Brown boxes, empty boxes, boxes full to bursting. The badge on Michael’s lapel said ‘storage executive’ but the way he saw it he just kept the boxes safe.No space for your belongings? Trust them to Safeplace2store. It said it in the local newspaper every Saturday. It occasionally said it on the TV which, since his mother died two years ago, was always switched on to chase away the silence. Michael took as good a care of Safeplace2store’s warehouse as he did of his flat high in Hungate Towers. At work twice a day he walked along every corridor, cloth and jar of cleaner in hand, and wiped off the black marks from the yellow doors and walls of the boxes. He helped people unload their cars and stack boxes and wondered what they stored in their boxes – forgotten things, too-big things, un-needed things, things with bad memories.
First to arrive every morning was Jake in his old white Ford Transit [J8K 556], more brown with rust than white with paint. Jake had a market stall on Wattle Road, Michael’s mother had been one of Jake’s customers and now Michael was too. Washing up brushes, soapy scouring pads, plastic washing up bowls, balls of string: Jake sold them all.
Next Michael checked the yard perimeter and gave the toilets a swoosh of bleach, then he retreated to his office for a mug of coffee and a Kit-Kat. Mr Weddington, an irregular, arrived next. He parked his battered gold Volvo estate [S25 PPH] parallel between the white lines of the parking space. Michael knew where Mr W lived, he even knew his bank account number [Mr W paid for his lock-up by monthly direct debit], but he didn’t know what he kept in his storage unit. Today he carried in a blue and white archive box, his shoulders sagged under the weight, his mouth sagged too. Michael watched as he loaded a set of golf clubs into his car. Lunch at the golf club it is then, thought Michael, Mr W must be a bank manager or a dentist. At school Michael had never been any good at sports, he’d always been last to be chosen for the football team and his mother had told him to ignore the name-calling, to shut it away in a box out of reach. “Least said, soonest mended,” she’d said.
“Morning Michael.” It was Daisy Wedd, another irregular. Unit 1128, 10sq ft and not big enough to swing a cat. In her arms were cradled a Scrabble box, a 1974 Jackie annual and a stoneware vase.“Dropping off today?” Michael smiled.
As Daisy laughed her salt-and-pepper curls shook like springs around her shoulders. “You know how it is Michael, some things are just too good to throw away.”
The next morning, the first three customers arrived in the same order. Jake’s trolley was laden with boxes of cling film, plastic food boxes and washing up liquid. Mr W was next [returning his golf clubs], then Daisy. Michael watched on CCTV as she walked along the corridor. He’d never seen her arrive empty-handed before and she never took anything away, he’d begun to think he’d rented her a Tardis.
“Can you help me? I’d like to rent a personal storage unit.”
In front of the desk stood a man in a suit holding a rolled up newspaper, The Times it looked like. “We’ve moved into this flat and the damn wardrobes are miniscule. I told Samantha it was too small but, you know…. women.” Michael nodded, but he didn’t know. The thought of someone not his mother washing and ironing his personal things was horrible. By the time Michael had rented unit 2029 to Mr Alistair Condee and taken payment in advance by credit card, Daisy had left.
On Thursday morning there was a mad rush as soon as Michael unlocked the gates. Jake loaded two trolley loads of videos into his rusting van: Goldfinger, Star Wars, ET, Beauty and the Beast. Then Jake’s mate Tony arrived. Tony ran a chain of baked potato stalls where the potato was baked in an oven shaped like a train engine. Michael had tried one once because Tony had given it to him for free. “Waste not want not,” his mother used to say, but he’d had to spit two black potato eyes into his handkerchief and he never ate one again. Tony loaded a pallet of cans of Coke into the back of his new red Jeep [LK02 GBC].
Mr Condee parked his silver sportscar across two parking spaces. Michael watched him walk by with a pile of dresses over his arm, hangers swinging as he walked…..floral dresses……. little black dresses. Michael made a note to sell Mr Condee a reinforced cardboard wardrobe box with hanging rail to prevent his wife’s dresses getting crushed. Then he caught sight of Daisy briefly as she rushed in with a large carrier bag stuffed full.The next morning Michael arrived early and, as he filed away yesterday’s logsheet of customer movements, one name flew off the page at him. Daisy had visited last night just before closing. But she never visited in the evening.
He looked up and there she stood in front of him, swinging a carrier bag in her hand which looked empty but for the sharp outline of two tins.
“And what a lovely morning it is. A morning like this makes you thankful for nature, doesn’t it?” and she breezed away, humming ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’. Michael didn’t know what nature she was talking about. The only sign of nature within two miles were trees on the bit of scrub ground beside the railway, grey with dust, their growth stunted by Manchester pollution. Five minutes later, Daisy left.
Later that day, cleaning black marks off the yellow door of the box opposite Daisy’s, Michael sniffed. The smell was like manure, warm and musty, and it was coming from behind Daisy’s door. Then he heard a rustling noise.Rats! Michael was affronted that a rat should invade his warehouse. Extermination was the thing but first he needed access to the box so he called Daisy’s work number [he knew it off by heart].
“Oh,” she said.
