Pay DayBetty Winslop fought with her umbrella. The
cold rain was already running down her face, and she could feel
her short curls matting across her forehead. She twisted the metal
spoke of the umbrella and eventually it slouched into a half canopy.
She balanced it between her chin and shoulder and rummaged through
her plastic bag for her front door key. Her arm mixed through
the dusters and cloths like a blender until eventually her fingers
caught against something metal. She pulled the key out, knocking
several dusters onto the wet path. Her back ached as she bent
down to stuff them back into the bag. She locked the door to her
terraced home, and checked the time. It was seven thirty. She
bent down her head and began to trudge to work.
Twenty minutes later she pressed the bell to The Old Manse and
let herself in. “Morning” she called as she crossed
through the tiled hall to the vestibule at the back door. She
collapsed her saturated umbrella, and draped her anorak on a peg.
She turned on the tap in the utility room and as she waited for
the water to run hot, the thoughts she had been trying to suppress,
forced themselves over her like a fog. Yesterday was the third
anniversary of his death. The rent had increased again and there
was nothing left to pay the bills. The cooker was broken and they
had threatened to cut off her telephone. She felt a pain in her
chest as she thought of it. She couldn't ask her children for
a loan; it wasn't fair to them. His accident at work had shattered
her and the children. The company had refused to admit responsibility
for his death and thus extinguished any hope of compensation.
The pain and shock had subsided somewhat, but the financial insecurity
was unrelenting. At sixty-three, the other women she knew had
been giving up work just as she was starting it. With her only
experience being a housewife and mother, the notice in the shop
had been a miracle when she needed it most: “Cleaner wanted,
usual domestic chores.” That had been the start. It didn't
pay much, four pounds an hour – it was less than the minimum
She filled the bucket and lugged it painfully into the hall. The
suds spilled over the edge as she dipped in the mop and the black
and white tiles gleamed as the water splashed over them. She could
see her reflection in the soapy floor and it was of a woman whom
she no longer recognised. Her round face had aged and her eyes
were small and tired. Mrs Spencer was coming down the wide staircase.
“Good morning, Betty,” the words clipped from her
delicate mouth. “Would you mind awfully if you could have
another go at the windows upstairs? I know you tried them last
week, it's just that they still seem a little on the dirty side.”
Her high heels clicked as she made her way into the sitting room.
“And could you make up the bed in the guest room, we're
entertaining this weekend. The satin sheets will be fine.”
Betty put the mop down. She wiped her hands on her pinafore and
slowly stepped towards the sitting room. “Em, Mrs Spencer,
I had been meaning to ask you something, if it's all right? I'll
do the windows again, not to worry. It's just that, you see, I've
been doing a bit more than the five hours worth and was wondering
if I could maybe get a bit more than the twenty pounds?”
Her voice had drained into a croak.
Emily Spencer swung round. She threw the magazine she was holding
onto a pile at the edge of the velvet chaise longue. She straightened
up, immaculate in her silk blouse and tight pencil skirt. She
eyed Betty up and down. “I'm sorry Betty. If you want more
money we'll need to cut your hours. She cocked her head to the
side and twisted the pearls around her neck. “Would you
rather come in once every two weeks?”
“Oh, I see. Oh, no, we'll just leave it then.” Betty
retreated back to the mop.
An hour and two cleaned bathrooms later and Emily Spencer was
declaring her intention to go shopping. “It bothers me so
when it's busy, I can't get first pick,” She put on her
fur trimmed coat. Roger Spencer, her husband and workaholic, had
left for work before Betty arrived. Betty had met him on only
a few occasions, and each time he had been brisk and offhand.
It didn't seem to occur to him that Betty pressed his smalls and
tidied his mail. He was obviously the type who would not meddle
with matters concerning the house, leaving that to his wife's
“Roger's just been promoted to partner, now I'll get to
go to all the best parties!” Emily had sung at her just
three weeks ago.
Betty breathed with relief when she finally had the house to herself.
She turned on the radio in the kitchen and lost herself in hard
work: dusting, hoovering, tidying, ironing. After the routine
chores were complete, she gave the upstairs windows a thorough
clean, and finally made up the bed in the guest room.
It was already ten past one, and Betty was about to lock up, but
noticed that the fireplace in the sitting room was needing cleared
out. She sighed and crouched down onto her knees in front of it.
There was no point in leaving a job half finished. She scooped
up the ashes and brushed down the marble. She was just about to
replace the fire-guard over the hearth when she noticed something
fluttering up inside the chimney. Panicking, she thought it must
be a bird, trapped, but bending over she was relieved to find
it was just a bit of paper, caught between the bricks. It was
billowing in the draft. She put the bag of ashes carefully into
the coal bucket and reached up to grasp the stray paper. She shook
her head thinking of how the chimney could have caught fire had
it been lit. She pulled it out. It was black with soot. She blew
on it and fine black freckles dispersed. It looked like a receipt,
but upon closer scrutiny she realised it was a lottery ticket.
It was from Saturday's draw. Yet she could not bring herself to
add it to the pile of ashes so she wiped it on her pinnie and
stuck it her pocket.
After thirty minutes or so of unpaid overtime, Betty finally picked
up her twenty pound note from the kitchen table. Her anorak had
dried out and she put it on and zipped it up. She was just about
to leave when she saw a newspaper lying open on the table. It
was turned to the television listings. At the bottom she noticed
the results printed for Saturday night's lottery. With a despondent
smile, she dug through her anorak into her pinnie and found the
old lottery ticket. She squinted at the numbers on the paper.
She scribbled a message on the back of an envelope and set it
on the table, then left the house.
At six o'clock that evening, Betty's telephone rang, startling
her. She switched off the black and white television and reached
for the receiver.
“Yes, this is Mr Spencer. From The Old Manse. You left a
note asking us to call you about something important. What is
it exactly Betty? We're extremely busy people and don't have time
for any nonsense. If it's about getting paid more, my wife has
already given you the answer to that.”
“Oh, no, it's not about that Mr Spencer. I'm really very
sorry to bother you. I just had to tell you something... something
very important.” Betty's breath caught in her throat as
she struggled to remain calm.
“What is it?” he snapped.
“It's to do with something I found in the fire-”
“Something you found in the fire? Please do not be so ridiculous
as to bother us about such a thing. It's of no interest to us
and whatever it is you can keep it. Please do not disturb us with
such frivolities again. Good night.” He hung up.
Betty stared at the silent phone for over a minute, and then for
the first time in three years, she began to laugh.
One week later, Betty Winslop sat on her new armchair with her
feet up. She wrote out a cheque for fifty thousand pounds. It
was a twentieth of the total prize money. She attached a note
to the cheque, which read:
Dear Mr & Mrs Spencer,
Please accept this as notice that I am no longer available for
cleaning duties. The money enclosed is for hiring another cleaning
lady and will be enough to pay her a decent wage.