The Relief

Excerpt

(THE FLUSH HAS BEEN FREQUENTLY PULLED. NOW THERE’S THE SOUND OF SCRABBLING)

CHARMAINE:

What on earth’s going on in there Mabel? Sounds like mice.

MABEL:

You’d never think there was a water shortage, would you? It’s because it’s free. (NODS AT THATCHER’S PHOTOGRAPH) She knows about that. Thirty five years ago things were different. Before you got all this socialism. All this nationalisation and public spending. They ought to pay for the amount of time they spend in there. Five p. a minute. That’d hurry things up. We wouldn’t have to borrow money off the Germans then. (THE OLD SOUL LEAVES WITHOUT WASHING) Isn’t that dirty. (HANDS CHARMAINE A CLOTH AND AEROSOL SPRAY) Right. In you go again.

CHARMAINE:

O no! Not again! (DASHES IN THEN SCREECHES) She’s been eating in here. There’s leftovers everywhere. And all the paper’s gone. O Mabel! Doesn’t it turn you up?

MABEL:

You haven’t seen anything yet Charmaine. (FILLS BUCKET, GETS DISINFECTANT AND MOPS) It’s a swab out job this one. There’ll be cockroaches before you can say ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. And I’m not having people catching things off my seats. Right. Now take up your pail.

CHARMAINE:

O it really does smell like a public convenience down here Mabel.

MABEL:

(GIVING HER A LOOK) I’m beginning to wonder if you’re cut out for this job Charmaine.

CHARMAINE:

So am I.

MABEL:

(IMPATIENT) Take up your mop. (CHARMAINE DOES THIS) Now, what I always do is imagine I’m on a punt.

CHARMAINE:

You need to with all this water.

MABEL:

Hold your mop like it’s a punt pole. Now, get your rhythm right. In. Out. In. Out. Get it? Say it, just to get your rhythm up. In out, in out. (A WOMAN WASHES HER HANDS, GIVES THEM BOTH A WORRIED LOOK AND HURRIES OUT)

CHARMAINE:

(RELUCTANT) In out in out in out in out.

MABEL:

Move. Move from your shoulders. Like you was on the Thames in May.

CHARMAINE:

Look at that. A chicken bone. What has she been doing?

MABEL:

Don’t pick it up. You don’t know where it’s been. I’ll get me tongs. You can’t be too fastidious in this job Charmaine. You don’t want to end up down the clinic.

(GWI HURRIES INTO A CUBICLE. HE IS WEARING A FROCK, WIG AND MEN’S SHOES)

CHARMAINE:

Here, did you see that?

MABEL:

(RETURNING) What?

CHARMAINE:

A pair of very hairy legs just went in there.

MABEL:

Well?

CHARMAINE:

It was never a woman with those feet and legs.

MABEL:

You can’t tell the difference these days.

CHARMAINE:

I can thank you very much.

MABEL:

You wait till you’ve been here a month.

CHARMAINE:

I might not know much Mabel, but I know a man’s leg when I see one and I always shall.

MABEL:

You’ve got men on the brain Charmaine.

CHARMAINE:

I’ll swear that was a feller.

MABEL:

Charmaine I don’t want to hear that word from you again. I’ve had everything down here – drug addicts, perverts, unmarried mothers, but I’ve not had a man and I won’t have – not in my lifetime and not in a thousand years. A lady just went in there with big feet and that’s the end of it. And look over there while you’re gossiping.

(FROM UNDER A DOOR COMES A STREAM OF WATER)

CHARMAINE:

O no! What’s going on in there?

MABEL:

That’s your ballcock needs adjusting. Do you know about ballcocks Charmaine?

CHARMAINE:

(COY) I think so.

MABEL:

(SHOUTS) Will number four flush please. You’re leaking. (NO RESPONSE. SHE BANGS ON THE DOOR) Will you pull the flush please madam. (THE FLUSH IS PULLED) That’s better. Now bring your mop over here. (CHARMAINE MOPS UP) Go under the door. Right in. Go on.

CHARMAINE:

I can’t. There’s a client.

MABEL:

Yes you can. Your mop’ll go under.

CHARMAINE:

There’s someone in there Mabel.

MABEL:

Go on.

CHARMAINE:

(PUSHES HER MOP UNDER THE DOOR. THE OCCUPANT SCREAMS) I think that’s officious.

MABEL:

That’s the way.

CHARMAINE:

I think that’s wrong.

MABEL:

You can’t be too clean too quick in this job Charmaine.

CHARMAINE:

It’s an invasion of privacy.

MABEL:

Anyway she was probably fiddling with the cistern.

CHARMAINE:

Why should she do that?

MABEL:

People do funny things in toilets. All their quirks come out. I tell you, work down here long enough and you begin to wonder what being normal means.

CHARMAINE:

I’m going to come over queer in a minute.

MABEL:

Don’t say that love.

CHARMAINE:

It’s all the smells.

MABEL:

You get used to them.

CHARMAINE:

I don’t want to get used to them.

MABEL:

I don’t even notice any more. In fact it smells funny to me when I go outside.

CHARMAINE:

I think I’m getting a migraine.