This is a story set in the Transition between the Old Earth and the New – the time we’re just about to move into.
Pat was the best cleaner Imogen had ever had, so she called her ‘My Treasure,’ imagining it to be a compliment. But Pat knew she was being patronised, and resented it. She didn’t say so, partly because Imogen wouldn’t have understood what she was talking about, and partly because once she started speaking her mind, she wouldn’t have been able to stop. And she needed the work.
Pat was an intelligent woman who had made a couple of poor decisions earlier in life, compounded by bad luck. As a result, she was struggling to pay a ruinous mortgage by doing three low-paid jobs, which left her no time for a social life and barely enough time to sleep.
Imogen was a rather stupid woman who assumed that if you were wealthy it was because you deserved it, despite the fact that she’d achieved her comfortable position in life by marrying a crooked lawyer who worked for the Cabal, devising the legal means to imprison the innocent and free the guilty.
Imogen took it for granted that Pat was beneath her, because she cleaned people’s houses – a low-status job. She didn’t come right out and say it, but it was obvious from the things that she did say.
And she prattled away about nothing while Pat was trying to work.
All of this was intensely irritating, and many times Pat was on the brink of telling her to shut up and go away. Then she thought of a way to blank Imogen out: she would pretend to listen to music while she cleaned. So she bought a cheap pair of headphones which she wore with the lead tucked into her pocket. Sometimes the lead fell out, and anyone else would have realised that there was no actual player attached to it. Not Imogen, though. ‘Stupid woman,’ thought Pat.
When she was forced to discuss something, she kept her words to the absolute minimum. This was a bit unfair on Imogen, who needed a full explanation in order to grasp the simplest idea, but in the circumstances Pat didn’t feel like being fair.
For example, there was the time when she announced an increase in her fees to cover an increase in her mortgage repayments.
‘I didn’t know you owned your own home,’ said Imogen.
‘I don’t,’ said Pat, and switched on the vacuum cleaner. She could have gone on to explain that the bank still owned most of her home, but she didn’t feel like it. ‘Stupid woman,’ thought Pat.
Disclosure happened, and Debt Forgiveness, and suddenly Pat did own her own home after all. She gave notice to Imogen, and said she was off to Africa to help with one of the aid projects.
‘I didn’t know they needed cleaners,’ said Imogen.
‘They don’t,’ said Pat, as she walked out the door. She could have gone on to explain that she had plenty of other skills apart from cleaning, but she didn’t feel like it. ‘Stupid woman,’ thought Pat.
The Cabal Tribunals began, and Imogen’s husband was disgraced. Imogen didn’t understand, and thought there must have been a mistake.
The Change came, and Imogen’s husband disappeared, along with a lot of other people. Imogen didn’t understand that either.
When she heard that Pat was back from Africa, she rang her to ask if she wanted her old job back.
‘No thank you Imogen,’ said Pat, ‘I’m not cleaning houses any more.’
‘What are you doing now?’
‘Painting,’ said Pat.
‘Painting and decorating, you mean?’
‘No, painting pictures.’
‘I didn’t know there was any money in that,’ said Imogen.
‘There isn’t,’ said Pat, and put the phone down. ‘Stupid woman.’
And immediately felt ashamed of herself. Imogen couldn’t help being stupid, could she? It was just the way she was made. Pat sighed. Blast it, now she’d have to go round and apologise.
On the way, it occurred to her to wonder why Imogen needed a cleaner anyway, with the new technologies. And why she would imagine that Pat needed a job. It was all rather odd.
Imogen answered the door, looking thin and frightened. The house was cold and dirty, and there was nothing to eat or drink.
‘The supermarkets have closed down,’ she explained, ‘so I can’t buy food. And the petrol stations have gone, so I can’t drive the car. And there seems to be a problem with my bank account.’ And she burst into tears.
So Pat took her down to the depot and picked up a cleaner, replicator and disposer, and two energy boxes, one for the house and one for the car, then took her home and got it all set up and organised.
‘But I didn’t pay for any of this.’
‘That’s right,’ said Pat. ‘It’s free. Didn’t anyone tell you? Didn’t you get some leaflets in the mail box?’
‘Oh, Roger used to deal with all of that stuff.’
‘So who deals with it now?’
‘Nobody,’ said Imogen, and her face screwed up again, ready to cry.
‘Look, there’s no need to cry. Everything’s alright. You just need to understand the new situation. Let’s get a meal out of the replicator, and then I’ll explain it to you.’
It took hours. Pat had to try several different explanations until she found one that would fit into Imogen’s head. Even then she still looked a bit bewildered, but at least she seemed happier.
Afterwards they sat out on the deck, sipping hot chocolate under the stars. Imogen was anxious to express her gratitude, but hadn’t had much practice and wasn’t sure how to go about it.
Finally she said, ‘Thank you for helping me, Pat. I’m so lucky to know you. You’re a real Treasure.’
Pat considered this for a moment. ‘Well, I’m not going to argue with that,’ she said. And smiled.
© Sue J Davis 2015
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