by Fiona Glass
She’s in again today. That Bloody Awful Woman from Hell. The one who comes in every week, has a fishy foot spa and never pays. The one who’s dragging my brand new business to an early grave. It’s only been going a couple of months; before that I ran a party shop until people stopped buying luxuries. But the man who sold me the fish said spas were all the rage. “Everyone wants nice feet – you’ll never lose money on your initial return.”
He was right at first. The fish were living jewels, darting and sparkling in their tank. People stopped to watch, and once they’d stopped they ventured through the door. It was a whole lot better than selling balloons.
But the salesman hadn’t reckoned with the Woman from Hell. She looks like a headmistress from a particularly snooty school. Her eyebrows are plucked into neat little arches that make her look surprised, and her mouth’s as sour as a lemonade taster’s must be. Every week she marches in, and every week she’s got a different excuse. The first time it was Something in The Tank. “Look, right there,” she screeched, pointing at a speck of dust. “It’s floating. Eeeugh. I’ve just had my feet in there.”
She threatened all sorts – health and safety, trading standards, the wrath of God. I smiled and thanked her for pointing it out, and let her off the bill. She stalked out of the shop with her nose in the air and I didn’t expect her back.
The next week she came in again, and my heart sank. This time it was cleanliness. She waited until she’d had her spa, then bellowed, “How clean is this tank? How many people have had their feet in here? How often do you clean the fish?”
In vain I tried to explain that the fish clear up after themselves. It’s what they’re there for, after all – they live on dead and decaying flesh, and eat anything nasty that might get left behind. But she didn’t want to know.
I should have said, “You weren’t so bothered about hygiene when you put your feet in the tank.” But I had a shop full of customers; some were getting fidgety and two had already left. So I smiled again and let her off the bill, and off she marched with a grim, triumphant look.
The next week she was back again and I watched in disbelief as she peeled off socks and shoes.
“Are you sure, Madam?” I bleated but she waved my protest aside. It was only when her fifteen minutes were up that she produced a newspaper and brandished it in my face.
“And what do you say to this?” she said.
With clammy hands I took the paper and read. ‘FISHY VIRUS LEAVES PUBLIC REELING’ said the headline in letters that looked three feet tall. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t even think. Surely my busy little fish weren’t giving the customers some awful disease? I tried to hide the paper beneath the counter-top but someone saw and I heard the whispers go round.
“Did you see that?” “That’s the last spa I ever have.” “Let’s go for a coffee instead.”
I was so flustered I let her go without a word – and, of course, without paying again.
Since then she’s been back every week. I’ve lost count of the excuses; I’ve lost count of the customers she’s put off. My shop’s empty half the time and she’s the best customer I’ve got.
I tried asking once why she’s doing this but she just sniffed and said it was obvious. But it’s not obvious to me. Is she some kind of marine life-form campaigner who’s worried about cruelty to foot-spa fish? Or is she just a Bloody Awful Woman who wants everything in life for free?
Well, today I’ve had enough. I’ve done something terrible, but nobody could blame me after what she’s put me through. She takes off her shoes and socks and sits down by the tank. She doesn’t spot anything different, but I keep watch. I watch as she slips both feet in amongst the fish. As the water froths and boils. As the fish seethe and the tank turns red from the inside out.
The woman screams. Will she remove her feet before the fish can finish their work? Will she have ten toes or two? At least she’s paying for all the times she hasn’t paid.
I’ve covered my tracks well. The pet shop was miles away, I paid with cash and didn’t leave a name. “Why, no, officer,” I say later, across the interview room desk. “Nobody has access to that tank except me. I can’t think how anyone could have put piranhas in there.”
Fiona Glass currently hurtles between Birmingham and the Lake District so often it makes her head spin, which might explain the breathless style of her latest writing. You can catch up with her online here, but you’ll have to be quick.