Rugsweeping, and Other Lost Arts
If you ever want to fall madly, deeply, irrevocably in love with someone that doesn’t know the first thing about you, and you want to know everything, every littlest thing about them, you should become a housekeeper.
First, you put a flier up at the record store, or a men’s yoga studio, or post to a message board for fans of obscure films and music in your town— because you don’t want to clean up after a family. Children create inconceivable messes that defy even your active, twisted imagination. And really, you want to be the only woman with a key to the house.
You let people know you’re an experienced housekeeper, looking to fill a hole or two— in your schedule. Someone you know, loosely, contacts you and says he may want to employ your services where he lives, with a few other single men. This sounds perfect.
You grab a drink with him to catch up. Your acquaintance confides that he recently got divorced, after five sexless years. He reminds you of the time you ran into one another on the train, how he was twitchy and nervous and nihilistic then because he was in the middle of it all. He apologizes for his odd behavior and tells you more than he should about his ex-wife.
So you go over to the house to meet the homeowner and survey the job. You will be working for the homeowner, make no mistake, and your acquaintance was merely the hook-up. The homeowner’s name is Rich, and your acquaintance is Max, and there’s a third bachelor there who goes by Munchie. Rich is tall and slender, and works in IT, but mixes music at home. He gives you a tour of the house and you run your eyes up and down his jeans. That’s gotta be a 37-inch inseam.
You should pay attention to how many rooms and half-bathrooms are in the house, and whose bedroom is where, but you’re much more interested in his shoes. Ben Sherman. Not bad. You’ll later learn that there are five bedrooms and two living rooms and two bathrooms, but for now you’re content to stare at Rich and when asked, agree to the superiority of air-drying clothes. He hates shopping he says, and demands his clothing lasts.
Rich is bald but wears trendy glasses, with confidence. There’s nothing hotter, you think.
Cleaning a five bedroom house the first time, in a community of men that haven’t ever had help, annihilates you. You find a fingernail-thick layer of grime covering every surface on the kitchen. You are thorough. Pacing yourself, you wipe each and every spice bottle with a hot rag.
Simple Green is safe. Simple Green is natural. Simple Green gives off a scent that is neither harsh, nor overly citrusy. In fact, after a few minutes, Simple Green leaves no scent whatsoever. Rich prefers to use natural cleaning products. You asked for Simple Green during your inventory visit, and he was impressed by your cleaning pedigree. You mentioned you learned to love it in the printmaking studio, back in art school. You go to great lengths to casually remind people you went to art school.
Remind people that you’re smart, intellectual even, but not interested in a mainstream career or life. Not one bit.
Rich said not to bother making his bed or messing with his laundry, but just to sweep his bedroom floor and mop. You carefully pick up the empty beer can from his bedside table, examining the other sundries next to his bed, but making sure not to knock things out of place. You find a small pill on the floor next to the bed. You want to google the shape, color, and code on the pill, to know what ails him. You put the pill back on the bedside table, but make a note in your phone nonetheless.
When you’re done cleaning the entire house the first time, Max offers to take you out for a beer and pizza at a nearby brewery located inside an old button factory. You’re starving and beer sounds great, so you take him up on the offer. Outside on the button factory patio, the wind blows gently. You can smell a magnolia tree you can’t spot. You suddenly feel self-conscious and worry the scent of house cleaners and dirtied Degree deodorant, pebbling around your errant underarm hair, might be wafting onto other parties. Max asks you, with his arms crossed in front of his chest, impressed, “Seriously, how did you learn to clean like that?”
That must be a joke, you think. Literally every adult should know how to clean. You remember that Max is recently divorced, that he said he hadn’t had sex in five years, and you realize he is completely serious.
“My mom used to tell me stories about the odd jobs she worked to get through college. Cleaning houses was one of them. Where did you learn how to…” You trail off because you don’t remember what Max does for work.
It doesn’t matter, because Max has stopped paying attention and waves some friends over to your corner of the garden. He introduces you to Karla and Steve and their dog, Lola. He introduces you by name and now you’re officially friends. The waiter comes by to offer another round of beer. Karla and Steve and Lola are still huddled around your table chatting with Max. Max is treating and now that you’re friends and all, you tell the server sure, bring another round.
While they chat, you think of your mom and her stories. She met your father cleaning houses, but that doesn’t mean you ever met him.
The following week, you arrive to clean and Munchie is upstairs in his room making noise that sounds like throwing a grandfather clock at the wall. Repeatedly. You count the seconds between the crash, a bellowing dong and a tinny, muffled ring.
The house doesn’t have a vacuum, but the only rug is in Max’s room, so you give them a pass. You bring up a broom and sweep the rug outwards, and a surprising amount of dirt floods the room. This is the first time you’ve been in Max’s room, so you take time to look around, sweeping the room with your eyes and leaning on the broomstick. It’s a small room, records on shelving, wall to wall. Max is not fucking around, you think. Then your eyes follow the light in the room to the clear focal point, a record player. A Tacocat EP is standing up in front of the player.
Next to the record player is a notepad and concert tickets from last night. He’s been working on a write-up of Tacocat’s show. You trace the words of his review with your fingers and realize he has a skill that makes him beautiful. But as new noises from Munchie’s room break your daze, your eye catches on photos of his goofy two-year old son, his ex-wife, and a pair of beat-up Chuck Taylor’s you wish men over the age of twenty-three wouldn’t wear.
