Valerie was stressed. George knew this from the worry-lines on her baby-smooth brow.
“This is very important to me,” she told him for the fourth time that morning. “Mrs Pinkerton is the wife of the—”
“Regional manager. I haven’t forgotten.”
“In this town, a woman like her can make or break you.”
He nodded sympathetically. He hated seeing Valerie so worked up.
“It’s vital I make a good impression,” she went on.
More sympathetic nodding.
Valerie surveyed her domain. The house. The front room to be particular. The poshest part of the house and therefore reserved only for visitors of social standing. Valerie had dusted, hoovered and wiped since dawn. Windows scrubbed with vinegar-sodden newspaper. Curtains changed. Even the fake coals in the electric fire were rearranged for maximum aesthetic appeal.
No wonder she was stressed.
“Honey, why don’t you take a couple of your pills and have a nice laydown.”
She glared at him as though he were an exceptionally stupid dog.
“The polishing won’t do itself.”
George put a comforting arm around her. “I’ll do that. You have a kip before she comes. I’ll polish the mantlepiece, the windowsills, the shelving, the coffee table and the sideboard.”
Valerie thought for a moment. “You are a love,” she replied, kissed his cheek and disappeared in the direction of the medicine cabinet.
Alone, George studied the wood and Formica surfaces. What could he do to tease out the shiniest lustre from them? A sheen so bright, Mrs Pinkerton would be dazzled into submission. Of course! Out in his shed, he started concocting. He mixed beeswax and coconut with a generous dash of linseed oil, a killer blend! Only one problem remained. The goo proved a solid lump. George racked his brains. How could he dissolve it into a liquid state?
“Methylated spirits,” he cried triumphantly. One of George’s trusted remedies for all household ills. He stirred in the purple saviour until the gelatinous dough magically melted. It achieved perfect fluidity. He reached for the atomizer…
Augusta Pinkerton was a bird-faced woman with a fashion sense stuck in the previous decade. Her floral print dress was as dull as it was bright. She perched on the sofa, sipping tea and chirruping on about social undesirables. There was a look of disdain stamped upon her beaky face. Valerie sat opposite, murmuring agreement in full sycophantic mode. George hid behind DIY Monthly, pretending to be deaf.
In keeping with her name, Pinkerton’s cheeks began to glow. Actually, they were reddening like sores. And then came the tiniest of sneezes.
“I seem to be catching a cold,” she said, nose twitching. Another sneeze, a third, and more, each louder than the last.
“Are you alright, dear?” Valerie asked. August sneezed heavily in Valerie’s face.
“Dear God, I hope it’s not my allergy,” Pinkerton cried, rising to her feet.
Valerie wiped the snot from her face and replied, “Excuse me, I run a tidy establishment. Not a speck of dust in my house.”
“It’s not dust, you idiot,” Pinkerton snapped, in-between increasingly violent sneezes.
George felt a sinking feeling. “It wouldn’t happen to be methylated spirits? Your allergy?” Pinkerton nodded desperately, floods of mucous pouring from her nose. She tried to speak, but the sneezing was too much. She gestured to the phone.
“Shall I call a taxi?” Valerie asked.
“A—a—ambulance,” Pinkerton stammered.
“George!” Valerie screamed. “She’s going into anaphylactic shock!” Sure enough, the woman’s skin went from red to corpse-white. Her lungs gasped in a rapid but shallow frenzy.
“Do something,” Valerie screamed.
It was too late. Mrs Pinkerton dropped like a stone; heart imploded. She was as dead as Valerie’s career options.
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