We hired the cleaning girl on Monday. By Thursday we wanted to fire her. She hadn’t stolen anything. But we just didn’t want her around anymore.
I have to explain some things first. We are very successful people. We are considered to be pioneers in our field and have sterling reputations. Certain people call us for our opinions on delicate matters. We went out and worked for it.
I know people these days don’t want to hear that kind of language - “work ethic” - but it’s the truth. I will take facts along with my six figures. My wife does the same - she actually gets paid more. So, in conclusion, we can afford cleaning girls. We have obtained that luxury. It means we are able to show our strength off. We can get away with it because any Google search tells you, quite emphatically, that we are respected figures. We keep people employed.
The point, I feel, is made.
It doesn’t mean that’s it all perfect, though.
Our being rich didn’t mean we didn’t have our disputes. I spoke to my wife about the cleaning girl by the poolside as the sun beat down on our bones and hurt our tanned skin. It was just about the end of summer. We had to take advantage of these autumn lazy days as best as possible before busy season. We don’t have kids or canvas bags for grocery shopping. We weren’t those type of people. We just had a problem. The problem was that we weren’t used to change. But we just had a real big change happen - our old cleaning girl died a few weeks ago. The newspaper told me the reason but it didn’t just add up to me.
“How should we tell her?” I asked my wife as I sipped the Tanqueray. She sat in the chair reading a magazine.
“Tell whom what?”
“The new girl. Whatever her name is.” I took off my Maui Jims and wiped the sweat away. I tried to tune out the radio but it was hard. It felt like flies buzzing in my head. It’s why I’m drinking so early. It’s why I always drink so early. Sometimes, a drink and some sunlight help one be rational.
“What do we want to tell her, dear?”
I pointed towards the house with my cocktail glass. “Something is just off. I don’t know. She’s nice and all but I don’t think this should go on. I can’t put my finger on it. I think she has to go.”
“You find her attractive?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Go back to your magazine, Beth,” I said. “I’ll figure out a way to take care of it.”
“Well, then, just do me one favor when you decide to do whatever it is you’re going to do,” she said.
“Be sure to use words.” This is why my wife makes more than me.
So Friday morning I waited until Beth went to work and I found the cleaning girl taking the trash out of our upstairs bathroom. She was dressed really cute today - a black tank top and these hot pink shorts. I couldn’t remember her name to save my life. I stood in the doorway and scratched my arm, watched for a minute, and then spoke up.
“I don’t know if this should go on,” I said after all.
She was white. I don’t know why I should mention that, but I feel that I should. She was possibly in college but probably not. I never thought to ask. This just seemed like the kind of job to me that people take if they’re trying to get through school. I wasn’t sure if she would be the type of girl that was constantly on the phone, not knowing how to do anything other than to make duck lips in shitty pictures. She braided her hair that day for some reason. I liked how she did it but I could never tell her that. Instead, I just shuffled my feet.
“Is something wrong?” She said. “Was it something I did?”
“No, I just…well, I just made a mistake,” I said. It’s not often I make mistakes. I’m extremely well regarded in my world. It’s worth mentioning again. I’m on a lot of websites. That’s how you know you make it big. You let your morals go if it means more clicks.
She put the trash bag down. If she looked in it, she would have seen my Rogaine and my wife’s wrinkle cream. I’m pretty sure she’s seen the other things we’ve tried to hide. Whether or not she told anyone else, it didn’t matter. But for some reason, this girl’s opinion of me really mattered. I felt anxious out of nowhere and I knew that this was going to turn into a bad day. I scratched my arm again, this time a little too hard. “Come on outside for a minute. By the pool.”
“The pool?” She said.
“Yeah, come on down. Water’s nice. Come on, it’s ok. Take a load off.”
“I’m confused,” she said, “I…”
“Just for a minute. It’s a break. Take a break for a minute,” I said and she followed me downstairs and through the back door, out to the patio. The pool guys were here early, cleaning and doing whatever, and I turned on that big radio we had to my music, instead of my wife’s bullshit. I motioned for the cleaning girl to sit in Beth’s chair and I walked over to the portable bar.
“Drink?” I held up the tongs for the ice cubes. I gave them a few test clicks to show that they still work. I was hoping she would laugh at it, but she didn’t.
“Isn’t it...a little early for that?” She fiddled with her braid. She had it lain over her right shoulder. I’ll tell you flat out, that’s the kind of stuff that makes a man excited. Especially on a warm summer day. The hot pink shorts helped, too. I felt like I was eighteen again. I got a frenzied feeling stewing hard in me and so I grabbed the Tanqueray.
“I don’t know,” I said. “I’m going to have one. I always have one around this time.”
She shrugged. Maybe she wasn’t a drinker. Give it time; she would be.
As I made my gin and tonic, I watched her gaze into the pool. It seemed like at one point in her past she had been all water, the way she stared at it. Like it had all the answers to help with her young life. I was being too judgmental, perhaps, and Beth has accused me of it; but I can’t help it. I have to judge in this world - I’ve made a killing off of it.
