Marion started from the bottom right corner of the recreation room, around the entrance. She could barely push her trolley around the mounds of mushy cake on the floor. She pulled out the air freshener and squirted it behind her. She could not abide the smell of rotting fruit.
Approaching a relatively clean patch of blue carpet she knelt down, her ankles creaking. Turning her attention onto the surrounding piles of crumpled paper plates and wrapping paper that spilled out of the black bin bags, she worked through the pain. Besides it pained her more to see such a spacious office room suddenly shrink into some kind of messy aftermath. Joseph had taught her that word, 'aftermath', though it didn't really work for her. It was just two words squished together, a boring and lazy trick.
'C'est regain,' she muttered. Renewal, resurgence. Much more hopeful.
Tying up the last bag, she used it to prop open the door. The carpet was surprisingly greasy but she moved onto the wall in front of her instead. Somehow the party guests had managed to stick streamers onto it. She peeled a few of them loose with her fingernails, scrunching them up and tucking them into her apron pouch. At least nobody had made holes in the plaster this time. Joseph had checked thoroughly before leaving, desperate to get home for the holidays.
Applying a chisel to the last tangle of streamers, she checked the ceiling. It seemed virtually intact but she would no doubt check later. She grabbed the trolley and pulled it forward to what appeared to be a nest made from shards of wine glass, bottle glass and various chocolate wrappers. There was an abandoned Santa hat beside it laid flat out on the floor, no creases or folds. Marion picked it up carefully at first then threw it onto a nearby table.
'Champagne.' she sniffed a large shard of bottle glass. 'Gaspillé.'
She pulled out her dustpan and brush and swept up the smaller pieces. She threw the wrappers straight into her trolley's bin bag and moved on.
One of the wheels snagged on the second Santa hat. This one was angled differently, bobble pointing around the corner. She walked past it and found a third hat and then a fourth hat. She frowned and started to pick them up.
This seemed like a game, a treasure hunt. It had been years since Marion had taken part in one. All these hats could be leading her to a massive mess, the carefully laid-out disaster area from a bored and addled mind. She had originally planned to work her way around the room but with each subsequent Santa hat, this mystery gained in significance. It all seemed too clean and neat to be the handiwork of a simple booze hound.
The hats led her out of the recreation room and through the main office where she was forced to zigzag through the rows of cubicles just in case they led to some smaller messes on the way to the big one. She gradually grew more and more irritated and, after reaching the twentieth hat, surprised that the company would even waste its resources on buying festive decorations in such bulk.
Somehow the clutter was diminishing from room to room and she half expected the final prize to be a spotless cupboard. Collecting the twenty-fifth hat, she found that she wasn't far wrong: the trail had led her to the store room.
'Sot,' Marion said, reaching for the handle. She paused. There was giggling going on inside accompanied by a rhythmic wet clapping sound. She opened the door partly. 'Pardon!'
There was a man and a woman, presumably office workers, party guests. From their positioning they looked to be having anal sex. Marion slowly closed the door.
'Not a problem,' the man said, 'Feel free to leave it open.'
'He's serious,' the woman said, 'Are you serious?'
'Yes, I'm serious.'
'Leave it open.'
'No, miss. Sir.'
'What's your name?' the man said.
'Tag says Marion,' the woman said.
'Would you like to watch, Marion?'
'You followed the trail after all.'
Marion examined their faces. They were smiling but there was nothing cruel to it. They probably thought they were doing her a favour.
She backed away from the door, leaving it open, and returned to the trolley. She threw all the hats straight into the bin bag and glanced around. She decided to start on this room and then work her way back to the entrance. There wasn't that much to do here anyway.
She stepped into the store room again briefly to pull out the vacuum cleaner. It was the oldest and the loudest. She turned it on as the two lovers shrugged their shoulders and started up again. The vacuum wasn't loud enough.