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Authors: Nita Prose

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BOOK: The Maid
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“I will keep it here in my hotel locker in case you ever want it back,” I said. The truth is that as much as I loved the timer, I couldn’t bring it home. I wanted only Gran’s things at home.

“Really, I love it, Giselle. I will admire it every day.”

“Who are you kidding? You already do admire it every day.”

I smiled. “Yes, I suppose you’re right,” I said. “May I make a suggestion?”

She stood there with a hand on her hip while I tidied her makeup kit and cleaned up the vanity.

“You might consider leaving Mr. Black. He hurts you. You’re better off without him.”

“If only it were that easy,” she said. “But time, Miss Molly. Time heals all wounds, as they say.”

She was right. As time passes, the wound doesn’t hurt as much as it did at first, and that’s always a surprise—to feel a little bit better and yet to miss the past.

No sooner had that thought crossed my mind than I realized how late it was. I checked my phone—1:03
p.m.
My lunch hour was over minutes ago!

“I have to go, Giselle. My supervisor, Cheryl, will be very upset with my tardiness.”

“Oh, her. She was sniffing around here yesterday. She came in asking if we were pleased with the cleaning services. I said, ‘I’ve got the best maid ever. Why wouldn’t I be pleased?’ And she stood there with that
dumb look on her face and said, ‘I’ll do a much better job for you than Molly. I’m her supervisor.’ And I’m like, ‘Nope.’ I pulled out a tenner from my purse and handed it to her. ‘Molly’s the only maid I need, thanks,’ I said. Then she left. She’s a real piece of work, that one. Gives new meaning to the term ‘resting bitch face,’ if you know what I’m saying.”

Gran taught me not to use foul language, and I rarely do. But I could not deny Giselle’s appropriate use of language in this particular instance. I started to smile despite myself.

“Molly? Molly.” It was Detective Stark.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Can you repeat the question?”

“I asked if you know Giselle Black. Did you ever have any dealings with her? Conversations? Did she ever say anything about Mr. Black that struck you as odd? Did she ever mention anything that might help our investigation?”

“Investigation?”

“As I mentioned, it’s likely that Mr. Black died of natural causes, but it’s my job to rule out other possibilities. That’s why I’m talking to you today.” The detective wipes a hand across her brow. “So, again I’ll ask: did Giselle Black ever talk to you?”

“Detective,” I say, “I’m a hotel maid. Who would want to talk to me?”

She considers this, then nods. She is entirely satisfied with my response.

“Thank you, Molly,” she says. “It’s been a tough day for you, I can see that. Let me take you home.”

And so she did.

With a turn of the key, I open the door to my apartment. I walk across the threshold and close the door behind me, sliding the dead bolt across. Home sweet home.

I look down at the pillow on Gran’s antique chair by the door. She sewed the Serenity Prayer on it in needlepoint:
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I take my phone from my pants pocket and place it on the chair. I unlace my shoes and wipe the bottoms with a cloth before putting them away in the closet.

“Gran, I’m home!” I call out. She’s been gone for nine months, but it still feels wrong not to call out to her. Especially today.

My evening routine is no longer the same without her. When she was alive, we spent all our free time together. In the evening, the first thing we’d do was complete that day’s cleaning task. Then we’d make dinner together—spaghetti on Wednesdays, fish every Friday, provided we could find a good deal on filets at the grocery store. Then we’d eat our meals side by side on the sofa as we watched reruns of
Columbo
.

Gran loved
Columbo,
and so do I. She often commented on how Peter Falk could use a woman like her to sort him out. “Look at that overcoat.
It’s in extreme need of a wash and an iron.” She’d shake her head and address him on the screen as if he were real and right there in front of her. “I do wish you wouldn’t smoke cigars, dear. It’s a filthy habit.”

But despite the bad habit, we both admired the way Columbo could see through the conniving plots of the ne’er-do-wells and make sure they got their just deserts.

I don’t watch
Columbo
anymore. Just another thing that doesn’t seem right now that Gran is dead. But I do try to keep up with our nightly cleaning routines.

Monday, floors and chores.

Tuesday, deep cleaning to give meaning.

Wednesday, bath and kitchen.

Thursday, dust we must.

Friday, wash-and-dry day.

Saturday, wild card.

Sunday, shop and chop.

Gran always drilled into me the importance of a clean and orderly home.

“A clean home, a clean body, and clean company. Do you know where that leads?”

I could not have been more than five years old when she taught me this. I looked way up at her as she spoke. “Where does it lead, Gran?”

“To a clean conscience. To a good, clean life.”

It would take years for me to truly understand this, but it strikes me now how right she was.

