They worked at one of the hotels. He cleaned the mirrors and mopped the floors, and she was a chambermaid. They had a small room tucked in the corner of the third floor, where they lived rent-free. The room had a double bed, a small table fit for two, a television bolted to a chest-of-drawers, a mini-fridge, an art deco lamp and a hot plate. There were no books in the room, and the light bulbs seemed to flicker in agreement. The curtains were a shade of okra. The walls mustard blush. The linen, however, did match nicely. A window looked out over the alley and into another window, which looked out over the alley. There was a washroom, which he kept spotless, and which she disliked.
His days began at five. She didn’t have to start until eleven, so each morning as she slept he kissed her forehead and whispered in her ear and left the room quietly. He made his way to the second-floor supply room, where he gathered his wares. Two buckets, one filled three quarters full with a one-to-twenty mix of concentrated floor cleaner and water. One with just hot water. One mop. Four green towels. Four white cloths. Three blue streakless rags. One can of stainless steel cleaner. Two sets of rubber gloves, one blue and the other orange. After that he made his way to the first floor.
It was his responsibility to clean the lobby washrooms. He always began with the toilets, then moved on to the countertops, the sinks and the faucets. He saved the mirrors for last. He took special pride in cleaning the mirrors. His father had cleaned mirrors; and his father, and his father before that. Mirrors tended to streak easily, leaving an impression of laziness. He preferred to use hot water only, making one round of the mirrors with a blue streakless rag, and then a second round with the white cloth, which with the correct applied force dried the mirrors clean and streak-free.
When satisfied with the mirrors, he would mop the floors. He first made a round with the soaped mop, sure to scrub hard at each hardened stain, each pained smudge. After being careful to rinse the soaped mop well, he let it sit for a moment in the second bucket of hot water. In this moment he thought of nothing. Then he squeezed every last drop of water out of the mop and went over the floors again, and with the correct applied force they would dry to a shimmering spotless brilliance. The floors throughout the hotel were tiled white, and difficult to maintain. They were never as perfect as they were in these early day moments, so perfect that when he looked down at them he could see his reflection staring back. The floors, in these moments, were his. Virginal, where no one but him was there to see them.
After the two washrooms and the lobby floors, he cleaned the twelve mirrors that surrounded the front desk. Then he would make his way to the second floor, where there were twenty mirrors, and again tiled floors. Skipping the third floor he would make his way to the fourth, where there were eighteen mirrors, and more tile. Finally he cleaned the seventeen mirrors on the top floor--the fifth--before mopping and making his way down to do the mirrors and floors on the second. He would return his supplies, rinse his rags and mops and set them out to dry before returning them to their room. He would shower, and clean the washroom. When he was fully satisfied with the brilliant perfection of the mirror, he would stare at himself and masturbate into the sink, careful to clean up afterwards. He found that hot water and his ejaculate gave the porcelain sink a reflective gleam. Content, he would take a nap and wait for her to come back to the room. He was usually done by noon.
Not once in their nine years together in the hotel had she heard him leave the room. Each day, when she awoke at 10:48, it was as if she had slept alone. She dressed quickly in her chambermaid uniform, a uniform that lacked the perverse sensuality of its fantasy cousins. Describing its colour as gray would be a disservice to gray. Its cut was not flattering, which was sad in that somewhere beneath her slate pillowcase of a uniform was a figure that once deserved flattering. Each morning after observing herself in the mirror she left a small thumbprint in its corner.
She only had to clean the guest rooms on floors four and five. She retrieved her cart from the storage room on three and proceeded to the fifth. She changed the sheets and made the beds. She emptied the wastepaper baskets. She cleaned the washrooms and replaced the towels. She added new rolls of toilet paper. She put the Bibles back where the Gideons had placed them. She emptied ashtrays. She dusted. She vacuumed the carpet. She cleaned the windows. In each room. Rooms exactly like her own.
Although they were supposed to take the service elevator, she preferred to take the stairs between floors, even though it was difficult with the cart. They were most often empty and she enjoyed the quiet. The gray walls matched her uniform, and sometimes she would lean into the wall to see if she could disappear entirely. More often than not she would sit between the fourth and fifth floors and have a smoke, counting the number of times the exit sign would flicker in the seven minutes of her cigarette. She would remember once being pretty.
When she completed her rounds she would return her cart to the supply room. Sometimes there was another chambermaid returning her cart, which made her nervous and excited, but not often. There was a window in the supply room that she enjoyed. If she opened the window and stuck her head out at the right angle, she could see a park across town that had an antique steam clock and a row of weeping willow trees, where the prostitutes and junkies spent their nights.
