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Authors: Nita Prose

The Maid (27 page)

BOOK: The Maid
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God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

I took her serenity pillow from behind me on the chair. I put the pillow over Gran’s face and held it there.

I couldn’t look at the pillow. I concentrated instead on her hands, a worker’s hands, a maid’s hands, hands so much like mine—clean, nails trimmed short, callused knuckles, the skin thin and papery, the blue rivers beneath them receding, their flow ebbing. Once, they extended out, her fingers grasping, reaching, but it was too late. We’d decided. Before they could reach anything, they relaxed. They let go.

It didn’t take long. When all was silent, I moved the pillow away. I hugged it to my chest with all my strength.

There she was, my gran. She looked for all the world as though she was fast asleep, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open, her face serene. At rest.

Now, as I lie awake in her bed over nine months later, with Juan Manuel just down the hall, I think of everything that has come to pass, of these past few days that have turned my life upside down.

“Gran, I miss you so much. And I can’t believe I’ll never see you again.”

Count your blessings.

“Yes, Gran, I will,” I said out loud. “It’s so much better than counting sheep.”

I wake to the familiar sounds and smells of breakfast being made—the coffee brewing, the shuffling of slippers in the kitchen. Even the sound of humming.

But it’s not Gran.

And I’m not in my own bed. I’m in hers.

It all comes back to me.

Rise and shine, dear girl. It’s a new day.

I shift out of bed, slip my feet into slippers, and put Gran’s housecoat on over my pajamas. I tiptoe to the bathroom to freshen up and then walk to the kitchen.

There he is, Juan Manuel. He has showered—his hair is still wet. He’s humming his little tune, clattering dishes and scrambling eggs on the stovetop.

“Good morning!” he says, looking up from the pan. “I hope you don’t mind. I ran to the store and came back very quiet. You didn’t have eggs. And this bread?” He points to the crumpets on the counter. “For me it is strange. I don’t know how to cook it. Too many holes.”

“They are crumpets,” I say. “And they’re delicious. You toast them, then add butter and marmalade.”

I grab the bag and pop two into the toaster.

“I hope you don’t mind that I make breakfast.”

“Not at all,” I say. “It’s very kind of you.”

“I bought some coffee. I like coffee in the morning. With milk. And eggs. And tortilla, but today, I try something new—I try your holey crumb-pets.”

Together, we bustle around the kitchen getting breakfast ready. It’s incredibly strange, to move around the kitchen like this with someone who isn’t Gran, but we’re done in a flash. We sit and I prepare our crumpets with butter and marmalade.

“Do you mind? I washed my hands.”

“If there’s anyone I know who is clean, it’s you,” Juan Manuel says.

I smile at the compliment. “Thank you very much.”

The eggs are unusually delicious. He’s prepared them with some kind of sauce that has a bit of spice. It’s tangy and delightful. It goes remarkably well with the marmalade and crumpets. I’m able to savor every bite in silence because he is chattering on and on, like a morning sparrow. He’s holding his fork as he speaks, and I can’t help but marvel at how he keeps his elbows politely off the table.

“I FaceTimed with my family this morning. They don’t know about all the other stuff, and I won’t tell them. But they do know I stayed here last night with a friend. I showed them your room, your kitchen, your living room. Your photo.” He takes a sip of coffee. “I hope you don’t mind.”

I can’t answer because my mouth is full, and it’s rude to speak with your mouth full. But I don’t mind. I don’t mind at all.

“Oh, my cousin, Fernando? His daughter is turning fifteen next month. I can’t even believe it! In my country, when a girl turns fifteen, there’s a big family party, and we hire mariachis, and we make a big meal, and we dance all night. My mom, she had a cold, but now she’s all better. This Sunday, they’ll take a family picture at dinner and they’ll send it to us. You’ll see everyone. And my nephew, Teodoro. He went to the farm and rode a donkey. Now all he does is pretend to be a donkey. So funny…. Oh, I miss them so much.”

I swallow the last of my crumpet and wash it down with some coffee.

“It must be so difficult,” I say. “Seeing them only through FaceTime.”

“They’re far away,” he replies. “But they’re also still here.”

I think of his father and of Gran. “Yes,” I say. “You are right.”

Before we can talk more, my cell phone rings. I’ve left it in the living room.

“Excuse me,” I say. “I don’t normally take calls during meals, but—”

“I know, I know,” he replies.

I walk to the sitting room and grab my phone.

“Hello?” I say. “This is Molly. How may I be of assistance?”

“Molly, it’s Mr. Snow.”

“Yes, hello.”

“How are you?” he asks.

“I am well. Thank you for asking. And you?”

“It’s been a trying time. And I owe you an apology. The police led me to believe things about you that were simply not true. I should have known better, Molly. Our rooms could use your care, and I’m hoping you’ll be coming back to work in the near future.”

