Swedish Death Clean by Mike Hickman

Photo by Kaffeebart on Unsplash

This was an act of kindness. Phillip rolling his sleeves up and risking the towering piles of files and folders and invoices and statements. And the rest. All to help Guy into his new life. And the ultimate proof of his kindness was that Guy hadn’t needed to suggest it. It had been Phillip’s idea from the first.

Which is what made it so easy to contemplate what he had to do next.

‘You heard of Swedish Death Cleaning?’ Phillip had asked, and Guy had wondered if he’d meant that goth band that won Eurovision the other year.

‘No, no, no, Swedish Death Cleaning – it’s a thing the Swedes do every so often to tidy away the things they don’t want to leave behind.’

‘The things they don’t want to leave behind?’

‘The things they wouldn’t like other people to judge them on – if they weren’t around anymore to defend themselves. You know, like…like the ‘70s’ kipper tie or the photos from a failed relationship or the diaries that reveal how much you’ve never got over that relationship or…’

‘The internet history that’ll damn you to the end of time.’

‘That kind of thing, Guy, yeah.’

Phillip had suggested that, seeing as Guy was struggling to see the wood from the trees – so to cliché – perhaps he needed someone who wasn’t so used to what he had lying about the apartment and would thus be able to swiftly identify those things that would stand out most to any visitor who thought perhaps they knew Guy and would be disturbed by the evidence that they didn’t.

‘And what’ll you do with it, Phillip?’

‘Remove any incriminating labels – names and addresses and such.’

Guy had had a number of nom de plumes over the years, so he’d had to provide Phillip with what he finally determined was the complete list. The addresses had taken a little longer.

‘And then shred, box up, dispose, junk, take to the tip, sink to the bottom of the river – all of the above and more. It’ll be like getting rid of a credit card, Guy. My old mum, she never trusted them…’

‘She was right.’

‘She was. And she used to cut her card up into strips and then strips again.’

‘And with her arthritis, too.’

‘Oh, yeah, mate. And then she’d separate out the little piles of strips – more like plastic confetti now – and she’d dispose of them in different bin bags over like a period of about three months. No kidding. You’d have to be bloody determined to put that card back together.’

‘Easier just to hang about her letterbox and wait for the next one to drop through.’

‘Bang on, mate. Bang on. This’ll be like that.’

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It had been Phillip’s idea from the first. Guy left him to it while he got on with his business, setting himself up with his new contacts in town and arranging the meetings that would be necessary to formalise that business. He’d even used the word ‘legitimate’, and absolutely no-one had sniggered at him. Because they didn’t know and they wouldn’t know and Phillip would have it all sorted as if none of it had ever been.

When he returned to the flat after a weekend upstate, Guy saw that the worst of his personal crap had been removed. Even the movies the bachelor him had once been proud to have on his shelves had been chucked. And the paperwork had been thinned out to only the stuff he needed for his regular bills. The legitimate ones. Phillip had done a good job.

‘That’s great.’ Guy told him. They’d not discussed payment, but Phillip might well have expected it. Guy watched the man’s back as he went over to the drinks cabinet – that, too, had been cleared out of everything his new colleagues might find discomforting. As Phillip poured, Guy opened the kitchen drawer and removed something that Phillip would not have thought to tidy away, even though its own history was as murky as some of the other items that had been disposed of.

‘So, you’ve Swedish Death Cleaned good and proper, have you?’

‘Good and proper.’

‘Nothing left?’

Phillip reached for the seltzer. ‘Nothing. You’ll have to do it again at some point, of course. I mean, that’s the idea. A regular thing. To prevent the build-up. Hark at me, I sound like a toothpaste commercial.’ He turned. He was smiling. Until he saw Guy’s intent.

‘Not quite nothing left, Phillip,’ Guy told him. And he went to make his move. He came very close to making his move. Phillip himself had suggested the whole thing. It couldn’t be more perfect.

Except.

‘’Course, you know,’ Phillip said, ‘sometimes, when people clean things away, they don’t clean them away forever. They keep the bookmarks, say. Or they rename the file. Or they have a USB stick that they post to themselves with a note on to tell the neighbours to check it out in case of unforeseen incidents. Sometimes, people can get really determined that they want something gone for good, only to regret it the next day. You ever found that, Guy? I’m sure you have.’

This was an act of kindness, Guy thought. This was Phillip helping him into his new life, Guy thought. This was Phillip being the absolute bastard boss he had always been.

‘See to it that this business works out and we’ll talk about what you can have back, yeah?’ he said, as he handed Guy his empty tumbler and left him, clean enough to lead his temporary new life.       

About The Author

Mike Hickman (@MikeHicWriter) is a writer from York, England. He has written for Off the Rock Productions (stage and audio), including a 2018 play about Groucho Marx. Previous plays include “Lonesome Pine”, with Mark Wakeman, about the last days of Stan Laurel. He has recently been published in EllipsisZine, the Blake-Jones Review, Bitchin’ Kitsch, the Cabinet of Heed, the Potato Soup Journal, and the Trouvaille Review.

At the time of publishing, Mike is a member of the Bandit Fiction team. However, Mike’s story was accepted for publication prior to her joining the team.

Bandit Fiction is an entirely not-for-profit organisation ran by passionate volunteers. We do our best to keep costs low, but we rely on the support of our readers and followers to be able to do what we do. The best way to support us is by purchasing one of our back issues. All issues are ‘pay what you want’, and all money goes directly towards paying operational costs.

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