The Cleaning Lady

by Beth Kander

Maya was irrationally nervous about this whole thing. Paying for someone to clean her home didn't just feel decadent, it felt indecent; garish. It felt like she was getting away with something while also flashing her whole hand.

Maya's mother had cleaned other people's houses her whole life, showing up with a bucket full of cleaning products (not the eco-friendly ones people use these days, the really powerful chemical ones that reeked of antispectic and pine), nodding hello if the clients were home when she arrived, or deftly grabbing a key from a Hide-A-Rock to let herself in if those were the instructions provided.

When she was very young, Maya accompaned her mother on some of those cleaning jobs. Almost always the ones where clients weren't home, but every once in awhile on a school break or when the neighbor couldn't keep her, Maya was there for the ducked-head arrivals. She remembered one client who got all glassy-eyed when she saw her, hurried to find her some snacks, fussed over her effusively, look at those eyes, what a beautiful little girl. Another client, weaks later, heaved an unsubtle sigh, irritated at the lack of professionalism a child represented.

Waiting for her own hired cleaner to arrive, Maya began to picture what she might look like. Would she look like her own mother, short and buxom and makeupless? Would she be a mother, herself? What if she brought a child along? Maya should have purchased animal crackers. She had no good snacks on hand. Her meals were mostly vodka, ever since Ed left. Bare cupboards.

Maya had gone through a service to hire the cleaning lady, Sparkling Clean Maids. It had all been very impersonal, conducted online. She filled out a form, got an estimate, voila, appointment made. No need to call and speak to a real human being. So much easier.

There was a Coming Soon section of the website, where apparently there would soon be a gallery of tiny thumbnail images of all the cleaners employed by Sparkling Clean Maids. Maya knew that if that page had been live already, she would have scrolled through it, looking at all the faces, searching for the one she wished she could see again. The one that would come closest, anyway. The one that might bring comfort. Reassurance.

You've had a tough year, Lainey had told her over drinks last week. Find a few ways to help yourself out. Meet with a financial planner. Go to a spa. Hire a cleaning lady.

Lainey had made the suggestion as the last in a list, probably not even remembering what Maya's mother had been; what she had done for people; how much Maya missed her. Maya had Googled 'house cleaners Chicago' as soon as she got home. Found Sparkling Clean Maids, whose ad was promoted. Set this appointment.

Maya spent all last night cleaning, so when the cleaning lady arrived, she would be impressed. Look at this already-clean house. They barely need me! This woman keeps a lovely home. But I'll find something to do here anyway. I'll make things really sparkle for her.

The doorbell rang. Maya jumped, hurrying to the door, straightening her hair, hoping this woman, whoever she was, would like her.

She opened the door, and her heart began to crumble.

"Hello, miss," said the smiling young man on the stoop. "I'm Lou, from Sparkling Clean Maids."

By Beth Kander, 2019. Do not reprint without permission.


  1. Oh, Beth, Maya must be my mother. She always cleaned up the house before the cleaning lady came. She did so into her 80's.


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