by Hannah Bagnall
She used every pot and pan in the kitchen when she cooked. Jeanie hated it. There were always vegetable cuttings on the floor. They stuck to Jeanie’s feet. Jeanie would walk around the kitchen collecting potato peel and onion skin. She would have to brush it off into the bin and then sweep the floor before she could start cooking her own dinner. Jeanie regretted getting a lodger. The lodger also left splashes of water and tea all the way up the stairs and sometimes even on the wall from when she took a drink up to her room. She was always carrying too many things in her hands to be careful. There were often teabags left on the side of the sink, curled into a ball on a spoon. When the lodger had come to look around the house, she was light and she spoke easily and she made Jeanie feel light and easy. Jeanie had not thought about the other things that come along with being light and easy.
Jeanie would scrape out the pots and pans and wash them up and the more she scrubbed the more she felt that she was right and the lodger was wrong. To make her point, Jeanie would also clean all of the kitchen tops and the cupboard fronts. She went to a lot of trouble. On a day that she was feeling particularly right, she would wash the walls of the kitchen and polish the kettle. There were times when the lodger would come into the kitchen when Jeanie was clearing up after her and Jeanie would wash faster and rub harder. The lodger would offer to make Jeanie a cup of tea and insist that she was going to do the cleaning up later. The lodger did not seem embarrassed. Jeanie would say to herself that she had seen the lodger’s way of washing up and no thank you she would rather do it herself. The lodger’s way of washing up was to fill the sink with water, put all of her pots and pans and utensils in the water and leave it there for the next day or even the day after the next day. By then the water was cold and greasy and Jeanie had to empty it all and wash everything with especially hot water and lots of washing up liquid to make sure it was clean.
Although Jeanie criticised the lodger inside her head, she never criticised her out loud. She smiled at the lodger and accepted her offer of a cup of tea even though she did not drink tea after five o’clock on any day of the week, not even on weekends. Jeanie would ask her how her day was and the lodger would jump up and sit on the kitchen top while she talked. She would swing her legs and clap her feet together and jump down when the kettle had boiled. Her movements were light and easy. Jeanie noticed that her movements were also quite wasteful, whereas Jeanie’s movements were very direct. Jeanie did not sway as she walked as the lodger did and she did not use her hands as she talked. Jeanie kept her limbs neatly tucked against her body. The lodger took long, cat-like stretches as she yawned or stood stretching one leg at a time behind her back as she spoke or she would dance her way out of the kitchen when she could simply have walked. The lodger took up a lot of space with her body and with her light and easy talking.
Even though Jeanie was in the right about a lot of things, especially things to do with being tidy, she felt small around the lodger. She realised that if they were two characters in a film, everyone would like the lodger. They would think the lodger was fun and it wouldn’t matter how messy and wasteful she was. If anything, that would make her even more charming. That is how it works in fiction and it often works that way in real life too. Jeanie knew that in a film she would be the rigid and difficult one. People would sigh or laugh at her or even pity her and wonder why she couldn’t be more like the lodger. They would not imagine how she was cornered into her way of being by the way the lodger had of being light and easy.