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A Stitch In Time (1/2)

 

Taddy is a quiet girl. She tends to not be noticed much. If they are reminded that she is there, people tend to say ‘Oh yes… Taddy,’ and then quickly forget all about it.

Taddy is the cleaning lady. She keeps Sandford Police Station spick and span. Every day, from six to eight in the mornings and eight to ten in the evenings, she goes around with her Henry hoover and empties the bins, cleans out the cells, does the washing-up, and a score of other, vital little tasks.

Her full name is Schenectady Durwent. Her parents, who never travelled outside of Gloucestershire in their lives, chose it after seeing a wonderful picture in a brochure of a place with that name. The place called Schenectady is in New York, America, a very long way away, and the picture shows a lovely park full of flowers and tall, exotic-looking trees, and a sparkling river flowing in the distance. ‘A beautiful place for a beautiful girl,’ her dad always said, when he showed it to her.

Taddy still has the picture, pressed carefully in a book to keep it flat. She has lots of keepsakes of her parents, both in the ground now, and she is careful to keep all of them nice. Just because someone has gone, there’s no cause not to respect their things, and to do so is just as bad as talking ill of the person themselves. Taddy believes this with all her heart, as much as she believes that wicked people always get what’s coming to them, and that you should always pay back kindness with kindness.

The old chief had always been kind to her. The new one is barely older than her, far too young to know anything about anything, but she humours him just the same. It is none of her business who they have chosen- all that sort of thing belongs to the world which comes into existence between eight in the morning and eight in the evening, and it is nothing to do with her.

It makes her sad to think of the old chief, such a long way away in that big nasty prison without her to tidy up after him. She’d sent him a card. The choice in Clintons had nearly overwhelmed her, but eventually she’d picked out a Sorry for your loss, which she decided was just as relevant to his situation as Happy Retirement. The picture on it was prettier, too.

Taddy takes pride in her work. She leaves everything just so, blinds dusted along each slat and exactly half-drawn, cups and glasses dried by hand so they don’t get those horrid chalky marks, doorhandles and skirting boards polished and cleaned to perfection. It pains her that they won’t ever let her in the evidence locker or the riot room- the cobwebs she can always see through the square panes of glass in the doors set her teeth on edge. She imagines it would take a full weekend for her to clean each room, dust every shelf, open the high, narrow windows for airing, and she wishes they would let her do it. Taddy isn’t afraid of getting her hands dirty. She does not hate mess. She loves it, loves the satisfaction it gives her, making order out of chaos.

On the terrible day that the old station blew up, she’d stood in front of the rubble and cried. People who saw her probably thought that she was crying because people she knew had been hurt, or perhaps just from the shock, and a few of them might have guessed that she was crying because the building she’d worked in every day for such a long time had been destroyed, but the truth was simpler. She cried because it was the most beautiful mess she’d ever seen, and she knew that they’d never let her tidy it up. It would be left to engineers, demolition crews, men with big, clumsy, stupid hands who wouldn’t care. To them, she’d known, it would just be another job.

To her delight, the new station is just the same as the old one. She quickly takes it in hand, cleaning away all the plaster dust and mess left by the builders, tucking in the loose ends and repairing the rips and tears and gaps where carpets and wallpaper have not quite been fitted properly. She's handy with a needle and good with her hands. She even moves the new pictures to the places she remembers pictures being in the old station. She is spot on with every one.

She is annoyed that the Best Village Award plaques are not restored to their places. Taddy doesn’t much care about what the plaques represent, but they did used to look so pleasingly symmetrical, hanging on the wall. She asks a Turner- the nice one, who smiles- what’s become of them, but the question seems to upset him, so she leaves it be.

They can’t help being messy, poor things. Sergeant Fisher, with his funny packets of dialectic food, always leaving crumbs all over his computer keyboard. Detective Sergeant and Constable Wainwright and Cartwright, their office a constant challenge, full of filthy cigarette butts and dirty dishes, the stale smell of smoke a horror to budge from the furniture and fittings. Taddy thinks smoking is a disgusting habit.

Doris Thatcher, poor slatternly girl that she is, leaves the bathroom full of hairpins and tissues. Constable Walker’s dog tracks in mud and covers the cubbyhole under his desk with gingery hair. Constable- now Sergeant- Butterman’s desk drawers are full of sachets of ketchup and Mars bars that he doesn’t think the new chief knows about, and the chocolate gets in cracks and gets trodden into the carpet. It never ends, but that’s all right, because Taddy is there to come in every day, from six to eight in the mornings and eight to ten in the evenings, and make it all better again. She’s the reason that they never have to wash a single dish or clean a single window, and she knows that they would be lost without her.

The police station after hours is her perfect world, her secret kingdom. She works around the skeleton night shift with deference, seldom noticed. She likes it that way. She likes it even more when there’s no-one around except a Turner at the front desk, and sometimes she uses her keys and gets in and out the back way, so no-one ever knows she is there at all. She loves the feeling of the empty spaces, used to so much hustle and bustle during the day, the echos they grow when all the people have gone, the sound of her own gentle humming in the deserted rooms. The place where she lives is just a house. This is her home.

