The West |

the Maid

by Amina Cain

Clarisse, cleaning a room. Me, falling on the ice, taking some kind of mild drug, being separated by an invisible rope. I feel like I am being held back by this rope, as if everywhere I go I am distant from what I see. Cleaning next to Clarisse, the one person I am close to, a strange excitement. We go into different rooms, I get bored. The next morning walking to work again, an ice storm. It’s six o’clock. Everything separated by ice, for everyone, separated, not just for me. I wish you didn’t have to work so hard, Clarisse says. I like being a maid, I say. Though I am collecting dirt, I am being washed all the time. This hotel. Something inside me.

I strip the sheets off the bed, throw them on the floor. In the next room, Clarisse says once in a while I have to take this. I want to know why I am like that. The ice covers branches, electrical wires, pieces of grass, even the beak of a bird. Did it die in the storm? In my bedroom, the cameo necklace my grandmother gave me, something Clarisse gives me, on paper. Keep it in your pocket, she says. I touch a smudge on the wall, find the thing on paper, make dinner for Clarisse, eat quietly. A lamp on the wooden table, an album with sounds of geese, and then wolves howling. Eight o’clock. Dinner long over, but Clarisse won’t go home.

Let me read to you, let me wash your feet. I stiffen up, then I let her. It doesn’t stop snowing. The water sends a chill up my spine. I start to cry. Why are you crying? Is it spring? Not quite, still winter. Cut my stomach, accidentally. The warm water, my feet, painting of a red cape that just flies away. How do you know what you are? Put dishes away, wipe off the table. Thank you, Clarisse. You’re welcome. Keep this, you’ll need it. I like to think I don’t need anything. It’s not true, take this black ribbon. Wrap it around my eyes. Clarisse plays the sounds of a storm. Next to it is the storm outside. I sit next to the heating vent.

I’m comfortable now. But I know someone is making tracks outside. If something changes, I’ll beg for it to stay the same. Last week at the library I just stood there, witnessing myself and another, shamed. You don’t have to work again until Monday, you can go home and hide yourself. I always thought you’d do something else with your life. But it’s this, I don’t mind. Channeling, I think about my grandmother. We always knew we were the same person. Are we? One maid turns into another. Night. Ten o’clock. Wave after wave washes over us, someone is making tracks. Monday comes more quickly than I thought it would. Five o’clock. I wake up, it’s still dark, put on my clothes, start walking. Something clean in the air.

At the hotel, flapping the towels. Collecting laundry for the linen service. I slide down the wall and sit on the floor. What are you doing, asks Clarisse, it’s not time for a break yet. The boss is gone, no one will see me, I vacuumed right when I got here. What does vacuuming have to do with it? Today everything is normal. I could shame Clarisse, and I wouldn’t care. The empty hallways of the hotel become crowded. So many people are staying here. From behind his newspaper, a man watches me. Overcast sky, painting of a river scene, children with kites. Everything is frozen. It’s winter. Tramps everywhere.

Evening, to myself, read, walk. I managed to get a book. And always, cleaning to be done. Play music, the woman’s voice. Scrub the bathtub, mop the floor, fall into bed, stay still. Queen. How many are walking around out there? Like people, like ghosts. Try to find a pencil, draw all over my arm, read again. Nine o’clock. Forgive me if I add something more about myself since my identity is not very clear, and when I write I am surprised to find that I possess a destiny. Who has not asked himself at some time or other: am I a monster or is this what it means to be a person?

*The last two lines of this text are taken from The Hour of the Star by Clarice Lispector.