As Mary glanced at her watch to check that she was on time, she opened the heavy timbered door of the café. With a grunt of effort, she pushed it wider, and stepped into the room. The fusty, mixed aromas of frying bacon and coffee hit her, underlayed by the pervading smell of damp and wood rot, and her nose wrinkled at the familiar, but hated smell.
With a quick glance around to see if there was anyone around as yet, she removed her coat, and bustled towards the back room that held the cubbyhole Sally, Mary’s boss, laughingly called the cleaning room, where all the equipment needed for the building was held. Hanging her coat on a hook behind the door, Mary smoothed the nylon coverall she wore over her less than svelte hips, then bent over to a shelf to pick up the tray that held everything needed to keep wood in trim.
With a sigh, she walked back into the café, and then stepped behind the counter, where a rather rickety looking set of steep steps stood. She took a tentative step onto the first rung then, slowly but nervously, she rose up the steps until she reached close to the ceiling. Awkwardly, she rested the cleaning tray onto the top step then, locking her knees against the sides to keep her balance, she lifted her arms over her head, and pushed hard at the two flaps above her.
With a crash, the two leaves swung up and over, landing flat on the floor above, and Mary grabbed the tray then climbed up, rather reluctantly, into the gloom of the room above, where she ended up standing behind a long, wooden bar, filled with optics, glasses, and a myriad of mysterious bottles that Mary had long ago decided weren’t worth wondering about.
Here, the overpowering smell of stale beer tried to mask the dankness of rotting plaster and old wood, and Mary shivered with an almost atavistic fear, as she looked around the shadow-infested room. It was really at times like this that she wondered why she continued with the job but, as Harry, her dear-departed husband had always said:
‘Needs must, girl. You’ll survive worse than this, if you’re lucky!’
Mary smiled softly at the memory and then, with a deep breath and a determined step, walked around the opening to the bar, and stepped into the room. Her first port of call was always the two large pool tables that dominated the room, and she quickly stepped over to where the bank of switches that turned on all the lights were and, with a practiced flick, turned them all on.
The sudden blaze of light instantly dispelled the gloom of the room, and Mary felt as if a sudden weight had shifted from her shoulders. With a swift look around, she turned to her tray, and began lifting out the polishes she needed for the job.