Her legs began to go numb as they tingled from her weight. She was on her knees again, scrubbing. Always scrubbing. The chill of the linoleum floor made goosebumps run over her thighs under her pants.
This home didn’t belong to her. She wouldn’t enjoy the benefits of her labors. Mrs. McCormick, or Mrs. Glenn, or Mrs. Whomever Ella worked for that day would come home after she left. All part of the job, you show up, clean, and leave.
Her clients always paid on time. She couldn’t complain about that. She had complained enough in her earlier days.
Sloshing her sponge in the bucket, she became overpowered by the strong wave of the pine cleaner’s scent. It made her squint as she looked away to get a breath. She sat back and asked herself, “Why am I doing this?”
A vision of her mother standing over her, shouting that the floor wasn’t clean enough, grew so vivid Ella shook as if she had been transformed through time.
At six years old she had been scolded again and again for not doing enough chores. No matter how much she cleaned, it was never done correctly. She had always wished to please her mother, but often received the bitter sting of an open palm against his cheek instead of the hug she craved.
Working to gain control of her breathing, Ella blinked at the bucket before her. The filmy bubbles atop the mixture popped in a translucent shatter of rainbows. “I need a vacation.” She brushed her forehead with her arm, careful to keep her thick rubber gloves from touching her skin. “How did I get here?” She sighed.
She had learned to pay close attention to side boards and corners. Always better to hand scrub. Mops usually left something behind. Her fingers grew raw as she continued to scrub. Somehow water always splashed into her gloves, irritating her skin, but she preferred that to the irritation of the life she had lead before.
Pushing down on the sponge, she thought of her ex-husband: a wealthy man who had loved her, enough. He had enjoyed taking her out, showing her off. She was always a waif of a thing. Her mother had called it good breeding. Others called it a high metabolism. Ella didn’t care. She always felt sick, small and sick.
After enough years, she had grown to loathe her skin and bones. She tried binge eating but it led to vomiting. When she cut off all her light hair, but got complimented on her cheek bones. No one seemed to notice that she was alone, least of all her husband.
Dipping the sponge back in the bucket, she let her gloves stay submerged for a few moments. Swirling her fingers around, she watched the ripples of the water dance in a circular pattern. “Some people look down on what I do.” She laughed to herself.
Leaning over the mixture, she glimpsed the murky reflection of her perfect features. “But this is freedom.” She gave the surface a splash and squeezed the sponge before slapping it on the floor to finish the last of her cleaning.
As she rubbed back and forth, she remembered the day she came home to find her husband being rubbed down by another woman. Some pudgy red head wearing only a thong giggled as he cupped her breasts while she moved down on him.
Ella never realized how little everything meant until then. Her husband didn’t even notice her watching from the doorway. She stood frozen, unable to look away. It hurt so bad she eventually found herself stepping backward. She kept going until she stumbled against the hall closet.
The knob pressed into her spine. Something in that closet called to her. She had turned and gripped the handle automatically. Without thinking she opened the door and found the mop.
It would do.
She’d never used it. He had bought it for her, but she always preferred hand scrubbing ever since she was a child.
Unsure of what to do, she tiptoed down the hard wood floors. When she looked in the room again, her husband lay back resting and flaccid. He must’ve gotten off fast. He was alone in the bed, but Ella could hear the red head rustling around in the master bath.
Without warning, she tightened her fingers around the mop handle and rushed upon her husband, knocking it against his face again and again. He had cried out at the first blow, but she smacked the metal against him so hard that by the last hit his only response was blood.
She smiled at his weakened frame. Looked down to the red on the mop with a crooked grin. It had been his idea to get the most expensive one he could find since she refused to allow him to hire a cleaning lady for his “princess”. He had never been much of a prince she realized.
Once he stopped moving and there was no rise and fall to his chest any longer, she set the mop down and turned to find the bathroom door wide open. Her husband’s fling had fled, but Ella didn’t care. She felt accomplished.
She walked down the hall and out of the house. It had never been her home. Nothing in it truly belonged to her. Just like the house she was now cleaning, but the work earned her everything she needed: new name, new life, new goals.
Unless the clients angered her, then she’d use a mop.
Banner Image: Bubbles – by Diane M Dickson