“Go on, go for a swim,” I said.
She snapped out of her trance but stayed quiet. Studying my face, she watched me drop two ice cubes in the glass and sit down in my lounge chair. The radio crackled a bit. The pool guys went away for a break, I guess, so it was just us two. The sun was hot but I didn’t mind it. It was like everything felt new again. All that existed was me and a young girl, a drink and the music. I really did feel eighteen again. I had left my phone in the house and I sipped the gin, let the tangy bite take me over.
I could tell she was nervous, though. She sat up quickly. “I should get back to cleaning up. I have so much to do yet,” she said.
“It can wait. We don’t make much trash. We’re not here often enough.” I sipped some more, taking larger gulps than normal. My heart raced. I really wanted her to like me. Beth wasn’t here and I was free to be a different self, someone who didn’t sit in boardrooms and compare business cards with another. I worked up the energy to say, “So are you in school?”
“Uh, yeah,” she said after a pause, and, comfortable enough with the subject, gave a few really strong nods. “Columbia. Art.”
“No shit, an art student. I never had the flair for it. I always was better with money. I’m in business.”
“I know. You’re very big,” she said indifferently.
I chided myself for being boring. I finished the glass of gin but didn’t get up right away for another. The music drifted in and out, past us in a summer-sweet sway, and I looked up into the sun. A few seconds without glasses won’t hurt you. If anything, it makes you see things better, and maybe it would help me figure out this girl better.
“Listen, uh...I’m sorry, I’m totally forgetting your name.”
“Ada,” I said, nodding. “Now that is a name you don’t hear very often. I like that name. Ada. Ada the art student. Now that...that’s nice. I mean it.”
I was losing her. My lame attempt at comedy, which I tried to disguise as charm, was pathetic. Her eyes darted from the house to the pool to the bar back to the house, never stopping on me. Her attention was elsewhere and it was all my fault. I got up quickly to quell the embarrassment and made myself another drink. I dropped the tongs and as I bent over to pick them up, I heard her get up from the chair, a loud squeak ripping through the clarity.
“I should get back to work. I have a lot to do. I appreciate the break, though.” Ada said and she began to walk back inside, fiddling with her braid. I had probably scared her to death. This was uncomfortable for her and it was my fault. I wanted to let her know that it was alright and that I didn’t mean anything wrong by it.
“Ada,” I said, a little sharp. I put the tongs down on the bar and took a few steps towards her. “Look, I’m sorry. I’ve been a little under duress lately.” She stopped and looked at me, but said nothing. Obviously, I would have to work a miracle to break away from the awkwardness I created so easily. I needed to reach into my business personality, find the perfect language, cajole with just the right emphasis on the right syllables.
“It’s just been really nice to talk to someone who isn’t a part of all this,” I said, motioning to the house. It’s the second nicest house on my block, I will admit. Some baseball player and his ten children own the number one spot. I’ll find a way to one-up them, eventually. “Beth works too often and it’s just weird enjoying the summer alone.”
“I can see that,” Ada said timidly, nodding. Now she started scratching her arm.
“Look, forget about inside. Forget about the trash. Forget about all of it.” I knew right then and there that I wasn’t going to fire her. I did have intentions of it, I can tell you that much. I do it all the time. Anyone slips up in the office, it’s instant. I don’t make excuses for them. But now, I just felt different. I wanted her to enjoy herself. This wasn’t a pleasant job. I wanted to change that.
“I don’t understand what it is you want, exactly. This is uncomfortable.”
“I know. I’m sorry. Come have a drink,” I said, turning back to the bar. The pool guys were starting to come back through the gate, laughing and eating some kind of junk food. I didn’t want them here anymore. I was just starting to break through with Ada and I didn’t want anyone else to count this as part of their moments. “Hey, guys,” I said.
They both looked at me. They squinted in the hard sun.
“Take the day off,” I said.
I’ll say it diplomatically, they weren’t from around here in any sense of the word. So they chuckled and looked at each other to figure out what to do.
“Get on now, take the day and go enjoy it. I’ll pay you, trust me.”
There still was nothing. I looked back at Ada, who fiddled with her braid again. There was just something about that braid that I really enjoyed. I wish I could have taken a picture of it but my phone was in the house, no doubt buzzing with emails and texts, maybe fifteen Snapchats from Beth or so. She loves that crap.
“Have a drink, Ada. There’s plenty there.” I turned to the pool guys. They stood stock still, frozen from indifference. “Look, now,” I said, reaching into my shorts. I always carry enough money to pay off someone. A secret I learned from masters years ago. I held up two wrinkled hundred dollar bills. “Go on now. Buy lunch. Do something. I mean it. You can go home.”
