Harold pulled out a bowl for his morning cereal. The edge felt lumpy. “This bowl is dirty,” he said, inspecting the crusty smear.
Elaine’s blood pressure started to climb. “That’s from the bottom of the stack,” she said loudly, her eyes darting to the corners of the room. “That’s from when we were using the dishwasher.” She took the bowl from him. “See it’s all caked on.” She shook it in front of his eyes. “Dishwasher!” She speared her husband with a frantic look. “Remember?”
“Ooohh.” Harold nodded conspiratorially. “You’re right. I see that now. It was the dishwasher. Definitely.”
She gritted her teeth, afraid to say another word. Ever since her Great-aunt Agatha’s things had arrived from Scotland, her life had been turned upside down. The big box had been full of fusty old clothes, a tarnished silver tea service and a scattering of bread crumbs. She had not realized that a wee Brownie had been shipped along with her Great-aunt’s few possessions.
It was a wonder finding the apartment sparkling when she woke the next morning. Clean dishes in the cabinets, clean clothes in the closets, the carpets looked brand new. She was baffled but delighted. At first she cross-examined Harold. Had he brought in a maid? Hell, it had to have been a whole crew. That was crazy. They really couldn’t afford anything like that.
But every morning after, she woke to an immaculate home. Then she scrutinized the cryptic note from the executor about accepting the burdens of one’s heritage. A phrase struck a chord. She did a little research.
Her mother had always said Aunt Agatha was fey. She had been a constant source of family gossip over the years. And she told wonderful stories of ghosts, banshees and myriad creatures unseen by man. Elaine had never suspected that any of the stories had an ounce of truth.
Despite the executor’s warning, it all seemed like a gift from the Celtic gods, not a burden. No matter how badly it was trashed the day before, come morning she found everything clean and orderly. It made her feel quite reckless. She left pots on the stove. She let clothes lie where they fell. She even left towels on the bathroom floor. In the dark of the night, while she slept, the Brownie worked. All that was required of her was an offering of bread and milk. So she left him a demitasse cup of half-and-half and a buttered dinner roll to show her immense appreciation.
Then one day Harold mentioned a stain on his shirt that hadn’t come out. The next morning the closets were empty and shredded clothing covered the floor in every room. Apparently, Brownies could not abide criticism. Their capacity for destruction was more than equal to their domestic abilities.
“Dishwasher,” Harold repeated for good measure. “I’m so glad we’re not using it any more.”
Elaine nodded wearily. She’d never really liked this china pattern anyway.
Alice Sabo writes in Asheville, North Carolina.