The stopwatch was ready and Pearl gave Ruby a countdown.
“Three! Two! One! Switch on!”
Betty held the record for that floor. She'd managed one end of the corridor to the other in four minutes 30 seconds flat. Lena downstairs had a broken foot so Betty moved down a level and left Pearl and Ruby to take the top floor between them.
Outside the sky was turning from black to deep blue. Street lights were popping off one-by-one. Pearl watched Ruby carefully, walking beside her shouting encouragement like an athletics coach. Hairs, fluff or paper would mean disqualification and time trials would be put off for another day. This was Ruby's one chance.
The motor roared, its pitch raising and falling as it worked, sucking closely. A cyclone of dust whirled and grew with each step. Pearl bit her lip as she realized there were still three office-lengths to go. The clear bin was clacking with small bits of grit and the contents almost at max level.
Ruby looked straight ahead, pushing her machine back and forth, back and forth. She reached the far wall, worked along the skirting then shouted “Stop the clock.”
Pearl took her glasses from her pinny pocket and put them on. She glanced at the stopwatch, then shook her head, just a little. She wouldn't meet Ruby's eyes. Ruby touched her arm. “Come on, tell us. How did I do?”
Pearl swallowed. “You took 12 seconds off her record. You beat Betty. She's held the record for this corridor for years.”
“Do I have to tell her? Could we just keep it between us two? I never thought I'd do it and I bet you didn't either,” said Ruby.
“We probably should keep it between us. Remember when that Becky beat her previous record? She told Mr Hopkins and he said why didn't we all work that quick. She might do that again and this wouldn't be such a good place to work.”
“Tell you what then.” Ruby unplugged the vaccum and wheeled it back to the cleaners' cupboard. “Let's have a cuppa to make up the time and we can say we're taking longer because Betty's down there instead of Lena.”
Pearl slipped the stopwatch back into her pocket and went to fill the kettle.