After fifteen years of wonderful employment, my house cleaner, Rita, is fulfilling her dream by packing up, leaving this godforsaken state with its interminable winters, and heading south with her daughter to North Carolina.
I'll miss Rita. I'll miss our conversations and her tips on how I should clean my house. ("To dust the ceiling fan use the small attachment on the vacuum," she'd say, watching to make sure I did it right.) Okay, so Rita didn't clean ev-er-y-thing. She scrubbed the toilets and that's worth more than $20 an hour right there. I can count on one hand the number of days she missed work in almost two decades.
Plus, I learned stuff about the neighbors. Like who had pot growing in their basements and which ones insisted that Rita dust the forty picture frames on her wall, whose checks bounced. This is news you can use. There were some weeks when I was on deadline and Rita was the only adult outside of Charlie to cross my path and I was damned glad for the company. She read my books and gave me a thumbs up or a thumbs down. She brought fresh vegetables from her garden and also crystals.
Rita's a witch. No, honestly. She was born on October 31 and she used to work for a local company that made Wicca products. My dog, Ben, had it out for her, though my other dog, Fred, who's about as psychic as a brick, never cared. The cats, I swear, scattered in her presence.
If it hadn't been for Rita, I never would have had a career. Rita kept me from wasting my time on vacuuming and washing the floor. I know Sara Paretsky insists on cleaning her own sinks, but I'm not Sara Paretsky. I'm German and I cannot work in a dirty house. Because of Rita, my family stayed relatively healthy. I owe her a lot.
My new cleaning woman used to work for my next door neighbor Trish - who died last year - and the only upside to that is Trish was the messiest person, ever, so I know that when Jasmina walks through my door she won't be shocked. Unlike Rita, Jasmina's religious, a Muslim in fact, which means that this month she's cleaning during the blasted hot August temperatures without a sip of water because of Ramadan. I find this cruel and unusual punishment.
Also, Jasmina gets down on her hands and knees to wash with a rag. She wipes windowsills and - gasp - windows. She straightens up, something Rita refused to do, and vacuums only half as much. When she is done, she says, "Sarah. You come and inspect, eh?"
She is Bosnian so I know there's some funky stuff in her past. But I don't know her well enough to ask. Rita would go outside for a smoke after the vacuuming and talk. Not Jasmina. She works straight through. Rita used to wear headphones that played NPR and we'd spend way too much time having political discussions. Jasmina barely speaks English.
There's something peculiarly intimate about inviting another human being into your home to whisk away the stray pubic hairs and sanitize the toilet seats. It's wrong, like SaraParetsky says. I know that. But I also know that when I come down the stairs and see my gleaming kitchen and sparkling living room, I feel inspired to walk the straight and narrow.
That is until SOMEone lets a few brownie crumbs drop onto the floor. Or the dog drools. Or the husband tracks in mud. The daughter spills the yogurt. The cats deposit the bleeding mouse.
So, who cleans your house?