By Rachel H Grant
Anna gently stroked the stairwell banner. It was smooth as a beach stone, but beauty breathed in its contours, a magic piece of art. She sighed. It was not an easy – or indeed a wealthy – life as a cleaner in 1890. Despite this, she loved her job; the art gallery was her home, every sweep of her brush like caring for her own baby.
She collected her mop and bucket and, a devoted smile on her young yet lined face, began to clean in earnest. There was not much she was good at in this world, but to her cleaning was an art. Her auburn locks fell over her face as she worked, the fixed look of a religious disciple in her eyes.
To her, the world stopped as she cleaned. Dust was doomed, as her mop weaved its magic.
Jenna smiled as she walked to work, her glasses slipping down her nose as if they were laughing too. A job as librarian at the newly renovated Aberdeen Art Gallery, proud to be over 130 years old. Modernity blended with history, as the past embraced the promise of the future.
The Art Gallery Library was perfection in architectural prose. A secret corner of the gallery, housing countless art books within its newly created shelves.
According to the gallery cleaner Brenda, it also housed a ghost. A friendly ghost who moved her mop bucket and left a scent of rose petals in her wake.
Jenna grinned. She believed no such story. The cleaner simply had an imagination that perhaps made her mundane job more interesting – good for her!
As she entered the library, she was surprised to see a book on the counter. Strange, she was sure she had left the library tidy last night. Without another thought, she shelved the errant tome.
Anna floated through the night library. This was her home now. She did not understand how she got here, memories were like leaves in the wind in her head. At some level, she understood that she was a ghost. But she did not mind. There was nowhere she would rather be than the art gallery which had been her life, its very bricks living in her soul.
Anna smiled. So many books to read. But she had all the time she needed. She would read every one.
Jenna found another book just lying around – this time on the floor – when she opened the Library the next day. She sighed. She better not mention this to the cleaner, it would just feed her ghost theory.
A draft suddenly played with her hair. She looked round, but there was nothing there. Pushing her glasses back up her nose, she thought no more of it and concentrated on the day ahead.
Anna put down the book. She had read enough. What had suddenly intrigued her, was the notepad left on a desk by a young teenager, tired of his homework. She fingered it greedily. An idea ignited, her imagination afire. She fondled the biro pen on top of the notepad, and donned an invisible smile.
It was time to do more than read, it was time to kindle her knowledge and let it fly.
Her silent smile widened.
Jenna picked up a notepad left in the library, and put it behind the library desk in case anyone came to claim it. The next day, however, the notepad was back on a table. She frowned. Again, she picked it up and placed it behind the counter.
Dismissing the incident, she prepared for her day.
Anna wrote and wrote, her smile as bright as gold. She poured her love of the art gallery in to every page, as she described her 1890 life as the luckiest cleaner in the world.
And still she wrote, long hours each night, impossible deadlines of now, now, now! screaming in her head.
Finally, the story was finished. She placed the pen on top of the notebook, and silently laughed. She had really done it. She had written a novel!
But who would ever read it?
Jenna scowled as she found the notepad back on the table. Sighing, she lifted it up. As she did so, it fell open. There were pages and pages of old-fashioned handwriting.
Intrigued, Jenna sat down and began to read. It was a story of the art gallery a century ago, and the life and loves of a cleaner who worked there. It took Jenna the whole day, but she read it all.
At the end she cried:
“Anna placed her mop in its bucket one last time. Age had shrunk her face, and aches crept up her legs. She had given her life to the gallery. And now she may never leave. Poetry pulsated in her heart as she looked around one last time. It had been a life worth living.”
Anna flew around the library. But something was different. She felt …. Free.
Jenna approached agent after agent. Finally, “Art Gallery: The Life of a Nineteenth Century Cleaner” by Anonymous was published. It did not in any way become a bestseller, but it sold thousands within the Aberdeen area.
Jenna smiled. She felt free, like an important task was lifted from her shoulders.
Anna flew round the library one last time. It was time to go. A door of light opened before her, and quietly she crept through. She said goodbye to the art gallery, and did not look back.
The library grew quiet in the night calm, as the art gallery slept. Tomorrow, a new day would dawn.