The job at the new store suited her. The customers; sometimes offbeat, in clothes snatched from the bins outside the local op shop, hair dyed colours of the rainbow, feet bare, laughing and chatting through the aisles, ignoring her and everyone else; to the more well shod who snapped their fingers for attention, looking passed her, through her, never seeing her. The staff who came and went, chewing gum, staring unsmiling at the customers as they handed them their change and receipts, mocking them over coffee later. “Next,” called in bored, drawn out tones. They gossiped, shared life stories, true and false. But never with her. They didn’t ask about her life. They didn’t see her. All that suited her.
She did her job well, but no one there could say they saw her do it; or could truly describe her if asked. In fact they often appeared surprised to see her, as though wondering who she was and what she was doing there. And that suited her too.
At home her parents tried to make up for her being an only child, for the stillborn death of her twin. They were there. All the time. Over breakfast her mother gushed, plying her with pancakes, toast, cereal, eggs; anything that might make her happy. When she came home, her mother asked whom she met, were they nice, what she wanted to do, what she wanted for dinner. What she wanted she couldn’t express; her need for escape, to breathe on her own. But she didn’t earn enough to move out. She could earn more but that would mean a job where people noticed her.
Always top of her classes at school, her parents had been sure she would get a good job, find someone suitable and leave home for exotic places. Like they wanted to do. Her mother was tired; she worried, kept the house spotless in case her only child brought someone, anyone, home, she baked and made new curtains and cushions. Over time her father had forgotten how to talk to her. He would smile at her, she would smile back, but as she never started a conversation he kept his nose in the newspaper or his eyes glued to the TV. Secretly, she thought he was happier that way.
Her chance came when she offered to inventory the previous business’s redundant stock. The manager complained it was filling most of the mezzanine. It wasn’t part of her job but no one wanted to do it and she could be alone, no gossip, no snide remarks. She began to sort the old stock, taking her time. It would most likely be written off and dumped anyway. Such a waste. One morning the manager came across her as she worked on a large dusty box of cupboard handles. He looked surprised to see her, then, hesitating, he reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys, some so worn as to be useless. He handed them to her.
“See if you can find out what these open. Otherwise throw them out.” He took in her long stringy ponytail and large grey eyes, the dusty blue apron which covered her skinny body almost to her ankles. “What did you say your name was?”
“Sandra,” she lied.
“Right. Doing a good job there Sandy.”
She knew he wouldn’t have a clue if she was doing a good job or not; neither would he remember her name. She weighed the keys in her hand before putting them into her apron pocket. She would finish the handles first and then explore.
An old building, it had been altered many times to accommodate each new business which took it over, poking it and prodding it into shape for its new purpose. Located on a main road it was close to old suburbs, where new houses were beginning to replace post world war vintage homes, proudly built by returned Australian soldiers and new Australians; refugees from a torn Europe. A new generation of migrants saw the beauty in the old and preferred to renovate. When this business took over the building they rushed to cover the old dated interior with a plastic artificial newness. She didn’t like what they had done, but it meant a job where she could be herself; she could be invisible.
Later, examining the keys, she realised most were for cupboards or padlocks and she spent the morning trying them with no luck. One key stood out from the rest. It was for an old mortice lock, the kind common to older houses but rarely used any more. She didn’t remember seeing a lock like it in the store, but took it from the bunch of keys and put it in her pocket. The rest she threw in the bin.
One last corner of the mezzanine remained to be sorted and she hoped to make it last as long as possible. Boxes were piled high and deep and she began to move them, check the contents and organise them into like piles before she listed them.
Staff rarely came up here, but she still looked behind her to make sure no one saw her try the old key in the lock of the door she found behind the last row of boxes. Her heart beat faster as it worked in the lock without a sound. The door opened into old janitor’s quarters, long forgotten, tiny, but perfect in her eyes.
No one noticed the slightly bulging bags she brought to work each day for the next week or so. No one noticed two pillows had disappeared from the bedding department, a bedside lamp from the lighting department, or books, which reappeared a few days later in the book department.
Her parents were happy she finally had a life, blindly choosing to believe her stories of new friends. They were relieved at her messages that she was staying over at a friend’s house, was going away for the weekend with another one, had been invited to stay for holidays for weeks at a time. They were so relieved in fact, they themselves escaped on an around Australia trip, happy in the knowledge their daughter was at last independent of them, only leaving her a vague request to look after the garden.
No one noticed a difference in her, that she might hum as she worked, even smile occasionally. She, however, noticed a lot, saw a lot, and kept it to herself. She saw how Mandy managed to pocket half the refunds she would do for a friend, and how the Manager liked to take his secretary into his office and lock the door over lunch. After the store was closed she saw the cleaners through a vent above the tearoom. She saw them spit into the sugar bowls; she saw them wipe the large table and then take it in turns to shag the newest foreign recruit on the shiny surface, omitting to wipe it again when they were done. She saw a high turnover of female cleaners in a short space of time. She saw a new young cleaner strangled in a frenzy on the tearoom table as she tried to fight off the advances of one of the male cleaners. She saw her body stuffed into garbage bags, taken away. She saw the table wasn’t cleaned.
She waited for the Police to start investigating. After a week nothing was said, there was nothing in the papers. But she knew what she had seen and she knew the girl was dead. The two cleaners began to discuss it as they worked. Growing bolder, they laughed about it, bragging that they got away with it; that maybe it was time to get another girl to help them.
The company she worked for was proud of its diversity and that it was the fastest growing retail business in Australia. Their shelves boasted everything from bedroom decor to hardware to car products. And this is where she found the antifreeze.
“I dunno mate, doesn’t smell right, like it’s gone off or something.”
“Who cares? Probably why it’s still in the fridge. I’m not fussy.” Kev grabbed the open wine bottle from the other cleaner. “Doc reckons my liver and kidneys are all shot anyway, might as well go out with a bang.” He swigged the half bottle of liquid and wiped his mouth on his shirt. “Tasted worse,” he grinned and tossed the bottle into the bin, where it shattered. “Well, let’s get on, might make the pub before it closes tonight.”
Oddly she felt no satisfaction when she heard about Kev, the cleaner. In a deathbed confession, he implicated his co-worker in the murder, and the police began to investigate. No one noticed the slightly bulging bags as she left work each day for the next week or so. In fact no one really noticed her at all. And it suited her that way.