Cleaning lady Janice collects stories – they are made up of stories, snippets of conversations, photographs, eating and living habits, clothes and libraries of the people she cleans up. But one day, the story of Janice herself begins to take a keen interest in her new client, 92-year-old Mrs. Bee. “Snob” publishes a chapter from the debut novel by the English writer Sally Page, published in March by the publishing house “Foreigner”
When a cleaning lady is in great demand, most often she herself chooses for whom to work. Janice treats all of her clients well, with one notable exception.
In front of her is a large modern house built in the shape of the letter “V” of concrete blocks stacked on top of each other. It sprawls proudly on a piece of land that used to be part of the grounds of one of the relatively new colleges. This house reminds Janice of a large man who spreads his legs to take up more space than necessary, although this is impolite. The Brazilian gravel crunches under Janice’s feet, and a strange mixture of dread and anticipation grips her.
The hostess opens the door. Janice is not trusted with the key to this house. In front of her stands an imposing woman in her fifties. She is dressed in one of her own creations – a dark blue dress-coat. Piss-colored brass lightning bolts cut through the fabric here and there. Where the zippers are open, silk is visible with a pattern of neon horse heads. Every week, the hostess meets Janice in a new coat dress: she has developed a whole collection, which she sells mainly to her friends. And in her free time, this woman loves to do charity work – “successful people should share with their neighbors.” To do this, she gathers employees of various charitable organizations at her home and shares her worldly wisdom with them. “My experience is invaluable. If converted into money, it will be worth thousands. No seriously”. From time to time, she donates a coat dress to those in need. At times like these, Janice tends to stick around just to see the faces of the assembled benefactors.
This woman has a name, but to Janice she will always be Mrs. AhaAhaAha. She repeats her “aha” as she talks on the phone, chats with friends and shares wisdom with the workers of the charity she honored this month. Probably, in this way the hostess wants to say “yes”, but one “aha” is not enough for her, she cannot do without three.
Nita Prowse: The Maid. Debut novel by Vice President and Editor-in-Chief of Simon & Schuster Canada
Mrs. AhaAhaAha’s husband also works at home. As far as Janice knows, he had a successful career in the City, making a fortune and spending some of it building the architectural nightmare the couple call home. There is a lot of empty space and sparkling smooth surfaces. It would seem that Janice is a sin to complain. The house, of course, is large, but it is easy to put things in order here. In the back there is a large cube, which the owner’s husband uses as an office. If Janice tries to get into this part of the house during the cleaning at the behest of Mrs. AhaAhaAha, the husband, without raising his head, waves a piece of paper, or a folder, or his hand and barks: “No, not now!” So Mrs AhaAhaAha is married to Mr NoJustNotNow. Janice suspects that it is because of him that the couple does not have children.
Mrs. AhaAhaAha pays Janice well for her work. The hostess does not yell at her and does not leave pots, toilets, tubs and ovens in such a disgusting state that it is terrible to approach them. However, this woman is guilty of two serious sins that Janice cannot forgive her. One of the few things in the kitchen that is allowed to sit on the countertop is the marvel of modern technology, the Italian coffee machine. A real work of art. Janice’s job is to take it apart and wash it, but the cleaning lady has never been invited to taste the coffee that this wonderful machine brews. In the kitchen cabinet above the coffee machine is a jar of Tesco’s own brand of instant coffee, especially for Janice. According to her observations, and she observed carefully, this is the only product that Mrs. AgaAgaAha buys at Tesco.
The second sin: the hostess refers to Janice as “Mrs P”. Janice hadn’t given permission for this, but she wouldn’t have dared object anyway. And now it’s too late. In her head, Janice can criticize Mrs. AhaAhaAha all she wants, but she is too timid to express even part of her complaints to the hostess in person.
That’s why Mrs. AgaAgaAha doesn’t have a story. Janice, out of principle, shows only as much interest in the mistress as the job requires, and the entrance to the precious library in her head, Mrs. AhaAhaAha, is closed. Janice only remembers one incident. He does not pull on a full-fledged story, but, as it seems to Janice, in this episode the whole Mrs. AgaAgaAha.
A group of fundraisers for a children’s charity came to the house. Mrs. AgaAgaAga organized a team building event for them. For the exercise, it was necessary to imagine that they were being carried along the sea waves in a fragile boat. The sheets of paper listed their imaginary comrades in misfortune, including philanthropists, children’s rights activists, the children themselves (of various ages), and several less pleasant characters, including politicians and journalists. The boat was sinking, and the point of the exercise was to choose which of the passengers, including the Foundation staff and Mrs. AgaAgaAga, to spare and which to throw overboard.
