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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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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