On the sight of cash, they walked toward me, thanking me a million times, but I just pushed it into their palms and waved them off. They turned and went out the gate, going off to somewhere that I didn’t care where just as long as it wasn’t by this pool with Ada and me. Locking the gate, I went back up the walk and saw Ada pouring herself some vodka.
“There you go, that’s the spirit, now. If you’re going to college, you’ll want to drink. Drink a hell of a lot. That’s great advice. I’m well-regarded in my field, you know.”
Ada screwed the cap back on the bottle but said nothing. She took a sniff of it, grimaced, and then sipped. Let me tell you - I felt new again. There was no other word for it. A swarm of feelings hit me hard and I felt daring. I didn’t even need any gin. I didn’t need music. I wanted to go nuts. I didn’t think it was going to be a bad day anymore.
“What do you think of that vodka? What do you think of it?”
She paused, still trying to decide what to do. I know my behavior was scary, but maybe she had seen scarier in the dorm rooms. “It’s ok.”
“Mix it with some tea. Or orange juice. You’ll want to mix it with some orange juice. Let me go get you something.” I ran back into the house and went into the kitchen to get the orange juice. My phone was there on the center island, buzzing away like I had imagined. I opened it up and saw those damn Snapchats from Beth. Alright, I thought. She’ll get a kick out of this one. I came back out and held up the orange juice.
“I’m ok,” Ada repeated. “Look, this has been nice and all, but I’m going to go. Maybe I should come back another day.”
“Another day? No. Don’t do that. We have the whole day ahead of ourselves here. Nice weather. A perfect day for swimming. Look, I’ll show you.”
I ripped off my shirt and walked past her to where our small diving board was. I never went on the goddamn diving board - I had it installed after Beth wanted to show off her non-existent swimming moves. I kept my shorts on and stepped onto the diving board. Ada still stood by the bar, sipping the vodka, sun glistening where her skin was bare. I thought of my college days. What a goddamn mess that was.
I held up my phone like it was a spear or something. I couldn’t open up Snapchat, though. I didn’t know how to work stuff like that. I knew how to answer and hang up. That’s all I needed in the trade, anyway.
“Ada,” I said, standing on the board still, “do you know how to work Snapchat?”
“Sure,” she said, still taking liberal sips of the vodka. It must have been getting to her head because she smiled.
“Can you take a video of this and send it out to people?” She came towards the board and I gave her the phone. I didn’t even care if she swam anymore. I just wanted her to be my friend.
After a few seconds, she said, “Ok. Go ahead. I have it all ready.”
I gave her a thumbs up and said, “Watch this!” I ran toward the edge of the board and leapt. I slipped and went in head first. What I meant to be a cannonball turned into a half-assed belly flop. But I made the big splash and the cold water was a godsend. It was exactly what I needed.
Underwater, I looked up and saw Ada through the blue. I decided to float my way up to the top. I figured it’d be funny to make Beth think I didn’t make it. Maybe Ada would think it’d be funny, too.
Finally, I came up for air and saw Ada still taking the video.
“Alright, how did it look?”
“Maybe you shouldn’t quit your day job,” Ada said, giggling.
I gave that a good laugh. “Ada, you’re alright. I don’t want to fire you anymore.”
“Nothing, never mind. Go ahead, send that off to my wife.”
“What?” Ada said again. She finished the glass.
“Beth. My wife. Send that to her. I have her in there.”
“Maybe I shouldn’t do that. Maybe she’ll get mad.”
“Send it off,” I said, “she’ll love it. Here.” I waded to the edge, up to Ada’s feet. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the whole soggy wad of bills. Petty cash, spare change. I got more, believe me. “Ada, here. I’ll give you all this if you send it. I want you to send that video.”
She looked at my wild hair, the strange look in my eyes. “I can’t take all that money.”
“I’ll pay you. Here,” I said, struggled to lift myself out of the pool, but I finally did on the fourth try. I stood there and counted the soaking wet mound of money. “Four hundred bucks. It’s yours. That covers one textbook, right?” And I started to laugh.
She did, too. She laughed like hell. When she calmed down, she whispered, “That is true,” and took the money. She walked back to the bar and laid the money out to dry. After a few clicks on the phone, she turned and said, “Ok. Beth got it.”
“Amazing,” I said and clapped my hands together. “Have another drink.”
Ada shook her head softly and shrugged her shoulders. “Ok. Why not.”
“There you go. Look, I’m going to do it again. A cannonball this time. Send it off to Beth again, will you?”
“Won’t she be mad? I mean, won’t she wonder what I’m doing out here?”
I considered it. The gin and the sun lifted me to a great height.
“It’s ok,” I said. “She’ll be fine. It’s a good day.” I paused. “It’s going to be a good day. Right, Ada?”
Kevin Richard White's fiction appears in such places as Grub Street, The Hunger, Barren Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, decomP, Door Is A Jar, Fearsome Critters and Ghost Parachute among others. He reads fiction for Quarterly West, Vestal Review and The Common. He lives in Pennsylvania. You can follow him on Twitter: @MisterKRW