I’m pleased to hear this, extremely pleased. “I’m afraid I can’t make it to work just this minute. I’m right in the middle of breakfast.”

“Oh no. I didn’t expect you to come in immediately. I meant, when you’re ready. You take all the time you need, of course.”

“How’s tomorrow?” I ask.

I can hear Mr. Snow breathe a sigh of relief. “That would be most excellent, Molly. Cheryl has unfortunately declared herself unwell, and the other maids are doing double duty. They miss you terribly and they’re worried about you. They’ll be so glad to hear you’re coming back.”

“Please send them my regards,” I say.

Something is niggling at me, and I decide to voice it. “Mr. Snow,” I say. “It was brought to my attention that some of my coworkers find me to be…odd. I believe one term used was ‘weirdo.’ I’m wondering if you might provide me with your opinion on this matter.”

Mr. Snow is quiet for moment. Then he says, “My opinion is that some of your colleagues ought to grow up. We are running a hotel, not
a preschool. My opinion is that you’re one of a kind in all the right ways. And you’re the best maid the Regency Grand has ever known.”

I feel pride lift me. I may very well have grown a couple of inches as a result of his words.

“Mr. Snow?” I say.

“Yes, Molly.”

“What about Juan Manuel?”

“I’ll be calling him as well to make sure he knows he has a job here as long as he wants one. Apparently, his work permit situation is resolvable. None of what happened was his fault.”

“I know that,” I say. “He’s right here. Would you like to speak with him?”

“He’s…what? Oh. Yes, that would be fine.”

I walk to the kitchen and pass Juan Manuel my phone.

“Hello?” he says. “Yes, yes…I’m so sorry, Mr. Snow, I…no, I…”

At first, Juan Manuel can barely get a word in edgewise. “Yes, sir…. I know, sir. You didn’t know. But thank you for saying that….”

As the conversation continues, it turns back to work. “Of course, sir. I will be talking to a lawyer today…. I appreciate that. And I’m very happy to have my job.”

There’s a bit more back and forth between them. Then, at last, Juan Manuel says, “I’ll be back at work as soon as I can. Goodbye, Mr. Snow.”

Juan Manuel hangs up and places my phone on the table.

“I can’t believe it. I still have my job.”

“Me too,” I say. I feel a warmth spread through me, a
je ne sais quoi
verve I haven’t felt in some time.

He claps his hands together. “So,” he says. “It looks like two people in this kitchen have the day off. I wonder what they will do….”

“Tell me something, Juan Manuel,” I say. “Do you by any chance like ice cream?”

Today is a beautiful day for so many reasons. Just last night when I went to bed and began to count my blessings, there were so many that I made it over a hundred in no time. I must have fallen asleep eventually, but I could have kept counting the whole night through and never run out.

And today, there are even more good things, too many to count.

The sun is shining. It’s warm outside, with no clouds in the sky. I have just arrived at the Regency Grand, and I’m bounding up the scarlet steps toward Mr. Preston, who has just relieved some incoming guests of their luggage.

“Molly!” he says, his whole face a smile. “It’s nice to see you at work instead of across a crowded courtroom.”

“Isn’t it a beautiful day, Mr. Preston?”

“That it is,” he replies. “We’re at work, and Rodney is behind bars. All’s right with the world.”

I wonder if there will ever come a day when hearing Rodney’s name won’t produce an acidic churn in my stomach and a tightening in my jaw.

“Where’s Juan Manuel?” Mr. Preston asks.

“He’ll be along shortly. His shift starts in an hour.”

“Are we still on for Sunday? I’m looking forward to his enchiladas. You know, I’m not the most adventurous when it comes to food, and with my wife long gone, I don’t get up to much in the kitchen. But that man of yours, he’s opened my palate. Maybe a little too much,” he says, chuckling and patting his belly.

“He’ll be very pleased to hear it, Mr. Preston. And yes, we’ll see you and Charlotte on Sunday at the usual time. I best be going. Much to do today! There’s a wedding and a conference. Mr. Snow says all rooms have been booked for a solid week. Say hello to Charlotte.”

“I will, dear girl. Take care.”

Mr. Preston turns to help some guests. I push through the revolving doors and take in the lobby. It’s as grand as the first day I laid eyes on it—the austere marble staircase, the golden serpent railings, the plush emerald love seats, the buzz and hum of guests and valets and porters bustling to and fro. I breathe deeply, then head toward the basement. But just as I’m about to take the stairs down, I notice the neat penguins behind the reception desk. They’ve stopped working. They’re all looking my way. Several are whispering to one another in a way I don’t care for, not in the least.

Mr. Snow emerges from a door behind Reception. He sees me.

