BRENDA HAS THE PATIENCE TO ENDURE IT by Joanne Leonard (1st place Jul19)

Brenda pulls the mop from side to side across the kitchenette floor, slapping it to the
kickboards on either side. It’s too wet, and she curses herself for not wringing it out enough in the first place, because now the floor won’t dry in time so she’ll have to give it another once over.

‘Morning, Brenda,’ says a voice behind her.

‘Morning, Malcolm,’ says Brenda. She stamps down on the foot pedal of the wringer,
leaning in to the mop handle to get as much water out as she can.

‘You ok this morning?’ Malcolm asks, barely pausing in his stride.

She smiles, keeping her teeth hidden. ‘Aye. You?’

‘Couldn’t be better,’ he says, and he walks off down the open plan into his office.

Brenda looks at her watch. He’s early, but not much, and she’s still got the toilets to
do. She’ll have to get a move on.

By nine o’clock she’s back at home, which is empty now. Her niece, Kelly, is staying
with her since she fell out with her parents again, this time about paying board. As Brenda said to her brother, ‘I can’t see her on the streets, not when I’ve got that room spare now.’ And because he couldn’t say anything about that without opening up a can of worms, Mark just grunted back that his daughter was a ‘bloody princess’. Brenda did not say out loud, ‘well it was you two who made her one’ because they’ve fallen out about it before, and Brenda cannot take Mark’s Denise braying on her door and shouting obscenities through the letterbox again. Kelly hands over eighty pounds a week, regular on a Thursday, and she’s never yet left her breakfast bowl unwashed for Brenda to deal with when she comes in.

Out of habit, Brenda takes the dishcloth and wipes over the spotless surfaces anyway.

She makes a cup of coffee, two sugars, and sits down on the couch to watch a bit of
telly. It’s an hour to This Morning, so she flicks through the channels all the way up and all the way down. She eats a couple of biscuits. She pauses at a documentary about tigers for ten minutes. It tells her tigers are solitary creatures, and that when the cubs are old enough they will leave their mother and never see her again. She watches the cubs play, and they are just like kittens, rolling and gently chewing each others’ ears. Their cat had had kittens when Brenda was nine, and she’d looked after them all summer, but after the holidays Brenda’s mam had started to give them all away. She said they were big enough, but they still looked tiny to Brenda.

After an hour of This Morning (hair extensions, simple pasta suppers, living alone in
your sixties) she gets back into her shoes and heads off to the pub. It’s good to have
something in the middle of the day.

“Oh hiya Bren,” says Susan, from her spot behind the bar, “I forgot you were
covering for Elaine. Any chance you could stay on an extra hour? Only we’ve got a big group from Petersons in.”

“Yeah,” says Brenda. “Can do.” In her head she begins to recalculate her time off in
between, and whether she’ll have time enough to go home again before she’s due at the

It’s hot in the kitchen. Dave the chef is already shouting at whichever poor kid has
been desperate enough to take the job as his assistant. She can’t see who it is because they’re in the walk in fridge and Dave is filling the doorway, threatening to shut them in there.

“All right, Dave,” she calls, as she walks past to the sink in the corner.

Dave glances round at her. “Oh hiya Brenda. Where’s Elaine? You fillin’ in?”

“She’s in the Canaries.”

“Oh aye,” says Dave nodding. Then he turns back to the fridge, and starts shouting

The shift goes quite quick. Having the big table in as well as all the regulars means there’s plenty to do: big steel pans, oven trays, nearly fifty plates all told, all the cutlery. It’s a bit like those meditations Kelly was going on about, some app she’s got on her phone, where you think about nothing for ten minutes and it calms you right down. She thinks of nothing for about five hours, filling and emptying and refilling the enormous sink, taking small pleasure in making enormous mountains of soap bubbles. At twenty past four she swings out back through the pub and decides she’ll just pop to the Spar to get a few bits for tea, because there’s not much point in trying to get home and get out again.

Caroline is on the till and asks Brenda how she’s doing.

“Fine,” says Brenda. “How’s your Peter?”

“Lazy gobshite hasn’t lifted a finger to look for work this week,” says Caroline. “Just lies on the couch eating crisps and playing that stupid game. I’m getting a sore foot from kicking him up the arse but it does nowt. Bloody teenagers, eh?”

“Aye well,” says Brenda, packing her bags.

“Ee I shouldn’t be moaning at you,” Caroline says, going a bit pink. She briskly changes the subject. “Your Kelly still at yours? I saw Denise down the town and she said she was in trouble?”

“She’s no bother,” says Brenda. “Nice to have the company.”

“Of course,” says Caroline, eyes down, as she hands over the change.

She’s at the podiatrist’s fifteen minutes early, and Diane, the receptionist, lets her make a cup of tea while they both wait for the last appointment to finish. When his client is gone Mr Campbell pops his head round the door and asks if she can clean under the chairs in the waiting room, because it’s been a while. She says it’s no problem, and he tells her to finish her tea before she starts, no rush.

Once they’re gone she unlocks the cupboard in the hallway where they keep the hoover and the mop, and the cleaning stuff. She starts, as she always does, in the treatment room, and works her way back to the door. In the toilet she finds a pair of abandoned navy socks, which she shoves straight into the rubbish. It’s not the first pair she’s found in there. She supposes they come in with a clean pair to put on, the way you try and clean your teeth right before the dentist, but it doesn’t explain why they leave the old ones on the floor.

In the waiting room she pulls out all the chairs into the middle of the room, hoovers all the way around the edge, and then does the middle once they’re put right again. She’ll ask him about the extra fifteen minutes at the end of the week. He’ll be all right about it. She puts everything away, tugs the cupboard door to make sure it’s locked and heads back into the waiting room.

She turns all the lights off, and sits down in the receptionist’s chair. Diane always keeps tissues on her desk. Brenda takes out her phone and goes into her videos, to find the one where Sam was drunk in the kitchen, trying to fry an egg.

She sees him ricochet off the kitchen wall into the cupboards, frying pan in hand.

She hears her own voice, bright with laughter, saying, “you’ll wreck my kitchen, ya daft bugger!”

She sees him drop an egg straight onto the floor, and fall over when he tries to clean it with kitchen paper.

She sees his face looking up into hers, sees him notice the phone. Watches him pointing at her, saying “hey mam, you better not be filming this, like”, and then, “you’ll delete it, won’t you, mam?”

Brenda takes her tissues with her when she goes. It’s nearly eight o’clock when she gets in, because she walked the long way round, where the streets are better lit. As she pulls the front door shut she can hear the sound of the telly from the front room, and her neice calls out, “Hiya, Aunty Bren!”

She unzips her coat, and takes a litle breath, before she answers. “Hiya, pet.”