The door groans lowly as it releases from the latch; its paint is forest green and peeling off in flakes to the doormat. Gail heaves the hunk of wood inwards and exhales into the humid air rushing in to greet her. Another morning, another carton’s worth of petty retribution yet to be cleaned from the shop windows. The cheap plastic handle of the bucket she holds indents purple creases into the bend of her elbow, but she knows by now that enough soap-sudded water never carries light. She scuffs the rubber trimming of her left boot in the door jamb as a makeshift stop, just long enough to contort all of her limbs out the door. Armoured for the morning with a squeegee in one hand, cloth and keys in the other, it is easier for Gail to cease fire of her own pipedreams of retaliation — of glue or paint plastered impolitely across neat sandstone terrace houses. Instead, she slips the thickest key of the set into the lock, prays patience to a God she doesn’t believe in and begins to wipe the messes from the windows. There’s a stubborn yolk, flatly blonde and caking drips onto the sill, dislocated from the white that’s smeared across a poster for an upcoming school fete. After the third time, Gail had bought a value pack of wooden pegs to save her from holding her breath for the hour. After the thirtieth, she’d run out, given up on either and learnt intolerable smells can be an incredible motivator. This morning, the six a.m. sky is placid grey and the bucket of water turns into its reflection with each plunge of the rag.
‘Morning,’ is said to her back, the absence of a ‘good’ preface enough to etch away at the frown between her brows. Maybe he’s getting more perceptive, or maybe he’s just getting bored.
‘It sure is one, yes,’ Gail says, wringing the cloth into a sudsy whirlpool. The smell barely leaves her cuticles by the time she washes dinner’s dishes. (Paper plates have become increasingly appealing.) She resigns herself to the small talk of engaging with Lewis Armitage; the eldest child of the family that lives two doors down from the shop. He’s still in high school, wears the Debate Captain badge on his blazer like an ox-head mounted on a pool room wall, and has long since learnt a lot can be gained in the world by a man whose charming smile acts on a switch.
‘Not much left, hey? Are you getting more efficient or are they just running out of eggs?’
He’s leaning his hipbone against a metal bike rack (which miraculously is always clean, as if eggs are allergic to causing headaches for the local council instead of a part-timer and a retiree shopkeeper). He pushes back his hair like it’s casual, but his hand follows a pre-existing swoop meticulously. His eyes trail the movement of Gail’s body as she reaches to re-wet the rag, but his mouth is poised open, like a grinning jackal, waiting for the punchline to hit Gail like a piano in an old-timey comedy.
Gail shrugs it off, ‘not sure.’ Lewis Armitage had dated Emily Waters before she asked Gail out. He laughs a little too loudly, too-wide mouth showing too-white teeth. The timer on Gail’s God-given patience is dwindling with each tick.
‘Aren’t you a superhero,’ Lewis exhales, as if the view he goes out of his way each day to see is something of wonderment. Amelia Armitage is 12 and has four pet chickens, named after The Teletubbies.
‘Yeah, not quite,’ (good-natured laugh, three seconds long; practiced). ‘Have a good one, Lewis,’ Gail turns back around and squares her shoulders, slowly, like a creeping lion, as to not reveal her intentions. There’s no need to carve another notch into the post of grudges, nor add another egg to the carton.
‘Missed a spot,’ comes the reply, gnarled with sudden honesty and loud with proximity. Gail doesn’t flinch, despite the heat of his breath on her ear, and the red-knuckled finger that reaches over her shoulder into her space. It trails through the emulsifying mess, dragging back over to a newly clear pane, and draws out four letters in the egg and soap. The ‘D’ is so thick it’s slid and dripped before he finishes the ‘Y’. By the time he moves from ‘K’ to ‘E’, it’s less of a painting and more a squeaky trace against dry glass. Gail is fully aware the boy is immensely proud of his work regardless. She remains silent until he leaves and doesn’t breathe until the sound of his polished Oxfords scuffing against the footpath fades.
When Mrs Wilson walks through the heavy storefront door at eight o’clock, she smiles kindly behind her cat-shaped sunglasses. Gail returns it in earnest, even when she asks for the weekly rent for the studio apartment upstairs; even when she reminds her not-so-subtly that night-time visitors should be kept to a minimum, but her friend from church has a cute son around her age, should she want some ‘sensible company’. There is an empty yellow bucket stacked precariously atop the store-room cupboard. The storefront windows glisten in the breakfast sun.
Soph Gibson is a visual artist and writer currently studying BFA in Visual Arts. In an attempt to unravel the complexities of the human experience, their visual art and creative writing both often include layers of metaphors and an indulgence in sensorial delight.