Happy (Working Title)

Short description:

A woman gets a doctor-ordered maid.

Chapter 1:

“I just… I don’t even want to get out of bed anymore… I don’t—” I cut myself off, “Ah… I…”

“You don’t what?” asked the therapist with a kind tone.

“I don’t… Well, I don’t want to be locked up in the psyche ward for saying this, but…”

“Go on. I can promise confidentiality, at the very least.”

“I… sometimes, I don’t feel like I want to live anymore. I just wake up… and I think to myself how wish I wouldn’t have woken up… The only reason I’m here today is because Sarah made me come…”

“That’s your friend, I presume?”

“Yeah.”

“Have you been taking care of yourself? Have you been eating?”

“I… I’ve been eating.”

“Have you gained weight?”

“I don’t know, maybe.”

“Have you been cooking?”

“No…”

“Cleaning?”

“…No…”

The therapist gave me an inquisitive and understanding look. She scribbled something down on her note pad. “I think,” she started, “That what you’re experiencing is natural. It’s grief. You’re family was your motivation to carry on, and now that they’re gone, you feel as though you’ve lost your reason for getting up every morning, both literally and metaphorically. What I am concerned about, though, is how deeply it has affected you. Sometimes after a traumatic experience, people can neglect their living spaces severely, and it creates a cycle of depression.”

I frowned, but didn’t say anything.

“I think what you need is a cleaning service.”

“I—I don’t think that’s necessary…”

“You said you haven’t been cleaning.”

“I know, but… it’s not that dirty.”

“It’s just in case. I don’t want to see you go down a dangerous path. From my experience, I think this is the best course of action.”

“If you insist…”

I sat on the couch silence for a while longer while the psychiatrist flicked her pen back and forth. Finally, with a definitely whoosh, she looked up to me and asked, “See you next week?”

====

The red light shimmered on the dark pavement, and I stood in front of the mangled car. My daughter stood beside me as we watched the men in blue and white pry apart the wreckage. Behind me stood my husband as he quietly said “Good thing it wasn’t us.” My heart raced faster as I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. Headlights appeared over the horizon in the distance. That’s still a distance aways, I thought to myself. I clasped my daughter’s hand as we watched the men go in and out. The lights got brighter, and we all looked over to them. Too close, I thought frantically. Then the car was nearly upon us, and I tried to run. My legs wouldn’t move, and I looked over to my daughter, doing everything in my power to scream at her to run, to get out of the way. But nothing I did worked; every scream was in vain and it hurt to even try. My own legs wouldn’t listen to me as I became a deer in the headlights—

I woke up, startled. I was so relieved for that awful nightmare to be over. But something else caught my attention. Is that my doorbell? I questioned. Who could it be?

I quickly pulled myself out of bed, the adrenaline still present in my system; I rushed to answer the door in my pajamas. I twisted the knob and pulled it open, just be left in a stupor. Seeing no one immediately, I looked down. Then I saw her: a rather short girl stood in front of me, covered in fur with two cat-like ears flicking this way and that. Rather, her whole body seemed to be cat-like. Lacking long hair on her head, a tail sat idly behind her, and I could barely see her elongated face as she stared at the stones of the patio. Her attire, on the other hand, was far from unusual. She wore a black skirt down to her knees, tennis shoes, and a white blouse. Curiously enough she held a black suitcase beside her. Is she a helper? I ventured.

“Ah…” I started, “May I help you, miss?”

“Y-y-yes, ah, uhm, I—I’m here f-f-f-for Mrs. Allen? I-I-I’m the helper. Er, the help. S-s-s-sorry.”

“Oh… no problem, but—” as I was about to reject her, I remembered my psychiatrist’s recommendation. “Oh! Were you ordered by the doctor?”

“Ah, uhm, I-I-I don’t know… I-I-I-I was just told to c-c-come here, I swear!”

“Oh… Well alright then…”

We stood in silence for a few more moments. I finally broke it. “Would you like to come in?”

“Y-yes!” she said without hesitation.

I stepped out the the way and she rushed in past me, the wheels of her suitcase clicking on the door frame. She must have remembered her manners as she stopped dead with a mortified expression. A bit melodramatic, I thought, but who was I to judge. She stood still until I walked past her to show her the house.

The first room we came to was the dining room, and I felt obligated to explain. “So this is the dining room. I don’t think it needs much cleaning…” I trailed off. I noticed that she stared at me with an inquisitive expression as I looked away. “Ah, I don’t know. It hasn’t been cleaned in a while.” We walked from room to room, each room in varying levels of disarray. My kitchen and bathroom were by far the most embarrassing. Every other room was coated in dust while those two were coated in filth. I had just kept telling myself next week every time I stacked a new dirty plate beside the sink or spilled something down the side of the fridge. Thinking back on it, I’m almost glad I forgot to take off my pizza stained sweatpants to the doc’s; at least, I hope that was what tipped her off, because if it wasn’t then I was missing a crucial rule of personal hygiene.

Coming to a stop in dining room, I said to her, “And that’s everything that needs cleaning…”

I could tell she looked concerned, but didn’t have the courage to speak up. “What’s the matter?” I asked.

“Ah… it-it-it’s just…” she stopped, “I don’t know w-w-w-where I’m staying…”

“What do you mean?” I asked incredulously. I wondered if she could be homeless with what I presumed to be a full time job. Were people really that cruel to helpers—would they not even let them rent?

