It started with the toad.
Mary came home one day, and saw its bulbous golden bottom pointing towards her as she opened the door. It had red stones for eyes, which followed her beadily every time she walked through the hallway. Strange, she thought to herself, when she examined it one day. It’s only got three legs.
The toad appeared soon after Grace arrived, and so it seemed logical that the two events were linked. Mary and John were thrilled to hire their first housekeeper. They had the money to spare, and John was expecting a promotion at work shortly.
Grace walked through the door in a flurry of colourful skirts and scarves. “What a beautiful house!” was her first comment. “So you’re expecting a promotion, John? Wonderful! What will my duties be? Where will I be sleeping?” By the time the interview was finished, Mary realised that she’d hardly asked Grace anything. But she seemed so capable, that a month later, she breezed into the house and took charge.
“That toad’s watching me,” Mary told her husband. “Horrible thing. What does she see in it?”
“Best not to say anything,” John advised. “She’s obviously attached to it.”
Grace had other odd quirks. She was obsessed with opening windows, even though it was chilly outside. John took to pointedly moving into a different room each time a window was opened, but Grace carried on oblivious, singing as she worked.
The living room chairs started moving about. The sofa moved away from the wall, and was facing an odd direction. When Grace had breezed out to her weekly bingo game, John moved the chairs back, but they resumed their wanderings the next day.
“I looked up that toad on the internet,” John told Mary, over breakfast. “It’s a Feng Shui ‘wealth charm’, of all things, meant to bring you money and success. I think the rest of it is all part of the same thing.”
“Perhaps we should say something …?” Mary said to John. “But, no, I suppose it’d just be awkward.”
Windchimes appeared in the hall. Mary kept finding mirrors propped up against the wall.
“We need to talk to her,” said John.
The conversation did not go well.
“Haven’t you noticed the changes?” Grace cried. “The air is fresher, the mood of the house is so happy, so positive!”
The normally placid John became animated when fighting the cause of science, and tried to educate Grace on the foolishness of her superstitious ways. “How can a toad bring us wealth?” he asked. “The only honest way to wealth is by working hard!”
Grace had no science for her cause, but recited tale after tale of her many friends, and how the same cleansing she was performing in this house had brought them what they desired. The discussion grew more lively. The neighbours banged on the walls. Neither side would compromise their philosophy, and they carried on after Mary gave up and went to bed.
“I need to leave,” Grace told Mary the next day, tears still leaking from her eyes. Her pink flowery suitcase was already sat in the hall.
“I’m so sorry,” Mary replied, chastised, “we didn’t mean to upset you. Of course the toad can stay.”
“No, no,” Grace told her. “It’s all the negative energy. I’m sure you understand.”
Grace left. The couple advertised for another housekeeper.
A week later, Mary was elbow deep in the washing up when John arrived home. “Grace is in the newspaper,” he told her. “She won some money.” He offered her the paper.
“I’ve got wet hands,” complained Mary, shaking her hands to get rid of the suds.
Once Mary had dried her hands, she read the article. “Largest ever UK bingo win!” the headline claimed.
“£300,000 — it’s a nice sum of money,” John said.
“How fabulous for her,” said Mary. “She won’t be housekeeping any more.”
The following day, John’s news wasn’t as pleasant. There was no promotion.
“Company cutbacks,” he told her, his eyes focused down onto his newspaper, avoiding Mary’s sympathetic looks.
Soon afterwards, another golden toad surreptitiously appeared on the hall table. Neither of them ever mentioned it. They weren’t superstitious, after all. But the toad stayed there anyway.
Rachel J Bailey lives in Leeds, UK, in a 19th century cottage with two cats. She’s previously worked professionally as a radio commercial copywriter, but now prefers to write fiction without a sales message. She has stories due to be published in two anthologies in late 2010: Daily Flash 2011 and Patented DNA from Pill Hill Press.