero hours contract, checking that I understood what that meant, ie no guarantee of work, but they expected me to typically work between 12 and 20 hours per week. I agreed and left to meet Savannah.
The form was basic, but Savannah filled it in for me, She probably thought that with my poor qualifications, having been given my CV by Mr. Smith straight after the interview I might struggle to answer the questions. I remembered my address and new date of birth, I could swear she raised her eyebrows slightly, but no questions were asked and she spoke to me as you would to a small child. With that I was sent on my way and told to wait for the phone call on Friday telling me if I had work for Monday evening and where to be.
I was delighted to see that the rain had stopped and I very nervously walked back to my bus stop. This time I was not so lucky and after I’d been waiting for about 15 minutes quite a crowd had gathered including a gang of teenagers talking very loudly and texting on their iPhones. With that, I heard the ring of my old Nokia with its dreadful ringtone of about 15 years ago. As I removed the thing from my bag to answer it, I couldn’t help but notice the look of scorn on the faces of the girls nearby, probably thinking
“Poor old cow, she probably couldn’t handle a modern smartphone!”
It was Lucy and I foolishly automatically said
“What did you just say?” she instantly replied.
She had obviously heard the group, laughing beside me and wasn’t going to let the chance to embarrass me pass.
“I can’t hear you, please do speak up, it’s a very bad line, have I got the wrong number, who am I speaking to”
“Ms. Wu, it's me Rose” I replied as quietly as I thought I could get away with in the circumstances and still be heard by Lucy.
“Do speak up I’m really struggling to hear you”“ she replied, so I was forced to repeat my previous remarks more loudly, much to the girls; amusement.
“That’s better” she said “I must always be addressed as either Madam or Ms. Wu when you speak to me. Do you understand Rose”?
“Yes of course I apologise Ms. Wu” I replied to more sniggering from the girls.
She wanted to know how my interview had gone, although by the timing of her call, I was convinced she already knew and Mr. Smith had just been playing along with Mark’s game.
With that, my bus arrived but Lucy wouldn’t let me go and as the group who were behind me in the queue charged onboard, by the time I finally got to the step, I was greeted with
“Sorry luv, we‘re full, I can’t let any more passengers stand, there’ll be another one along in 15 minutes”
He then drove off, leaving me all alone. I had never felt so absolutely hopeless or vulnerable.
Eventually, after what seemed like an eternity the next bus arrived and I clambered on board. At least there were a couple of spare seats available as I’d been standing for ages, my feet were wet and my back was really starting to ache. I was beginning to see how the real Rose always seemed to have a slight stoop and look so tired all the time. Despite becoming increasingly efficient at my cleaning, now that I had to spend so much time on public transport, I seemed to be exhausted permanently. Over the last few days I had also struggled to get any decent sleep from my uncomfortable mattress and the curlers I was forced to wear, they meant that I really struggled to find a comfortable position.
As I got off the bus the rain started again so I walked as quickly as I could in my wet shoes, firmly holding my umbrella. As soon as I got home I rushed upstairs, hanging up my wet coat taking off my court shoes and putting on my furry slippers. The joy! I sat on the single chair in my room and for some reason had a real panic attack at the thought of what awaited me the following week.
Things had suddenly really started to spiral out of my control. Other than cleaning at home, I expected to only have to do some shopping disguised as a cleaner! I never thought I’d virtually become Rose and hadn’t bargained on working elsewhere. I certainly hadn’t entertained the possibility of losing Mark to another woman. I thought it would bring us together not drive us apart. I resolved that as soon as he got back I would confront him and say I could only continue as Rose and that I could only work at home, not elsewhere and that Lucy had to go if our marriage was to survive. I was sure he’d appreciate that I was petrified and that it had all gone way further than I’d ever anticipated.
As I heard him come through the door I started to walk downstairs and foolishly said
“Mark, we really do have to talk!”
Of course Lucy was with him, wearing a black leather micro-skirt and a pair of tart boots with skyscraper heels. “Did she really go to work looking like that” I thought to myself!
She jumped on my Mark comment instantly.
“Rose, how presumptuous of you to address your employer in that way. Its Mr. Parfitt at all times and I’m Ms. Wu. I don’t ever expect to have to tell you that again. It’s starting to become very boring. Have I made that clear?”
Before I could answer back I found myself automatically apologizing and saying.
“I am sorry Ms. Wu and sorry Mr. Parfitt, I didn’t mean to sound rude but I would like to say something, may I?”
“I know Rose, you’re excited after your interview and you wanted to tell us both about it. I’m so delighted it went well and the extra money will come in very handy for you I’m sure” said Lucy.
“No, that’s just It” I cried. “I’m petrified of working as Rose somewhere else and I don’t think I can do it and I’ll be using a false date of birth, I might even be arrested. I don’t think I can go on. I was crazy to suggest this idea. I really want to stop before it goes way, way too far and I’m scared I’m going to lose you Mark. Please tell me you still love me and we can go back to the way we were?”