“I—” she started, marking a terse cutoff, “I-I-I don’t know—”, again she paused, furrowing her brow, “W-w-w-which room is mine?”

I was a bit shocked to say the least. “I’m sorry?” was all I could muster.

“Ah—” she cried softly. She bit her lip in a fit of anxiety. “I—I—I—I—I—”

My heart sank as she figuratively short circuited in front of me. I reached out to put my hand on her shoulder and she jumped; I quickly pulled my hand back in defeat. “Everything’s alright. Calm down. We’ll get this sorted out, I’m sure.”

She stared at the floor, biting her bottom lip. After getting bored of doing that, she sighed, and began to speak. “I-I was told I w-was supp-supp-supp-supp—” she frowned. Finally, she said with nearly perfect iambic pentameter, “I was told that I was supposed to stay here.”

I gave the dumbest look I could muster. Stay here? Like live here like a maid? I asked myself. “…How long is this supposed to be for?”

“F-for the month, ah, uhm, f-f-f-for a month, I mean.”

“For a month?”

“Yes…” She looked down, dejected.

“This must be some sort of misunderstanding. I was told you were just supposed to clean. Not… be a maid or whatever.”

“I-I-I’m sorry.”

“No, I don’t think it’s your fault,” I said in thought. “I know, I’ll call your work. Do you have their number?”

She looked fearful. “I don’t.”

“It’s alright. What’s the name? I’ll look it up.”

She told me the name, and I found the number online. I hastily dialed it in. The phone rang endlessly. “Ah, it’s still ringing,” I smirked, trying to break the silence.

The girl in front of me, on the other hand, was sulking, obviously even more anxious than before. The dread she was emitting was palpable, and it filled me with pity.

After even more waiting, the a man picked up the phone. “Tilney Services, this is John, how may I help you today?”

I began speaking immediately. “Yes, I believe there’s been a mistake. I just had a helper show up and… she said she was told she was a live-in. Ah… You see, I talked to my doctor and she recommended that I get a cleaning service to come in and clean, but I only thought she meant for a day… So, you can see where the confusion comes from.”

The man was silent for a moment, probably processing everything I had just said. “Can I get your name and the name of helper?”

“Yes, my name is Katherine Allen,” I put the phone down, motioning to the girl. “What’s your name again?”

“Elizabeth,” she said.

“That’s it?”

“I-I-I-I don’t have a last name.”

I brought the phone back up to my ear, “Her name is Elizabeth.”

I heard clicking from the other end of the line. “Ah, here… you… are. So, let me get this straight. You’re saying there’s a mistake? That… Elizabeth isn’t supposed to be a live in?”

“Yes? My doctor implied that she was a one time kind of thing.”

“Oh. Okay, well, miss, I must inform you that you that we only do live in arrangements. I haven’t dealt with a situation like this before. Let me talk to my supervisor.”

The phone went silent, and I again was left quietly giving a poorly reassuring smile to Elizabeth. I wasn’t even sure if I had asked for her name before, and I felt bad. Some more moments past before I head murmurings from the other side. “Sooo, we have a few options here. We can either terminate immediately, or she can stay for the remaining time. It looks like the service was paid for already by the insurance, which is rather surprising, but yeah. That’s the situation.”

I looked over at Elizabeth’s solemn expression. All her mannerisms added up to pure tension; at that moment in particular all her nervous ticks were amplified. Her ear twitched, her tail swished unnaturally, and she was biting her lip with her eyes forcefully shut.

Suddenly, I had an epiphany; Why do I need to add to her problems?, I wondered. But where would she stay? I didn’t have a spare room, I thought. I considered my options, and I eventually decided the couch, unconsciously neglecting a particular room in the house. With what little determination, I made up my mind. “I’ll just let her stay here. I think that will be the easiest for everyone involved.”

He ears perked up, and she looked up at me with wide eyes. I smirked.

“Are you sure miss?”

“Well, she won’t have a place to stay for a while, right? I have a place to stay for her, so I think that this will work out best. I’ll be the only one who’ll have to change their plans, right?”

“That’s great. I’m glad everything worked out. Is there anything else today?” the man finally said.

“No, no, sorry for taking your time.”

“It’s perfectly fine. Completely understandable. Will that be all?”

“Yes, I believe so. Have a nice day, thank you!”

“You too, thank you!” he said finally. He left the phone on until I hung up.

By this time, Elizabeth was staring at me in awe. “D-d-do y-y-y-you mean it?”

“No, I was lying,” I said with a straight face.

She was shattered, her lips contorting into a deep frown, seemingly on the verge of tears.

I realized my mistake, and I tried my best to correct course. “I’m kidding!” I announced, pausing, before adding, “Sorry.”

Her features softened and she relaxed. I noted that I probably needed to wait on the sarcasm; she seemed like a very literal girl. Not that I could blame her; I didn’t use irony very often, but I found it could lighten the mood. Unfortunately it wasn’t always as effective as I hoped.

She clasped her hands and shifted around, looking down aimlessly at her shoes. She started to hum, but it was a moment before I realized she was trying to say something. “I-I-I-I’m-m s-s-s-sorry th-th-that I’m making you do th-th-this.”

I wasn’t angry at her, but I was starting to understand the gravity of having a random helper girl stay with me for a month. “It’s okay,” I said without conviction. I mentally chastised myself for not thinking it through as I slightly pursed my lips in wonder. I wasn’t worried so much as I was overwhelmed with how it was going to work out.