Michael had expected her to scream, he’d expected her to beg him to kill it.
“Oh I’m sure it’s not a rat. Maybe it was a bird on the roof.”
“No, it’s a rat Miss Wedd, I’m sure of it. And it’s my job to deal with it. So if you could call in at lunchtime to open the door for me, I’ll get the rat-catcher to deal with it.”
“Oh, it’s not that urgent.”
“Yes, it is.”
An hour later Daisy and Michael looked at the closed door. He was unwilling to open it in case the rat escaped. “It’s more than my job’s worth if I let the rat escape and get into other boxes. My boss’ll be furious that there’s a rat here in the first place, he’ll say I haven’t kept everywhere clean.”
“But Michael you’re always cleaning.”
Michael was getting hotter and he loosened his collar and tie. “He might sack me. This is very serious.”
“Oh,” and Daisy unlocked her padlock and swung open the door. “There. No rat.”
Michael gasped. Sitting on a blue cushion was a ginger cat with grey whiskers.
“There now, good boy.” Daisy picked up the cat and Michael noticed its back leg was in plaster. “He was run over by a car in front of my flat,” she said, “and the driver didn’t stop. So I took him to the vet. You’re doing very well, aren’t you Tipsy?” As she tickled the cat under its chin it started to purr.
“Why have I kept him here? Because my landlord forbids pets.” Daisy rubbed Tipsy’s ears and the purring got louder. “Don’t you see……..I had to help him.”
“Yes, but we have rules about pets too.” Michael ran a hand through his hair. Michael looked over this shoulder at the CCTV camera and hoped it had run out of film. Then hearing a door close in the next aisle he pushed Daisy and Tipsy into her box and waited until the customer passed. He didn’t recognise the lady, she was rather masculine looking, she was tall and walked with long strides in her floral dress, the zip didn’t fasten properly at the top. She looked a bit like Mr Condee, thought Michael…..perhaps it was his wife, then again…….
“Please Michael, you’ve got to help me,” pleaded Daisy. “If Mr Weddington caught Tipsy in my flat he’d put him in a sack with some stones and drown him in the Ship Canal.”
“No-one would do that……….did you say Mr Weddington?”
“Charles Weddington, my landlord. Why?”
“What does he look like?”
“I’ve never met him. He writes me snotty letters. Edie next door told me about him. She may be eighty but she’s got her wits about her, Edie has. When she sees him arrive in a shabby old Volvo she pretends she’s not in.”
Michael kept quiet. Confidentiality, his boss repeated every week, was one of the reasons for Safeplace2store’s success.
Daisy returned to work and Michael cancelled the rat-catcher then went through his options. His boss would say he had failed to manage the situation and would sack him. If he couldn’t pay the rent the council would throw him out of his flat. The bottom line was, Tipsy couldn’t stay.
Michael liked cats but his mother had hated them. He would have liked to have held Tipsy, if Daisy had offered. She would just have to take Tipsy home, he decided. But then she might get thrown out too. Perhaps he shouldn’t interfere at all? He considered what his mother would have said. ‘Least said, soonest mended.’
At 6pm Mr W arrived, his car boot loaded with books. He didn’t look capable of drowning a cat in a sack in the Manchester Ship Canal, Michael thought, and as he helped him carry his boxes he looked inside. Books: Conveyancing 1977, Judicial Reviews 1960-1970.
“Are you a solicitor?”
“I wonder …….can you help me? I need some advice.”
“That’s fair, you’ve helped me.” Mr W sat on a low wall in the yard and wiped his forehead with a faded grey handkerchief.
“I’ve got a friend who’s in trouble with her landlord. Would you have a word with her? She might have the wrong end of the stick.”
“Yes……I suppose that’s alright.”
“Great,” Michael jumped up. “I’ll call her.”
Michael cupped his hand over the telephone as he dialled Daisy’s home number. “Daisy, it’s Michael from Safepla……. I’ve found someone who might be able to help, about …..Tipsy.” He whispered the last word although no-one was within hearing distance.
“…….…’m here,” said Daisy 15 minutes later, breathless from running, her face pink and eyes bright. Michael thought she’d never looked better.
“Come with me.” As he led her to Mr W’s box, he liked the way Daisy’s forearm melted into the grasp of his hand and he tried to memorize the feeling for later.
“Mr W?” Michael called.
“Hello, I’m Clive Weddington.” Mr W stood beside the opened yellow door to his box and looked at Daisy.
“Daisy Wedd.” She held out her hand and Mr W shook it.
“Michael tells me you have a problem with your landlord.”
Daisy nodded. “But who…..”
Mr W raised an eyebrow. “Ah, I think I see the problem. Is your landlord Charles Weddington? Drives an old blue Volvo? Dentist?”
“I’m afraid that’s my unreasonable cousin. Let’s see what I can do,” Mr W winked at Michael then linked his arm through Daisy’s and started walking slowly towards the exit. “You’ve got a cat? I like ……..”
On his way home Michael hovered outside Pet Fare’s window, then took a deep breath and went inside.
© Sandra Danby
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LITTLE BOXES a #shortstory about life and storage units by @SandraDanby http://wp.me/p5gEM4-bj