I Won’t Clean the Tub

He said he just wanted tow­els. There was no rea­son to be afraid

Geist - - Contents - Kathryn Mock­ler

Iworked as a cham­ber­maid in a small ho­tel in Mon­treal the sum­mer I grad­u­ated from Con­cor­dia Univer­sity. It was a four-storey grey build­ing near Mount Royal. Maids were in­structed to knock on all doors be­fore we en­tered and not to clean a room if a guest was still in it. Doors were al­ways to be left open. I re­mem­ber be­ing told these rules when I first started, but I was more con­cerned about learn­ing how to cor­rectly make a bed. My boss was a harsh woman with straight hair tied back in a bun. She was tall and thin and had ex­cel­lent pos­ture and looked more like a bal­let teacher than a ho­tel op­er­a­tor. She wore green dresses and a strong-smelling per­fume that lin­gered in the ho­tel rooms and hall­ways long af­ter she had checked on my work. She was very strict, very un­friendly and very con­cerned about my hospi­tal cor­ners, which I al­ways failed to get right. “Why can’t you learn to do this prop­erly?” she would say as she demon­strated for me for the tenth time how to make a bed.

Work­ing at this ho­tel is where I dis­cov­ered the cus­tom of leav­ing tips for cham­ber­maids. Once I got a twen­ty­dol­lar bill. I was afraid it was too much money, so I took it to my boss.

“What should I do with it? Should I keep it?” I asked.

“Why shouldn’t you keep it?” she said. “They left it for you. Of course you should keep it.”

De­spite com­plain­ing about my bed­mak­ing abil­ity and that I worked too slowly, my boss left me alone most of the time. Some­times I would do my whole shift and not see her once. I was the only maid Mon­day to Wed­nes­day, and she worked the front desk an­swer­ing phones and greet­ing the ho­tel guests. The ho­tel was empty dur­ing the day on weekdays. The best rooms to clean were on the third and fourth

floors. These rooms were the bright­est and big­gest and had blue and green and yel­low flo­ral cur­tains and bed­spreads. Each had a small desk for let­ter writ­ing sup­plied with ho­tel sta­tionery and pens. The big­gest room had a loveseat that I liked to sit in. Of­ten these rooms had fam­i­lies stay­ing in them. I al­ways felt en­vi­ous of the fam­i­lies on their va­ca­tions, their tourist pam­phlets spread out on the bed or on the dresser. I looked through the pam­phlets even though I wasn’t sup­posed to. I wanted to be these peo­ple trav­el­ling to the art gal­leries in old Mon­treal, stop­ping for lunch, hav­ing café au lait on a pa­tio. I did not want to be me, who was not only not trav­el­ling but also scrub­bing pu­bic hair off their toi­let so it would be clean for them when they re­turned from sight­see­ing.

The worst rooms to clean were in the base­ment. These were sin­gle-oc­cu­pancy rooms where mostly older men stayed for long-term ac­com­mo­da­tions. The base­ment smelled musty and was dark. The win­dows were small, the rooms no big­ger than clos­ets. The men that stayed in here never tipped and al­ways left the rooms filthy.

I got to the base­ment on a par­tic­u­larly quiet af­ter­noon well af­ter three o’clock. I knew I was be­hind sched­ule, but also knew there was only one room to clean. I quickly grabbed the metal door­knob and knocked. There was no an­swer. I knocked again and said, “Maid ser­vice,” but heard noth­ing, so I pulled out my key and opened the door. The room was dark and the cur­tains were shut. A man around forty was sleep­ing on the sin­gle bed near the door. I apol­o­gized and re­treated into the hall, but he said, “It’s all right. Just clean while I’m in here. I want the garbage taken out and new tow­els. You don’t need to vac­uum.”

I paused for a mo­ment. “I’m not sup­posed to clean while guests are in their rooms,” I said.

“It’s fine. I don’t mind,” he said.