“Molly!” he says. He comes rushing over. “You were brilliant. Absolutely brilliant.”

I’m having trouble focusing on his words. I’m watching the penguins, trying to understand why they’re so fixated on me this time.

“I merely told my truth,” I tell Mr. Snow.

“Yes, but it’s your truth, your testimony that clinched it. You were so calm and steady on the stand. And you do have a gift for words, you know, and for remembering details. The judge saw that and knew you were a reliable witness.”

“Why are they staring?” I ask.

“I’m sorry?” Mr. Snow says. He follows my eyes to the reception desk. “Oh, I see,” he says. “If I had to guess, I’d say they’re in awe. I’d say the look they’re giving you is respect.”

Respect. I’m so unaccustomed to being the object of such an expression that I can’t even recognize it.

“Thank you, Mr. Snow,” I say. “I best be going. I have many rooms that must be returned to a state of perfection, and as you know, rooms don’t clean themselves.”

“They most certainly do not. Good day, Molly.”

I head downstairs to the housekeeping quarters. It’s stuffy and close as usual, but I’ve never minded it, not in the least. I’m standing in front of my locker, where my uniform, freshly dry cleaned and crisply pressed, hangs in gossamer-thin plastic wrap. My uniform is yet another blessing. It is a thing of great beauty.

I take it into a change room and put it on. Then I return to my locker and open it. Detective Stark returned Giselle’s timer to me long ago, and I keep it on the top shelf to remind me. Of her. Of us. Of our strange friendship that was and wasn’t.

It’s time.

I have a new bit of accoutrement that I also keep in my locker, an addition to my uniform. It’s an oblong gilt pin that I wear just above my heart. It reads

In a bold and unexpected move, Mr. Snow promoted me about a month ago. Far be it from me to tell tales, but it would seem that Cheryl’s work ethic was not meeting Mr. Snow’s high professional standards, for she was stripped of her supervisory role and it was bestowed unto me.

I have since instantiated some new best practices to improve the overall functioning and morale in the hive. First, before every shift, I see to it that each maid’s trolley is fully and properly supplied. I love this part of my job—arranging the soaps and tiny shampoos in their trays, replenishing the polishing cloths and detergents, stacking the fresh, white towels in perfect piles. On special days—such as Mother’s Day—I leave little gifts for the maids in their trolleys, such as a box of chocolates with a little tag:
From Molly the Maid. Know this: your work is sweet.

Another new best practice is how we begin a shift. All of us maids gather with our trolleys and agree to a fair and equitable room distribution, both in terms of the quantity of rooms each and the potential to earn tips. I have made it abundantly clear to Cheryl that she is not to “preview” rooms assigned to other maids and that if she so much as takes a dime off another maid’s pillow, I will eject her unceremoniously from the hive and run her over with her own trolley.

We have a new maid on our team. His name is Ricky, and he is Sunshine’s son. Cheryl was quick to point out that he has a lisp and wears eyeliner, two facts which, to be perfectly honest, are so irrelevant that I failed to notice either over the entire course of his month-long training. What I did notice, however, is what a quick study he is, how he delights in making a bed with no creases, how he polishes glass to a high shine, and how he greets guests with the manners of a fine courtier. He is, as managers say, a keeper.

I received a raise when I was promoted, and between that and the fact that I’m now sharing the cost of rent, I’ve been able to start my very own Fabergé. It’s not much yet, just a few hundred dollars, but I have a plan. I’ll keep growing the egg until I have enough to enroll once more in the hotel management and hospitality program at the nearby college. With Mr. Snow’s permission, I will work around my class schedule, and in a year or two, I will graduate, magna cum laude, and return to full-time work at the Regency Grand with even better skills and a more complete knowledge of hotel management.

Perhaps the biggest change in my life is that it’s now official: I have a beau. I’m told it’s in vogue to refer to him as my partner, and I’m trying to get used to that term, though every time I say it I think of partner in crime, which in some ways we were, though I didn’t know it at the time.

When Juan Manuel eventually received a work permit and returned to the kitchen, Mr. Snow offered him his own room in the hotel for as long as he needed to get back on his feet. But on evenings and weekends, when we weren’t working, Juan Manuel and I spent a lot of time together. It took some time for me to fully trust that he really is what he
appears to be—which is a good egg. And I believe it took him some time, too, to trust that so am I.

I’ve learned to judge friends through their actions, and Juan Manuel’s actions speak volumes. There are the big things, like standing up for me in court and saying that I didn’t know a thing about the illegal activities going on at the hotel. But there are also the small actions, like the brown paper bag lunches he prepares for me, which I pick up from the kitchen at precisely noon each workday. Inside the bag is a delightful sandwich and a sweet treat that he knows I will like—shortbread biscuits, a chocolate, and from time to time, a raisin-bran muffin.

