The Planet Cleaner

The Planet Cleaner

Terri Mullholland


The advert said: “Cleaners wanted. Must have a head for heights.”

Ted had been a window cleaner for twenty years. He’d been up some of the tallest buildings in London. He told the interviewer this – a serious-looking man in a grey suit.

“I love a really tall building. I’ve done the Shard, she’s ninety-five storeys, over three hundred metres. Nice to see her shining in the sun.”

“And how would you feel about going higher than that?”

“The sky’s the limit,” said Ted with a smile.

“We were actually thinking beyond the sky,” said the interviewer.

Ted laughed, then stopped when a frown appeared across the interviewer’s forehead.

“What we’re looking for is a planet cleaner. The moon, in particular, gets incredibly dusty.”

“Right,” said Ted. The sun was shining in through the window – it looked very high up. “I’m not sure my ladder will reach?”

“Don’t worry, we’ll give you a special ladder designed to extend through the earth’s atmosphere, and a special suit with a harness, so we don’t lose you.”

“And these.” The interviewer opened a suitcase of brushes arranged in descending gradients of size and bristle texture.

Ted was a sucker for a good brush. They shook hands and the job was his.

“Probably best you don’t mention to anyone what you do,” said the interviewer. “We wouldn’t want the word getting out that it’s possible to visit all the planets in one night. It would make the astronauts look bad.”

Late that evening, Ted headed for the sky.

He did the moon first, showering himself in moon dust, then moved on to the other planets. He’d always thought they were millions of miles apart, but the ladder glided him to each one in minutes.

Just as he was about to finish, a little ball of rock came hurtling towards him. It was Pluto. He wasn’t in Ted’s job description since he’d been downgraded, but Ted couldn’t resist the little chap. He ran his brush gently over him and Pluto purred in delight.

“Don’t tell anyone,” winked Ted.

A few nights later, Ted came home from work early to find his wife standing at the kitchen window gazing up at the full moon.

“Look at the moon tonight, darling. Isn’t she bright?”

“She certainly is,” said Ted, shaking planet dust off his overalls into the bin.

“She’s been looking so much brighter these past few weeks. It’s as if someone has gone up there and given her a clean.”

Ted gave a nervous laugh. He’d told his wife he did the night shift, cleaning for an accountancy firm. Surely she hadn’t spotted him up there?

“What a funny idea, my love. Could you imagine cleaning the moon?”

“Oh no, you wouldn’t get me up there.”

“I think she might be a bit too high even for me,” said Ted.

In the moonlight, his wife’s eyes twinkled like stars. Ted leaned over and kissed her goodnight, leaving a shimmer of moon dust on her skin.




Terri Mullholland (she/her) is a writer and researcher living in London, UK. Her flash fiction has appeared in various journals and anthologies, including Ellipsis ZineLitroMercurious, and Toasted Cheese. Her pamphlet of hybrid pieces Weather / Patterns was published by intergraphia books in October 2022. Her stories have been shortlisted for the Bridport Prize for Flash Fiction and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. When not writing, she can be found curled up with one of her many foster cats and a good book. Website: