Monday, 20 July 2015

CLEANER II: Chapter Four - Part Nine


In the dream I was Melissa.

I wasn’t pretending to be Melissa. I really was her. I was as fat as she had been. I had her hair and glasses. I was wearing her clothes. And I was back in England. I was working at one of her other jobs; at the school. I was on my hands and knees in the cloakroom, trying to clean under the benches, using a tool to get the chewing gum off that had been stuck there. But it wasn’t her job anymore. It was my job. This was my life now. I’d taken it on entirely.

It was my crazy ambition come to fruition, not just as a holiday fantasy played out to ridiculous extremes but as an actual shift in my identity. My old life was gone. There was no way back to it.

She was Dahlia Western now. She was a famous model. She had made her comeback and the world loved her as never before.

I was a nobody; a nothing. I had no respect and little money. I was morbidly obese. I’d ruined my eyesight. I ha no prospects or future apaprt from more of the same; endless days of humiliating, back-breaking labour, lorded over by petty-minded employers.

I was peeling more gum off the underside of the benches but I realised that I wasn’t alone anymore. In the dream, my brother, Steven, was there.

He was standing with his hands clasped behind his back, glaring down at me with scorching disapproval. Then he was shaking his head and in a stern but brittle voice he said, “Oh Dahlia. What are you doing, you silly girl? You’ve ruined your life.”

I was stammering, trying to explain why I was there in this fat woman’s body; why I had made the choices I had made. I told him that there was still a way to get back to my old life; that the change wasn’t permanent.

But he only glared at me. He knew I was lying to myself as much as him.

“You’ve let me down,” he said. “You let all of us down.”

And then I woke.

I jerked up in my seat on the bus, still on the way back to my hotel from Melissa’s. I was sweltering hot in the blaze of sun coming in through the window. My head was pinched and throbbing.

I slumped in the seat but that made my back ache all the more. I made myself sit up instead, rubbing my temple to push out the agony I was feeling. Nothing seemed to shift this headache I kept getting, except maybe food. I always felt better when I was eating.

I checked my watch, wondering how long it was before I could eat again. It wasn’t long before I had to start the second half of my split shift.

I groaned.

I still had the earphones in with the recorded conversation I had just had with Melissa; her explaining exactly what her home life was like with her kind and loving husband.

It sounded idyllic. It made me think that it was a shame this was only a temporary swap. What would it be like to have such a tender partner; to live in such a caring environment? Surely being poor; having such a basic job; these things would be worth it for the love of a good man.

It made me wonder how Melissa could bear to be apart from him for so long. But surely they were in regular communication. And wouldn’t he be pleased when she went home having lost so much weight to take up her life again?

It made me wish that it wasn’t just a holiday game; that we could really trade lives long term.

But that was crazy surely. What we’d already done was crazy enough.

But if it was crazy already then why not push further; take it all the way?

The bus juddered to a stop. I got out, my head still aching; my ankles sore. Walking wasn’t as easy now that I was carrying so much extra weight. The heat and sweat took a toll, as did the pressure on my muscles.

I walked back to the hotel and went up to my room; shut myself in and the heat and light out.

I sat on the edge of the bed, remembering my dream; picturing my brother’s disapproving face.

But I didn’t want to think about him now. I couldn’t.

I fetched the half bottle of gin I’d left by the TV and poured myself a generous glass; knocked it back with eyes pressed tightly closed. It pushed away the headache for a few moments. That was good. I poured myself a second and that pushed it back even further. It took the hard edges away and I needed that; I really did.

I really couldn’t think about my brother now.

And for now he wasn’t my brother. He was her brother. Dahlia’s. I was Melissa now.

I took in a long and brittle breath then sighed it out.

I thought about the tapes I was listening to; about how much I was learning about Melissa’s life. At first I had been a little confounded about Melissa’s reasoning for it – especially learning things from back home that I would never need to use – but I felt like I had absorbed so much already. I didn’t want to think about my real life. It was too tainted by tragedy, pressure and disappointment. I could pretend with Melissa’s memories that I had a simpler existence. It was such a relief to be able to wrap these stories around me while I did my cleaning around the hotel. Over and over I listened to them. The tales were becoming more real to me than any of my own past, especially because I refused to summon up any of my own memories.

I had a third gin, fantasising about a time when I might think these really were my memories. How perfect would that be? How much better?

Perhaps then the headaches would stop.

In fact… I made a decision.

As soon as I could, I would buy myself a voice recorder and into it I would retell these stories. Doing my best to effect Melissa’s patterns of speech, I would retell these memory tales as though they had really happened to me. Maybe then, when I listened back to them over and over again, they would seem even more real.

I smiled at the idea of that. I liked it very much.

Eventually it was time to start working again. I went downstairs, heading outside.

Someone was calling for aid down the steps into the hotel basement. “Can someone give me a hand with this?” she called. As I got closer I realised it was Maxine. This made me pause. I wasn’t eager to suffer her hostility. But then I made myself remember that she was more accepting now at last. She wanted me to play poker with her.

I hesitated for a moment longer then called down. “I can help! What do you need?”

“Who’s that,” called Maxine.

I hesitated again. Then, eager to ingratiate myself and eager for her approval, I said, “It’s Piggy!”

I heard her giggle then her voice came again and this time it was friendlier. “Oh good, Piggy. Get down here. I need help with this trolley. Someone your size will easily be able to move it.”

