I could write you a book about cleaning. If I did, it could have an entire section devoted to getting out your stains. I clean houses. I’m sort of a maid, I guess. I’ve learned a lot about people while doing this and the most important thing I’ve learned is that they’re pretty horrible. Including you. The second most important thing I’ve learned is keeping my mouth shut. I could tell you how to get the bloodstains out of the curtains at 4829 Barren Drive, Apartment 7 — but I probably shouldn’t. Nobody will ask anyway. There wasn’t a spot on them after I left. I cleaned up your mess. I keep your secrets.
Cleaning homes is something I sort of fell into. I’m in my sophomore year of college. I started doing it right after Trenton broke up with me. He was my everything and suddenly I was nothing to him at all. The problem was I still had to see him every day, flirting with the other two boys in the coffee shop. It really took its toll on me in my fragile state after I found myself unwillingly, newly single. I knew I had to find another job.
I’d been working there for four years and every week for the past six months, I’d been telling myself that I would quit. It’s very hard to fight complacency. I think that’s why I hadn’t done it yet. I didn’t really like the coffee shop before the breakup. Except for Trenton, I never liked any of the people I worked with. I found after our breakup, I hated Trenton and the other two even more. It was increasingly clear to me and anyone else who had half a brain that all three of these guys were casually sleeping together and with strangers on a pretty regular basis.
I never was that type.
I’m all for gay pride and doing whatever you like in your bedroom, but it was just too much. I never was the mix-and-mingle at the club or half-naked in a parade guy. I was out and proud, but I relished my privacy. The last thing I wanted was attention. I’d had enough of that for being gay growing up in my little redneck town. I just wanted someone to come home to. Someone monogamous. Someone who hadn’t slept with half the city.
Between the three of these guys was a string of casual partners that spanned the Grindr radius of the shop for at least 30 miles. To make matters worse, when Trenton and I broke up I realized he’d probably been cheating on me the entire time. He didn’t actually admit it outright but I could tell from context clues in their conversations as they scrolled through their apps.
“That one?” Frank would whisper, “really?”
“Yea like three weeks ago.”
“He’s really hot!”
“Yea but little dick.” Trenton would say and snort or something. Animals. Disgusting, dirty animals.
We only broke up a few days before. Three weeks? That fucking pig!
I was angry but more than anything I was disappointed. All I wanted in life was to be like every couple on TV.
“Oh honey, you’re home,” I’d say when he walked through the door. I’d wipe my hands on my apron and come collect his briefcase. I’d already sent the children upstairs to get dressed for their father’s arrival. He’d take a seat in his favorite armchair.
“You’re home five minutes earlier than I expected Trenton. Here’s a cocktail and the paper. It will be just a few minutes more.” I’d say as I hurried back to my place before the stove.
The children would quietly make their way down the kitchen stairs for inspection. Trenton Junior’s hair would have a cowlick that I’d need to fix so he could be perfect. Presentable. Trina would be next with a smudge on her cheek. I’d lick my thumb and brush–
“This guy too,” Trenton said. “Except he’s hung like the Louvre.”
“Like what?” Frank asked.
“You know that fucking museum or some shit in Paris.” Trenton said “they’ve got all the pictures hung in there.”
They both doubled over laughing.
The fucking idiots… that doesn’t even make sense and is was too crude. It was after a conversation like this, I’d finally had enough. Didn’t he see what we had was special? It was supposed to be for always.
I remember saying “fuck this,” very loudly, drawing the attention of some patrons on their laptops or glancing over paperbacks and throwing my apron onto the floor.
“You ruined everything!” I shouted and they all started laughing at me. “The three of you just keep doing what you’re doing.” I said, loudly as I headed through the door. “When you catch something, I hope penicillin is enough to get rid of it!”
It was petty. Some people might even call my reaction a form of internalized homophobia… I’m not worried about what those people might think. I was still hurt and hurt people try to take that out on others.
Leaving that job was the best thing I did for myself. The recklessness of it was exactly what I needed. I took a day to get my head right, hiding in my bedroom from my roommate Claire. I didn’t tell her about walking out of work. We already fought about household expenses enough and with her typically anxious nature, I didn’t think she would take it well. I imagined how it would go and expected her’s would be far too dramatic a reaction for walking out of a shitty minimum wage job.
After she went to bed, I did the dishes and tidied up the house. For the rest of the night I skimmed through Craigslist ads for something new. I put my resumé onto some job sites. That night I didn’t find anything.
