This week’s words were:
sunshine :: glass eye :: connection :: golden gate :: lisp
‘We have to let some light in here,’ said Martha, wading her way to the window. ‘My goodness. What a place!’ She grabbed a handful of the ancient curtain, receiving a faceful of dust for her trouble. Her cough rattled as she yanked the filthy drape open, but she didn’t let it put her off; within minutes, a faint haze of sunshine began to struggle in, reluctantly, as though it wanted to be there about as much as we did.
‘Wow,’ I said, looking around. ‘Have you ever seen anything like this?’
I took her shocked silence as a ‘no’.
There was nothing for it. We were here to do a job, and standing around gawping at the scale of it would get us nowhere. We’d left our equipment – gloves, masks, dusters, cloths and the like – out in the hallway, along with our industrial Hoover and Martha’s own cleaning fluid, her secret formula which had, apparently, never been known to fail. Secretly, I reckoned this place would be its ultimate test, but I said nothing. We set to it, trying to be systematic as we worked. I took one side of the detritus-mountain, and Martha the other.
‘What sort of person lived here?’ I asked, incredulous, after about half an hour. I straightened up, holding an illegible school copybook older than Martha and I put together in one hand, and a filthy, withered leather dog lead in the other. ‘I mean, there’s no connection whatsoever between the things I’m finding.’ I blew a stray lock of hair out of my eyes, feeling it stick to my sweaty skin. I saw my plastic gloves were already coated with grime as I chucked both objects into the nearest rubbish sack.
‘That’s the nature of people who hoard, though,’ called Martha. I couldn’t see her – a tower of newspapers stood between us. ‘The things they keep only make sense to them. You know?’
I understood what she meant, but I still couldn’t wrap my head around actually living like this. An elderly, recently deceased, man had owned this flat; his niece had hired Martha to clean the place up so she could sell it and get on with her life. She wanted to keep nothing, apparently. I just hoped we’d be able to get the job done quickly – this kind of thing was way out of my comfort zone. I’d only agreed to help Martha when she’d begged me, putting on her little-girl lisp and fluttering her eyelashes.
‘Shelly,’ called Martha, suddenly. ‘Holy… Get over here! You’ve got to see this.’
I dropped what I was doing and began the trek to the other side of the room. I could see Martha crouched down, her attention pinned to whatever she was holding in her arms. It looked like a wide, shallow box, made of dark wood.
‘My God!’ I breathed as I drew near. ‘Is that…’
‘A glass eye collection!’ she confirmed. ‘Look! There must be eighty here. More, maybe.’ My flesh juddered as I looked at them, gleaming up at me from their dark graves, each one neatly placed and exactly aligned. Every colour imaginable was represented, and – weirdly – they were smaller than you’d expect. My stomach flipped as I realised what it might mean. Glass eyes for kids, I told myself. Gross. Something about it just seemed unsettling. They’re for dolls, I told myself. Stop freaking out.
‘That could be worth money,’ I said, my voice low. Martha threw me a look, her eyebrow raised so high it almost disappeared under her regulation plastic cap.
‘I’m just sayin’,’ I laughed. Martha snapped the box shut, and placed it carefully to one side. I followed its movement with my eyes, and that’s when I saw the glint – barely there, but it was enough to grab my attention. I knelt, and carefully excavated through the piles of crumbling magazines and moth-eaten cushion covers that surrounded whatever I’d seen.
‘What have you found?’ asked Martha, vacantly. She was distracted by a pile of old VHS cassettes, and seemed to be trying to work out what was written on their spines.
‘Something… gold,’ I said. ‘But not gold gold,’ I added, as Martha jumped to attention. She was interested enough to flop down beside me, all the same, and together we gently prised the mystery object out of the hole it had lived in for God knew how many years.
‘What am I looking at?’ I asked, once we’d freed it. It looked like nothing more than a tiny plastic house, moulded as a complete unit; its neatly pitched roof had a yellow chimney, and each window bore a pair of blue, unmoving curtains. Amazingly, a miniature golden gate, fragile as a wish, surrounded the whole thing; it bounded a perfectly square patch of plastic grass, which came complete with painted flowers. The house was faded and battered, but somehow the gate still gleamed.
‘How can you play with that?’ I asked, turning it over in my hands. ‘What a useless dolls’ house. Nothing moves!’
‘It’s a collection box, I think,’ said Martha, gently taking it from me. As she carefully examined it, she eventually thought to turn it upside-down. ‘Hey, look! It’s only got a rubber stopper. Let’s see what’s inside.’
Before I could say anything, she’d pulled aside the tiny, perished gatekeeper, and a long-shut door opened. The contents of the box spilled out over her hand, between her fingers, in an unstoppable stream.
‘Jesus Christ!‘ she screamed, getting to her feet; she saw it straight away, but it took me a long time – too long – to work out what I was looking at. They seemed almost innocent, you see, pearly-perfect amid the dust, this pile of tiny milk teeth claimed from many tiny mouths. How many, I couldn’t say. Too many, was all I knew.
I felt the room swim around me, and the walls fall on top of my head.