“So…” I murmured with little intention, “I guess you can sleep on the couch,” my mind blocking out that other room.

Her eyes widened in an indiscernible emotion. “A-a-are y-y-you sure that’s okay?”

I looked at her with narrowed eyes, offended by her gal. I couldn’t tell what she was asking, but it sounded like an attack on my skills as a host.

She obviously read my expression as she tried correcting course. “I-I-I-I mean, I c-c-can sleep on th-th-th-the floor.”

My eyes narrowed again, this time in utter confusion. Asking to downgrade her bed? I wondered what kind of psychopath I was dealing with. “What? Why?”

Her mouth flung open, but no sound came out. It looked as if she were trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis standing in my living room. Finally, after a pregnant tens of seconds, I broke the silence, trying to lighten the mood. “Do you shed or something?” I giggled awkwardly, realizing that might have been offensive.

“Yes!” she nearly shouted, before folding back her ears and quickly bringing a hand-paw to cover her mouth.

“Uh…” I awkwardly let out. “Don’t worry about that, I have sheets. I mean, it can’t be that bad,” I offered, feeling like a jerk.

“N-n-n-no…” she started, before petering out. She looked at the ground, her nervous shuffling acting up again.

“Uhm… yes?” I let out, her quirkiness acting like a contagion. There were a few more moments of silence before I decided to wrap up the conversation. “Well, I’m going to get some sheets and a blanket.”

She didn’t say anything, but I thought I could make out the slightest nod, so I walked off towards the hallway closet. I fetched the things, and threw them onto the sofa behind the girl.

She looked up at me, another blank look plastered on her face. “I-I-I’m going t-t-to start.”

“Alright… the cleaning stuff is in the bathroom and that closet I was just in, if you saw it,” I nearly sighed. “Uh, I can get the dishes cleaned up in the kit—”

“N-No!” she cried, quickly doing her characteristic walk back, “I-I-I m-m-mean, I-I-I-I will do it.”

“…Okay,” I said unintentionally dismissively.

“S-s-s-sorry,” she said, before straightforwardly walking away.

I sighed as I watched her go. I wondered what I had gotten myself into with letting this strange, stuttering girl into my house. A lot of hair, apparently, I thought as I chortled to myself.

I went back to my room, longing relaxation. I had barely done anything, but all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and watch movies. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.

I don’t know how long I stared at my little phone screen, but by the end of it my eyes were sore and the sun was getting low. Throughout the day I heard clatter of dishes and the subtle gravely whine of spray bottles. I could tell she was doing work, but I didn’t want to think about the stranger in my home. After the initial rush of meeting someone new and the hasty decision had worn off, I was left feeling more reclusive and empty than before; as the hours wore on, I felt more and more awkward about stepping out of my room, until my bladder was nearly bursting and my throat as dry as a desert; I had neglected myself in order to avoid the strange girl.

Eventually, I built up the courage to exit my room. I walked to the door, making sure I wouldn’t have to let her see and judge me. After all, I was making her clean up after me while I laid in bed and did nothing; I wasn’t ready for any potential spite. I sighed and pushed the door open to find a transformed hallway. At least, that’s what I had been hoping for. It wasn’t clear to me whether or not she actually cleaned the hall, as it still felt grainy and grimy under my bare feet. I was a little upset until I remembered that she had a month to do it and a lot more to do. I did my best to sneak down the hall to the bathroom and discretely do my business.

I found the next item on my agenda to be more daunting. I could hear her in the kitchen, and the kitchen was where the water was. I shrugged it off, making a beeline for the faucet.

When I rounded the corner I was pleasantly surprised. The counter was free of the mountains of contaminated porcelain, glass, and steel that had overwhelmed me for so long. It was if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

I saw Elizabeth over by that same counter chopping something. Her ears were high above her head, signaling to me that she had been alerted of my presence. I powered through it and walked around her to the cupboard to grab a glass. But I realized I was out, and so I looked to the bloated drying rack. Sighing internally, I grabbed a glass and ran the faucet. I hated it. I already hated having this random girl do the things that I should have been doing in the first place; the feeling it gave me wasn’t one of helplessness, but rather one of shame. I knew that I was capable of helping myself, and yet I didn’t.

I looked over at her. She wore gloves and a pensive expression. She had slowed down her chopping as I got to faucet, perhaps in contemplation. Or perhaps in indignation. Or perhaps spite.

I stared at her while I filled the glass. Maybe it was too long, because she responded in kind with a quick glance of her own. Our eyes nearly met, but I turned away, not trying to arouse suspicion. I was curious, however. When she looked at me, I could tell it wasn’t annoyance or animosity that plagued her, but rather fear. Whether it was a fear of the unknown or a fear of me—I hoped it wasn’t the latter—it felt good knowing that she didn’t outright detest me.

I finished my chore and promptly left the area, the sound of her preparations speeding up agaim and fading.

I sat back down in bed, sighing. It was exhausting to be exhausted all the time.

Time flew by as I distracted myself with garbage on my phone. It felt meaningless, but it was a better feeling than utter sadness.

There was a knock at my door. It startled me, and I shot up out of bed.

“M-M-M-Mrs. Allen?” Elizabeth asked meekly.

I frowned. I wasn’t upset, but the same feeling of shame creeped up on me again. "Yes?’ I asked clearly.

“I have pr-pr-prepared d-d-d-dinner.”

“Okay,” I said flatly.

“I c-c-c-can p-p-put it by the door…” the said quietly.