I take out the broom and dustpan, the mop and bucket from the cleaning cupboard in the kitchen. I begin with a good sweep, starting at the far corner of my bedroom. There isn’t much floor space, since my queen bed takes up most of the room, but dirt has a way of hiding under things, of lodging in the cracks. I lift the bed skirts and do a sweep under the bed, pushing any clinging dust forward and out of the room. Gran’s
landscape paintings of the English countryside hang on every wall, and every one of them reminds me of her.

What a day it has been, what a day indeed. It is one I’d rather forget than remember, and yet it doesn’t work that way. We bury the bad memories deep, but they don’t go away. They’re with us all the time.

I carry on sweeping through the hallway. I make my way to the bathroom, with its old, cracked black-and-white tiles that nevertheless shine brightly when polished, something I do twice weekly. I sweep up a few of my own stray hairs from the floor, then back out of the bathroom.

Now, I’m right in front of Gran’s bedroom door. It’s closed. I pause. I won’t go in there. I haven’t crossed that threshold in months. And it won’t be today.

I sweep the parquet from the farthest end of the living room, around Gran’s curio cabinet, under the sofa, right through the galley kitchen and back to the front door. I’ve left minute piles of detritus behind me—one outside my bedroom door, another outside the bathroom, one here by the front entrance, and one in the kitchen. I sweep each pile into the dustpan and then have a look at the contents. Quite a clean week, overall—a few crumpet crumbs, some dust and clothing fibers, some strands of my own dark hair. Nothing left of Gran that I can see. Nothing at all.

I whisk the dirt into the trash bin in the kitchen. Then I fill the bucket with warm water and add some of that nice Mr. Clean, Moonlight Breeze scent (Gran’s favorite), into the bucket. I carry the bucket and mop into my bedroom and start at the far corner. I’m careful not to splash any water onto my bed skirts and definitely not on the lone-star quilt that Gran made for me years ago, faded now from use and wear, but nonetheless a treasure.

I complete my circuit, ending again at the entrance, where I encounter a very stubborn black scuff mark at the door. I must have done that with my black-soled work shoes. I scrub, scrub, scrub. “Out, damn spot,” I say aloud, and eventually it fades before my eyes, revealing the gleam of parquet beneath.

It’s funny the way memories bubble up whenever I clean. I do wonder if that’s the same for everyone—for everyone who cleans, that is. And though I’ve had a rather eventful day, it’s not today that I’m thinking about, not Mr. Black and all of that wretched business, but a day long ago when I was about eleven years old. I was asking Gran about my mother, as I did from time to time—What kind of person was she? Where had she gone and why? I knew she’d run off with my father, a man Gran described as a “bad egg” and “a fly-by-night.”

“What was he during the day?” I asked.

She laughed.

“Are you laughing with me or at me?”

“With, my dear girl! Always with.”

She went on to say it was no surprise that my mother got caught up with a fly-by-night, because Gran had made mistakes, too, when she was young. That’s how she got my mother in the first place.

It was all so confusing at the time. I had no idea what to think about any of it. It makes more sense now. The older I get, the more I understand. And the more I understand, the more questions I have for her—questions she can no longer answer.

“Will she ever come back to us? My mother?” I asked back then.

A long sigh. “It won’t be easy. She has to escape him. And she has to want to get away.”

She didn’t, though. My mother never returned. But that’s okay with me. There’s no point mourning someone you never knew. It’s hard enough mourning someone you did know, someone you’ll never see again, someone you miss dreadfully.

My gran worked hard and cared for me well. She taught me things. She hugged me and fussed over me and made life worth living. My gran was also a maid, but a domestic one. She worked for a well-to-do family, the Coldwells. She could walk to their mansion from our apartment in half an hour. They complimented her work, but whatever she did for them, it was never enough.

“Can you clean up after our soirée on Saturday night?”

“Can you get this stain out of our carpet?”

“Do you garden as well?”

Gran, ever willing and good-natured, said yes to every request, no matter what toll it took on her. In so doing, she saved up a very nice nest egg over the years. She called it “the Fabergé.”

“Dear girl, would you pop down to the bank and deposit this in the Fabergé?”

“Sure, Gran,” I’d say, grabbing her bank card and walking down five flights of stairs, out of the building, and down two blocks to the ATM.

As I got older, there were times I worried for Gran, worried she was working too hard. But she dismissed my concerns.

“The devil makes work for idle hands. And besides, one day it will just be you, and the Fabergé will see you through when that day comes.”

I didn’t want to think about that day. It was hard to imagine life beyond Gran, especially since school was a special form of torture. Both elementary and high school were lonely and trying. I was proud of my good grades, but my peers were never my peers. They never understood me then and rarely do now. When I was younger, this vexed me more than it does today.