 

*

 

At first, the new chief isn’t around very much. Taddy overhears enough to understand that the people in London want him back- perhaps because they have other police stations that need blowing up in London- and he has to sort things out with them. It doesn’t take a very long time, though. When Constable- now Sergeant- Butterman comes back to work, he brings the new chief back with him, grinning in that little-kid way of his, as if the new chief is some sort of trophy. Taddy has no idea where Constable- now Sergeant- Butterman has been for so long. A couple of times after he comes back she notices him wincing and touching his stomach, so she decides that he must have caught the nasty tummy bug that’s been going round, the poor dear. She makes an especial point of cleaning his desk that evening, polishing it till it shines, making sure all the ketchup sachets and chocolate bars in his drawer are pleasingly aligned, black-red-black-red-black-red.

It takes her a long time, and when she finally finishes up in the main office and heads into the little kitchen to start the washing-up, it is with an unpleasant shock that she realises she isn’t alone. The new chief is there already, shirtsleeves rolled up, his tie making a neat black exclamation point down the front of his perfectly-ironed shirt.

He’s doing the washing-up.

Taddy doesn’t know what to do. For a second it feels as if she is being held underwater herself, a black, clanging panic filling her ears. The new chief goes on rinsing the dishes, methodically, calmly, for all the world as if he doesn’t realise that what he is doing is just as wrong as if he was standing there and removing his face bit by bit with the breadknife. Her hands knot together in the front of her cardigan.

“You don’t have to do that, sir,” she hears her own voice saying, at last. Good. She sounds fine. Normal.

He turns to look at her, Fairy Liquid bubbles sliding down his arms. She can see him trying to remember her name, and failing. That’s good, too. She suddenly doesn’t want to hear her name in the mouth of this man, and her hands grip each other so tightly inside her sleeves that she feels her nails puncturing the backs of her hands.

“That’s quite alright,” he says. “There wasn’t much to do.” He’s starting right off by telling lies. There’d been four cups three plates five teaspoons a glass a knife and a plastic spoon- she can see them all piled up on the rack. Maybe not that much to do, if you don’t do them properly and you didn’t care about horrid chalky marks.

She tries to smile at him. She feels panicky and stupid and she can’t think of anything to say that won’t come out wrong. Perhaps it shows, because a crease appears on his taut forehead and he gives her a harder look.

“Are you alright, um, Miss…?”

“Oh, no, no, I’m fine,” she tells him, and rallies enough to give a little laugh as she searches wildly for inspiration. Thankfully, it comes. “Think I might have a bit of a tummy bug, that’s all. Lot of it going round.”

This seems to satisfy him, or at least put him off any further questions. He nods, sympathetically, and turns back to the sink, and Taddy flees. When she’s quite sure he’s gone she goes back and washes them all again for herself, twice. The soap stings the nailmarks in her knuckles like a benediction, but it doesn’t make her feel much better.

From then on, things go from bad to worse. At first Taddy dares to hope that the Dishes Incident is just that, a one-off aberration, but she hopes in vain. The kitchen becomes a bloodless battleground. The new chief takes to washing up at lunchtime, when she can’t be there, leaving practically nothing for her to do. After five days of this, during which she puts three new holes right through her cardigan and several more in her palms, she goes to clean out the fridge, instead. She always finds this a soothing task, carefully chipping out the strata of ice in the freezer bit, checking the expiration dates on everything, wiping up the little spills.

This time, however, the new chief has been there ahead of her. The fridge is pristine. Taddy gets a sick headache and goes home early.

 

*

 

Monday morning, a week or so later, she arrives bright and early to put the rubbish bags out for the dustmen, and almost falls over them, neat and twist-tied, lined up by the hedge. She stands there for a while in the dawnlight, staring at them, her hands working away inside her cardigan. Then she goes inside.

The new chief is in early, at his desk for a change, in the room which- in the old station- was the old chief’s office. He is filling in forms, leaning on the old chief’s desk, his intense, unfriendly face concentrated.

Taddy can’t stop herself.

“Did you put the bins out, sir?”

He looks up, surprised but not caught-out or guilty. Taddy would have liked it much better if he looked guilty. It would show that he understood what he was doing wasn’t right, at least.

“Er, yes. I had a couple of minutes last night, so…” He puts his pen down. There’s a little bobbly monkey on a spring on top of it, and it doesn’t look like the sort of pen a man like him would ever have chosen, at all. “Did I do it wrong?”

“No,” she says, because it’s true, he didn’t, “but you oughtn’t do it, sir. It’s my job.”

She sounds more forceful than she intended, and for a moment he looks a little thrown. She bites the inside of her cheek.

“It’s alright, Taddy,” he tells her. “It won’t kill us to clean up after ourselves once in a while.” It takes Taddy a little while to realise that the new chief is trying to make a joke. All she can think of is that he has learned her name, which means that he has asked someone about her.

She doesn’t like that, not one little bit.