I almost didn’t catch it. Reluctantly, I agreed. At least I wouldn’t have to face her. “Okay,” I replied in my same, monotone cadence. I wasn’t even hungry, but I simply thought it would be more of a hassle to refuse.

I heard the plate set on the ground, and the creak of the floor as she walked away. I sighed for the umpteenth time, walking over to the door and getting my food.

I brought it back to my bed before I noticed there was no silverware. I groaned, grabbing an unused plastic fork from a takeout bag on my bed stand, and dug in.

The food was good. Sorry, I lied. It was mediocre. It lacked flavor, but I could tell it was made with care. What truly diminished the meal, however, was the feeling of dread I got with each bite. Being such a drain on society was crushing, and each bite brought me closer to the verge of tears.

I managed to get to the end without spilling a tear, but I simply put the dirty plate on my dresser and laid back in bed. Before I fell asleep, I noticed a single tear running down my cheek.

====

I stirred sometime later. I noticed that I had to use the bathroom. It was late at night, so I groggily sat up, slowly inching my way toward the door in the pitch black room full of obstacles. I managed to get the door open, and was greeted with moonlight bouncing around the hallway, giving me easy passage to the restroom.

On the way back to my room, I noticed something. It was two bright marbles shining behind an even brighter light. I realized it was Elizabeth on her phone, sitting on the couch in the living room. I could make out her mouth, and it hung open in obvious drowsiness. She was staring at her phone mindlessly, much like I had bee all that day. My body was telling me that it was about very late o’clock, which naturally meant that my body wanted sleep. I briefly wondered why the girl was up so late, but my mind was soon returned to the world of dreamland. It was exhausting to be exhausted all the time.

P.S.
This is intended to be a slow-ish burn. While it probably won’t be very long, I want to try and make the character’s relationship feel as warranted as possible. Also, title suggestions welcome (or any kind of suggestion, for that matter.)

3 Likes

I’m a big fan of your other story, Candyland, so I wanted to read this one as well. I’m curious and looking forward to seeing these two grow more comfortable with each other. Like you said, it’s a slow burn so there’s not much more for me to say yet regarding the content, so I’ll just wait and anticipate the next chapter :slight_smile:

I am definitely hooked already.

i enjoyed the story alot. i liked the “neko” half human -half cat, i have seen them used in wattpad.
i hope you use her in more of the story, and have her calm down a bit. Please continue this story if at all possible.

Chapter 2
I woke up early in the morning. I laid in bed for several more hours, trying to coax my mind back to sleep. It didn’t work. I spent hours flipping positions every ten minutes, before I had had enough. The sun was firmly in the sky, and I sat up dutifully, before grabbing my phone and turning on the screen. It had been my daily routine for a while.

I stared at the screen for hours, waiting for the sun to go down again. Alas, it was only nine in the morning by the time my eyes started to hurt. But that was okay, because that pain masked the more unpleasant stuff.

I heard the floorboards moan under load as a particular cat person walked to the kitchen. I frowned, realizing I would be subjected to the same smouldering humiliation. I dramatically threw my head to my pillow, clutching and growling into it.

I laid in bed for countless, long, self-loathing minutes, before there was a knock at my door. I figured that I knew what it was about. “W-w-w-would you like breakfast, Mrs. Allen?” Elizabeth asked with trepidation through the door.

I wasn’t sure if the shakiness in her voice was due to my attitude, but I still felt bad for acting so cold toward her. I sat up, forcing the wind out of my tired lungs as I spoke. “No, that isn’t necessary.”

I couldn’t tell if it was my imagination, but I thought I could hear someone whisper “okay” from the other side of the door. Begrudgingly, I stood up, and waited until I heard her walk away, aiming to get my meager morning routine of using the bathroom and choosing a movie to watch on my phone in progress. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.

The hours flew by as I gazed at the rectangle between my fingers. I was hardly paying attention to what I was watching, mostly focused on not letting my mind wander. I understand that’s an oxymoron, but it is what it is.

It was during a particularly forgettable episode of some sitcom of a bygone era that I heard what sounded like a crash.

I jumped up, looking around to see if anything was broken. The sound came from behind me, and I instantly surmised that it must have come from the kitchen. My heart still racing, I cautiously reached for my earpieces and removed them, fearing a sudden movement would cause more damage.

And then I heard something else that made me pause. It was a whine, though barely audible. It was the same whispery tone that Elizabeth had made when acknowledging my negative response that morning. Clearly, she didn’t need help, I thought, because otherwise she would either be silently unconscious on my kitchen floor or calling out for help; instead, she was verbalizing her displeasure quiet enough not to alert me. However, she underestimated just how thin the walls of the house were.

I rolled my eyes at how much of a dunce the girl was. It was only her first day and she was causing avalanches in a sparse house. I wondered what could have even fallen; and then I realized what it must have been. There was only one thing on that wall that it could have been.

I flung my legs over the side of my bed, bolting up. I had to make sure it was safe.

My door flew open as I rounded the corners to find the girl bent over a particular rectangle, small glass shards strewn about the linoleum. The worst of my fears had come to fruition. There was a black screen in the place of the man, woman, and child who should have adorned it. My stomach dropped. That was the picture. Of course I had others; but none as perfect and dazzling as that one. None as close to my heart.

Elizabeth looked at me, an intense fear in her eyes. “I—I—I—” she tried getting out, but I was ruthless.

“What did you do?” I spat, acid dripping off every word.

“I—I—I—” she attempted again, before I cut her off.

