St Francis Hospice Short Story Competition 2013.
This story was placed third, which was thrilling as it was the first contest I had entered after joining Sally’s writing class a few months earlier! And, having now learned the song, I know that I made a mistake – it’s actually called I hear singing!
Dear Mr Adams,
Thank you for interviewing me today for the job of chambermaid: I am delighted to accept your offer and, as agreed, will start work next Monday.
I’m happy to explain the problem I told you about. You may have heard of synaesthesia in which people associate certain words or objects with colours or textures (to put it simply): I have a rare variation of this in which I hear music (or single notes) when I look at people, to paraphrase the beautiful song by Jerome Kern/Oscar Hammerstein II.
This has no practical implications for my job, except that I sometimes burst into song when I meet someone. My singing teacher (who makes me want to sing All the things you are) says that my voice is pleasant so you needn’t worry about me introducing an unwelcome tuneless noise into your peaceful hotel.
The work of a chambermaid suits me because I seldom come into contact with guests. Imagine if I worked on the reception desk: it would be like a one-person Karaoke bar! I think I startled your receptionist when I sang Isn’t this a lovely day to be caught in the rain to her, but she quickly recovered her composure and carried on dealing with the guest who was booking-in. His song, Purcell’s Mad Bess, was in my head while I sang aloud: I can do that quite easily – sing one song aloud while another plays in my head – but I try to avoid crowds as multiple songs can be difficult to manage. School was a nightmare, a cacophony!
My previous job as chambermaid lasted four years and was enjoyable for all concerned. I only left because my husband’s company relocated to Berkhamsted. (His song is I’ve got a lovely bunch of coconuts and his Cheshire boss’s was Yellow submarine.) You might like to know that yours is the very lovely lute song When first I saw your face and that your PA’s is Waltzing Matilda. Is he Australian? I didn’t detect an accent.
I cannot promise to keep my singing to the unoccupied bedrooms in which I work: indeed, working alone, that is unlikely. If I meet someone in the corridor I may sing to them but the housekeeper you introduced me to (whose association was with a single tone of B flat, played on a flute) seemed unfazed when I hummed one note for the first few seconds she was talking to me.
My own song? I seldom hear it these days, only when I look in a mirror so I avoid doing that. It is the end of the Beatles’ classic A day in the life – the bit where the orchestra is playing apparently at random and the sounds build to a crescendo before stopping suddenly – my sound is what follows, a ringing silence that leaves me shocked, stunned, almost deafened.
I look forward to seeing (and hearing) you on Monday,
Jessica Hornblower (Mrs)