Jacqueline lived with her mother in a terraced house in the city.
“Take this old cow creamer to the antiques market,” said Jacqueline’s mother one day. “We need the money and we don’t need an old cow creamer.”
Jacqueline wrapped the cow creamer in tissue paper and left the house. Constantin was painting the window frames next door. He lived with his brothers Toma and Toma. Jacqueline told him about the cow creamer.
“Do you want me to take a look?” said Constantin. “I might be able to date it. Or value it.”
Constantin knew an awful lot, it seemed to Jacqueline, about an awful lot.
Toma and Toma were cooking. Jacqueline unwrapped the cow creamer on the kitchen table.
“She is beautiful,” said Constantin. “Her ears and horns have never broken. And her lid is a lovely fit. She must be 1780 creamware. Nothing less than a thousand pounds.”
“Really?” said Jacqueline. “But she looks a bit, well, messy. And her hooves are green like the grass she’s standing on. A thousand pounds?”
“Nothing less,” said Constantin. “Messy is beautiful. You can leave her with me and I’ll ask around, look for a good deal for you.”
“Thank you, Constantin, yes,” said Jacqueline.
“You must stay,” said Toma and Toma. “We are eating now.”
Toma and Toma moved around the kitchen so quickly that they were like just one man, blurring and always leaving a trace of himself when he stood still for a moment.
They put a small round loaf in front of each of them.
“Bread with a secret!” said Toma and Toma and they lifted the crusty tops off their loaves. “Bean soup. Eat, Jacqueline!”
She opened her bread like the brothers around her, and ate the secret soup inside.

“You gave the cow creamer to the Romanians?” Jacqueline’s mother shouted. “Now we will have neither cow creamer nor money.”
“But Constantin will get us a good deal,” said Jacqueline.
“You’ve always been foolish, Jacqueline. And now you are foolish and poor.”
Jacqueline knew there was little point in arguing with her mother. She collected her squeegee, T bar and bucket-on-a-belt from her room and set off for The Tower.

The Tower was the tallest apartment block in the city – twelve floors and a penthouse. The Tower was too tall for ladders and too tall for a brush on a pole. Jacqueline had been given the cleaning contract because Jacqueline could climb. She cleaned one of the four sides of The Tower each week. This was her fourth week on the job and she would do the fourth side and the penthouse. She shimmied up between the long sheets of glass of the balconies, wiping with the squeegee and swiping with the blade. Wiping and swiping and rising higher and higher. She had a carabiner on her belt but she didn’t clip on to the building. She rose higher, cleaning and climbing. She was balancing far more easily and naturally than when she was walking on the ground.

The penthouse was a round glass house on top of The Tower with its own terrace all the way around. She vaulted over its balcony rail and began cleaning its dark glass walls. Black gloss glass so black that she was cleaning a shadow portrait of herself. Wiping and swiping and rising and falling. But no one overlooked this penthouse, she thought, except a tourist or two from the roof of the cathedral so the guarded privacy of the glass seemed strange. A giant lived here. While working out a route on Google Maps, she’d clicked in close to the The Tower, to the top of a giant head and giant shoulders, and giant arms leaning against the rail. She’d also looked across to The Tower from the Museum Gardens and seen the giant in the twilight, just the outline of a man, but a giant of a man and leaning at just the same place. Now, as she cleaned, she thought, perhaps hoped, he wasn’t home and she kept working her way round the terrace, wiping and swiping.

A window became a door that slid slowly open in front of her. Where Jacqueline’s shadow had been rising and falling, there stood a very still, startle-eyed woman.
“You must hurry,” said the woman. “He will be back soon.”
The woman turned and Jacqueline saw a large red mark on her face, between her eye and her ear. The woman turned again, and Jacqueline saw a matching mark on the other side of her face. The marks were like maps with close and curling contour lines. The marks, Jacqueline realised, were giant thumbprints.
“You are hurt,” Jacqueline said.
“Please,” said the woman, “hurry.”
“Come onto the terrace and talk with me,” said Jacqueline.
“I never go out,” said the woman. “I fear the height.”
“He hurt you, didn’t he?” said Jacqueline.
“Please go,” said the woman and she slid the door closed again.

In the following weeks, Jacqueline spent more time with Constantin, Toma and Toma to escape her mother’s shouting. They shared meals with her: broad beans and pancetta and chorizo, and kale and garlic, and couscous and wild mushrooms they’d collected in the woods. Next door her mother poached pollock. Constantin found a buyer for the cow creamer who paid two thousand pounds. But Jacqueline’s mother still shouted that she felt cheated. And, as Jacqueline walked through the Museum Gardens, she always glanced up to The Tower to see the giant at the rail.

Once more she climbed the fourth side of The Tower and moved faster this time, working up through the storeys until she reached the penthouse. She made her way round the black gloss glass, wiping and swiping, and again the door slid open. The woman was there, and she still had the giant thumbprints on her face. But now, on her left cheek, there was a perfect circle too. And within the perfect circle, an outline of an animal, like a sort of deer perhaps, with long straight horns, almost skipping, thought Jacqueline. And within the perfect circle, words too, as if in a mirror but she could read the backwards letters clearly: FINE GOLD.
“You must leave him,” said Jacqueline. “You must leave.”
But the woman seemed not to hear her.
“He is coming soon,” said the woman as she closed the door between them.
Jacqueline climbed back over the side and looked at how the posts for the rail were fixed to the building. She held one of the bolts, the size of her palm. She saw how the rail was not just one long rail but actually short sections of rail and how this section was, by chance, what chance, the point at which the giant always leaned. She gripped the bolt and she squeezed the bolt. And, although this was a bolt so tightly turned that no one person should be able to make it move, she thought of the thumbprints and their contour lines, and she thought of the animal skipping on the woman’s face, and she thought of the clear mirrored letters of FINE GOLD and Jacqueline turned the bolt around and around and left it hanging loosely in its hole.

The policewoman told Jacqueline the giant was dead.
“There are prints on the bolt,” said the policewoman. “But they are smudgy and blurred.”
“Are they?” said Jacqueline, rubbing her hands.
“Very smudgy. Not like the prints on the face of the widow,” said the policewoman. “The prints on her face are perfect.”



William Davidson lives in York and works as an English tutor for deaf students. His stories have been published in Synaesthesia Magazine.



Wlliam, this story gives such pleasure! The simplicity and musicality of your prose style leads one on through a story with mystery that ends as we want it to. I do like Jacqueline and the Roumanians and I'm sorry for the wife and glad the baddie isn't described. Many congratulations on your mastery of a traditional form with contemporary content.

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