“How are you going to replace that? Do you know how valuable that was?” I asked with an anger I hadn’t felt in a long time.

“—'m sorry!” she finally finished, intersecting my interrogation.

I was at a loss. I was so upset that my mind was awash with emotions I had been completely repressing. At that moment, I didn’t want to repress them; after all, I only had one thing left in the world and a strange cat-girl was trying to steal that away, too. It felt like she had taken a jackhammer to my heart.

“Clean it up!” I nearly shouted, ordering her, trying to find an outlet for my wrath.

She sped up, rushing to sweep all the glass into her dustpan. She stood up quickly, and managed to deposit the shards into the garbage bin without spilling before reaching for the broken frame. She pulled it towards the same bin.

“Don’t throw that away!” I actually shouted, my blood pressure increasing.

She froze, and looked at me with wide, terrified eyes.

“Put it on the table,” I coldly elaborated.

She did as she was told, setting the object on the kitchen island. I walked over to the item, and she scurried out of the way. As I approached, her uneven breathing was unintentionally loud, but I didn’t acknowledge it, instead trying to see if my fetish was recoverable. I picked it up, turning it around in my hand. What a stupid idea, I thought. Storing all those photos on that blasted digital picture frame was rather convenient if you didn’t have a clumsy maid riffling through your things. I balled up a fist, cursing my day.

I turned to face the culprit. She bowed her head and clasped her hands, her tail pointed straight down and her ears folded back. It was an even more submissive stance than I’d seen the previous day. It was pitiful.

“How did this happen?” I asked, not sure what I would do with the answer.

“I-I-I-I sl-sl-sl-slipped,” she barely managed to get out, looking up at me in the process.

I thought it over. It didn’t really make sense; the frame was on the top shelf, far above where she could knock it off. Then I saw the chair she must have been standing on. It was definitely a sturdy chair.

“You slipped off the chair?” I asked, still befuddled “How?” Something inside of my needed to rationalize it; to give the accident some kind of meaning.

She frowned in distress. She must have assumed the question was rhetorical, because she refused to speak.

I sighed through my teeth, hissing. “Maybe it’s still recoverable. We’ll have to bring it into a shop.”

She nodded, expertly avoiding eye contact.

I moaned as I retreated back to my fortress, already trying to forget about the awful thing that encompassed my day. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.

===

Several slow, excruciating days passed. I would lay in bed all day, avoiding Elizabeth, before she carefully made her bland food and left it outside my door. I never became numb to the shame, but it did get easier to live with it; I justified her cooking as punishment for ruining my week. Occasionally, I would hear something else crash in the house, but I just ignored it if it wasn’t glass. Sometimes I would be able to make out the girl’s soft cries, but I never paid it any heed.

Then one day I got a knock at an unusual hour; Elizabeth never knocked this early in the evening.

“What is it?” I called out indignantly.

“M-M-M-Mrs. Allen, th-th-there aren’t any d-d-d-dishes in th-th-the kitchen.”

I looked around at the stacks of plates on my dresser and nightstand. I frowned. “Alright,” I exasperatedly conceded. I opened the door, and she stared at me with a blank expression, standing in place for a moment before letting herself in. She picked up my dirty plates, trying to stack them in some kind of a tower. Carefully but without grace, she trudged to the door, trying to minimize her ventures into my lair. I instinctively followed behind her, noticing her precarious method.

As if on cue, a grimy fork fell from the pile. I sighed. “Wait.”

She froze up, concerned that I was going to berate her again. I rolled my eyes, but she didn’t notice as she was still facing forward. I knelt down, grabbed the fork, and placed it back on the top plate. Then, I reached around her and approximately grabbed half the stack of plates. I figured she would be out of my hair faster and there wouldn’t be any unnecessary drama. “Now, let’s go.”

She discretely obeyed, marching into the kitchen and depositing her portion in the sink, before I did the same. I stood back and watched her for a moment as she put on some yellow rubber gloves. I could feel something welling up inside of me, but I couldn’t figure out what it was.

And before I could, Elizabeth glanced back at me, concerned. Whatever feeling it was faded away as I took that as an excuse to go back to bed. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.

===

That night, Elizabeth made green bean casserole. It was strange. There was absolutely no salt in the dish. I was already aware that her cooking was subpar, but how it became so toxicly benign was a real mystery. But it was at least still edible, so I finished it.

Before she delivered the food, I was waiting in bed, coming down off the bare minimum of emotion that I got watching whatever show was popular on the streaming services. After finishing the food, I was again left with that same empty feeling.

I rolled over, my newly dirtied plate taking up my vision. I squinted, that strange feeling from earlier that day resurfacing. I closed my eyes and gritted my teeth, the emotion uncomfortable.

But as I flipped my position in bed, the feeling didn’t dissipate. It lingered, the plate filling my thoughts.

I groaned. I knew what I needed to do.

Frustratedly, I grabbed the plate and walked to the kitchen, placing it into the sink. I huffed, glad to be rid of the slimy feeling.

Except, it didn’t go away. With each step I took away from the sink, the invisible tether tightened, leashing me to my waste. I got halfway out of the kitchen before I turned on my heels and hunkered down in front of the sink. It used to be such a routine task, but it felt like an eternity since I had actually done my own dishes. I had relied on Elizabeth for the previous few days, and takeout long before that; the sponge almost felt foreign in my hands.

But with little effort, I continued, and before I knew it, I was again the proud owner of a spotless white ceramic plate and stainless steel fork. I smirked in contentment.

