Every day Luisa left a new piece of art at the foot of his bed. They were washcloths shaped like animals, a different one each day. She was very talented.
He knew it was Luisa because she signed her work. She left a card that said Your Room Was Cleaned By ____________. It’s my pleasure, and Luisa wrote her name on the line. He suspected she left those cards in all the rooms she cleaned, but maybe she was reaching out. She’d written her name there, by hand, just for him. She dotted the i with a circle.
He was in Denver for Spiral training. Spiral was the new supply-chain management software his company was adopting. It was very complicated and must have been very expensive. What else would justify sending him away for a whole week? Unless they just wanted to get rid of him, which wasn’t so difficult for him to imagine. Everyone was wanting to get rid of him these days. His wife, for instance. She was looking forward to him being gone for a few days. She actually said that.
Spiral wasn’t very interesting. When it came down to it, neither was his job. The training was also not interesting. It involved going back and forth between sitting in an auditorium staring at a PowerPoint projection, and sitting in a breakout room staring at his own individual screen. He did not take notes. There was an hour break for lunch, and he went to Chipotle.
When each day’s eight hours of training were over, he walked back to his hotel room. On the way, he stopped at the grocery store and got himself a deluxe piece of carrot cake. Once he made it back, he ordered a small pizza through a smartphone app.
These were stale days, but there was one good thing about his time in Denver: Each time he came back to the hotel, his room was clean. There was no effort or argument. It was just clean. He didn’t have to think about how much he should contribute, and he didn’t have to feel guilty. The deal here was that Luisa did the cleaning. Learning Spiral was his job, and cleaning was hers.
Each evening he lifted the new washcloth animal to his nose and inhaled deeply. Peach hand lotion. Then he went to his suitcase and pulled out one by one the other washcloth animals. A monkey, a bunny, a frog… They were held together with pink rubber bands. He didn’t know they made pink rubber bands, but leave it to Luisa to know about things like that.
He arranged the washcloth animals in his bed like stuffed animals. Then he took off his clothes and lay there in his underwear, flipping through the channels while he ate.
He got to know Luisa quite well over the week. The animals she chose for him, the smell, the way she wrote her name—all this gave evidence of the kind of person she was. He formed a picture of her: thick black hair, chestnut skin, strong hips.
Sure, he didn’t really know what she looked like. But at his age, looks hardly figured into the equation. Once you’ve already been married, you were in a different marketplace. And anyway, the things he did know were more important.
She was whimsical. She had a spirit and energy that no one in his life had anymore. He’d had it once, when he was a kid. Now the only vestige of whimsy in his life was the cutout Dilbert strip on his cubicle wall. But Luisa had maintained her sense of wonder. She refused to be boxed in. She was daring. The kind of woman who would drop everything and run away if she had to.
She was getting to know him, too. The scent of his body, lingering in the sheets. He pictured her breathing it in as she made the bed. The kind of deodorant and toothpaste he used—Dove Men+Care and Sensodyne Pronamel—which said a lot about a person. The hair he left in the shower. Healthy brown, no sign of gray. The way he sat his suitcase like another person on the armchair. Maybe she looked through it when she came in each day. He wouldn’t mind. He left yesterday’s pants crumpled on the floor, and she folded them up just like they do at Kohl’s. She ran her hands over the crotch, felt inside the pockets. Maybe she turned on the television to see what he’d been watching. He made it a point to leave it on Nature even when he’d spent most of the evening watching E!. Luisa loved nature. Just hopefully she didn’t scrutinize the garbage too closely for signs of infidelity.
She didn’t know what he looked like, either, but all this probably gave her a pretty good image. Not that he was proud of what he’d become. His thirties hadn’t been kind to him. His body wasn’t as bright and taut as it used to be, but he didn’t think Luisa would mind. She was a creative spirit. She’d see past his drooping shell. She’d see his potential. Together they would create a new future for them both.
He fantasized about skipping the last day of training and staying in his room to surprise Luisa when she came in. He could order them room service. And wine, too. She seemed like a white zinfandel type of woman. Maybe that would be too much.
He got the notepad from the desk. It had the hotel’s name at the top of every page. Lying in bed with the Kardashians on, he searched for the words that would express what he was feeling.
He wrote that he appreciated her service these days, no, her company, and that he felt chemistry and he hoped she did too. He told her he’d get back to the hotel at 5:45 p.m. and he hoped she’d be there to meet him. Or she could leave a note. Maybe they could get together for dinner later. He left his phone number. He wrote his email, too. His work address. Luisa didn’t seem like an email type of person, but even so.
At the training the next day, the final day, when everyone else was falling asleep at their terminals and wiping the drool from their sweaters, his mind was racing with excitement. He thought about Luisa. He thought about the people back home who’d been trying to get rid of him, and he didn’t care that they’d succeeded. They could keep their smug faces because he was getting the better deal.
That evening he came back to his hotel. Luisa was not there, but there was a white turtle at the foot of his bed. Procrastinating, he pulled a diet soda from the fridge and sloughed his clothes before examining the turtle.
The first thing he noticed was that the rubber bands were drab, not pink. He looked at the card. His room had not been cleaned by Luisa. It was cleaned by Margo.
In the end, Luisa had wanted to get rid of him, too.
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