Overall winner – Grantham Writers Group 2021 flash fiction competition – The Iron Lady by Sarah Tarlow

Ruby Pagnell, proprietor, CEO and Flat Out Ironing Services’ employee of the month every month for
three and a half years, made a point of keeping her back straight and bending from the knees when
loading the hotel laundry into her van. You have to take care of your body. Also, of course, she didn’t
want to shake out any of the toe-nail clippings or hairs that she had packed so carefully into the
immaculately folded towels, sheets and pillow-cases destined for North Parade Hotel.

Ruby had not much enjoyed going through the bathroom bin, but needs must. And finding not only
nail clippings, her original quarry, but also hair, was an excellent return. Pubic hair, what’s more. It
mostly came from her husband, Jeff, she assumed, but that did not matter. Mrs Barrowby was
hardly going to subject it to a DNA test. Getting her treasures to adhere to the linens for long enough
that the guests would discover it, had been more of a challenge. Nail clippings caught quite well on
the cotton loops of the towels. The hair had been much harder and, in the end, she’d had to thread
it into the sheets with a needle, which had been fiddly and somewhat distasteful.

At North Parade, Margaret Barrowby was on hand to rub salt in. Evil, old witch.

‘Ruby, your last delivery!’ She opened her eyes wide and steepled her implausibly thin, pencilled
eyebrows in a pantomime of regret. ‘We do wish we were able to keep using you. You’ve got a magic
touch with that iron! But, you know, it’s just a weeny bit too expensive for our little place. But good
luck with it all!’

‘Thank you,’ said Ruby, climbing back into the van, ‘Well. Goodbye then, Mrs Barrowby. Must press on.’