But that was soon forgotten when I saw the implements that had been used to prepare that night’s meal. Grinning, I feverishly continued my scrubbing, until I was left with a clean sink. At that moment, I realized what the slimy feeling was: duty. I had been neglecting my duty for so long, I had forgotten the ache in my chest that it caused. I whimpered, remembering why it had been forgotten.

Somehow, she had stuck up on me. Hearing my utterance, Elizabeth decided to announce her presence. “M-M-M-Mrs. Allen?” she asked, shocked. I turned to see her standing in the kitchen entrance holding a dirty plate, wide-eyed, ears erect, fur on end. It seemed like worry was occupying her heart, but the expression of the cat was hard to read.

But I wasn’t concerned about that at that moment; I just wanted to extend my high. “I’ll take that,” I said. She didn’t budge, so I awkwardly walked all the way across the kitchen to grab the disk before returning it to the sink and merrily washing it.

Elizabeth seemed to break from her stupor, and shyly suggested, “I-I-I-I can do that, M-M-Mrs. Allen.”

But the deed had already been done before she finished stammering her way though her sentence. I placed the plate on the drying rack. Before rinsing my hands one final time. “No need,” I smugly and proudly declared.

I walked past the girl, her ears then folded down as she shamefully stared at the floor, “O-o-okay,” she said as I passed by.

Feeling accomplished, I retreated to my room, ungracefully flopping onto my worn mattress, smiling contently. Maybe things can start going back to normal, I thought. No, they can’t, I sadly reminded myself. I didn’t want to consider it anymore. Considering it hurt.

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Chapter 3
I started to get into the habit of doing the dishes; it was a completely unintentional habit. Every time I would see the singular dish on my bedside table, it sparked a fire that forced me to get up and move into the kitchen; seeing my addition to the empty sink would only throw gasoline on the aforementioned fire, and my fingers would be around a sponge before I knew it. After Elizabeth caught me doing the dishes the day after I started, she made a point to not leave anything in the sink, for fear that I would steal away her pride and joy. At least, that’s all I could assume, because after my bout of duty-induced cleaning, the cookware would already be washed and drying by the time I got there.

Other than that, though, my days were still long and boring. Washing my plate was the only thing that I had. Somewhere in the back of my mind, there was a shard of the thought of adding more chores to that list floating around, but I was never struck by the right amount of inspiration to carry through.

That short period ended, like most things in my life recently, with a knock on my door. I took out my earpieces and looked over the way.

“Mrs. Allen, th-th-th-there’s a letter for y-y-you,” Elizabeth informed me.

“And?” I asked indifferently. Receiving letters wasn’t particularly alarming. Probably just another bill to drain me further, I guessed.

“I-I-I think it looks im-im-important,” she announced, before backing off, “Or… I-I-I don’t know, s-s-s-sorry…”

I sighed. “Alright. Leave it on the table in the dining room.”

She didn’t reply, and instead I heard her footsteps quickly fade out as she dashed off. I rolled my eyes and noted for the umpteenth time how strange her mannerisms were, even for a helper.

Eventually, I was forced to venture out of my room due to my various needs as a mortal. I remembered the letter she had mentioned and so I went to see it.

I wasn’t sure what I was looking for. And then I saw it: the blank white envelope from a nondescript organization named Edwardian Capital. It would have been just any other piece of junk mail, except for the fact that it read “Quarterly Statement” and wasn’t addressed to me.

It was addressed to my husband.

A dull, sad wave washed over me.

I swallowed, sticking my finger under the corner glued down flap, peeling back. It came open with some effort, and the top of the envelope was thoroughly mangled by the end.

I pulled the contents out and unfolded them.

My jaw dropped at the contents.

Six numbers. Six six digit numbers. Six six digit numbers that could change everything. I just kept reading the letter, trying to figure out if it was some kind of elaborate scam. How could there be so much? How come I didn’t know about it? Was he keeping it a secret?

I had to sit down and lean back. I slowly place the letter on the table and stared at the plaid wallpaper. I wasn’t even sure what I was supposed to do with the information.

I knew it could solve a lot of issues. It could pay off the mortgage and the car loan—but what else would it do? I wracked my brain.

I had been putting off the inevitable since the accident; day after day flew by as my bank account was drained from every loan payment and takeout order I made. I always overwrote the terrifying thoughts with mindless television, but they ate away at me all the same.

Elizabeth walked past me comically carrying a broom that was taller than herself, and I glanced over at her. For whatever reason, it struck me at that moment that she had the same clothes on that she had showed up in. Thinking back on it, I couldn’t tell if she had worn anything else at all. It didn’t look like a particular uniform, but maybe her job’s dress code just forced her into samey looking outfits. I grimaced, trying not to look too deeply into it. After all, I practically wore the same outfit of sweatpants and large tee shirt everyday. Focus, I thought, I’m getting off track.

I figured the first thing I needed to do was call the company to find out if the numbers meant what I thought they meant. I dearly hoped they did. I grabbed my phone from my room, and called the phone number on the paper.

It went to a machine. I dialed the tone for English, and was direct to their automated secretary. “Hi could I please get your name?” the androgynous voice asked.

“Katherine Allen,” I replied.

“Hello Ms. Allen, how may I assist you?”

“Uh… well, I just got a letter saying something about my ‘quarterly statement’…”

“Do you have an account with us?”

“I… don’t. But I think my husband does.”