With that I could see that Mark was ready to explode but was holding himself back.
He took me by the arm and marched me to the full-length hall mirror where he stood alongside towering over me.
“Look at yourself AJ” he said
“Tell me who’s idea was this? You wanted to work as a maid, I pushed you a little further than you intended with the hair and clothes but did you really ever try to stop me?”
“No I didn’t” I admitted.
“Do you want to stop all this now?”
“”Yes, I do,” I pleaded
“Really, are you sure?” he responded
“No, I’m sorry I mean no, I’m so sorry, I’m confused and frightened, but the truth is I’m really drawn to Rose and want to carry on, but I feel trapped by what I’m becoming I don’t know what to do”
“So you want to carry on Rose?”
I paused to collect my thoughts before replying.
“Yes I do and I want to get the chance to work for Mr. Smith’s business as a cleaner as well, I’m just so scared and don’t want to lose you”
“I know you’re scared but you do want to take this as far as you can, don’t you Rose”
“Yes I suppose I do, but I simply can’t explain why, but I get so upset when I see you with Lucy and I don’t want to lose you”
“Rose, you chose this, now we will both have to see it through and we will decide after 6 months where we go from there. You can give up now if you want to, but it will just have seemed like a silly game and I don’t feel you will get the feeling of true submission that you’ve been searching for. It will just be there gnawing away inside you and at the back of your mind for ever. Don’t you agree?” he asked.
“Yes Mark, you’re right as always. I want to be Rose”
“That’s alright Rose” he replied, “I know you can do this. I’ve never known you give up on anything. I’m sure you’ll become the best cleaner Office Sanitation has ever employed” he said trying to encourage me.
“Yes you’re right, I’m Rose from now on, I won’t question it again. I just get scared sometimes. But I can do this I know I can.”
As I turned to return to my room to get changed I heard Lucy say.
“Rose I’m going to get changed and then go downstairs to the gym. I’ll be finished there at 6.30, so please be a dear and run my bath for me, before Mr. Parfitt and I eat at 7.30. You know how important you are to someone with such a hectic life as me don’t your Rose?””
“Of course Madam, it's nice to know that my work is appreciated and that I’m important to you ” I answered, realizing that I’d lost my last scrap of dignity in front of her.
“Thank you Rose, dear” she commented
I returned to my room upstairs, taking off my mud splattered tights revealing the full horror of my hairy legs and when I looked more closely in the mirror I studied my eyebrows, thinking how on earth could they have got so bushy in two months and would they ever stop growing? Mark was entirely right, who would choose me over Lucy, how could he ever fancy me again? I was a hairy, smelly, ugly tired old maid. I was completely broken in only two months and resigned to my fate. But I just couldn’t stop myself from going deeper.
The next day, as I was pushing the trolley around the supermarket for the weekend, I heard the awful tone of my Nokia ringing in my shoulder bag. I expected it to be Lucy, but no, it was Savannah from Office Sanitation. They had work for me and I was given an address of a large office block on the other side of St. Albans to my house, where they had the contract to clean. One of their three on-site cleaners had left and I was to replace her. It was going to quite a trek to get there, but I felt I had absolutely no option but to accept.
She spoke to me as if I was a small child making sure I had the address and confirming that she’d text it to me shortly and I was to confirm receipt by a further text. The normal hours would be 6pm to 8pm Monday to Thursday evening. I would have to work and extra 2 hours before they returned to work on the following Monday and that could be worked either on the Friday evening or at anytime over the weekend as they would have security on site to give me access. I confirmed my availability and was told on the first evening to get there at 5.45 to be given my cleaning equipment and trolley and to ask for my supervisor Mrs. Harrison on arrival.
Well, this is it I thought, my next step down the social ladder. How was I going to cope?
At the weekend I had caught the bus into town and at the bus station enquired how I could get to work from my house. A very helpful bus inspector told me that there was a fairly direct bus as long as I walked a little further from home than I normally did to catch a different bus and then I would be on a route that would run very close to the business park where “Great Getaway Holidays”” the company was based. He thought the bus would normally take 30 minutes but in the rush hour it could be up to an ¾ of an hour. So I worked out that with walking and waiting time I had better leave home at 4.45pm or soon after to be sure of getting there on time.
I was a nervous wreck all day Monday, whereas to think that as Annabelle I would have no qualms about giving a presentation to a large company’s board of Directors telling them how they should approach a new international market or such like. But now, I was petrified of taking on a cleaning job. My self-confidence was absolutely destroyed and I had fully embarked on my new like as the ugly downtrodden domestic. I just found it impossible to get over the fact that I had changed so much both physically and mentally.
