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About the Author: Don McLellan has worked as a journalist in Canada, South Korea and Hong Kong. He has been listed twice for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and has had two story collections published, In the Quiet After Slaughter and Brunch with the Jackals. More at donmclellan.com.


They came a few days after she’d started working for the Worthingtons. Mrs. W was reclining on the bed, cucumber slices squeezed into her eye sockets, her face smudged with an expensive cream. She had been applying the gunk for decades. Any improvements were illusory.

Mr. W was in the den checking stock prices on a laptop when they came. He heard a loud noise at the rear of the property, something shattering. He palmed the fogged-up window, but noticed nothing. A few minutes later he heard it again, louder. Raccoons, he thought. Little buggers. He pulled on a cardigan and stepped into the yard. A pair of planters had been upended; pottery shards were sprinkled across the frozen lawn. 

At the side of the house he was surprised by two strangers.

“I didn’t realize we had visitors,” he said. “What can I do for you?”

Just as her head begins to throb from everything she’s expected to remember, like what temperature to set the thermostat at night, like how each of the Worthingtons prefer their breakfast eggs, the boy, Ethan, bursts into the den where Annabelle is vacuuming.

“Have you seen my mother?” he asks, yanking iPhone buds from ears as large as her friend Belle’s chocolate chip cookies. Before she can reply he shrugs the parka from his spindly teenage frame; it settles dripping wet at her aching feet. 

“It goes in my bedroom,” he says. “Third floor, end of the hall.”

The house is the largest she’d worked in, but there’s no mistaking his room. That poster on the door of a long-haired man playing an electric guitar. Wearing black lipstick and eye shadow, a metal spike inserted horizontally through his snout. Ethan has some kind of animal bone poking through his.

Her previous employer, Mrs. Addison, had suffered a stroke and needed the services of a care home. The old woman’s daughter gave Annabelle a glowing reference and a modest bonus. She didn’t mind a new posting. She had grown used to residing for a year or two in the homes of wealthy strangers, always the visitor. This temporary status had a way of keeping fresh her memories of the Islands.

“You come recommended,” Mrs. Worthington said at the interview, “but cross me and you’ll be on a plane home faster than you can split a coconut.”

After church she meets for lunch with other domestics from the Islands: Crystal and Belle, usually. They, like her, have left kids and husbands behind for higher-paying work in Canada. Each is undecided when to return home, and each wonders if the man who saw them off will be there when they return. If the weather cooperates, they stroll the seawall, singing their forsaken hearts out.

They purchase a group lottery ticket, $2 each. Annabelle decides ten per cent of her winnings will be tithed to Our Lady of Sorrows, the church that sponsored her working visa. A win would allow her daughter Rachel to attend nursing school, and husband Ronaldo will get the taxicab he’d always talked about. She thought they could take a vacation, just the two of them. After all those years apart, get to know each other again.

She worries most about Noah, their son; he’s running with a bad crowd. She prays to the Holy Spirit first thing every morning, Please, Lord, help my boy find his way. She fears easy money might do him more harm than good. Like his father, he has always played too close to the edge.

Mrs. W, she learns, rules the roost; Mr. W, a property developer, pays for it. Everything spilled, dropped and abandoned is left for her: all food scraps, the wet towels, a stinky sock. The previous housekeeper, who was also from the Islands, had bailed after two weeks on the job. Mrs. W had Annabelle hand the woman an envelope containing earnings owed. The compatriots chatted on the porch.

“She’s anju-jabu,” the woman said of Mrs. W. In the dialect of the Islands it means “screwed up witch.”

Mrs. W did have a mean streak; Annabelle had already seen it. She’d flash those whitestrip teeth, yodel something sweet, then unleash the ogress. A look would seep into her eyes, a manic surge telegraphing the unkindness to follow.

“There’s a reason why people from your country are lined up to get into ours,” Mrs. W had said, Annabelle dicing vegetables, her second day on the job.

“Yes, mam.”

“I watch the news. Your roads aren’t paved. The toilets don’t flush. It’s a pigsty.”

“Yes, mam.”



This story appears in our JUL 2019 Issue
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Reader Discussion

14
Jul
I like pie! And I like Don McLellan's tales!
By Benny

14
Jul
Good story! Well-developed plot. Satisfying ending. Annabel is a sympathetic character.
By Elizabeth Varadan

14
Jul
Nicely done!
By June Lorraine Roberts

15
Jul
Really enjoyed this story. Well developed, pacing was perfect and the ending - very satisfying.
By Karen Dent

15
Jul
Ah, very good! I enjoyed the read! Interesting ending!
By Tina Jude


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