The Housekeeper

Sunlight filtered through the gauzy, red, musty smelling curtains, bathing the room in a pale pink hue and resting on the tattered carpet in spots of varied brightness. Emily Watson, sixty years old, dressed in her shift and sitting in a straight backed chair raised her hand, shifting the floating dust into wild, rotating patterns resembling a Van Gogh painting, in pink, not blue. She studied the back of her hand, the skin wrinkled and dry, brown liver spots, a small cut, partially healed. Age did not sit well with Mrs. Watson. Mrs., she thought. The husband, long dead, buried in the earth, and still, she was Mrs. And though she didn’t appreciate the title she was never comfortable with Emily either. Her book covers said, “by Emily Watson”, for that is who she was, is. But you can’t have people calling you Emily Watson all day, can you? They have to call you something after all, it might as well be Mrs. She wished they wouldn’t call at all. And though she despised most people, she supposed it wasn’t right because after all, her readers provided her with income, with her life. And yet, communing with the outside world was her least favorite thing to do.

Below, at the back of the old house Mrs. Watson heard footsteps on the porch, recognized the metallic stretch sound of the spring on the screen door, the jangle of keys, the turning of the knob, the opening of the back door, and the subsequent closing of the same. The housekeeper has arrived. Mrs. Watson despised the housekeeper, which was nothing more than a continuation of her normal modus operandi, but whenever she mentioned firing the woman to her publisher, she was reminded that a housekeeper was a necessary evil. The house was old and large and needed looking after, a job that Mrs. Watson completely neglected. She despised her publisher as well. So instead of getting rid of the housekeeper, one Agnus Renton, she instead regaled her with a steady stream of insults believing that when the woman had had enough, she would quit, relieving Mrs. Watson of her presence and leaving her free of the responsibility of firing her. So far it hadn’t worked. The woman was impervious to Mrs. Watson’s charms. She went about her business, whatever that was, paying little to no attention to the words the writer slung at her. Mrs. Watson in turn realized she would have to become more inventive. She thought about dropping her shift to the floor and walking downstairs naked but wondered what she would do if Agnus had a heart attack at the sight of her old, wrinkled body. And then again, who knows? Maybe Agnus would like it.

Mrs. Watson stood, sending the floating dust into violent swirls in the filtered sunlight, and made her way to the bedroom door. Opening it, she proceeded into the hallway, her bare feet cold on the old wood flooring. Creaking noises emitted from her footsteps alerting Agnus of the impending doom of Mrs. Watson’s arrival. Agnus despised the old woman, not much older than herself however, and if the pay wasn’t what it was, she would have left after her first day. She tried to be nice to her employer and was continually shot down for her efforts. Agnus would not let her win the battle, would not let Mrs. Watson crack her however. She needed the job. She could complain to her daughter about the abuses she suffered but never to Mrs. Watson. She would not dignify the horrid behavior by breaking down, getting angry, or crying. That, would not happen. She did wonder though, how much more she could take. The old hag seemed to absolutely delight in saying the meanest things to her. She was a writer, and Agnus assumed it gave her the ability to dream up cutting lines to sling at her like poison darts. And sling she did.

Mrs. Watson arrived in the kitchen as Agnus was finishing her breakfast. “I was about to bring this up to you,” Agnus said, holding the tray.

“No need, Agnus,” Mrs. Watson said, “I’m not there.”

“Where will you have it then?” Agnus asked.

“Right here,” Mrs. Watson said, “I’ll eat with you this morning.”

Agnus sighed inwardly. She had hoped to get through her day with a minimum amount of contact but that apparently, was not to be.

Mrs. Watson sat on one of the stools that lined the high kitchen island still wearing her shift, and Agnus sat the tray in front of her. The housekeeper then stood on the opposite side of the counter to attend to her own food. They ate in silence for a time and Agnus organized her plan of attack on the housework for the day. The bathrooms needed scrubbing, there was laundry, sweeping, and vacuuming. As Mrs. Watson finished the last of her sausages, she wiped her mouth with the napkin and said, “I’m starting a new novel Agnus, I thought you’d be pleased.”

“Terribly,” Agnus said, deliberately nonreactive. Occasionally Mrs. Watson talked to Agnus about her writing, almost as if she were soliciting an opinion but the conversations always turned out the same. Mrs. Watson would inevitably insult her for something she said. Agnus knew nothing about writing, didn’t even read much in fact and could contribute very little in that way. She thought it was bait and said no more.

“I’d like your opinion on something, if you don’t mind,” Mrs. Watson said. Agnus stared at her for a moment. It was bait, it had to be. There could be no other reason why Mrs. Watson wanted an opinion from her about anything. Agnus began picking up the breakfast dishes, depositing them in the sink. She started the water. Mrs. Watson came around the island to stand next to Agnus at the counter. The housekeeper began washing the morning dishes without comment. As she did, Mrs. Watson reached out her hand and plucked a butcher knife from the wooden block on the counter. From the corner of her eye Agnus watched Mrs. Watson hold the knife as the morning sun glinted off the carbon steel blade. She turned it first one way and then another, as if examining the way the light reflected. “I’m going to write a story about a woman who kills her housekeeper,” Mrs. Watson said, in a quiet voice. “I’m thinking of having her killed with a butcher knife and then cut up into pieces and having the woman mail the pieces to the housekeeper’s friends and family. What do you think of that?” As she asked, Mrs. Watson brought the knife to her mouth and licked it, slowly running her tongue from one end to the other. “Wouldn’t that make an exciting read?” she whispered.

Agnus said nothing. Her eyebrow twitched and a smile touched the corners of her mouth. Mrs. Watson placed the knife on the counter and turned away. Agnus finished the dishes and as Mrs. Watson was about to leave the kitchen the housekeeper picked up the knife and turned to the retreating writer. “I think,” Agnus said, “that would be a fine way to do it. Only I’d change the story around the other way.”

Later that same day, after finding packing boxes in the cellar, and addressing them properly, Agnus loaded them into her car for a trip to the post office. The afternoon sun was warm and there was perspiration on her brow. Coming back to the house she gathered her cleaning supplies and set about removing all the blood from the kitchen floor.  

One comment

  1. Everything seems to have worked out in the end, Butch, and no one is walking around despising anyone anymore. Good one, Butch!

    Liked by 1 person

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