“No one likes me,” I’d tell Gran when I got picked on at school.

“That’s because you’re different,” she explained.

“They call me a freak.”

“You’re not a freak. You’re just an old soul. And that’s something to be proud of.”

When I was nearing the end of high school, Gran and I talked a lot about professions, about what I wanted to do in my adult life. There was only one option of any interest to me. “I want to be a maid,” I told her.

“Dear girl, with the Fabergé, you can aim a little higher than that.”

But I persisted, and I think deep down Gran knew better than anyone what I am. She knew my capabilities and my strengths; she was also keenly aware of my weaknesses, though she said I was getting better—
The longer you live, the more you learn.

“If being a maid is what you’re set on, so be it,” Gran said. “You’ll need some work experience, though, before you enter a community college.”

Gran asked around and through an old contact who was a doorman at the Regency Grand, she learned of an opening for a maid at the hotel. I was nervous at my interview, felt sweat pooling indiscreetly at my armpits as we stood outside the hotel’s imposing, red-carpeted front steps with the stately black-and-gold awning looming over it.

“I can’t go in there, Gran. It’s far too posh for me.”

“Balderdash. You deserve to enter those doors as much as anyone. And you will. Go on, then.”

She pushed me forward. I was greeted by Mr. Preston, her doorman friend.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, bowing slightly and tipping his hat. He looked at Gran in a funny way that I couldn’t quite comprehend. “It’s been a while, Flora,” he said. “It is good to see you again.”

“It’s good to see you too,” Gran replied.

“Better get you inside then, Molly,” Mr. Preston said.

He guided me through the shiny revolving doors and I took in the glorious lobby of the Regency Grand for the very first time. It was so beautiful, so opulent, I almost felt faint at the sight of it—the marble floors and staircases, the gleaming golden railings, the smart, uniformed Reception staff, like neat little penguins, tending to well-dressed guests who milled about the stately lobby.

I followed breathlessly as Mr. Preston led me through the ornate ground-floor corridors, decorated with dark wainscoting, clamshell wall sconces, and the kind of dense carpet that absorbs all sound, leaving radiant silence to delight the ears.

We turned right then left, then right, passing office after office until at last we came to an austere black door with a brass nameplate that read:
MR. SNOW, HOTEL MANAGER, THE REGENCY GRAND.
Mr. Preston knocked twice, then opened the door wide. To my utter astonishment, I found myself in a dark, leathery den, with mustard brocade wallpaper and looming bookshelves, an office I could easily have believed was 221B Baker Street and belonged to none other than Sherlock Holmes himself.

Behind a giant mahogany desk sat the diminutive Mr. Snow. He
stood to greet me the moment we walked in. When Mr. Preston discreetly padded out of the room, leaving us to our interview, I can readily admit that while my palms were sweating and my heart palpitated wildly, so enamored was I with the Regency Grand that I was bound and determined to land myself the coveted position of maid.

Truth be told, I don’t remember much about our interview itself, except that Mr. Snow expounded on comportment and rules, decorum and decency, which was not just music to my ears but rather a heavenly and sacred hymn. After our chat, he led me through the hallowed corridors—left, right, left—until we were back in the lobby, clipping down a steep flight of marble stairs to the hotel basement, which, he informed me, housed the housekeeping and laundry quarters alongside the hotel kitchen. In a cramped, airless closet-cum-office that smelled of algae, must, and starch, I was introduced to the head maid, Ms. Cheryl Green. She looked me up and down, then said, “She’ll have to do.”

I began my training the very next day and was soon working full-time. Working was so much better than going to school. At work, if I was teased, it was at least subtle enough to ignore. Wipe, wipe, and the slight was gone. It was also terrifically exciting to receive a paycheck.

“Gran!” I’d say as I returned home after making my very own deposit to the Fabergé. I’d pass her the deposit receipt and she’d smile ear to ear.

“I never thought I’d see the day. You’re such a blessing to me. Do you know that?”

Gran brought me close and hugged me tight. There’s nothing in the world quite like a Gran hug. It may be the thing I miss the most about her. That, and her voice.

“Do you have something in your eyes, Gran?” I asked when she pulled away.

“No, no, I’m quite fine.”

The more I worked at the Regency Grand, the more I put into the Fabergé. Gran and I began talking about post-secondary options for education. I attended an information session about the hotel management and hospitality program at a nearby community college. It was tremendously exciting. Gran encouraged me to apply, and to my
surprise, I was accepted. At college, I’d learn not only how to clean and maintain an entire hotel but also how to manage employees, just like Mr. Snow did.

BOOK: The Maid
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