You sweep your way down the hall toward Rich’s room, trapping Max’s dirt into the dustpan before entering. As you open the door and cross the threshold, you inhale deeply, wanting to capture the scents of the three men commingling in the hallway, and the scent of Rich. Last week you identified a scent of lavender, which you traced back to his laundry room, where he had a natural laundry detergent scented with the sweet essential oil. This week you smell a new aroma, much more complex and you are certain it is ladies’ perfume. You carefully push aside the dirty laundry strewn about and pile it in one corner of the room.
You push the broom far under the bed and pull out slippers and dust bunnies. As you collect the dust, you notice a flash of light catch your eye. The glint of a gold bracelet, thin as floss with a delicate clasp at one end. It’s beautiful, you think. You try it on, holding your own wrist up to the light.
Still wearing the bracelet, you empty the wastebasket next to the bed. You pull the beer can out for recycling, a used condom falling into your hand. You look carefully at the condom before tossing it out, and notice it looks different than most, as if it has veins of its own. With your hands on your hips, you scan the room 360 degrees until you find what you’re looking for. There’s a bookshelf between his two windows, with shelves of old college textbooks, and newer volumes on computer programming.
On the right side of the shelf, you suddenly see it. In any other placement this dish would be holding candy. You picture the same heavy square bowl on the corner of an old colleague’s desk. She filled it with loose M&M’s and everyone would plunge their hands in it on the way back from their shared bathroom. But here, in Rich’s room, the square, black-foil wrappers are unmistakable. To your intrigue, they are non-latex condoms, the sort made of natural lambskin or intestines for “Skin to skin contact.” You wonder what being probed by a lamb intestine feels like, and if it is preferable to latex. You wonder if it is Rich, or his companion that has a latex allergy. You wonder if he uses them every time.
Later that evening, your friend Max texts: “How did you clean the rug? Did you bring a vacuum?”
You laugh, literally out loud, and respond, “Brushed it. With the broom. The rug is low pile so it was easy.”
“How did you know you could do that?” Max responds.
“People did it for hundreds of years before the vacuum was invented.” You hope your response isn’t cruel. You don’t want to underscore the fact that Max is a clueless, seemingly helpless male, but you also wonder when his common sense might reveal itself. Then you think about how much money you could make if you opened a summer camp for adults. Your merit badges would be in common sense, creative use of resources, and home economics. Men would pay lots of money to attend after crushing breakups. Women would pay lots of money to gain access to the rolodex of men who, after camp, would know how to fold a fitted sheet, clean an oven, or brush a rug.
The next time you’re cleaning, you sweep up a tiny dime bag with powdery-residue inside, and text Max with a photo of the baggie. “Hey. Found this bag on the floor by Rich’s computer desk. Not an expert so I dunno if it’s empty enough to throw away? Or should I leave it on the desk?”
“Hmm. Not an expert either but we smoked that last night and it was awesome. Dunno what to tell you about throwing it away or not.”
You wonder what was in the baggie. Fentanyl, mushroom powder, heroin, cocaine? You leave it on the desk just in case Rich was not finished, and to indicate that you aren’t very savvy to that lifestyle, if he was.
Somehow, after finding out that Rich does hard drugs, and is having sex, he seems more attractive to you than ever. You find the note in your phone you made of the color and shape of the pill you found in his bedroom weeks ago, and type it into the pill database website on your phone. An antidepressant.
Rich, you dark horse, you just keep getting better.
Another week goes by and you notice a new key on the mantle next to where Rich leaves your money. The key has a pink tag on it that says “Natalia” in Rich’s unmistakable print. You pull your key out of your pocket and compare the scoring and teeth. Is it the key to this house? Is Natalia the woman who wears musky perfume and thin gold bracelets and gets fucked by lambskin condoms?
The key is different than yours. You try it on the front door to make sure. It’s not the key to Rich’s house. It must be Rich’s key to her house.
In the bathroom, under the sink and far to the back of the cabinet there, is another dish similar to the one Rich has on his bookshelf. There’s a washcloth covering the dish, and you lift it up to reveal half a dozen keys on tags just like Natalia’s. You see names penned in the same Rich-script. Names like Karen, Eleanor, Sarah, and Thais, which coincidentally you know is Max’s ex-wife’s name. You hope for Max’s sake it’s a different Thais.
The next time, when cleaning Rich’s room, you imagine your name was on one of those keyrings, and you slide yourself into his bed, under his sheets, and inhale deeply into his pillow. You spread your fingers out wide, palms down against his sheets, and try to guess the thread count. His bed is an expensive memory foam designed by rocket scientists, so it doesn’t surprise you he has many girlfriends. It doesn’t even bother you.
That weekend, Max invites you to a club to see a band perform. He has an extra press ticket, and no date, and you’re friends now. Max takes a photo of the two of you after the show, and sends it to Rich in a text message. You hover over his phone at his chest, which is warm at your proximity. Rich replies, “Who dat? New hunny?”
Max responds with “Haha. I wish. Would probably be cheaper but I get the feeling she likes her job.”
Max’s phone lights up with a quick response from Rich, “RIGHT ON MAN, that is one way to get over the divorce.” There’s a winky-face at the end of the response.
“Rich might think you are a prostitute.” Max laughs. You wince.
You have been cleaning Rich’s house for four months, Rich has no recollection of what you look like, or who you are. But you know him. You know what medications he takes, what brands of shoes and belt and watches he likes, what books he reads, what bands he likes, what he smells like, and what drugs he takes. You even know from some online detective work, what kind of girls he sleeps with, how you should cut your hair, and when and where his next DJ set is.
You realize you know everything you need to know.