I spent 2 years cleaning houses. What I saw makes me never want to be rich. - Vox
One was the Porn House, for all the issues of Hustler in the nightstand and for the bottle of lube that sometimes sat in front of the alarm clock, illuminated by the red numbers. I had to change the sheets, of course, but I never picked any socks up off the floor. There was always something cooking in the crock pot; sometimes I’d walk in and the whole house smelled of caramelizing ham.
The wife left notes addressed to “Cleaner” under a magnet on the fridge that said We’re staying together for the cat. She slept in the spare bedroom.
Next to the Porn House was the Sad House. They shared a driveway, and both had large garages and living rooms facing the ocean.
I did both houses every other Wednesday, but didn’t go to the Sad House much. The owner spent a lot of time in the hospital, and so his house stayed clean, except for dust that settled on the kitchen counters and the dining room table.
His wife had died some years earlier — I guessed in the late ’80s — but every trinket she’d collected remained on the windowsills, and her to-do lists remained tacked to the cork board by the desk in the kitchen.
“Get new hose.”
“Fix crack in sidewalk.”
“New latch for gate.”
The bathroom had two sinks. Hers still had a hair dryer plugged in and hung on a hook. His side had a cup with a comb and whatever medication he took in the morning and at night — it was different every time.
Across from the sink was a wicker shelf. It had a picture of their eldest son on top of a mountain. He had a green bandana and a beard, and gave a peace sign; the photo was framed with that poem you see on bereavement cards: “Do not stand at my grave and weep. I am not there. I do not sleep.” That’s how it starts. I copied it down to give to a friend who’d just lost her dog.
Beside the photo were two little boxes, one made from a heavy clay, the other some kind of dark pewter. His wife’s picture leaned behind the clay box. I opened them once. They had ashes, and tags and statements from the funeral home. I wondered if it comforted him to have them there, behind him, while he combed his hair.
The money my clients spent startled me. One house had a receipt for a throw blanket more expensive than my car. I vacuumed children’s bedrooms bigger than my apartment. Rob’s House — my picky Friday client who adored me — had $3,000 worth of television and stereo equipment just in the living room. The TV was always on. My Christmas card from him and his wife contained a $100 bonus, the highest the company had ever seen. That was around when the prescription bottles multiplied by the bathroom sink and Rob’s skin took on a yellow tone.
Usually I never met my clients. I saw the lady from the Porn House after cleaning one time, at the store. She had on green hospital scrubs under a long red coat. Her short brown hair stuck out on one side, and she smoothed it while inspecting the steaks on clearance. I stood about 10 feet away from her, trying not to stare, holding cough syrup and juice for my daughter. She had no idea who I was. I knew she’d just gotten over a long sinus infection, and spat large wads of snot in the shower.
I saw the lady who used the testosterone cream at a restaurant. Her date was tall, in good shape, with fluffy blond hair. She had on high heels and too much makeup. They smiled at each other, but didn’t hold hands. He’d left an overnight bag at her house that week while the kids were at their dad’s. It had lube and one of those egg vibrators in it. I stood across from them at the bar, waiting for a friend, thinking how sad it must be to lose something like your libido.
“The money my clients spent startled me. One house had a receipt for a throw blanket more expensive than my car.”
After a while, I got used to the loneliness these houses held. I got used to Cigarette Lady, whose husband went out of town a lot. She kept cartons of cigarettes in a freezer in the garage. They were the long, skinny types; I don’t remember the brand. A pantry off the kitchen had fat-free soups, crackers, and fat-free salad dressings. The refrigerator contained not much more than water and lettuce. A toilet in the upstairs bathroom off the kitchen always had crusted vomit under the rim.