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Quietly Cleaning the House

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As the girl enters the house, the light lemon smell – fresh and crisp – rushes past her as the wind takes it out through the front door in a single, steady gush. The rustic hardwood floor feels dry but is slippery to the touch of her sock-covered foot. The normally messy and scattered mail table has been neatly arranged with orderly piles, extracting the magazines from the letters. The dark marbled counter-top has been swept clean of the breadcrumbs, Cheerios, and drops of milk that were left-over from breakfast. As she passes the living room, the blankets are perched atop the side of the couch and are similarly folded like the American Flag. Upon moving upstairs, the girl notices the sheets on her bed have been switched from the eggshell-white to black. The clothes have been stacked near her dresser, waiting to be put into their respective drawers, and the collection of DVDs has been precisely assembled in heaps of five on her bed-side dresser. On her way out, she catches a glimpse of her stuffed animals standing like soldiers in her corner chair. It was then clear that the cleaners have come.
The same house cleaners have been cleaning the girl’s house for as long as she can remember. Jodi, Jovanna, and Michelle arrive anywhere from nine to eleven in the morning and stay just under two hours. When the girl was younger, she used to leave early for breakfast dates with her mom while the cleaners worked tediously around her house. On the days her mom was busy, she would sit in the kitchen, eyes glazed over, watching Michelle scrub the leftover residue off the oven burners while she munched on Frosted Flakes. She would turn to her left to find the pattern in which Jovanna mops the floor mesmerizing –– back and forth, circle, circle. As the girl got older and older, her days of watching Jodi and her team clean were long gone. Most of the time, she was at school by the time the cleaners came. But, during the summertime, she had transitioned into sleeping through their entire visit. The girl had developed a skill of ignoring the constant, cacophonous roar of the vacuum cleaner sliding among the carpeted rooms. She refrained from letting the opening and closing of doors intertwined with the reserved chitchat from Jovanna and Michelle wake her. And before she knew it, she was left with just the quiet hum of silence mixed with the tree branches brushing against her window.
When summer came to an end, the girl and her family made a trip out to the movies on a Tuesday night. She had just finished reading The Help and was dying to see the newly-adapted film. When the movie started, she was probably more excited to watch Emma Stone than learn from the historical event. But, by the end of the movie, she was intrigued by the fact that she knew close to nothing about her house cleaners. They have been cleaning her house for over a decade and she only knew basic facts. Saddened by this realization, she asked her parents for more details about the women who visit once a week. She learned that Jodi, the owner of the cleaning company, was an astonishingly accomplished woman. Jodi had graduated from Harvard, can fluently speak four languages, including self-taught Portuguese, and has managed to raise twin boys. The girl was dazed by the feats Jodi had completed, and her accomplishments still resonate with the girl to this day. When the conversation faded away, the continuous hours of soft-rock replaced the increasingly stale air accumulating in the car. As her parents discussed back-to-school plans and her sister played on her phone, the girl watched the shadows of the trees drawn on the charcoal gray sidewalk reappear then disappear. She reflected on the meaning of invisibility and how often it appears unplanned. But worst of all, she wondered how she knew so little about someone who has visited her house 522 times.

House cleaning may seem like a mundane job. The process of hiring someone else to clean up your own mess echoed oddly in the girl’s head. The act of folding t-shirts and dusting window sills was not strange to the girl, it was the fact that the person who was dusting and folding practically walked around unknown. The girl’s confusion led to a desire for change. She wanted to modify the current situation. So, when Friday rolled around once again, she started with a simple ‘hello’.

A few weeks later, and the girl was home sick. It also happened to be the rare occurrence that the cleaners came a day early. So, with tissues in hand, she propped herself up on the kitchen stool. With her Frosted Flakes in hand, she watched Michelle scrub the ovens clean. Once she consumed every single flake floating in the ocean of milk, she cleared her plate.
As the Michelle, Jovanna, and Jodi continued to mop the floors and vacuum the rugs, the girl left a copy of this essay for them to read and made her way back to her room.





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