I’m trying something new here at Notes From the Handbasket. It’s been a while since I’ve had a novel out, so my writing can be a tad hard to find. But I am so excited for you to get to know it, if you don’t already, or to see what I’m doing now, if you’ve been so kind to read my earlier work. I plan to share a taste of it with you every Friday.
I also hope to get permission from some of our Surreal South contributors so you can get a taste of some of their work. Pinckney and I are very picky about what goes into Surreal South, and we think you’ll find the writing deliciously well-done and delightfully twisted.
For Housekeeping (excerpt)
BY LAURA BENEDICT
Juli used her housekeeping master key to open room five-eighteen, looking up and down the hallway to make sure she wasn’t noticed by some guest who might wonder why she was working so late. She’d never quite believed what Raoul, the housekeeping supervisor, had told her when she’d started at the hotel a month earlier: that she would be as good as invisible to the hotel’s guests.
“No one wants to know who’s scraping the toothpaste and short hairs off the bathroom floor,” he’d told her. The sudden twitch of his right eyelid might have been a wink. She liked him fine as bosses went, but Ana, who had helped her get the job, had warned her not to be alone with him any more than necessary.
As the door clicked closed behind her, she kicked a bright yellow ball that had rolled into the room’s entryway so that it skipped back into the living room.
The Mason family, who had been living in the suite for more than three weeks, were dead on a highway in the Allegheny mountains, some hundred miles away. Raoul had told her that afternoon, just before her shift ended.
She’d been in the suite that morning to clean, and the room had been as it always was. Maybe a little neater. There were often a few toys scattered around, and, once, a bright green pacifier with smiling ducks painted on it lying on the edge of the bathtub. In the bedroom, Juli kept up with the small, careless piles of clothing belonging to the children’s parents, folding the clothes and leaving them on the room’s single chair. If there were dishes in the sink, she loaded and ran the dishwasher. Nearly every morning she found a pair of slightly sticky wine glasses, one with a lipstick-smeared rim, on the coffee table. There were always two or three fresh bottles of wine among the vegetables, cheeses, and meats in the refrigerator.
The Masons were a mystery to most of the staff. No one–including Juli–ever saw them come and go. But each morning when she came in to clean, there was a note for her on the skimpy hotel notepad, with a couple of dollars or a lottery ticket lying on top as a tip. Not many guests left tips for housekeeping. Sometimes Juli did feel invisible–just as Raoul had described–pushing her heavy cart through the silent corridors, disappearing into the rooms on her list. But she was sure the Masons were different from the other guests. They knew she was there, and how hard she worked for them. She’d even won five hundred dollars with one of the scratch-off tickets they had given her. They never acknowledged the pale pink rose in a vase that she’d left for them as a thank-you for the winning ticket, but she was sure they’d liked it–especially the little girl. When, almost two weeks later, it was still in its place on the coffee table, petals curled and brown, leaves brittle from want of water, she’d thrown it away herself. If she felt a little embarrassed, it wasn’t their fault. The Masons were busy people.
It was the first time she’d played the lottery. At home, where she’d lived with her aunt since she was five, games of chance weren’t allowed. Juli wasn’t the sort of person to argue–at least not with her aunt, who had never given Juli any kind of reason for her prejudice against gambling. Not religious, not moral. It was a rule. A simple rule.
The two of them lived simply, on simple, healthy food. Her aunt wore simple clothes of natural fibers and had always bought the same for Juli. They both wore their ash blonde hair simply, straight and parted down the middle, and used very little makeup. There was no drama, no yelling, no hateful exchanges between them, as there was among their neighbors. Juli had taken the job cleaning rooms at the residence hotel for the summer because it had simply presented itself by way of Ana, whose backyard opened onto the same narrow alley as her aunt’s. With her pierced tongue and trio of elementary-school-aged children, Ana was one of the least simple, and strangest people that Juli knew. Also, Juli needed the money for college because her parents hadn’t left her a dime, and her aunt considered any kind of investment besides a plain bank savings account decidedly un-simple.
This evening, Juli was tired. Her head and limbs felt weighted, ungainly. Ever since Raoul had told her about the Masons, barely looking up from the papers spread over his ugly metal desk, she’d felt like her body was moving against some kind of punishing current. Hit by a semi that came over the median–total shitstorm, he’d said. She’d pressed him for more information, but that was all he had to say, except that they were going to have to contact someone about picking up the Masons’ stuff. Their stuff: the toys, the yellow fleece bunting lying on top of the dresser, the crayons, the little girl’s pile of stuffed animals, the woman’s hairbrushes and makeup, the husband’s worn brown slippers, the small pile of sports magazines. It all belonged to someone else, now. Or no one.
[For Housekeeping is a ghost story, if you haven’t guessed!]