Manlio Vargas and his wife had a contract with a certain family. Every other Friday they would go to this family’s house and clean it. From sweeping the basement where the cat’s litter box resided to polishing the hardwood floors and cabinets until they gleamed, he and his wife cleaned.
They had been cleaning this house for thirteen years. They had watched their employers age and the daughter of the household grow up from a mere toddler, and they had witnessed the arrivals and departures of several goldfish until the cat showed up.
They saw the Thursday night arguments when they gathered the papers scattered all over the kitchen island and cleared away the beer bottles huddled in a corner. They saw giddy shopping sprees when they stacked together brand name shoeboxes and hung designer clothes. They saw achievements being awarded when they washed the dirty dishes of once grand feasts. They saw peaceful ordinary nights when they put away bowls from simple meals.
A house alone can tell its stories.
It was Manlio’s job to clean the bedrooms.
For thirteen years he fluffed pillows and tucked blankets and folded clothes and organized desks. At times, cleaning bedrooms made him feel like a detective. He felt that if he looked hard enough he could even piece together his employers’ lives in the outside world.
The only thing keeping him from doing so was the fact that every other Friday, when he walked into the master bedroom, the king-sized bed was already meticulously made and the magnificent desk across from it completely bare.
Sometimes he hung up a scarf the cat had dragged down.
The daughter of the household was slightly more helpful in his fantasy investigations.
Today, textbooks were piled on one side of her desk. A box of tissues suggested her allergies had started up again. The latest issue of the school newspaper lay upside down on the center of the desk, one of its corners trapped beneath a deadly-looking science textbook. As he moved to straighten it out, a column offering advice and good luck for the coming final exams stared up at Manlio.
He freed the newspaper and moved on to making the bed.
Two weeks later, the textbooks and the tissue box and the newspaper were gone. A small flower in a glass of water had taken their place.
Manlio glanced at it. He did not recall seeing this flower in his employers' garden.
He began to fold the pajamas.
Over the summer, their employers took long vacations. This year they had gone to some exotic place in Asia. Manlio and his wife still cleaned.
They dusted the furniture, brought in the mail, fed the cat, watered the garden, and other menial tasks that Manlio couldn’t quite keep track of. They had to come in every week because of the cat.
Cleaning wasn’t as fun when there weren’t people to clean up after.
It was on the third week of their employers’ summer vacation that Manlio noticed the next clue.
Every Friday when he and his wife arrived, Manlio picked up all the week’s mail and placed it neatly on the kitchen counter in plain sight for when his employers returned. Then they began their usual chores. Now, with his wife caring for the garden and the cat sufficiently entertained, Manlio’s share of the work was finished, so he idled around the house.
He took a peek at the pile of mail. Magazines. Official-looking letters. Catalogues. And many different sized, colorful envelopes from the same address, written in the same handwriting from the same black pen, all for the daughter.
Manlio almost picked one up.
Then his wife came in, announcing she was done.
Then they left.
The next week, Manlio picked up the mail accumulated on the front porch as usual. He snuck a glance. A bundle of decorated envelopes from the writer with a black pen met his eyes.
Summer was close to an end. Manlio and his wife’s employers had returned. Their schedule went back to every other Friday.
Manlio entered the daughter’s room.
The pile of envelopes lay in a sloppy pile on her desk. A little bit behind it was a small, stuffed toy cricket and a fist-sized bag that smelled of lavender. As he gathered together all the envelopes, he noticed that the tags of these souvenirs were in French.
Soon, the textbooks reappeared on her desk. The first school newspaper of the year followed. Binders, notebooks, and papers cluttered the area, and Manlio obligingly sorted them out.
The envelopes and the souvenirs remained in their own untouched halo of space.
Small notes began to pop up. But they were folded, so Manlio’s gaze scarcely lingered.
One Friday, he saw that the notes had been pinned up to a wall.
He proceeded to wipe the face of the clock hanging next to them. When he was finished, he made the bed as usual, straightened out the desk, and left.
I’m not sure why I keep writing these notes to you, but I’d like to think that maybe you’ll find this sometime and then do that cute thing where you smile and stuff [smile now].
Don’t forget how awesome you are.
~ your gf
The next time Manlio walked into the room, the notes were gone. The desk was bare, save for a single pencil and a forgotten glass of water. The bed was made. The pajamas were folded. All the clothes were placed neatly in the closet.
Manlio carried the glass of water downstairs to the kitchen sink and rinsed it. He then began to mop the floors.
Every other Friday, Manlio and his wife cleaned.