Things went on this way for several days. I would pretend to leave for work so as not to arouse Claire’s suspicion. Most days I did this, I would spend a few hours reading at the library until I was sure that she’d have left for class. Then I after returning home, I’d clean whatever mess she left the house in, and yes, there was always a mess.
Claire Davenport was not a very good roommate. She was a selfish, only-child who grew up with a nanny as well as a maid to clean up after her. Before I knew it, I took on both of these roles for the adult version of the spoiled rotten brat her parents created. I wondered if she thought of me as her little live-in housekeeper. It was, in essence, what I was. I sure hope not. If I’m gonna be a houseboy, I’ll pick my own rich old guy. Maybe even a couple. Not some spoiled daddy’s girl who I found months ago to replace my previous roommate in a few desperate hours of searching on the internet.
The moment these ideas occurred to me, I knew that this was my new job. I could get paid to do clean for people who were not living their lives as hopelessly disgusting as Claire was. Eventually I was bound to find a sugar daddy or a pair of them I could move in with…
So I began cleaning homes.
Some of you should be ashamed of yourselves. Some of your homes are so depressingly unkempt that I’m surprised I don’t hear your walls crying out in desperation.
One of you has pizza boxes on the floor of your kitchen. They look to be over a week old. When I pick them up, you should see the size of the bugs living inside. Cockroaches so large they should be helping you with rent. I let them run away and hide in the dark place beneath your refrigerator. I make no attempt to stop them and you should know that. I am your maid. I am not your exterminator.
Nobody can live like this can they? I begin thinking your house must be a trick. Is someone recording my reactions on camera? I don’t think you have any cameras. I would notice them. There’s a trick in everything if you look hard enough for it. Cameras aren’t very tricky.
I pick up your clothes and start a load of laundry. I scrub your dishes. I may be failing out of college, the funds in my account may be dwindling and I may not be able to keep a boyfriend. None of these things matter. What matters is that there’s a sort of catharsis I find in cleaning houses for strangers. My life might be a complete wreck but by-fucking-god I will scrub the crustified remanence lining Tuesday’s casserole pan like there is no tomorrow. I’ll load it into the dishwasher and once the kitchen is done, it’s time to move on to the next room.
When I make your bed, shaking out your duvet, I find your dildo. What kind of person leaves that in their sheets for the maid to find?
I was raised by a baby boomer to keep my bedroom like I was expecting a knock at the front door from Ed McMahon at any moment.
“He comes with cameras,” my mother told me, “if you live like a slob then they don’t put you on television and you don’t get that big-sized check.”
My mother never did get one of those checks, but the house stayed clean. I wonder if her head is spinning in her grave like your washing machine basin does. It sounds like you might be missing a mounting screw, but I don’t make any attempt to inspect or repair it. I am not an appliance repairman. I am your maid and I’m too busy to be anything else. Right now, I need to clean your dildo.
I wrap my hands in latex gloves and pinch the top inch of it between my thumb and index fingers. The other seven inches of it swing in my outstretched grip as I place it into the dishwasher with your dishes.
I have limited time to clean your house before I move along to the next. I leave the thing there for you to find, knowing full well that I will not be emptying the dishwasher before it’s time to go.
I finish making your bed. I clean your children’s rooms. I find and read your daughter’s diary. Now I know that you won’t complain about the dildo in the dishwasher. I’ve ripped out a page of her journal and left it where you will find it on your pillow. On that page she describes everything you’ve been doing to her while the rest of your family sleeps. I wish I could see your face when you find it.
I know that you’ll be home for lunch before your wife is. I know that you’ll be here before your kids walk home from school. I know everything about you and soon you’ll know just one of the things that I know.
I feel entitled to additional compensation for my services. I take your iPad from its charger on your nightstand. On a table, near the door to your office I find a really cool knife in a holster that clips onto a belt… don’t mind if I help myself to that too. I also take the $3200 I found in the bottom of your sock drawer, replacing it with a smiley drawn on a Post-It note. Nothing is hidden from me.
I take pictures of that diary page and a few others and upload them to the cloud. I do this for my own insurance. This way you can’t erase the problem. When I get to my car, I decide I would like to have your office printer as well, so I go back inside for it. I load it into my backseat. I don’t have any need for this. I plan to sell it. I know that you won’t do anything about it because you can’t. If you try, I’ll destroy your life.
Don’t worry. I’m the maid. I handle all messes discreetly and your secret’s safe with me. I won’t be cleaning for you anymore, so you can think of these missing items as payment for my silence.
When I’m finished making your house shine, and taking the payments due, I head towards the home of the next “client.”
The next one of you is just as bad as the first. I don’t think that’s possible, until I find the door to your secret room.