I really couldn’t decide what to wear, but selected my beige elasticated waist trousers with matching sandals, pale blue floral blouse and lilac cardigan. It was all very Rose. I put on my raincoat, grabbed my bag and I was off. It took me 20 minutes to walk to the new bus stop but thankfully the bus came on time. It was full however, but a rather nice elderly lady removed her shopping from the seat beside her giving me some space.
The bus finally dropped me a few minutes walk from the office block which I could see was a four storey building probably dating from the 1950s or 60s. I was a couple of minutes late for Mrs. Harrison and was more than a little nervous. However, thankfully she didn’t seem to mind at all and agreed with my comment about how unreliable the buses were. She was probably about “my age” and rather plump. She explained that her name was Marj and I could call her that. She’d introduce me to my other colleague, Beth shortly. Her and Beth did all the offices and reception areas whereas unfortunately she said somewhat apologetically that I would have to do the toilets as I was the new girl! Each floor had ladies and gents toilets along with a small disabled toilet. There was also a Visitors’ toilet on the ground floor along with another disabled toilet. She then took me to a small room behind the reception area that was the cleaners’ store room - come office. There was a trolley for me along with mop and various cleaning materials. She also gave me rubber gloves (What a relief) and a dark blue tabard with white trimming. With that she took me to the 1st floor to show me the toilets and let me get on with my work explaining that each floor had the same layout. The company only paid for two hours work each evening, so although they prided themselves on the quality of their cleaning services, I would need to work hard to get it all done in time and should plan to spend 30 minutes maximum on each floor, so I should watch the time carefully. She would pop around at least once each shift to see how I was getting on, but when I’d finished I should empty my buckets, and return everything to the storeroom. I was then to sign out at the reception desk where Frank the security guard would be on, as the receptionist left at 6. She welcomed be on board and said she hoped I would enjoy it as much as a cleaner could.
I couldn’t help it but I really liked her, She was the first person I had spoken to in over two months who seemed really genuine and friendly and I so hoped we’d become friends. Also I felt a real high in that I didn’t feel that Mr. smith had tipped her off at all and that amazingly she had accepted me as a late middle aged woman rather down on her luck, just as Savannah had at my interview.
I got to work immediately starting with the actual toilet cubicles, then the washbasins, then mirrors and finally the mopping the entire floor in each washroom. I also had to remember to knock before entering any of the gents’ toilets in case they were in use, but thankfully almost everyone seemed to leave promptly by 6 and the offices were virtually empty.
However, it was really hard work carrying the bucket off my trolley and re-filling it with clean water and detergent each time. The gents’ toilets were filthy but much to my amazement the womens’ toilets were even worse. None had been flushed after use. I was really thankful for my rubber gloves!
I noticed that by the time I was saying goodnight to Frank on the reception desk who turned out to be a lovely man who had obviously retired once already it was 8.20pm and I made a mental note that I would need to be faster tomorrow. I raced to the bus stop with my back in agony from all the bending, but as usual was faced with a long wait – why could they never come on time?
I finally arrived home absolutely exhausted and my back was killing me. I walked into the kitchen just after 9 to see Mark and Lucy finishing off a meal that she had cooked for them both. I couldn’t tell what it was, but it looked as though she had used every single saucepan and utensil in the house, probably intentionally!
”Well Rose, how did it go?” she enquired as Mark sat rather sheepishly opposite her.
“It was fine thank you” I replied “And the supervisor seems very nice”
“That’s good” replied Lucy “It would be really nice for you if you could make friends with people similar to yourself, wouldn’t it”
“Yes it would” I answered.
She then finished off the conversation by saying.
“Rose it looks as though I’ve made something of a mess in here, you don’t mind being an absolute dear and washing up for me do you? It's just that there’s a film about to start on television and we really don’t want to miss it do we, darling?” she said staring into Mark’s eyes.
“No “ he replied “Let’s go through to the other room and I’ll bring the wine”
“Thank you Rose” he said to me. “I’m delighted things are working out as you’d hoped” and disappeared, leaving me with about half an hour’s washing up before I could get a bite to eat myself.
I finally retired to bed and on waking just in time to prepare their breakfasts, I realized how stiff my back had become. I could get up and move but the only comfortable position was walking with a slight stoop. Straightening up was agony.
“Oh! You poor thing” Lucy greeted me.
“I think you’re pushing yourself too hard for a woman of your age”
“Thank you for your concern Ms. Wu, if it gets any worse I may have to visit a Doctor!”
“I know things are not easy for women at your time of life Rose, I must admit it's something I’m not looking forward to at all” she remarked.
