“He’s been fed; he shouldn’t wake up.” Mrs Gardner clipped on her ear-rings. Her husband, impatient at the door, shook his head.
“If he wakes up, he wakes up. Jenny doesn’t mind. Do you, Jenny?”
Jenny shook her head rapidly and said of course not.
“We’re paying her to mind,” Mrs Gardner pointed out archly. She snatched up her clutch purse and, to her husband’s delight, joined him in the doorway.
“The number’s on the pad,” she nodded towards the telephone table in the hall, “and you must help yourself to anything you find in the refrigerator.”
“Thanks,” Jenny smiled.
“Darling, we’ll lose the table if we don’t get a wiggle on,” Mr Gardner tapped his wristwatch. He sent a long-suffering roll of his eyes in Jenny’s direction.
“Have a lovely time!” Jenny smiled. She stood still, waiting to hear their car drive off. Then she was straight on the phone to her boyfriend. “Dennis, they’ve gone. Thought they’d never leave. The wife’s a right fusspot. You coming over?”
The doorbell rang.
“Already here,” said Dennis. He was grinning on the doorstep when she opened the door. Jenny grabbed the front of his jersey and pulled him inside before any nosey neighbour could spot him.
“No booze!” Dennis wailed, opening and closing every cupboard door he came across. “Religious sort, are they?”
Jenny wrinkled her nose.
“I don’t think so,” she decided. “They seem nice enough. Bit weird. Pale. Do them good to get out.”
“There’s plenty of food though,” Dennis had made his way to the fridge. “If you like meat, that is. I’ll let you make me a sandwich. After…you know.”
“You’re a pig,” Jenny scowled, but she let him pull her towards her for a kiss.
A shuffling sound from overhead made them both look at the kitchen ceiling.
“Oh no,” Jenny sighed. “Sounds like he’s awake.”
“The baby, you idiot. You know, the one I’m here to look after.”
The shuffling sound came again.
“What’s he doing up there, an Egyptian sand dance?”
“He’s a baby, you idiot. He won’t be able to get out of his cot.”
“Stop calling me idiot or I’ll –“ Dennis’s threat was curtailed by the shuffling sound, louder this time. “What the hell is that?”
“I don’t know, do I?” Jenny tried to pull Dennis back into a clinch. “I haven’t been up there yet.”
“They shouldn’t give you a penny,” Dennis teased. “That’s whatsit, that is: dereliction of duty.”
“Well, he’s not exactly screaming the place down, is he? He must be all right. These old places are full of strange noises. Now,” Jenny reached for Dennis’s belt buckle, “what about you earning that sandwich?”
But Dennis was too distracted. He kept his eyes on the ceiling, listening for the shuffling sound.
“Ssh!” he pushed her away. Jenny was about to tell him he could piss the hell off when the shuffling sound came once more, accompanied this time with a steady thump-thump. The light fixture over their heads began to shudder.
“What the f…” Dennis’s voice trailed off. The loudest thump of all made them both jump. “There’s someone up there! Someone’s in the house.”
“Don’t be silly, Dennis. You’re scaring me.”
“There is! That’s not a baby! I’m going to see. You should think about calling the police.” He slapped his mobile phone into her hand and left her alone.
The house was in silence. Jenny watched the ceiling. The light fixture was still. Her fingers were tight around Dennis’s phone.
Suddenly, the phone began to buzz in her fist. The screen lit up with an incoming text message.
“Hey, Dennis. Why don’t you ditch that frigid little bitch and come back here? You know I’ll treat you right xxx”
The text was from someone called Sharon. Jenny shook with rage. Dennis had sworn he was finished with that – that – slut!
The thumping and the shuffling started up again, accompanied this time by Dennis’s screams. Jenny listened until everything was silent again.
A couple of hours later, Mr and Mrs Gardner returned, in a good mood from their evening out. They seemed surprised to find Jenny on their sofa, flicking through a magazine.
“All quiet on the Western front, eh?” said Mr Gardner, pulling banknotes from his wallet.
“Was he any trouble?” Mrs Gardner nodded at the ceiling.
“Oh no,” Jenny smiled, putting her coat on. “He only stirred the once but I gave him a snack.”