Someone to Clean

Lila stood up quickly and spilled the rest of her coffee in the sink, rinsed the cup. She gathered her cleaning supplies. Arms laden, at the foot of the stairway, she said, “Come up and tell me what to throw out, what to keep.”

He shook his head.  “You decide.”  He wouldn’t go up.  He would seal the door and never enter that guest room again.  But as she worked, Lila kept shouting down to him.  What about those towels, that nightgown, the bars of soap, the bedpan?  And each time he called back, “Throw it out.”  He went to the garden to escape her questions.

He was sitting in an Adirondack chair when the limo bringing his children from the airport pulled into the drive.  They had scheduled flights to arrive at similar times.  He heard doors shut, luggage being retrieved, the voice of the driver, and he was hesitant to go to them, unsure what he should say, what they would say.

Finally, with the sound of the limo backing out to the street, he stepped around the side of the house and went to his children.  None of them spoke.  His son shook his hand.  His daughters stood side by side.  As much as they sounded alike on the phone, they were striking opposites in person, the one who looked like Virginia long and thin, with the same unruly curls of auburn hair, the other short and plump, her face round and pink.  She was the one who stepped forward and hugged him, a brief light embrace.  Then her tall sister reached out to squeeze his hand.

He carried his daughters’ suitcases and led them inside, placing the luggage against a wall in the hallway.  Although their old rooms were available, the same furniture they had grown up with dusted, the beds made by Lila, they had chosen to stay in a hotel.  “You’ve got enough going on without having to fuss with us,” his son had said on the phone the day before, and Mason didn’t argue.

As the four of them stood uncertainly in the living room, Lila squeezed down the stairs with three bulging black plastic bags.   “This is Lila,” he told his children.  “She’s worked for your mother for years.”  Then he introduced his children by name.  They said “hello” and Lila just nodded, edging toward the kitchen door.

“Let me help you with those.”  Mason took the one that looked heaviest from her, hoping his son wouldn’t offer.  He didn’t want him to have to touch any of the mess.  He followed Lila out to the shed at the end of the patio where the garbage cans were stored.   She stuffed the three trash bags into a corner.

“Is that everything?” Mason asked.

“Most of it.  I’ll have to come back another time.”

“Of course.”

Then he looked at her closely and saw that she had one of Virginia’s necklaces around her neck, an elaborate brooch fastened crookedly to her denim shirt, objects from the jewelry box in the master bedroom.  The large bags had hidden them.

“What are you doing?”  He pointed, turned his index finger in a circle from neck to chest.

“She gave me these.”

“When?  I never heard anything about it.”

She covered her shirt with a forearm, brought the other hand to her throat.

About to shout for his son, Mason changed his mind.  Perhaps Virginia had.  The pieces couldn’t have been worth much.  And what if they were?  He didn’t care.  His daughters wouldn’t wear them.  They weren’t to their tastes.

“She wanted me to have them,” Lila insisted.

“All right.  Take them.”