I smiled and hurried down to her but I got a shimmer of my dream again: the image of my brother’s disapproving face. I pushed it aside almost angrily. That was from my old life. As long as I was here in Greece I was Melissa. This was just my life. It was nothing to be ashamed of. This was just who I was.


  1. OMG what a chilling, BRRRR! chapter. Terrific openning, D;s horrible dream is warning her, the image ghostr of her dead brother is warning D - why isn't she listening? So many great moments. The Gin, D imaging that they swap places een back in England, M being a more suggestful Dahlia, The hefty drinks of gin to dull the pain & feel better, the hunger for food, still longing for M's 'simple' life Accepting the nick name 'Piggy' & seeking approval from a low life bullying cleaner & many most telling, her trying to imagine M's memories & life as her own & her getting another ecorder to mimic M's voice & accent & retelling M's life as if it her own & delerately trying to suppress memories of her own.
    She is truly getting madder & madder.
    I guess we know how it will end. What a tragedy! at least for D of ocurse Melissa will become rich & famous & live in luxury in a great house with her own cleaner, the pathetic eager to please Melissa

    1. Another, even more humbling ending is possible: D might become the servant of servants, left to her fate as a servant to Maxine and the other hotel maids.

    2. An interesting thought. Although it wouldn´t be in agreement with the original story...
      But strategically speaking it would surely be the smartest move for Melissa to return to Nockton Dahlia...leaving her former employer without a single penny in the foreign country where she surely would end as a sort of jester for the Greek cleaners´.

    3. The esteemed Ms Finn has indicated that this story isn't to be just an expansion of the original, so we can expect some new plot twists. They probably will be returning to England. Otherwise, there would be no point in Melissa learning the details of Dahlia's memories. Maxine is an intriguing character. It would seem a pity if her role doesn't get further developed.

    4. Of course they will return to England.
      It would be a shame if all these story parts would go missing.
      I still hope though that there is room for another sort of finale this time or that the esteemed Ms Finn has time as well as leisure to create an alternative end where Dahlia won`t be able to convert Melissa´s dumb husband to a person that "cares" and where she has to helplessly watch Melissa mastering the life of the rich, scheming her way to the top and staying there instead of taking the fairy-tale way all evil stepmothers go in the end...

    5. As I always say... anything could happen.

      This is an expansion of the original story and so far we're right at the very beginning!

  2. "nothing to be ashamed of." that's a powerful thought. but then again we all know there's always room for more shame. (evil laugh)

  3. Gosh we are a wicked bunch on here... I have to say it is fun dreaming up all kinds of deliciously naughty ideas. Emma do you sit at your desk cackling when doing this? ;-P Mike W

  4. Very creative Details written in an stimulating way. Since long I haven´t found such an intelligent plot. Emma, please go on and make us shiver.

  5. A few more thoguths on a key chapter where D seems to consider a permnent swap How insane is she now?
    If you rewrite or polish this for the finished book on Amazon ( I can't wait!) since beauty & apperience are at the heart of your story you might want to add beautiful somewhere in this horrifying passage from the dream
    She was Dahlia Western now. She was a famous model. She had made her comeback and the world loved her as never before.
    Dahlia must hate herself a lot to give that up to become someone else, someone as miserable as Melissa Chapman.
    No one can make a nightmare & horror as real as you.

    1. Yeah. Dahlia has some serious issues.

      Serious issues.

  6. Please Emma, can you help me understanding Dahlia a little bit more ?
    Until now I got the feeling that she still regarded the swap as a temporary roleplay, not seeing the potential danger she brought upon herself but always putting her mind at ease by believing in the reversibility of it all.
    Now Dahlia starts thinking about more permanent changes.
    Is this still a guilt trip going haywire or is there a deep-rooted desire to serve and submit? Is she punishing herself or just manipulated by all these tapes and constructed memories that Melissa planted in her? A mixture of it all?
    Or just not understandable by someone without similar "serious issues"???

    1. I think you've got it pretty well here. Dahlia has a cocktail of different issues regarding wanting to escape her real life but is also drawn to humiliation and subservience. As yet we don't know quite why...

  7. The most elegant conclusion, though an ironic one, would be to have both transformations go full circle, for Melissa to tire of being Dahlia for the same reasons that Dahlia had tired of her own life, and for Dahlia to gain a new appreciation of what she had lost. "The grass is always greener on the other side", until you actually go to the other side, that is.

    1. That conclusion would reduce a fictional masterpiece of erotic humiliation to an educational allegory.

    2. Heh heh.

      Yeah. I leave that kind of conclusion to Disney films.

      As a writer it becomes clear that there are certain "rules" that 99% of writers follow; lessons learned and justice for good characters.

      I prefer to screw all that and take the story where my own fantasies want to go - often to dark and sinister regions.

      But sometimes characters don't end badly. And even when they remain trapped in their new life they gain some new (if sordid) appreciation for it.

    3. And sometimes things end badly, and characters decide that's really what they wanted after all. The greatest humiliations are not those imposed by others. The greatest humiliation is to have to admit one's own need for humiliation.
      "There seemed a certainty in degradation, a final safety. Man could rise to any height, but there was an animal level beneath which he could not fall. It was a satisfaction on which to rest." (T. E. Lawrence)