I try to be quiet, but there’s always a little dog that can’t help running through their room, his little toenails tapping the floor and the door creaking with wooden age. I must walk through the bedroom to get to the kitchen. It is this way with these houses. I am not from here, like the others, so I have not had a chance to get used to the layout. A progression of rooms like the barrel of a shotgun. The Ecuadorian maids look at me like I’m an alien, the black ones like I have some sort of disorder, like I can’t recognize my own skin color. They look at me like, what, white girl, don’t you get your privilege, what a waste you are.
My shifts are in the early mornings. It’s when little Andy’s father is home from the restaurant shift. It’s okay for me to leave. There’s someone in the house to look after him, in case anything goes wrong.
When I slip in the house it is quiet. A house has to wake up, you know, just like a person. I turn on the lamps, not the overhead lights, first. I start with the dusting, the least invasive, the quietest. There is always dust. Even the cleanest woman can forget the mites on the edge of the lampshade. Then there is the cleaning solution on the countertops, the picking up of plants and wiping under their bases, where everyone forgets. If you ever wonder if someone is pretending to be something other than a messy human, lift the rims of their flowerpots. Take a peek.
I am a very thoughtful person. I wait to vacuum. That is a disturbance. Then you have the dogs barking and the peace is vanquished. No one likes to be awoken by that cacophonous event. No, I move to the next room and then the next one, dusting and spraying and wiping, until I’m at the bedroom, which is typically the middle room, or second to last room, in the house.
Everyone looks innocent when they’re asleep. It’s more than vulnerability. It’s a transformation, a regression into childhood, further, to infanthood. I’ve walked in on grown adults sucking their thumbs, hands pinching a blanket at their chins, knees curled up into the chest, blankets thrown off as in a nightmare. There is a helplessness to these wealthy white women, these queens of the house at dawn.
I think about doing things to these women. Peeling the hair from their ear and whispering, “look at me, look at you, what you could have been, what you could become at any moment,” straddling their restful bodies and taking their neck between my hands, pressing my lips to their nose, so light they’d think it was some beautiful American celebrity bringing her out of her humdrum life of comfort and repetition and child-rearing and ironed napkins.
No. Women couldn’t still iron their napkins. Women these days have more time than their forbearers, but that doesn’t mean that they’d spend that time doing domestic chores. No, they have yoga and country clubs and monthly pedicures to tend to. Pushing my mouth on theirs, showing them something about themselves that they never even considered. Maybe they considered it for only a moment, a consideration that they swallowed like one of their chalky health shakes, salubrious but bitter.
I am silent when I enter their rooms. I point my phone’s small lens at them, silencing the flash, but only if they are really asleep. I do everything I can to avoid disturbing them. I do not clean this room, not until they are awake. It takes them an hour, at least, to say something to me. They must first wake up entirely, shower and dress, present themselves to me as finished, in control, as the women they want me to see them as. They say something to me like, “Michelle, it’s so good to see you. I’ve been so stressed out. You are a lifesaver. Your check is on the counter. Don’t worry about locking up behind you. I’m here.”
That is that. No questions about me or Andy. In their worlds, he does not exist. I know they mean nothing by this. You can’t blame people for adapting to their environments. What good would considering my circumstances do for them? No, they do not need to do that now.
But one day he may leave her for another woman, a younger, smarter one. The house will be gone or it will be empty, the children at their father’s for the weekend, sharing an ice cream cone with the younger, smarter woman, she, the empress, sitting alone in this big house, the quiet like a vacuum, the money too scarce for a maid. Then she may have to think differently about herself, about me.
But for now, I leave her as she is, protected in her lack of self-awareness. I protect it for her. One day, I hope to have that luxury.
I upload all these faces onto the computer, making a grid of sleeping women. I’ll watch over them. I’ll make sure nothing bad happens to them.
LEE MATALONE’s writing has appeared in Vol.1 Brooklyn, The Rumpus, Bridge Eight, Fiction Advocate, Bookslut, and elsewhere. She lives in New Orleans.