Just before I returned after my breakdown, my work became the site of a scandal. Although no older than us, Maura was a more trusted employee than either me or Padraig and she was allowed to lock up at night. Two nights before my return, our boss, Eamonn Long, had emptied the till and left Maura and Padraig to polish the stainless steel with baby oil. Although bypassed now, at that time a busy road ran through our village and with the through trade Long Burger was one step above a village chip shop. Eamonn Long had ambitions for it in which the shininess of its stainless steel seemed to play a central role.
Perhaps it was the feel of the baby oil or the promise of spring, but that night, for whatever reason, Maura decided to have sex with Padraig. They did it at the counter, Maura facing the seating area, Padraig behind her, staring at the soft down on the back of her neck, a sight he found lovely, certainly more lovely than his own face reflected in the front window.
Unfortunately, at the apex of her venereal paroxysm, Maura slammed the till drawer, trapping a hank of her hair. Padraig had to cut her loose with scissors, the scissors we normally used to cut the seal at the end of the long tube on the big milk bags that fitted into the milk dispenser, the scissors we called the milk willy scissors.
Weirdly, and perhaps because she was still caught up in the same odd mood that precipitated her seduction of Padraig, when Maura’s mother asked about her hair the next morning, Maura made a full confession, a confession her angry mother retold that day in front of the whole restaurant. Soon the whole village knew.
I think they were charmed by the idea of passion between the plastic tables and the stainless steel
We were very busy for the following fortnight and I can only imagine that people were coming in to see Maura’s half-shorn head, to see the place where she made love and slammed a till closed on her own hair. I think they were charmed by the idea of passion between the plastic tables and the stainless steel. I also found the idea beautiful; once or twice I stood outside the restaurant and imagined myself looking in at them.
Years later, long after Eamonn Long had gambled his little empire on Bulgarian property investments and lost, I ran into Maura in London, where, unknown to each other, we both lived. We had tickets to the same concert in the Festival Hall and afterwards we went and drank more than I think either of us had drank in some time. Against all logic I kept glancing at her hair, expecting some lasting imprint of the milk willy scissors. When I asked her about the scandal I was surprised to find tears in my eyes, to see tears in hers, as we remembered that little world we’d both escaped, where we could be heroes and villains and feel safe.
Photo by Ian Dooley
2018 Flash Fiction Contest
Conor Houghton is the 2nd Place Winner of our 2018 Flash Fiction Contest! ‘A Famous Scandal At Work’ was chosen by guest judge Lara Williams. Read our interview with Conor here, where he talks about the story, his writing and flash fiction.
Conor Houghton is a computational neuroscientist who grew up in Galway in the west of Ireland but who now lives in the south-west of England. His fiction has appeared in Bare Fiction Magazine, the Bath Flash Fiction Anthology and the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology. Twitter: @conorjh