When he heard her key turn in the lock the following morning, he was waiting in the lounge.
‘Only me Mr Eberstark, I’ll put your spray in the cupboard after I’ve wiped it.’
‘Don’t forget to rinse the change under the tap before you put it back in the bag,’
‘I won’t – I’ve been doing this long enough now to know the routine.’
Marion wiped down the spotless units and kitchen equipment. He liked to hear the cloth as she wrung it out in the sink – the heavy thud of the water as it touched the stainless steel. He enjoyed inhaling the smell of cleanliness – drinking in the sterilized air – it made him feel cleansed.
‘I’ve been meaning to ask you, how long it is that you’ve been living here in England now, I’ve been in the village for the past thirty years and I know you’ve been here longer than me.’
He didn’t answer.
‘Can you hear me Erik? I said, when did you move here?’
‘I told you before, 1945.’ His voice was clipped.
‘Why was that then?’
He could tell she’d stopped working because the plastic covers on her shoes were no longer rustling on the Lino.
‘I’d rather not speak of it – it was a very difficult time.’
‘Didn’t you escape with a group of Jewish refugees?’
Erik could feel the collar on his shirt tighten – he loosened his tie.
Marion sprayed more bleach on the work surface. ‘But surely, when the war was over you had no need to leave.’
So many questions.
She popped her head around the door. ‘I said, surely after the war, you could have stayed – in Germany I mean.’
‘It wasn’t safe for me – for any of us – besides, there were too many painful memories – anyway haven’t you got work to do?’ Erik slowly pulled himself up from his chair and shuffled past her, forgetting to swap over his slippers.
‘I’m just interested love – have you never talked about it to anyone? How about the cleaners you had before me?’
He winced as an image seeped into his consciousness – he tried to shake it from his mind. The blood – it had taken him days to remove it all.’
‘I don’t mean to pry – just curious, that’s all.’
Erik knew there had been questions about him circulating the village from time to time -experience had told him to keep his head down and wait for them to pass.
‘It just makes you think, though doesn’t it? I expect it’s all that refugee stuff in Hungary that’s on the news – weren’t you in Hungary for a time?’
Ebersark felt a tightening in his gut – he opened his top button. ‘I think I need to go for my walk in the garden now.’ He tried to side-step her as she leaned against the door frame.
‘Our Jack said the Germans were luring the poor devils in to Germany to do away with them all – like they did during the war. Welcoming them into secure housing areas – offering them work and “special shower facilities”, if you know what I mean.’
Erik’s chest tightened. A wave of heavy disappointment washed over him and he flinched at the aching pain which seared down his arm. The doors opened to a box of emotions and the litter spilt and merged, until confusion blurred his vision.
He’d thought Marion was different from the others – passing pleasantries, but not wanting to pry. He felt cheated – she’d led him to believe she wasn’t like the rest.
Putting on his coat and scarf, he grabbed his stick from the umbrella stand, to steady himself and carefully stepped out through the back door.
When he was sure that Marion had gone upstairs, he opened the lock to his shed and took a cloth covered object from the drawer. It was just where he’d left it – his father had given it to him in 1939, just before he had been taken away. Lifting it to his nose he inhaled the linseed oil used to polish the wooden handle, and tilted the axe-blade until the sunlight refracted a beam onto the shed door.
It had felt daring, smuggling it into England, and yet concealing it had been easy. No one had questioned him. Stories of the plight of the Jews had filtered into the homes of every family, meaning the passage through the document stations had been simple and remarkably unscrutinised.
Sliding his coat from his shoulders, he took a long breath, before removing his shirt, tie and trousers; folding them carefully, he placed them onto a wooden chair. Reaching to the top shelf of a storage unit, he pulled down a large parcel wrapped with brown paper and tied with string.
Carefully opening the package, he removed its contents – a matching shirt and trousers made of course material. He ran his fingers over the embedded stains and holes; stroking them like they were made of the finest silk; tracing his thumb along the defined blue and grey stripes.
The feel of the fabric made him retch momentarily as it scratched against his chest, just as it had when he removed it from the wretched old man who had pleaded for his help, and with eyes tightly closed he fastened each familiar button and knotted the frayed cord on the trousers.
With the axe nested in the crook of his arm, he walked barefoot back into his kitchen – the smell of bleach burning his nostrils – he took a moment to enjoy its’ scent.
Heavy footsteps on aging wood and the gentle hum of her singing from the bathroom above, located where she was. She would be on her knees, bending over the bath – her back turned away from the door. One swift blow to the back of the head would be all that was needed.
Lifting the wooden handle high, with an adrenalin filled strength of a much younger man, he swung the axe down. The crack of bone sliced through the sound of running water, as the tap filled the bath – her blood, like a crimson waterfall, diluting in the clear liquid.