“I see. I must inform you that I cannot give account information to you unless you have the account number and pin number.”

“…My husband is dead,” I said with hesitation, not wanting to admit it.

“I… see,” the voiced said, pausing, before telling me, “One moment.” Ironically, it got back to me instantly. “Do you think you could find some time to discuss this at our office?”

I sighed. Leaving the house was a pain, but I knew it was going to be worth it if the statement was real. “I would…” I relented.

“That’s great to hear. What was your husband’s name?”

Just the voice saying “was” stung. “Steven Allen.”

“That does seem to be a client of ours. Do you have a preferred time?”

“Sometime tomorrow,” I nearly begged. I had just woken up but the excitement was already too much for me.

“Okay. It looks like our agents have availability from one to four. Would sometime then work?”

“I suppose so…” I trailed off, before I remembered it’d want a concrete answer, “Can I have two?”

“Perfect. I will ask you to please bring some official documentation recording the relation between the two of you; in your case a marriage certificate should suffice, as well as ID. Is there anything else I can do?”

I gave it a dismissive “no” and “thanks” before putting the phone down and slumping back in my hardwood chair. I didn’t used to have such chronically poor posture. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.

====

I woke up, far from ready to start the day. I didn’t want to think about the ordeal I’d be forced to go through.

Like any other day, I laid there for hours, only getting up for necessities. Eventually the clock rolled around to one, I decided to start getting ready.

I slapped on some clothes, rubbed in some deodorant, and sat on my bed, waiting until the precise time I needed to leave.

And then a thought struck me: I was about to leave someone I barely knew in my house, alone; someone who had broke something precious of mine. There was no telling what she would destroy next. Sure, I couldn’t tell what she did for ninety percent of the day anyway, but something about leaving her there completely alone just didn’t sit right with me. I wanted her out of the house while I away, and my mind instantly jumped to one thing in particular. There was a fresh drop of rage as I remembered the broken frame. She was going to go fix it.

I was justified. She broke it, so she should get it fixed. The only issue was that I wasn’t sure if she had any money whatsoever. To my knowledge, she hadn’t bought anything yet in the time that she was there. I just needed to ask her.

“Elizabeth,” I called out. I heard the pitter-patter of her paws as she rushed over.

“Y-y-yes?” she asked from behind the door.

“Do you have any money? I need you to get that frame fixed. Or at least get the data off of it.”

There was a long pause. I wasn’t sure if she was thinking or trying to speak. Finally, it was broken. “N-n-n-no,” she said. I found it suspicious that she took so long to reply, but I just chalked it up to anxiety issues.

Regardless, I sighed. I would have to pay for it, it seemed. They probably wouldn’t charge anything until they were done with the job, and it probably wouldn’t be too much to get the work done. I would just need to contact the company sponsoring her to reimburse me. “Alright. In any case, you need bring the frame into a shop. I’m leaving soon and when I’m out you’ll go do that.”

“O-o-okay,” she said plainly.

It wasn’t much longer till I left, reminding Elizabeth to do the same on my way out. She followed behind, and at the street corner we went our separate ways.

The office was surprisingly close. It made sense why my husband had chosen this small, local broker.

The walk was less than a mile and not too hot, but I was still glad to be back in air conditioning when I entered the office. I was greeted with a grey doglike helper sitting at the front desk. He was the size of a regular adult human and held a pleasant, relaxed expression; it was a stark contrast to the ever floundering Elizabeth model that was being lent to me.

The secretary gave a service smile as I walked up to him. “How may I help you, ma’am?” he asked cordially.

“I have an appointment at two?” I said, unsure.

“Katherine Allen?”

I nodded, and he told me to give him a moment while he called in the agent I was supposed to be meeting with. In short time, I was being led to a glass walled room by a pudgy man with black, slicked back hair and shiny cuff links. He advised me to take a seat, which I did.

“How has your day been so far, Mrs. Allen?” he asked with a smirk.

“Fine,” I said dismissively.

“Great to hear. So you’re here about an account that your husband may have had, correct?”

“Yes.”

“Good. May I ask the full name and address associated with the account?”

“Yes. It’s Steven Allen at 504 Bath Street.”

“Right in town?”

I nodded.

“Great,” he said as he finished some typing, “Yes, that does appear to be an account on record. And I see why you came today. Now, I’ll have to ask for proof of relation. Do you have the marriage certificate or some other document?”

I confirmed and gave him the document. We went back and forth for some time, him asking for information or documentation and me giving him all I had. All the while I anxiously waited to hear about the money.

“It looks like you’re good. The account will be properly transferred in 10 to 15 business days, I believe.”

“So… was the statement correct? Is there really that much money?” I asked, holding my breath.

“That’s correct,” he said nonchalantly.

I blew the air out of my lungs with gale force wind. “How do I get to it?” I meekly asked.

“That’s a complicated topic. If you were to sell off now, you’d only get half of the money from taxes. There are ways to get around that, but they each have their advantages and disadvantages.”

“But that money is real?” I had to ask again, still incredulous.

“Yes?” he confirmed again, puzzled.

I leaned back in my chair, still trying to absorb everything. “How is there so much? We never had that much money…”

He pursed his lips. “Well, according to the account history your husband bought these stocks when they were about one dollar a share. Now they’re worth over two thousand.”

“When did this happen? What are these things?”

“It was about twenty years ago according to this summary. All these are for—one moment,” he said, typing something on his computer, “Oh. One of these is a chip manufacturer, the others are all involved in helper production.”

