This is a short story, in 1500 words.
It was prompted by the above photo, sent to me by Kim Barker.
I often wondered why I bothered with college. All that time and money, then no decent jobs at the end of it. Didn’t help that I had moved out of home, anything to get away from my stifling parents. So I needed rent money, food money, and had to pay for cable too. I resolved to take anything I could get.
Home Care is not a glamorous industry, believe me. People live in shit, they really do. Smelly apartments, tumbled-down tract houses, rooms crammed with crappy old stuff they call memories. But unsocial hours and weekends paid better, so I signed up with the agency, and got my own round within walking distance.
Oh my God, the smells! You had to be there. Helping old folks use the pan, cleaning them up after, and changing them into night clothes for bed. You hold your breath, say the right things, and get out of there as soon as possible. I used to shower twice when I got back to my apartment, but it never seemed to wash off that clinging stink.
Once you got used to the routine, it was easy to speed up. Work it around how it suited you, instead of them. So they get put to bed when it’s still daylight. So what? They forgot to order in food for the snacks you were supposed to leave them. Go hungry. Nobody listens when they complain anyway. But make sure you remember the ones with relatives nearby. Take a bit more time, tuck them in nice, pat them on the head. Avoid getting complaints from relatives. That will cost you your job.
And never hit any of them, not even a small slap. No matter how rude they are, and whatever names they call you. Some people have cameras hidden away in all sorts of strange places. Easy enough to let them fall when you are helping them into bed, or maybe spill some hot coffee over them as you serve it. Then make a fuss about being sorry. That way, it looks like an accident that could happen to anybody.
I really didn’t know how long I could stick this, though. Nobody seemed to die, and I soon got so bored with the same faces every night and all over the weekend. Funnily enough, I got great feedback, and was well thought of by the managers. And I wasn’t even trying. Then one day, they called me in to offer me something different.
Mister Fitzpatrick was an old guy who had become home-bound after a stroke. He needed more or less permanent care, and had the money to pay for it. The boss asked me if I would think about living-in and looking after him. As well as tending to his needs, he also wanted someone to talk to, and watch TV with. The money was almost twice what I was getting, and I would get one full day off a week, covered by the agency. I said I would give it a one-month trial.
He told me to call him Fitz, and he wasn’t that old. Not much older than my Dad, but not able to get around well at all. His house was nice, four beds and three bathrooms. He paid a cleaning lady to look after it once a week. The room I was offered was bigger than my own bedroom, and he had Internet and cable too. I saw him eyeing me up in my tight work dress, and he couldn’t hide the twinkle in his eye. I guessed that maybe some parts of him were still working.
Perhaps I should have felt sorry for him. Paying for company is a last resort, in my book. But it was such easy money. He could manage to use his own toilet, and even the shower with a seat fitted under it. I just gave him his medication, helped him to shave and comb his hair, then got him into bed at night once he had his nightshirt on. The rest of the time we watched TV, and ate good meals that he had delivered every day. He told me he thought of me as a close friend, and I just nodded and smiled. For me, he was just a job. An easy job.
One thing about him drove me crazy though. He insisted that he always had his fancy walking stick to hand, even though it was useless to him. It didn’t bear his weight, and got in the way when I tried to help him move around. And he loved to be covered in his travel rug, whatever the weather. That summer, he cranked up the air-conditioning just so he could still sit under that stupid rug.
I knew he liked me well enough. I could feel his eyes on me even when I had my back to him. I kept him sweet. Bending down when I didn’t need to, sitting on the sofa with my legs up, and leaving the top three buttons of my work dress undone. When it got to seventy degrees outside, I sat out in the back yard in a skimpy bikini, and he stared at me through the glass doors. His face got so flushed, I thought he would have a second stroke. But I was biding my time.
After three months there, I told him I was thinking of leaving. He was so sad, his eyes got watery. He told me that he would do anything to keep me there. I shrugged, told him I would think about it, and sat in my room for two hours. When I came out, he was keen to talk. “How about if I leave you this house, Pam? I don’t have anyone else to leave it to, and if you stick with me, I would make a will. I could call the lawyer today”. I told him I would think about it.
No point rushing things, that would be suspicious. I stayed three months more, then told him if he made that will I would leave the agency, stay with him full-time, and he could pay me himself. Boy, how he jumped at that deal. He was on the phone to the lawyer before I sat down, and the papers were signed three days later. I made sure it was on my day off.
The agency had no idea. I just quit, told them I was moving away. Fitz called them as I suggested, and said he had made arrangements with someone privately. Then I got him to fire the cleaning lady, telling him I would clean the house. I didn’t intend to of course, except for my own room. The rest was easy, even easier that I expected.
Starting slowly, I let him see more of what he wanted. Crop tops and short skirts, as there was no longer need for a uniform. Sometimes, I would just do the ironing in my underwear, and he would watch me from his chair, his face like an overripe tomato. I might wander past after a shower, not holding the towel around me too tight. That would set him wheezing, I tell you. To give credit to the old guy, he never asked for any contact, never even mentioned my intentional ‘slips’. He just sat and relished the entertainment.
The end was planned, all I needed was the opportunity. One afternoon, I was lying on the bed in my room, and heard him calling along the corridor. “Pam, Pam! I dropped my stick, and my rug has slipped off. Come and help me please!” I took off my dress, and slipped out of my underwear. Then I ran into the room naked. “What is it, Fitz? I was just taking a nap”. His finger was pointing at the stick on the floor, but his gaze was firmly locked on my body, just inches away from him. He started to try to say something, but it was just garbled. Then his face turned red. I stood up straight, and gave him a suggestive wink. Then his face turned as white as a sheet, and he slumped in the chair.
I went back into my room and got dressed. I waited an hour before calling the paramedics. “I was having a nap, and I just came out and found my employer unconscious in his chair. Hurry please, I think he might be dead”. There was nothing they could do. I shed some nice crocodile tears, and allowed myself to be comforted by the police woman who showed up.
When the lawyer came to the house, I acted surprised. “He left me the house, and all his money? Me? Why would he do that? Oh, poor Fitz”.
I like living here now. I didn’t make that many changes, but got rid of that awful armchair. I kept the stick and rug, on the chair over there in the corner.
Just to remind me.