I left the door open and brought my clean­ing sup­plies into the bath­room with my head down.

The room smelled of urine. The toi­let looked like it hadn’t been flushed in days. I turned away from it al­most gag­ging and stood in front of the mirror. I was about to clean it when I heard the door of the ho­tel room click shut.

Sud­denly the pur­pose of the open door rule dawned on me. I tensed and felt prick­les of elec­tric­ity in ev­ery pore. Any­thing could hap­pen down here. The tiny win­dow in the room was triple-paned and sealed shut. No one ever came into the base­ment un­less it was to clean a room. If I screamed, no one would hear me.

I was too fright­ened to step back into the room but said from the bath­room in a shaky voice, “I’m sup­posed to leave the door open.”

“Oh, I don’t need it open. I’m just go­ing to be sleep­ing,” he said.

“My boss wants us to.”

He didn’t an­swer.

I couldn’t move for a mo­ment. I had to fig­ure out what to do. If I ran out of the room, there was a chance I could un­nec­es­sar­ily es­ca­late the sit­u­a­tion. He said he just wanted me to tidy the bath­room. He said he just wanted tow­els. There re­ally was no rea­son to be afraid, I tried to tell my­self.

I wiped the mirror quickly, my hands shak­ing. My throat was so dry I could hardly swal­low. I said to my­self over and over—i won’t clean the tub. I won’t clean the tub. I won’t clean the tub. As if declar­ing I wouldn’t clean the tub would some­how pro­tect me in this sit­u­a­tion.

It was when I bent down to empty the garbage that I saw them. Ten or more used con­doms strewn hap­haz­ardly around the bath­room floor. And in the garbage bin, a stack of Pent­house mag­a­zines, which were wet.

Fear has no time for dis­gust in mo­ments such as these, so I quickly emp­tied the bin into my garbage bag and picked up the con­doms with a pa­per towel and threw them in too. I gave the sink a wipe, grabbed the dirty tow­els, and stepped back into the small, stale, dark ho­tel room where the man was face-down snor­ing.

Hold­ing my breath, I walked across the room to the door, fright­ened he might grab me on the way, but he didn’t. I silently be­rated my­self for be­ing so stupid as I turned the han­dle on the door. In one sec­ond it would be over, and I would never set foot in a room with a guest in it again. Never ever, ever again.

Just as I was about to make my es­cape with my cart down the hall to the el­e­va­tor and back up to the re­cep­tion desk, with its fake rub­ber tree plant and my boss wait­ing to ad­mon­ish me with a scowl, the man said, as if he had never been asleep, “Did you put the fresh tow­els in the bath­room, love?” I hadn’t. I for­got.

“Not yet,” I said, try­ing not to sound afraid.

“Could you please?” he asked. I gath­ered some tow­els for him slowly and de­bated whether I would go back into the room when I heard the base­ment door creak open.

It was my boss. She was walk­ing to­ward me. She was fu­ri­ous. I smelled a strong waft of her per­fume as she stood be­fore me.

“You haven’t fin­ished yet?” she said. “Why are you so slow? You are slower than any of the other girls.” Peer­ing into the room, she saw the man on his bed and frowned.

“He wanted some fresh tow­els,” I said in a way that al­most sounded like I was de­fend­ing him.

“Sir, she can­not clean the room if you are in there.” My boss took the tow­els out of my hands and put them at the end of his bed. “If you’d like your room cleaned prop­erly, you must leave be­fore two-thirty.”

The man ig­nored her and turned over on his side with his back to us.

She shut his door loudly and then looked at her watch. “It is half past three. You should be fin­ished by three. I can­not pay you if you take longer than any­one else to do this job. To­day I’ll pay you un­til three-thirty. To­mor­row I will not. You must learn to work faster. And you must learn to fol­low the rules.” I started to cry.

“Why are you cry­ing?” she said. “I don’t know,” I said, wip­ing my eyes. But I did know. I was cry­ing be­cause I was relieved.

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