I was going to write about a window cleaner, because I love cleaning windows. But this is what it became instead.
She'd never intended to be a house cleaner. It's certainly not as though she had aspired to it as a child or anything. Nonetheless it had evolved through a series of small choices, as so many things in her life had. The beauty of it, she realized, was that she loved what she did. Loved it unquestioningly, ceaselessly, and simply. When she entered a client's house, she would sometimes shudder. Not from disgust, or from judgement. Never that. The shudder that would roll through her came from a place of sheer anticipation. She was about to transform a space, and, she imagined, to make people feel as wonderful as she always felt in the midst of cleanliness and order.
She worked while her clients were themselves out working. They toiled at jobs that afforded them great big homes and absolutely no time to tend to them. She never failed to give a holler on entering a home. She had once arrived an hour early for a job and inadvertently strode into the master bedroom while the home owners were in the midst of a weekly 'engagement' that had terrified her and embarrassed all three of them. She promptly left, returning at her appointed time and assuming she would be fired. But the following week, there was her usual check and a polite little note reminding her of her start time. It taught her to never arrive unexpectedly, and to always, always give a holler when you come through the door.
After she greeted the resident pet, rare as they are in these ornamental and silent homes, she headed straight for the kitchen. The heart of the home, she always maintained, and second dirtiest only to the bathrooms. She had an eye for details and took pride in cleaning light switches, silverware drawers, cupboard doors, underneath sinks, and garbage cans. Places most people didn't even notice getting dirty. But the ones who did notice were the people she chose to work for, and they were the reason she could afford to clean only four houses a week. They valued the results of her detail oriented labor, and paid her accordingly.
Surfaces were well dusted, with knickknacks removed and replaced to please her own eye. She knew this illustrated to her clients that she dusted thoroughly and didn't just wipe around things. She also felt that her own decorative aesthetic was universally pleasing. She had never had a complaint, which emboldened her to occasionally rearrange an entire room. She believed in more than just cleaning a space. She felt that one's surroundings contribute to either a sense of calm or of chaos. She took intense pleasure in entering a room that looked beautiful, and felt clean and uncluttered. Even if a client uncharacteristically requested something like 'please only dust in the living room' they still came home to find tidy piles, bookshelves rearranged alphabetically, pillows plumped, and drapes pulled back just enough to let the evening sun softly filter into the room.
Tending to the upstairs of each and every home she entered was her favorite part of the job, and she always saved it for last. This is where people are truly at home, she thought. This is where hair comes down, bras come off, and the deeply vulnerable acts of bathing and sleeping happened. Though she was detail oriented everywhere, she took extra care here. She took care of common areas first, such as landings and libraries and offices. Always the dirtiest rooms in any home, she took a singular pleasure in leaving the bathrooms sparkling. Bedrooms, always her favorite part of a house to tend, came last. Children's rooms made her feel nostalgic as she worked. She organized toys, paying close attention to which ones were left in unmade beds. When she remade those ordinary beds with one corner of the sheets and comforter turned down, it suddenly became special. A waiting bed, a comforting, beckoning bed. The child's favored toy would be carefully tucked in under the fold with its head resting on the pillow. She remembered how hard it had been to learn multiplication tables and to navigate the changeable waters of friendship and the humiliation that came so easily in gym class. And how coming home to her own childhood room had felt. How her own favorite toy would be waiting to greet and comfort her.
Teenagers rooms were intimidating. She was shocked by the things she saw in most of them. And while she was still fastidious, she knew better than to rearrange anything. She did her job and left these rooms less chaotic and smelling much better than when she entered.
In master bedrooms she felt her kindness and her care meet most conscientiously. She moved about with the intent of creating a peaceful, lovely, and quiet space. Each surface was dusted, each item replaced with an eye to convenience and beauty. The bed was completely re made, the covers turned down and the pillows fluffed. She imagined the people who occupied these rooms stepping through the door and taking it all in. She hoped that in seeing all of the details she had minded, they would feel safe, relaxed, and cared for.
As she left whichever home she had just cleaned, she felt proud of the job she'd done, and confident that no fault could be found. She could lock the door behind her and be done with it. As she walked to her car, she felt so much better than she ever had leaving a courtroom. Even when she won. She had definitely taken a step up in the world.