There are still days when I feel very sad about Gran, and when I text Juan Manuel to say I’m blue, he responds immediately—
He’ll bring a jigsaw puzzle that we’ll tackle together, or he’ll help me with my daily cleaning chore. If there’s anything that raises the spirits more than a good tidy, it’s a good tidy with company. And for my part, when I know Juan Manuel is blue and misses his family, I refrain from offering tissues. I offer hugs and kisses instead.

Two months ago, I asked Juan Manuel if he wanted to move out of the hotel and in with me. “For cost-saving purposes,” I clarified. “Among others.”

“I’ll only agree if I’m allowed to do
the dishes.”

Reluctantly, I agreed.

We’ve been living quite happily together ever since—splitting the rent, making meals together, calling his family together, shopping together, going to the Olive Garden together…and more. Juan Manuel shares my love of the Tour of Italy platter. We often play a game where we have to choose just one part of the Tour of Italy to eat if we one day become stranded on a desert island.

“You can choose only one—the chicken parmigiana, the lasagna, or the fettucine Alfredo.”

“No, I can’t choose. It’s impossible, Molly.”

“But you must. You have to choose.”

“I can’t choose. I’d rather die.”

“I’d rather you stay alive and well, thank you very much!”

The last time we played this game, we were at the Olive Garden. He leaned forward and kissed me across the table, right under the pendant light, all without ever putting his elbows on the table, because that’s just the kind of man he is.

Tonight, we will go out, just the two of us, to the Olive Garden. After all, we have reason to celebrate. Yesterday was a big day for both of us. We each took the stand in the trial against Rodney. Charlotte spent weeks preparing us for cross-examination, for every difficult question the defense could throw at us. In the end, Juan Manuel took the stand before I did and told the court his very sad and terrible truth. He told them how his papers were taken from him, how Rodney threatened his life and those of his family members, how he was forced to work for Rodney, and how he was burned repeatedly. In the end, it wasn’t Juan Manuel who was attacked on the stand. It was me.

Do you truly expect this court to believe you didn’t know anything when you were literally wiping cocaine off tables every morning?

Is it accurate to say that
Mr. Black’s accomplice?

Is Giselle your friend? Is that why you’re protecting her?

I wanted to tell them that Giselle doesn’t need my protection, not anymore, not since her abuser, Mr. Black, is dead. But I learned from Charlotte that in court, when a question assumes, you don’t have to answer it. And since I didn’t want to make an A-S-S out of myself, I allowed Charlotte to object. And I said nothing.

Detective Stark tried many times to get Giselle to appear in court, but to no avail. Once, she managed to get her on the phone. She located Giselle at a hotel in Saint-Tropez. Detective Stark begged her to come back to the country and take the stand. She asked who the charges were against, and when she learned they were against Rodney, not me, she said, “Hell no. I’m not going back.”

“Did she say why?” I asked.

“She said she’s wasted enough of her life on guilty men. She said that everything’s different for her now, that she’s free for the first time ever.
She said that unless I can track her down and serve her a subpoena, she’ll come back when hell freezes over. She also said I’m the detective, not her, that it’s my job to put the villain behind bars.”

That sounded like Giselle. I could almost hear her saying it.

In the end, I took the stand with only Juan Manuel to corroborate my side of the story.

Apparently, I did well. Apparently, I had a calm demeanor on the stand and the judge took notice. Charlotte says that most witnesses feel attacked up there, and they either lash out or break down.

I’m used to name-calling and insinuations about my character. I’m used to verbal jousts and jabs. They’re fired my way every day, often without me even being aware of them. I’m used to my words being my only defense.

For the most part, being on the stand was not difficult. All I had to do was listen to the questions and respond with the truth, my truth.

The hardest part was when Charlotte asked me to walk the court through my memory of the day I found Mr. Black dead in his bed. I told them about Mr. Black almost bowling me over outside the suite. I told them how I entered later that day and Giselle was gone, how I turned the corner to the bedroom and saw Mr. Black lying there. I told them every detail I could remember—the drinks on the sitting-room table, the open safe, the spilled bottle of pills, Mr. Black’s shoes akimbo on the floor, three pillows on the bed, not four.

“Three pillows,” Charlotte said. “How many are usually on a bed at the Regency Grand?”

“Four is our house standard. Two firm, two soft. And I can assure you, I always kept four clean pillows on that bed. I’m a very detail-oriented person.”

A muffled eruption of laughter traveled through the courtroom, laughter at my expense. The judge called for order, and Charlotte asked me to continue.

“Tell the court, Molly. Did you see anyone in the suite or in the hallways, anyone who might have had the missing pillow?”

BOOK: The Maid
7.94Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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