My entry in the NYC Midnight Short Story competition…A romantic comedy set in a charitable organisation featuring a window cleaner….
Thud. Rope rattled against the window.
I peeked over my screen. Window cleaners. Whatever. Except I looked that extra second.
And saw two long legs preceding a vision.
Princess Elsa against the dawn.
Light, lithe, life itself coiled herself around that rope. And me.
I stopped speaking. No one spoke. No one said, we’ve always done it this way. Finally, after weeks of waiting. Time to do it mine.
My foot (now under Elsa’s orders), kicked off the power switch. The monitor went black.
“Skype’s down,” I said. I waved away the imaginary smoke. Still in their glass cases, marketing man and his ooh too pretty teenage sidekick woke. From a hundred year slumber.
I turned. By then Elsa was at the window ledge. Her long elegant fingers went to her sunglasses.
Think quick. “I’m sorry, you two, can we take a break? I’ll see if I can reconnect. I’ll call you back when I do.” No way. Never.
I didn’t need a Skype connection now. Elsa’s blue diamond eyes were staring right through me. A flaxen-haired angel, a perfect hourglass figure, despite the shapeless overalls.
The rope rattled. I couldn’t hear it then. For Princess Elsa had leaned back, dunked her arm into a bucket and drew out a mini-mop. We bathed in suds, bubble and froth. Her and me. Frumpy, unembraceable me. Elsa never took her eyes off me. Nor me her.
Quick, I thought. The butchers paper. I smiled, jumped up and turned the easel to face her. I grabbed the first highlighter to hand. I’m Clara, I wrote, my cell number is. Welcome to date zero! First time ever.
Elsa squinted. Such an endearing gaze. Such an open face. Squelch. She drew out the alde and started scraping away the suds. I ripped the paper free and pressed it to the window.
Elsa’s forever smile melted into a frown. Oh no, not again.
I stepped back. And typically me, I tripped up the easel. I lost my balance and fell. Forward against the window. What an awful first impression. But that did it.
Our eyes, our hands and our lips met at last. Elsa’s mouth moved quickly. I waved at her to slow down.
She drew out a cloth and wiped the window edges. In her other hand, she held a business card against the window. I shook my head. The window glare was too bright.,
A wave goodbye and she was gone. Out of my life.
I looked out and down. Three storeys up and I’m okay! I double-checked my breathing and pulse. No symptoms at all.
“Building Services, you’re speaking with Alison, chief customer advocate. How can I make your day better?”
Such a laconic country. Only in Crocodile Dundee it seemed.
“Alison. Clara. From the Children’s Hospital Auxillary.” Yes we’re the ones that follow doctors and nurses around with milk and cookies? Or tea and pumpkin scones!
“When do the window cleaners finish up?”
Tip-tap, tip-tap, Alison’s keyboard drifted away into the distance.
“Putting you through now.”
Fifteen rings. No hold music. Each ring one-minute long.
“Yeah.” Another customer advocate!
“I need to speak to the woman who washed my window.”
A slow whistle.
“Youse one of them trick overseas radio prank calls. Can’t see out of yer window, you say! Yeah too bloody right! Next, you’ll say yer the window cleaner. You ain’t fooling me.”
“I’m not kidding, pal. I’m Clara. Level 3.New with the Children’s Hospital Auxiliary.”
“Youse do the tea and scones for the volunteers?” Oh god no.
I asked again.
“Okay, okay, don’t getcha knickers in a knot. Gis us a sec. I’ll see if she’s finished up.”
His pencil on paper was steel wool on a rusty frypan. I tapped my foot, I held my phone up. I pointed to my watch. Speedy never lost his rhythm.
“Geez mate,” I drawled in my best Australian,”How long?”
“Welcome to Straya,” he replied. “Let’s see. They work staggered shifts, yours might be the last one.”
Haven’t a clue. Sorry. Not sorry.
I threw the phone down and ran. “Thanks.”
I reached the hospital entrance just in time. I stopped at the first ropes I saw. A squat darkish man slipped ahead of me. Feet apart, arms folded, head back, he looked somehow familiar. Hospital security by day, yes, perhaps strip-club bouncer by night?
“Hey. You. ” I shouted upwards.
Ropes swirled around me. My breath was coming in quick gasps.
Elsa’s legs dangled above me. I moved closer, dodging the swaying ropes. The bouncer approached like a gunslinger.
“Everything ok bro?”
“Quick word with your mate upstairs and I’ll be out of your hair.” And in Elsa’s.
“Sure thing, bro.” Elsa lowered herself clear.
“Hey, I’m sorry you didn’t get my number,” I began.
“Never been a problem before. Here’s mine.” Such a deep voice! I’ll know I’ll learn to love it in time.
A tattooed arm thrust itself into my face. Elsa is inked! how sexy is that! I looked at her business card.
Peter…a girl’s name spelt like a man? But the smell of sweat was the final giveaway.
“You’re a man!”
“Was the last time I checked. I’m Pete. Wanna go for a beer? Or maybe wine’s your thing? Or maybe you’re a shandy gal?”
“What the bloody hell happened to the lady window cleaner?”
“Love your accent. Sassy too! And you’ve picked up the lingo real quick too.”
He unbuckled himself and dropped to the ground. Of course, he stood far too close. I folded my arms and stepped back. Out of grabbing range.
“You wanted to see Jode?” I nodded while he kept me on hold. Meanwhile the spotter circled in again.
“Is this man bothering you madam?” he asked.
“I can handle myself,” I snapped back. I left him to his day job. Coiling the spare ropes.
“Got the call. Knocked off. Shot through.” I frowned. “Finished work. Back to the kids, I suppose.”
