I’ll never understand why people act so weird around the cleaning people. Like Christina, the woman who cleans the office building I work in. She and I talk about all kinds of shit. She tells me about her kids and what she’s planning on doing for the weekend. How her bones hurt when it’s cold outside and it makes it hard to scrub sometimes. I tell her how I was hit in the leg with a shot put in junior high and every time it’s going to rain I feel an ache in that one spot, the spot that almost caved in if the ball of steel hurtling at my leg hadn’t bounced first. Some aches are good, some bad, she says.

I used to clean rich people’s houses. I didn’t make any more money than I did cleaning out trailer homes, but the pay was more consistent. Someone told me that Leonardo DiCaprio owned a house near the neighborhood I was working in, but I didn’t give a shit. They were all the same to me. There was one house in particular that I hated to clean. The woman who owned the house traveled all over the world collecting various souvenirs as if she had a giant net the size of the ocean, catching and dragging everything behind her. A British phone booth stuffed with expensive shoes. An entire bathroom counter cluttered with antique perfume bottles, soap and makeup. I had to dust each bottle individually or she would call me out on it. She wiped down all her bathrooms and the kitchen, left vacuum lines in the carpet before I showed up. I could still smell the bleach under a blanket of Caribbean Waters room deodorizer spray. She would pose herself in front of the mirror in the living room, fanning her nails out in front of her, adjusting her outfit. I have a cocktail party tonight, she would say, blowing on her nails.

The woman standing awkwardly in between Christina and me in the women’s bathroom washes her hands with one pump of soap as we laugh about the differences between office building, move-outs, and house cleanings. She makes sure we hear her when she says; I always pick up the paper towels that fall on the floor, just so you know.

There were family homes I cleaned in addition to mansions. Regular people with families who worked nine-to-five jobs. One of my regular people clients was a newly married couple, Scott and Beth, and Beth’s daughter. I remember changing the sheets on the couple’s bed, pulling back the comforter and seeing a semen stain. After my short time working at a pay-by-the-hour motel off the highway nothing shocked me. Four months after cleaning their house, Beth called to tell me she would be discontinuing my service. It was right after I had managed to get the routine down to two hours, knowing the shower stall in the master bedroom always took at least 30 minutes to get all the soap scum off and the basement had to be vacuumed twice before the cat hair would come up. Scott had died two weeks prior from brain cancer. It took him fast. I remembered the semen stain on the sheets, a billion cells spent and dead like he was now. I felt a sick feeling in my stomach. I recalled a similar twinge of nausea hitting me after cleaning a room littered with sex toys leftover from a one-nighter at a Motel 6. Still, two people, no matter who they are can share a bed together and still wind up alone.

If anything we should be acting weird around you.

Hillary Leftwich

Hillary Leftwich

Hillary Leftwich lives in Denver with her son. She is co-host for At the Inkwell Denver—a NYC based reading series, and organizes/hosts other reading events around Denver. Her writing can be found online and in print.
Hillary Leftwich

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