Bonnie ZoBell

Three in the morning and hotel guests want a maid: it can't be anything good. I put a highlighter into my anthropology textbook to hold my spot and jump up from the table in Housekeeping.   

Cass, our boss, generally sleeps all night in back in the locker room and lets Juanita and me take turns answering phones and going on calls. Juanita doesn't tell anybody that I study and get paid to write papers for classmates during the graveyard shift; I don't tell anybody about her scrapbooking or boyfriend.

"Room 442," Juanita says, hanging up the phone. When people are paying for spa rooms that start at $915 a night, they don't have to tell you ahead of time what the problem is.

Pushing my cart along the hotel's tiled hallway, I hear the wheels echo in the quietness of early morning, Ker-plunk-plunk-plunk, ker-plunk-plunk-plunk.    

I knock and say, "Maid service!" just loudly enough that adjoining rooms won't complain.

"Give us a minute," comes the garbled reply.

I straighten stacks of toilet paper on my cart, make sure the sheets and towels are piled in such a way they don't wrinkle.

The door creaks open. "You alone?" a middle-aged woman asks. Her face, especially around her eyes, is puffy, no doubt why she wants the use of the spa.

I nod that I am.

When she pulls the door farther, I see that both she and a man wear the white terrycloth robes that come with the room.

"We needed someone to straighten up a little," she says, never once looking me in the eye.

"Sure." I wonder what catastrophe this is code for. The two of them, slightly plump, sit at the far end of the room, next to sliding glass doors leading to the pool, where they can watch the wide screen and comfortably pretend I'm not there.

There is no blood saturating the bed, a good sign, though something doesn't smell very good. I straighten the two queens, replace the pillowcases, and leave a second piece of chocolate on each. So far so good.

I pick up wrappers, throw out soda cans lying around. No used condoms or snotty Kleenex. All good.

Unfortunately, the possibilities for the one room left aren't pretty. I step into the bathroom, and there it is. There is diarrhea on the wall and it's not that close to the toilet. A hotel blow-dryer lies in the middle of where it pools on the floor. My nose automatically shuts down. I use my mouth to breathe instead.

I grab dirty sheets and towels from the laundry bag on my cart, throw them over the whole situation, try to focus on what we're studying in forensic anthropology while I clean. My professor is researching two cold cases of women buried in backyards in San Diego for the M.E. Murdered bodies almost always leave fecal matter behind when the muscles let go. Seeds found therein and cleaned, and insects can help crack open cases. But these two cases are too old for bodily fluids to be of any help.

One was buried under a back patio. Records indicate no married couples living in the home in decades, yet the tissue breakdown and insect activity show it was more recent than that. The neighbors don't remember the patio being replaced. A cheating mistress a previous owner couldn't forgive? A stranger buried when the homeowners were on vacation?

The other woman, found under a lemon tree, is estimated to have been there since the seventies. Maybe her children couldn't wait for their inheritance. Or someone wanted to forever keep an eye on her to prove she'd never leave him.

Could the man or the woman in the hotel room have been defecating on the wall and using the hair dryer at the same time? I should want to know, since my major is anthropology, what makes human beings do the things they do. I tie a pillowcase across my face, pull waste basket liners over my hands, try to look sideways as I carry on, though I should be studying everything. One was already using the toilet and the other couldn't wait? The latter had to use the blow-dryer to dry off?

Carefully wrapping the worst of it—including the hair-dryer—in the heart of the towels, I lift the whole bundle and dump it in the sack on my cart. Before wheeling everything out to the dumpster, I return to spray a lemon-scented disinfectant and admire the sparkling floor and wall I have left behind.

"Good night," I say to the couple, who stare frantically at the wide screen. 

"Night," they say.

I sneak a last peek in as I close the door and see that they have shifted upon my exit. Now they are holding hands across the table, gazing into each other's eyes.

Juanita is not in Housekeeping when I return from the dumpster, so I know she is in one of the vacant rooms with her boyfriend from Plant Operations. There are no calls for the rest of the night even after she returns. We've already refilled cleaners, stacked the carts for the day crew, scoured the lunch room. She works on a scrapbook of her husband's family and her own, children and grandchildren, while I page through my textbook, reading about calculating stature from metatarsals.

When our shift is almost over, we wake our boss so she can ready herself for her day job, and Juanita goes to the restroom to clean up before going home. I drive straight to school and the cafeteria for my three cups of caffeine to stay awake through early morning classes. Later, at home, I slip under my covers and try to keep my eyes shut. I make myself think of waves crashing on the beach and flowers blooming in the desert and dates I might go on once I've finished school as I lie there in bed, beneath the tin foil I've taped to the windows to keep the world out.

Bonnie ZoBell's fiction has received awards from the NEA and the PEN Syndicated Fiction project and has appeared in Night Train, elimae, Greensboro Review and others.

Detail of photo art on main page courtesy of Jef Safi.

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