After The Departed left, I got to know The Cleaning Lady. I started to come downstairs and chat with her when she came – just for a while – and she would ask after The Child, and offered me support in a hundred different ways, starting with testifying, if it came to that. She was understanding when I reduced her hours, due to my decreased budget, and I was glad to have one less thing I had to do.
Our needs changed, with the new household configuration, and so although she’d originally been requested to do the laundry, I asked her to please stop, and focus her efforts elsewhere. I could see dust in the formal dining room, at times, but more importantly, she wasn’t any good at laundry. I didn’t mind losing a couple of sweaters to the dryer – they were cashmere, but they were also gifts from The Departed in sizes much too large – but I did mind seeing white items gradually turn grayish blue from being washed together with jeans. The Child begins to get interested in clothes, and I show her how to wash her new sweaters on the gentle cycle and lay them flat to dry – and then I would have to stop the Cleaning Lady from picking up the sweater and the towel and tossing both into the dryer.
You don’t dry them, I explained. They’re wool.
Okay, she’d say, and then hang them, damp, in the closet.
I gave up the repeated discussion and told the Child to dry her sweaters in the guest room, and shut the door so the Cleaning Lady wouldn’t see them. Every so often, I reminded the Cleaning Lady that we really didn’t need our laundry done for us anymore, but unless I reminded her on a specific visit, it got done anyway. I found it was easier to simply do the laundry before she visited, although it didn’t always work with my schedule and sometimes resulted in me having to rush before she visited.
The dishes sometimes don’t seem clean, and I discover why after one of her visits: She has no idea how to load a dishwasher, placing tall items so that they are perfectly positioned to prevent the sprayer arm from moving, but always being sure to use the heated dry cycle I’ve requested she never use, so that everything that wasn’t washed off is securely baked on. I avoid addressing this – I’m a little sensitive about giving lectures on how to load dishwashers, having been the recipient of so many. The Child decides to talk about it with the Cleaning Lady, and tells me later, She argued with me and then said she’d teach me the right way, but I was trying to show her.
I know I need to do something about it, but I feel guilty: she’s a war refugee, putting daughters through college. Her grandson has leukemia.
My father says, Stop feeling guilty.
I point out that it’s his fault I’m genetically inclined to nonstop feelings of guilt.
She should probably get a different kind of job, says The Child.
I am sure this is true, but her English isn’t the best, and I feel bad all over again, until I start my spring cleaning early, and locate the other one of my two nice, fluffy, white, post-divorce towels, buried at the back of my linen closet. I hang it in my bathroom, next to the matching towel, the one that doesn’t match any more, since it has acquired the same grey pallor of every other piece of white fabric in our house.
It’s a Target towel, hardly expensive, but the thought of replacing these two nearly-new towels rankles me as much as the thought of having to look at the two of them hanging together, not matching, and neither of these things bothers me as much as the irritation I feel about having raced around trying to avoid just this sort of thing, in vain. Cleaning before the cleaner gets there, out of necessity rather than vanity.
And suddenly it’s not about feelings, it’s about math: what it is costing me annually to have my whites turned grey and my food baked on my dishes and things put back not where they belong and furniture chipped along the floor from where she slams into it with the vacuum despite my repeated requests to please, please be careful not to hit things.
So The Child and I make a deal: She will help with the cleaning, and this year – for the first time in several years – we will take a vacation somewhere special with the savings.