Your house is very clean. You probably have another maid whom you pay to do this level of upkeep in a house this size. Looking around the house, I’m daunted by the sprawl of its square footage. You’ve got two living rooms, four bedrooms and a study that doesn’t seem to fill the space allotted to it. It’s too small. I can tell by the space between the doors in the hallway. This room should be bigger than it appears. Imagine my delight when I prove that my hypothesis is correct and find the door in the bookcase. It’s nothing like I expect for a secret bookcase door. No corny candelabra handle or false book to pull. This isn’t here for gimmicks. It’s not something flashy to show off. It’s practical and opens with a shove to the right side. I hear the pin holding it in place click and then retract and the door swings forward silently. It’s tasteful, that door; the Third Reich memorabilia behind it — not so much.
The mannequin dressed in the SS officer’s uniform sends a shudder into the pit of my stomach and I want to puke. I’m imagining you’ve worn it. Heiled in it. You’re the worst type of person I can think of. These helmets, these swords, these pins and china plates, I can’t imagine why you have them. Why do you have them? I leave the door open when I go so you know that your secret is known.
I make all four of the beds and fold the edges of the toilet paper into triangles in each of the three bathrooms like they do at the Hyatt. I clean a few dishes and I’m done here.
As with my previous home, I won’t be cleaning for you again anytime soon, but I came here to do a job and damn if I’m not gonna do it. I load up my car with as much antique silver and expensive art (the stuff that did not being to the Nazis) as severance and drive off to the next.
The last place I clean for the day, doesn’t have any mess to speak of. This is my favorite house to clean. It’s never very messy. I don’t take anything that you’d notice missing. I will admit some of the things I do take could seem a bit… odd…
The first thing I take is the liberty of making myself a sandwich. I’ve not had lunch yet and you always do spend that little extra on the good cuts from the deli. That little extra matters to me. It’s everything. I always help myself to lunch here and you never notice. You live alone, so maybe you do… but you smoke a lot of pot, so maybe you don’t.
I have a seat on your bed. It is already made, of course. You never leave without making the bed. I cross my legs and turn on the television.
I wake up.
I wake up.
Oh god. I fell asleep.
I wake up to the sound of a strange voice.
“Who are you?” The stranger asks.
“Maid service.” I reply. I stand quickly and straighten my shirt.
The stranger turns to call out over his shoulder. “Hey does your maid usually take a nap in your bed?” He’s laughing.
I pull this man, whoever he is, into the room. Pulling the stolen knife from its holster I press the blade into his side, all the way to the hilt. He gasps. He falls.
You ruined everything.
“What?” You call back from someplace deeper in the one bedroom apartment, “I don’t have a maid.”
I hide behind the closet door. I’ll find a way out of this somehow. I just need a moment out of site to think.
“What the–oh God!” You shout, going for your phone. The phone that started all of this with all of your stupid cheater apps. I didn’t want to be a maid. I never wanted to steal anything! You did this! You made me quit my job! I worked there for four years! Four years! Never once had a problem until I met you. I step out of the closet once more, kicking the phone from your hand. The screen shatters when it hits the hardwood of your bedroom and you scramble for it.
This could have been our bedroom. I could still have my job. I could have still been your everything. Don’t you see? You ruined it!
“Hello, Trenton.” I say. “You weren’t supposed to know I was here. Nobody was ever supposed to find me in their houses.”
“You!” … is the last thing you say.
I didn’t want any of this. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to love you… now you’re another mess I have to clean, so I do. I collect my payment. A pair of your underwear. Clean ones! I’m not a disgusting animal — not like you were. I take the strands of hair from your comb and the cotton swabs from your bathroom waste bin. There’s a bandaid in that bin as well. I take that too and go.
When I leave 4829 Barren Drive, Apartment 7, there’s no trace I was ever there. There’s none of your blood on the curtains. There’s none of his either. It’s not on the hardwood or on the bed. I cleaned up your mess. The mess that was you. I tucked you into your bed and put on the channel with the reruns of old shows. I fixed your hair and took what I needed to take and left.
They won’t find the body of that other man, no matter how hard they look. They’ll think he skipped town.
I’m your maid and I know all of your secrets now and we’re going to build a life together. The best part is we already shared so much before… So many intimate, private moments. Fluids. Deli meat preferences… there’s something else we can share too. It’s called commitment, Trenton. It should be easy for you now. You can share that cookie-cutter American dream with me as I build a life and family for us.
Don’t you see? We’re even closer now. You used to tell everyone all your dirty private affairs. It’s like you didn’t know how not to…but now you do. Like me, you’ll keep secrets now too.