“I’ll see if I can help in anyway. It must be hard work having to bend over cleaning constantly and then having to carry all that heavy shopping and not being able to drive. Mark and I were only saying last night what a help you were to us both. We really do treasure you Rose”
Over the next few days, despite the late finishes I was really starting to enjoy my new job and I got on really well with Beth, She was rather vulgar but her conversations helped me dumb down considerably, talking about soap operas and celebrities and I discovered she had some very right wing views which although a million miles from AJ’s politics, was something I thought I should probably copy. We also both shared tales of our aching backs.
“One of the problems of cleaning I’m afraid Rosie” as she’d taken to calling me.
After returning from shopping the following Wednesday, My heart fell as I saw Lucy’s black Porsche parked outside.
“Rose” she said sounding delighted to see me.
“I’m so glad you’re back. I’ll help you take those bags through to the kitchen, then I want you to go to the cupboard under the stairs where I’ve got a present for you”
“Thank you Ms. Wu” I replied feeling deeply suspicious.
Anyway, as instructed I opened the cupboard door, to see a shopping trolley waiting for me. It was exactly the style used by old ladies. It had four small wheels and a high handle meaning it could be either pulled or pushed similar to a walking frame and the basket was in a blue and yellow tartan pattern. It was absolutely perfect for Rose and although I guessed it would slow me down when walking it was going to fit the character I was becoming superbly.
“Oh Ms. Wu that’s so kind of you. I do hope it wasn’t expensive, but it will so help with my bad back.
“Rose that’s wonderful” she gloated. “I’m delighted you like it, you must take it with you whenever you go shopping. It will make your life so much easier”.
A few days later as I was in the middle of usual household chores, the home telephone rang. It was Jenny, Lucy’s sister, my former best friend who I hadn’t spoken to since the dinner party when Mark and Lucy got together.
“Why haven’t you called me?” she demanded.
I told her I wasn’t exactly happy with her since Lucy and Mark had become an item and I was trying to maintain my position as Rose and not mix with my old friends. I also explained that I was being kept very busy most days either shopping or cleaning and that I now had a new evening job as well.
She was dumbstruck that I had let myself get stuck in this position by Mark and her sister. I knew that she’d never really got on with her sister and said she would speak to her and put a stop to all this as she was so worried about my mental as well as physical health.
I pleaded for her not to, as I knew it would backfire on me and I eventually persuaded her to say nothing but agreed to meet her at a Starbucks on my way back from the supermarket with my weekend shopping the next day.
The next day, I really struggled around the supermarket with my sore back. I was also beginning to suspect that Lucy’s plan with the shopping trolley was far cleverer than I had initially imagined. With my back as it was I couldn’t easily pull it behind me and had to push it along in front of me, leaning over it as if I was an old lady with a walking frame. I was also reduced to about half my normal walking speed pushing the damned thing. I felt terribly old and vulnerable.
I finally got to Starbucks over 10 minutes late. I noticed Jen sitting in the far corner at one of two low leather armchairs. She was always late, but even I had managed to outdo her this time, She looked her usual gorgeous professional self in a black trouser suit. She clearly didn’t recognize me until, I was standing next to her and I’m sure she was initially going to say that I couldn’t sit opposite her as she was waiting for someone.
Then she realized and looked even more surprised than when she saw me at the dinner party.
“Oh AJ what on earth’s happened to you?”
“Please keep your voice down” I pleaded and whispered “It’s Rose, remember?”
“It’s lovely to see you, Rose, I do love your hair” she then said much more clearly. Let me get you a coffee, Americano or espresso?”
“No, tea please, white and two sugars”
“Of course” she replied jokingly, “How could I possibly I forget! Just take a seat and wait there”
She returned and handed me my tea and we made small talk before she got to her main point, which was how worried she was about me and that she really thought I was having some sort of breakdown. Also Lucy had been boasting to her, how she had stolen Mark and that my marriage was over.
I admitted to her that that might indeed be the case, but it was a test and if Mark didn’t love me enough to take me back after this then it was probably actually for the best that we parted. I was becoming addicted to Rose and couldn’t give her up yet, even if it did cost me my marriage. I realized that it sounded insane but I needed to be honest with her.
She was upset and didn’t want Lucy to win as they’d never been close but she also said that I needed to be honest with my parents and I couldn’t hide from them. This was a proposal that terrified me! But I think she believed that if she couldn’t talk sense into me then my mother possibly could.
I pleaded with her not to tell them but she would not listen as she obviously felt it was for my own good and believed I must be cracking up. I said if she told them I’d never ever forgive her, but she couldn’t be stopped and she claimed to love me too much to see me destroy myself even if it cost her my friendship.
I felt utterly helpless and trapped. Then finally to add a touch of much needed humour to the scene as we were about to part, I had to confess to Jenny that with my bad back I couldn’t actually get out of the low armchair that she’d picked for us and she had to help me up like a real old lady. She offered me a lift but I said I wanted to find my own way home and consider what awaited me when my mother made contact in a few days. I also needed to talk this over with Mark urgently.