I was amazed. To think that my husband had the foresight to invest in some at the time rinky-dink companies operating on the fringes of technology before anyone else knew how integral to society helpers would become—it was mind boggling. I barely knew anything about helpers besides the basics, but it was plain to see that they were the backbone of the developed world. Virtually over night, their introduction crippled the economy; cheap and easy to produce, the largest employers bought them in droves, and mass layoffs ensued as human labor became nearly obsolete. The government was slow to react, but within a few years they implemented a universal basic income. Jobs were hard to come by and the majority of people lived in some kind of subsidized housing.

In any case, I wasn’t sure why he kept the account from me, but there was almost no use wondering at that point. All I knew is that he had left me the best possible gift given the circumstances, and I wasn’t about to look it in the mouth.

“So do you have any plans?” he asked me.

“I really don’t know…”

“There’s absolutely no rush. Would you like to go over options today?”

I nodded in affirmation, but I wasn’t actually prepared to pay attention. The whole time I was consumed with how the money would let me maintain my lifestyle.

And then I started to think about said lifestyle; and I wanted to stop thinking about said lifestyle.

In short time, the meeting was over, and I was escorted to the lobby where I unceremoniously exited the building, still completely bewildered at what had just happened.

The walk back was a mirror of the walk there, and was pleasantly uneventful.

When I got back to the house, I remembered that Elizabeth didn’t have a key, but I was relieved to see that she hadn’t been waiting on me the entire time. I reentered the house and locked the door behind me on instinct. I retreated to my lair, already drained.

====

Some time later, I heard a knock; then, whoever it was must have remembered their manners because they rang the bell. My groggy mind slowly realized that it was Elizabeth. I slapped my forehead as I remembered locking the door. I jolted out of bed, trying to amend my mistake.

On the porch, I found a sight not unlike Elizabeth’s and my first meeting. Elizabeth was standing there in her usual garb doing her characteristic nervous fidgeting, but this time she was clutching the frame.

“Did they fix it?” I asked, curious why she still had it. I only expected her to drop it off and pick it up a day or two later.

Her eyes widened, but she glanced down to the ground. There was a long pause as she shuffled around. I was used to her speech patterns, so I gave her time to formulate the answer. “N—” she started, before verbally tripping over her own feet, “I-I-I’m sorry!” she stated profusely. “I-I’m sorry, I-I’m sorry!”

I was confused. She didn’t answer the question. “Is it fixed, though?”

She nearly started to hyperventilate as her maw opened wide in horror. “N-n-n-n-no…” she moaned.

I frowned, my anger starting to take hold. And then I got a good look at her face; she was on the verge of tears. Whether or not cats could cry was irrelevant. My anger didn’t dissipate, but it was forced to share space with a much more potent feeling of sympathy. I corrected my thoughts; I would find out why, and then I would pass judgement.

“Elizabeth, calm down,” I failed to console her. “I’m not angry,” I added hoping it would help. “Just tell me what happened.”

In a burst of stuttering, she tried regaling her tales. “I-I-I tried to find th-th-th-the first place, but I couldn’t find it. A-a-and then I tr-tr-tr-tried finding the second place, b-b-b-but they said I needed a cr-cr-cr-credit card,” she espoused as fast as her speech impediment would let her, “A-a-a-and then, I went to the third p-p-p-place, but they were closed f-f-f-forever, so I went to the fourth p-p-p-place, I-I-I mean, the first place, and I found it, b-b-b-but it was past closing time…” Her breathing was uneasy, and she forcefully bit her lip as she finished, looking like she was about to draw blood. “I’m s-s-sorry,” she eked out one last time.

All I could do was pity the girl. She probably thought I was going to lash out at her; little did she know I was still too dazed to properly admonish anyone. Joking aside, admonishing her would have felt more painful then cathartic when she was in such a state. “It’s alright,” I finally said. I reached down to her; she stiffened up, but otherwise let me place my hand on her shoulder. I squeezed gently, hoping it would help.

After a minute, her breathing seemed to get back to it’s normal pace, and I took my hand away. “Don’t worry about the frame,” I fibbed, just trying to get her back into a normal headspace. “Look, I’ll take it tomorrow or something. I need another excuse to get out of the house, anyway.”

She looked up at me with a sad, scared, and yet somewhat thankful looking expression.

I sighed, taking my hand off her shoulder and turning around to retreat into my room.

Being exhausted all the time—

“K-K-K-Katherine,” she said with some kind of conviction, before walking it back, “I-I-I-I mean, Mrs. Allen.”

The knob had just been twisted and the door loosened as I heard her call out to me. I just looked to her, my face tired and blank.

It almost looked like she made a comedic “gulp” before trying to speak again. She gripped at the hem of her shirt and said, “I-I-I-I’m sorry!”

I stayed silent, not knowing which particular fault she was referring to.

She continued. “I-I-I-I really didn’t mean to b-b-b-break it!” she croaked. “I-I-I-I was looking at it, a-a-a-and I saw how h-h-h-happy you were, and th-th-th-then I slipped…” she pursed her lips, looking for the right words, “I-I-I mean, I’m… I-i-it was an accident, a-a-a-and I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m s-s-s-so sorry!”

I tried to give a hopeful expression, but I’m sure it just came off as disappointment. “It’s okay,” I said, wanting to forgive her. The anger I had felt towards her were just cold lumps of charcoal at that point.

I sighed yet again, before opening the door and returning to my bed. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.