Her duties never took her past three o’clock. She would return to their room, where he would always be waiting, sitting at the edge of the bed, fresh from his nap. She would walk over to him, and he would unbutton her uniform so that he could fondle her breasts and suck gently on her left nipple. They would undress themselves and get into bed, where he would crawl on top of her and position himself in a manner that though awkward, given the correct applied force would make them both come almost instantly. He is much smaller than she, and looks childlike in her bosom. After intercourse they would take turns showering, him second of course so that he could clean the washroom to his liking. For dinner they’d reheat leftover meals she’d found on her rounds in a small pot on the hot plate. They’d watch syndicated television and eat in silence.
After dinner they’d go down the lobby bar, where she’d have a gin and club soda and he’d have a rum and diet cola. She’d have three, and he’d have four. The bar was garnished in dark stained oak and draped in hyacinth and lilac velvets. The clientele came and left in pairs. The men wore charcoal suits and lavender ties, crisply starched eggshell shirts and freshly shined leather shoes. The women wore identical dresses, rich cuts in shades of plum to complement the men and the upholstery, low-cut nearly to the navel revealing brilliant dangling jewelry, ample décolletage and playful seductive freckles. The two would drink their drinks and speak quiet thoughts of insignificance to their reflections in the mirror behind the bar. Someone playing the piano would play something on the piano. The bartender would say something about the weather, or the local sports franchise, or the weather. A familiar man in a trilby hat and a mulberry scarf would sit alone in the corner. It would become later, and they’d return to their room and go to sleep.
This morning he makes his way to the second-floor supply room, where he gathers his wares. Two buckets, one filled three quarters full with a one-to-twenty mix of concentrated floor cleaner and water. One with just hot water. One mop. Four green towels. Four white cloths. Three blue streakless rags. One can of stainless steel cleaner. Two sets of rubber gloves. After that he makes his way to the lobby.
He begins with the toilets, and moves on to the countertops, the sinks and the faucets. He saves the mirrors for last. He uses hot water only, making one round of the mirrors with a blue streakless rag, and then a second round with the white cloth, which with the correct applied force, dries the mirrors clean and streak-free.
Satisfied with the mirrors he mops the floors. He first makes a round with the soaped mop, sure to scrub hard at each hardened stain. Then, after being careful to rinse the soaped mop well, he lets it sit for a brief moment in the second bucket of hot water. In this moment he thinks of nothing.
He cleans the twelve mirrors that surround the front desk.
He makes his way to the second floor and cleans the twenty mirrors, and again the tiled floors.
He skips the third floor.
He goes to the fourth, and cleans the eighteen mirrors, and more tile.
Finally he cleans the seventeen mirrors on the top floor--the fifth--before mopping and making his way down to do the mirrors and floors on the third.
She retrieves her cart from the storage room on three and proceeds to five. She changes the sheets and makes the beds. She empties the wastepaper baskets. She cleans the washrooms and replaces the towels. She adds new rolls of toilet paper.
He returns his supplies, rinses his rags and mops and returns to their room.
She opens the door to room four eleven. A tall familiar man in a trilby hat sits on the bed. She walks over to him and the man hands her a mulberry scarf. They engage in brief wooden intercourse. She has a slight orgasm. The man in the trilby hat ejaculates inside her, his hat does not leave his head, their eyes do not leave each other’s. He smooths his suit, and leaves the room. She changes the sheets. The pillows are placed at right angles. She turns out the lights, and leaves the room as it was.
He showers, and cleans the washroom.
She puts the Bibles back where the Gideons had placed them. She empties ashtrays. She dusts. She cleans the windows.
He tries to masturbate, but finds he is unattracted to himself. He thinks nothing of it.
He takes a nap.
He wakes from his nap and moves to his perch at the edge of the bed. The door does not open. It is 3:10.
He dresses and goes to the bar.
He orders a bourbon and milk. The bartender compliments the weather. He orders a bourbon and milk. The bartender bemoans another loss by the local sports franchise. He orders a bourbon and milk. The bartender compliments the weather. He orders a bourbon and milk. The man in the trilby is not in the bar. The mirrors are quiet.
He returns to the room and she is waiting for him, and greets him with the art deco lamp across the forehead. He is cut quite deeply just above his right eye. He falls to the bed, and the blood quickly blinds him.
He is trying to fight her, but the bourbon has made him weak, the lactose has made him heavy.
She wraps the mulberry scarf around his neck, and pulls it tight so that his face matches its colour, and his blood flows eagerly from the cut, and as his sight comes back, his breathing suffers.
She drags him by the scarf to the spotless bathroom, where she thrusts his tired body into the mirror again and again and again.
The mirror is sullied by shades of scarlet and violet.
For the first time he realizes how much bigger than him she is.
How much stronger.
How much angrier.
How beautiful she is in the room without the light of the art deco lamp.
Him still fighting her, she stuffs his head into the toilet bowl and holds him under water with just the correct applied pressure. The scarf and his blood pool together. He believes he notices a scuff mark on the porcelain as his last effort for breath bubbles helplessly to the rim like a crimson bleach foam.