I couldn’t stand. I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. The ice kingdom had closed in on me.
He looked at me a long time. He touched his finger to his nose. And nodded.
“Sorry. You work for the other side too?”
Pete shook his head slowly.
“Sorry about that. Should’ve backed off.” At least he wasn’t going to try and make me turn. Oh god no.
Each riser and tread of the stairs blocked my way as I trudged back to my office. When I returned my phone was ringing.
“Hi, Alison from Building Services, your friendly customer advocate at your service.”
“Hey Alison.” I slumped into my chair. I balled and binned Pete’s business card.
“I know it’s like so weird and stuff but, I have to ask anyways. Did you authorise one of the external window cleaners to clean inside?”
“No.” I wasn’t thinking. “What did she say?”
Alison giggled. “Ooh, you’ve made my day,”
“This is so cool. You are so psychic. How did you know it was a she?”
Princess Elsa. Jode. Jodie.
“Thanks Alison. I’ll manage it from here.”
I reached out my empty arms and let them fall. I took Pete’s business card out of the bin and uncrumpled it.
SkyWash, I typed. And there was Jodie in all her glory! A champion abseiler, a decorated helicopter rescuer, world traveller. Window cleaner. Wife and mother. Not again.
A soft knock. I looked up.
“You good, Clara?” Marketing man and social media intern in tow slithered in.
“Okay to continue the branding session?”
No more hogtie jokes, Clara. The cultural gap is too vast.
A rustling sound drew my attention to the window. She’s back.
But no. Marketing man of the silent step had found my paper on the floor. He unfolded it and clipped back to the easel. As he smoothed it out, he read my details. He looked out the window and then at me.
“Do you want me to take this down?”
“It’s fine.” None of your business. Don’t ask me.
His mouth started flapping like a carnival laughing clown.
“You. Wrote. Your. Phone. Number…For. The. Window. Cleaner?” I lip read.
I nodded. I pointed him to the opposite seat. I sat up straight in the pose of the assertive manager. Switched on the laptop.
“No way anyone could read that,” he whispered as he moved past me.
“Nope. I wrote Block Capitals. Used Large Yellow highlighter. It would have stuck out like…”
The social media maven started smiling.
“A sore thumb? You lucked out. The annexe has gold reflective windows. Everything inside looks yellow.” Thanks Mr Marketing Mansplainer. Professional love destroyer. And worst of all, Princess Elsa thinks I have jaundice.
I kicked the carpet up underneath the table.
“Don’t you get your knickers in a knot!” he said. His assistant grinned.
“I know that one. The Great Aussie Phrase Book.” Ozgoogle!
“You can always try on line dating say Tinder. Or Grinder.” He whispered.
On-line dating? Ha! A bigger sea doesn’t mean you catch better fish! As Grandma said.
And that meeting! The idea of promoting jumble sales, raffle tickets and cake drives through Facebook and Twitter! At least they had moved on from carrier pigeons and newsletters.
“You know what would be like, really amazing!” The social media maven speaks at last.
“What?” Another twentieth century marketing breakthrough?
“If that window cleaner jumped through the window. On Party Day,” she replied.
Like Spiderman in all of his movies? Or dressed as Princess Elsa from Frozen? I thought.
Marketing guru and social media minx looked away. Then at each other. Then at me. And fell about laughing.
“Huh?” What’s the joke?
“That could be a good idea.” The mansplaining marketing guy.
“Dressing up window cleaners as fairy tale characters to promote the charity. We could put together a rolling social media campaign to promote that!”
“Or superheroes. Or comic book characters.” These guys were on fire. They had the perfect plan. For me.
I handed over Pete’s card, “I want their star window cleaner on this gig. Okay.”
He thought for a while and nodded.
“I’m never going to give you dating advice. Ever. Again.” he said.
Party Day! Below me were Doctors, nurses, ancillary staff dressed as superheroes, fairy-tale, game, comic and cartoon characters delighting and exciting patients and visitors.
Me, I was freezing my ass off in a force four gale. The view magnificent was the upside. The Sydney sky scape: Harbour Bridge and Opera House peeking from the clouds.
My teeth chattered. Permission not granted. My hands shook. I put them to work.
I clipped the harness around me. I knotted the rope around the figure of eight. Attached the carabiner. I paid the rope out. I waddled backwards as the belayer uncoiled his rope.
Princess Anna’s dress swayed and shimmered in the dawn. But didn’t fly up in the wind. Good thing they had one in my size too.,
I looked around me for the last time.
Geronimo! Don’t look down. Nope, neither helped.
“Time,” said the belayer.
Little faces were being pressed against ward windows. Nurses, doctors, even auxiliary staff waiting. For the promised outside surprise. Santa Claus in a helicopter can wait till Christmas day itself, I thought.
I stepped backward. Pushed out. I’m two feet above the ground. Just like I said during the course. Yeah right. You’re ten storeys off the ground. My hands went wet inside my gloves.
One foot, then another. Two feet high. Jump up. Two feet down onto the first window ledge.
Fingers, hands and faces filled my view.
“Princess Anna,” they mouthed.
I smiled regally.
“Where’s Princess Elsa?” I lip-read. Her dress was in its suit holder. Next to the belayer.
I shook my head. I pointed up. They craned their heads to see.
Onto the next floor. Maybe I’m cured at last. That was until I looked down.
My head spun. I grabbed the window. And missed. I kicked out with my feet. Missed.
Please don’t let them see me like this.
“Hey, that woman’s at the end of her rope.” I heard a voice climb upward.
Which is why I didn’t hear the rattle of the rope next to me.
“So Clara, are you hanging around checking out the view or are you dangling waiting for someone?”
My Window Queen!