Authors: greg monks
Tags: #romance, #suspense, #drama, #gothic, #englishstyle sweet romance
The ad read, simply:
Domestic Help Wanted.
Room and board provided.
Wage commensurate with experience.
What caught her eye was the address which was
somewhere in England. She sighed, scanned the rest of the ads which
were nothing but pure dreck, paused to sip at the tea she didn’t
want but had to purchase for the privilege of sitting in the coffee
shop, and flipped back to the only ad that appealed.
England. Dream on! She had six years of
experience as a chambermaid, having worked in a cheap motel, but
well knew such training to be very limited. She harboured no
illusions about being qualified to work someplace fancy. Besides,
she couldn’t afford the air fare. For that matter, she couldn’t
even afford to pay her rent. Twelve more days and she and her few
mean belongings would be out on the street.
Unwillingly, she found her
eyes drawn back to the phone number. Would it hurt to call? Would
it matter? She smiled, humourlessly. Hardly. Soon she
phone. Besides, who was she kidding? She well knew her interest was
borne of a desire to escape, to flee to some place that sounded
romantic and exotic only because it was far away. She had seen
pictures of English cities on television. They looked every bit as
dull and hopeless as downtown anytown, anywhere else.
Turning to look outside to
see if the rain was still coming down in slanting torrents, she was
caught at once by the reflection of a complete stranger. Was that
really herself? that pale, tired-looking girl whose despair-bruised
features stared back at her with large, brown, desperate eyes? Who
thing? Confidence was what got hired . . . confidence and
strength, two commodities she didn’t possess. And that unruly
tangle of tight, dark curls! She turned away, feeling an habitual
bitterness towards the jest of God that was her life. ‘Even my
name,’ she mused. ‘Pamela Dee. It sounds like I’ve got an initial
for a last name. That’s what happens when your parents never wanted
you. You’re left with no identity, no future . . . ’
That was unjust, but had the appearance of
truth from where she stood. Her parents had split up when she was
very small. A few years later, when she was going on four, her
mother had taken her to a shopping mall and abandoned her, and like
her father had never been heard from again.
What followed was a
nightmare succession of orphanages, foster homes, group homes, and
finally, living on the streets. But it could have been worse. Odd
jobs had saved her from total despair, from drugs and alcohol, from
having to sell her body as many girls in her situation resorted to.
By the time she was twelve she got a job doing laundry in a cheap
, and there she had stayed for six years
until the owner suddenly died.
That was last month, almost to the day. She
sighed, thinking of the crusty old lady she had worked for. In the
six years they had known each other, they had hardly exchanged more
than a dozen words. Yet for all her cantankerousness, the woman had
fed her and given her a job, and for the first while a place to
live. That was the closest thing to kindness Pamela had ever
And now, like her parents, the old lady, too,
was no more than a memory.
Pamela tossed back the last of her cold tea,
folded the paper, stuffed it into her coat pocket and steeled
herself to make the twelve block journey back to her flat through
the driving, numbing, November downpour.
The cold wind was merciless, sending its
chilling, invasive fingers probing through her threadbare,
inadequate clothing. Within the space of a block she was soaked to
the skin and shivering miserably. Few would have tolerated such
discomfort, but comfort was as much a stranger to her as kindness.
From long habit she plunged ahead doggedly, thinking only of the
relative warmth of her tiny apartment and the few days left ahead
of her when she would still have a warm bed to sleep in.
And after that?
But Pamela’s mind didn’t work that way. To
preserve herself she lived in the moment, with the future a dull
guess that would be dealt with some other day when it arrived. If
A number of times she passed by groups of
street people standing around rusted steel barrels with yellow
flames licking at their interiors, illuminating sallow faces and
needy eyes, lending warmth to outstretched hands. Glittering
ominously in the firelight, their eyes followed her incuriously,
drawn by movement. Instinctively she avoided them, picking up her
pace, knowing that they were more unpredictable on evenings like
this, that shared misery often sought a common outlet, sometimes
kindling without warning into sudden violence; most often venting
itself upon an innocent bystander, someone unsuspecting who had
strayed into their midst entirely by chance; someone who normally
was and felt safe in their company.
She tried to tell herself
that the rain was good for at least
thing, that it washed away that
stale, sour smell of old garbage and urine; but right now, bad
smells were preferable to mind-numbing discomfort and the feeling
that she was not safe.
By the time she reached the small brownstone
apartment building she was giddy with cold and past the point of
shivering. Her thighs were soon aching dully as she mounted the
three steep, narrow flights of stairs, which she navigated more by
feel and from memory than by sight; the stairwell was very dim,
lighted only from high above the top landing by the grimy remnant
of an ancient chandelier. From the moment she entered the building,
her senses were assaulted with the musty, damp smell and the
closeness of the place, things which, though offensive to most, to
her meant home, safety, security. Things no one else wanted always
felt safe to her, be they a place to live, a few mean belongings,
even the odd stray cat she’d fed.
She mused for a moment on
stray cats to divert her attention from her aching legs. You could
never make a pet out of a stray: you fed them, cared for them, but
in a way that was both guilty and one-sided. The animals couldn’t
be approached, let alone petted. They came only because they were
hungry and left the moment they’d eaten. Once you’d fed one, you
had to keep on feeding it to avoid the guilty thought of the poor
unloved creature going hungry, perhaps and very probably starving
to death. But it was more than that. She knew, without examining
such a thought too closely that she
with their plight. And
somewhere, in her heart of hearts, she knew that their fate, their
lot in life, was her own.
