Cleaning Up Memories

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade January 2002

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I strapped on my apron, slipped the chemical resistant blue gloves onto my nervous fingers, yanked the industrial vacuum cleaner out of the bed of my pick-up truck and rang the doorbell on my first day of work. "Cottage Care, I'll be your maid for the day." I'd been in Austin since Thanksgiving, and here it was, nearly Christmas and I finally had a day job. I wasn't planning on staying in town very long and perspective employers didn't like that idea. Finding a job was tough. I eventually had to resort to lies, insisting that I was a permanent Austinite and would love to make housecleaning a career.

"Well well... they've never sent a boy before," said the woman of this giant house. I noticed a tiny bit of cation in her voice. The house-wife was around 35, enormously tall and plump with an evil scowl. She towered over my six foot frame.

I was nervous...armpits dripping and palms sweaty inside my blue rubber gloves. I held out a glove to shake her hand, but she turned away and paraded through the entrance. I followed after her dragging the vacuum. She hollered over her shoulder, "If you clean like my dead husband, I'm gonna be getting my money back." I paused and thought, dead husband, but I assured her that I had been properly trained in the art of housecleaning. "Then you had better not steal anything. That last one, the little Chinese girl, was always taking my baby's toys. Course, I never caught her, but you can be sure that I'll catch you." I wasn't worried; I was fairly certain nothing had ever been stolen. The little Chinese lady was in fact Vietnamese, and not to mention my boss, the owner of the business.

I asked her to show me the layout of the house. "I imagine you can figure that out yourself," and she walked out of the room, leaving me stunned and staring after her. I showed myself around the the house. The house was huge and filled with everything that everyone doesn't need. Glass figurines adorned glass shelves placed in corners next to windows. TV's sat in every room each tuned to a different soap opera and blarring at full volume.

The baby's room was hidden like a dungeon at the rear of the house. The door creeked slowly open and a waft of stale diapers and the stench of vomit exploded into my face. Personally, I would not have put a litter of puppies in that room, much less a human baby. It was dark, and fortunatly there wasn't a baby in sight. I imagined she had one of those pet babies that filthy rich people like so much. The kind that the parrents like to keep around for the cooh's and caah's but conveniently ship off to day-care for training. I proceeded to pick up diapers leaking festering goo and scrub the puke off the bars of the crib. Occasionally I would glance up into a mirror and catch a glimpse of the gigantic house-wife-from-hell peaking around the corner. She was waiting for me to cram a crusty beenie-baby into my apron. However, I restrained.

I meandered into the master bedroom. It was complete with a king-sized canopy bed and a king-sized projection TV built into the wall; this bedroom was in shambles. Dirty, stained clothes littered the floor which I kicked into a pile in the corner. Numerous oversized braziers dangled from the canopy like twisted ice-cycles from a roof. I dind't know what the hell to do with these things, and I didn't want to touch them, so I asked. Apparently, I should have know the answer, because I was promptly disciplined by the warden house-wife, "If you expect a tip, you had better watch yourself and do the rest of the house without my help, understand?" The only thing I understood was that I was highly underpaid. That became crystal clear when I entered her bathroom. Any right minded soul, no matter the extent of their laziness, would have immediately incinerated the what now lay before me. Instead, she let them spill out onto the floor. Feminin, oversized, super-absorbant, and endowed with little cotton wings, they filled three small, bag-less trash cans. They were stuck to the inside and outside of the cans by the panty-tape, and lay like crusty clouds on the white carpet. I stoop in the doorway and dry-heaved. I should have quit, right then and there, but I prepped my blue ruber gloves and dropped down onto my knees. She didn't watch me clean up that mess.

Onto the kitchen..."Don't break any of those dishes, they may be chipped, but they work just fine." The kitchen counters were piled high.

"I'm sorry, but they don't pay me to do dishes." She scoweled. "Seriously, my boss says I'm not suposed to, but between you and me, $50 would do the trick." I instantly regretted saying that. It was true, I wasn't supposed to do dishes, but now I saw what looked like pure anger and hate welling up in her eyes. I should have kept my mouth shut and obeyed. Suddenly, much to my surprise, and more to my regret, that anger turned to tears which spilled out onto those dishes.

The house-wife sobbed. She put her head down on the counter. "That's what my husband, the dead bastard, used to say...'Woman,'" she deepened her voice into a manly growl and sniffled, "'you don't pay me enough to do those dishes.' He was always joking around." This mean lady, bitter and angry all day, was now reduced to a whimpering, reminicent widow. I stood in the kitchen very still and awkward. She continued, "We used to do the dishes together, almost every night. He'd pinch my tush with his soapy fingers and laugh. Most of those chips on those plates are from him. That's why I want to make sure I keep them. Those dishes remind me of that dead bastard." We stood there in silence. My pulse was pounding in my head and I didn't know what to say. She was just standing there, staring at the floor, eyes dripping tears, and remembering someone she really missed. I was just standing there, baby vomit on my gloves and sweat on my brow. I was nasous and disgusted. I hated my job. I hated the way this woman lived and I hated the way she had been treating me. Even more, I hated just standing there and feeling sorry for her, so I turned on the hot water and reached under the sink for soap. I plugged the sink with the stopper and reached for a plate. She glanced up from the floor and watched me again, in silence. The tears had stopped but still clung to her cheeks. The look on her face was blank but sad. I held the plate under the faucet and scraped bits of dried food off with a sponge. The house-wife was standing beside me now, and I handed her the plate. She bent to place it in the dishwasher. I didn't pinch her ass as her dead husband would have done; I didn't laugh; I didn't even look at her; I didn't say a word , I just scrubbed the dishes and handed them to her. We finished in silence. Then I packed up my cleaning suplies and left...never to return.

I quite my job just three weeks later; three weeks after I promised a career. I took off the chemicle resistant blue rubber gloves, turned in my vacume cleaner and emptied out the bottles of detergent. It wasn't the dirt and vomit and blood that bothered me the most; I couldn't stand the invasion. Our lives and homes are private places with very private memories. I didn't feel right being a stranger and mopping up peoples memories. For me, mopping up after my own memories is cleaning up enough.

The end.