She thinks that she hates him, in fact. He's so neat and perfect and precise, so alien. He's nothing like the others. There's nothing flawed about him, nothing messy or fallible. There's nothing she can do to show him how distasteful this makes him to her, or how very much she wishes he'd leave her and her perfect little world in peace.

“You don’t have to clean up after yourselves,” she manages. “I can do that.” Then she makes herself turn and walk very calmly out of his office, down the corridor outside, and out of his sight.

All the way, she can feel his eyes on her.

She throws herself into her morning routine, working extra hard on the floors and surfaces, throwing every scrap of waste paper on the floor into the empty wastepaper bins with an almost vicious vigour. She is angry at herself for acting on such a silly impulse, and she feels frightened, too. For the first time she understands that it isn’t just the irritation of finding her work done for her that is getting to her. She is frightened- horribly frightened- of what might happen, if the stupid new chief keeps chipping away at her routine, if he decides he likes doing her jobs, if the rest of them follow him and start doing things for themselves too, if they stop needing her if they stop needing her they might stop needing her.

He’s sorted through the recycling. He’s put the bottles and the cans in a new place. Her Henry hoover is coiled up in a funny way, its hose draped in an upturned ‘u’, as if it is laughing at her. She can’t think straight.

Her hands shake as she empties the mopping-up water into the drain just outside the back door, and she spills some of it across the path. Hurrying out under the open windows to clean it up before it can mark the paving stones, she hears somebody say her name.

“What, y’mean Taddy?” It sounds like Constable- Sergeant, now- Butterman. Taddy draws back against the side of the building, her heart beating fast. Eavesdroppers never hear any good of themselves, her mum always told her, but she can’t help herself.

“Yes, the cleaner.” It’s the new chief’s voice. Taddy’s fingers, wet with mopping-up water, curl into each other. “When did she start?”

“I dunno.” The Constable- Sergeant- sounds puzzled. “She’s always been ‘ere.”

“She can’t 'always' have been here, Danny, use your head- she’s younger than me.”

“She’s been ‘ere since I’ve been ‘ere,” says Constable- or Sergeant- Butterman.

“Well, I can’t find her on the payroll. What's her surname?”

“Dunno. Irwin? Durbon? Somethin' like that.”

Paper rustled. “No. She's not on here.”

“Must be from the council, then.”
 

“You mean you don't know?”

“No. Oi! Tony!”

What?” Sergeant Fisher, sounding a long way off.

“Taddy's from the council, en't she?”

Who?”

Taddy's heard enough. She pulls the back door to and props her mop and bucket up behind the bushes out the back, and sits down on the step, biting her lip. Her hands link and relink through the front of her cardigan, twisting little knots of material between them.

 

*

 

As usual, that evening, Inspector Nicholas Angel is the last to leave. When the last of his paperwork is done, he calls Danny at his flat and tells him he'll be round in a few minutes for their Die Hard trilogy night, which Danny has been planning for weeks in the manner of a military exercise. Then he gets changed in the locker room, out of his uniform and into a plain short-sleeved shirt and trousers, and heads back out into the main hallway.

He stands still for a moment, tapping a pen against his teeth, then makes up his mind and strides into his office, picks up his phone and dials the number for the local council offices.

“Hello? Yeah, this is Inspector Angel, Sandford Police Service- I'm just calling to get some contact information for one of your employees.”

A pause.

“Yes, it's one-nine-six-two-eight-A for Alfa. That's one-nine-six-two... yeah. Thanks.”

Another pause.

“Yes, hello. No, I'm not sure- a cleaner, she comes into the station daily, but nobody seems quite sure what-”

Silence.

“There isn't?”

A longer silence.

“Uh, no. No, uh, that's fine, thanks. Thank you for your time.”

Angel puts the phone down, runs a hand over his hair and down to his mouth, says 'Christ,' and gets up. He half-turns towards the door, which is when Taddy, who has been standing in the shadow behind the door for the last ten minutes, hits him in the back of the head with the handle of her mop.

continue...

 

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
leaper182
Jul. 8th, 2009 02:04 am (UTC)
This makes me the strangest person in the world, but I felt so sorry for Taddy.

I don't like people knowing my name. If I could get away with it, I wouldn't let my co-workers know my name either -- though I'm not 100% sure about that one. But I'd love to be in Schenectady's shoes.

That being said, oh, Taddy! The fact that she's not going to be needed anymore really... it didn't hit home with me, but I did feel a twinge in my chest for her. Oh, it's all right. Nicholas can be a really good guy! He's just... well, he doesn't know how things are done in Sandford, and he upset the status quo, and things are changing, but maybe he'll understand after everything's settled.

It's okay, Schenectady. It'll be okay... *pets her*

She's going to be okay, right? I actually like her. *blush*
random_nexus
Jul. 8th, 2009 03:53 pm (UTC)
Awwww! Poor Taddy! Her purpose in life, her focus, and this new guy doesn't get it! (Poor Nicholas, too, because if she could explain, I bet he'd get it better than many!)

Oh my, but I like how you've done this. Done her. And, of course, Nicholas. Wow.

Dang, I hope she doesn't kill him. It's all a big misunderstanding!

can't we all just get along?
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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