The air in her flat was uncomfortably cool,
damp and stuffy, but her attention was soon diverted to other
matters of more pressing importance. There was no mail on the
floor. Her pleas for employment had gone unanswered. The lack of
such paper litter on the floor made her feel momentarily empty
inside, a feeling like that of all the Christmases she had spent as
a child, alone, unloved and forgotten. For a long moment it felt as
though she were staring at some yawning gulf rather than the floor.
Taking off her coat and shoes did nothing to improve her mood. One
of the sleeves of her jacket badly needed mending and the soles of
her shoes were beginning to separate. Even if she managed to land a
job, what was she going to do about clothes and an apartment? It
was highly unlikely that anyone would give her the sizable advance
she would need just to get started. No, they would take someone
with new clothes, with a look of confidence, someone self-reliant
and bright like a brand-new penny, who would ask for nothing, who
would need nothing.
‘Shut up!’ Trying to block out her own
thoughts, she put her hand over her ears, feeling as though she
were about to begin screaming uncontrollably. ‘Shut up, shut up!’
Forcing herself into motion, she began peeling off her wet things.
Shivering in the cool air, she went into the bathroom and started
There was no hot water.
Cursing, almost weeping in frustration, she
went to her kitchenette, got out four battered aluminum pots, and
began heating water.
An hour and a half later, she lay in the lap
of warmth, and therefore, to her mind at least, luxury, letting the
heat soak into her body, rebuild her flagging reserves of
confidence and hope. By degrees her thoughts turned back to the ad
she had read. ‘It’s probably long gone already,’ she told herself,
reasoning that by the time the ad appeared in the paper, some local
back in England would already have heard or read about it and
snapped it up. But thoughts of it kept niggling at her, teasing her
with unrealistic thoughts of hope and escape, adventure and
romance, of . . .
And there she stopped. She
suddenly remembered a dream she used to have, a recurring fantasy,
a sort of wish-fulfilment, where she lived in some far-off place,
with a man she didn’t know. His features were unknown to her, but
she knew certain things
him. He was tall, solidly built, very wide across
the shoulders, taper-waisted and strong. He was dark, confident,
and . . . frightening. Daunting. Sometimes terrifying. He was a
fair bit older than herself, worldly, towering over her in every
way. And she feared him. Yet the fear itself attracted her; it was
desirable, in a way that eluded her-
Stop! That’s enough! Stop
Suddenly, she found that her mind was made
up. She was going to call the number, if only to stop her own mind
from tormenting her with unrealistic nonsense. She was in no
position to waste time in idle daydreaming or fantasizing. And she
was so bloody sick of life’s uncertainty! She would put the matter
to rest, now, once and for all. She got out of the bath and began
Staring at the phone number
for a moment, she suddenly blinked. No area code? It seemed to be a
local number. No
the first three digits appeared familiar. Hesitantly, her
heart pounding for no discernable reason, she began dialling . .
With an angry moan she slammed the receiver
back into its cradle. Why was she so nervous? You’d think she was
about to walk a tightrope between two skyscrapers or something!
Swallowing, taking a deep breath, she picked up the receiver and
began dialling once more . . .
It was a woman’s voice. Amazingly, that one
word conveyed a great deal. Class. Status. Education. Refinement.
It was unmistakably British, and not the sort of voice belonging to
an employee. Pamela swore to herself mentally as all confidence
deserted her. It was obviously someone’s home and not an agency of
some sort. Business people she had learned to talk to but family
people made her feel very uncomfortable, like a lowly, unwelcome,
uninvited intruder. ‘Sorry, I seem to have got a wrong number.’ She
was about to replace the receiver when the woman spoke again.
‘Are you calling about the ad in the
‘The one about the job in England, yes.’
There was now no doubt whatever in her mind but that she would be
asked for qualifications she didn’t have, so she quickly added, to
get it over with, ‘I haven’t worked any place really nice . . .
just . . . just the cheap motel I’ve been working at for the last
‘That long?’ There was an unmistakeable smile
in the voice. ‘You sound very young. How old are you, if you don’t
mind my asking? And what is your current situation?’
‘I . . . I’m eighteen, and my situation is
that I’m unemployed.’
Again that unmistakable smile in the voice.
‘I gathered that, in light of the fact that you are calling,
seeking employment. But what I meant was, are you married? living
at home? have you any children? That sort of thing.’
Pamela was silent a moment. She had none of
these things. The woman would think she was worthless when she told
her. Worthless, poor, of no consequence. Wanting a quick end to
this conversation, she blurted out the truth in a flat
‘I live alone. I have no family. I don’t have
anyone. I . . . I’m sorry . . . this is just wasting your
‘Wait! Don’t hang up! Now listen, young lady,
that is exactly what I wanted to hear. I’m looking for someone with
no ties, who can pick up and move at a moment’s notice. Someone who
isn’t going to become suicidally homesick after a single fortnight
‘But I don’t know anything
about fancy houses, or how I’m supposed to act, or
,’ Pamela said,
wondering what a “fortnight” was.