No one wanted to be the first to speak, and at last the petite, dark-haired girl from the foundation timidly offered to simplify the matter and immediately remove the children from consideration. Then it remains only to decide which of the adults will have to sacrifice. Mrs. AhaAhaAha immediately butted in with objections: “Why on earth? Do you think my life means less than the life of a child?” Then she continued in the same vein. By the end of the exercise, Mrs. AhaAhaAha had thrown a bunch of people overboard, not sparing even an imaginary child with cystic fibrosis: “He wouldn’t have lasted long anyway.”
Michiko Aoyama: “You can find it in the library.” List of books for all occasions
Janice’s heart warmed as the petite, dark-haired girl jumped out of the boat after the baby. But Mrs. AgaAgaAha was not satisfied with this turn of events. “This is against the rules. You can’t jump into the sea. Everything has to be plausible, otherwise no one would do that.” But the girl categorically refused to return on board. Janice didn’t know what was guiding her: was she just willing to do anything to avoid being in the same boat with Mrs. AhaAhaAha, or did she sincerely believe that an outsider was capable of sacrificing herself for a child. Janice hoped that the second option was closer to the truth, and when she was told to bring more coffee, she gave the girl more chocolate chip cookies.
Janice is cleaning today and Mrs. AhaAhaAha is hanging around. Usually the hostess does not act like this, and Janice is unnerved by her presence. She feels out of her element. Mrs. AgaAgaAga talks about what she did this week and what show she went to. She talks to Janice like she’s talking to a woman who also regularly goes to the theater or even drinks cappuccino from a coffee machine. Janice wasn’t used to this. The hostess chats incessantly, and Janice does not know where to go from embarrassment, and counts every circle that she describes on a wooden floor with a special model long-handled mop (and, of course, there were cashmere fibers). Janice decides that if Mrs. AhaAhaAha follows Mike’s example and asks how her day was, she’ll just take her coat and leave.
But instead, Mrs. AhaAhaAha announces:
“Mrs P, I have a proposition for you.
For a second, a ridiculous thought creeps into Janice’s head: are Mrs. AhaAhaAha and Mr. NoJustNotNow really swingers? Janice starts mopping the floor in a particularly wide arc to turn her back on her and hide her smirk. Janice is silent. She has no idea what to say.
Even behind her back she can feel Mrs. AgaAgaAha being worried, and this is not typical for her at all. In hindsight, Janice realizes she should have recognized the wake-up call right away.
“Mrs. P, extra money never hurt anyone, and I immediately thought of you.
Janice is completely confused. What is Mrs. AhaAhaAha going to ask her for? Why was the landlady so upset all of a sudden?
“This business will not require much time, and we will pay decently. Make a schedule of your own. Five or six hours a week is enough. You see, my mother-in-law really needs help. She’s in her nineties now, and at home she’s—” Mrs. AhaAhaAha shudders. It seems that she does not want to finish this phrase, but, realizing her mistake, she quickly corrects herself: “Just don’t think that it’s scary to go there. Things, of course, have accumulated a lot, but you have probably seen worse houses. And when you set up a farm there, things will go easier. – After a pause, Mrs. AgaAgaAga adds: – The house is adjacent to one of the colleges. It actually looks very picturesque.
Janice is mopping the floor very, very slowly to buy time.
Sorry, I’m pretty busy right now.
Nothing else came to her mind.
But they’re not overloaded, are they?
Mrs. AhaAhaAha noticed a weak point and deftly inserted her foot in an alligator pump into the closing door.
“Well, I have a lot of work to do all week…” Janice tries to get out.
– Choose any days, we will pay you good money.
Then Janice thought about it. Mike is about to become unemployed again, and he will not go to the pub less often because of this. But Mrs. AgaAgaAha didn’t finish yet:
“We have two options, Mrs. P, either we provide the old lady with home care, or we have to find a nursing home for her. Of course, I would not want to, but she is already ninety-two …
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You can’t imagine better! A new item was added to Janice’s list of worries: by her grace, an old woman would be thrown out of her own house into a government institution that stank of urine and cabbage.
“Perhaps I can visit her once. But I don’t promise anything.
Mrs. AhaAhaAha doesn’t even listen:
“That’s great, Mrs. P!” I knew that I could rely on you. Now I will give you the address. – The hostess several times runs her fingers along the edge of the tabletop and finally says: – Just keep in mind that she is aged. You know what kind of people these old people are. And yet, it is difficult to unbalance you. You are always so calm and unruffled!
But Janice ignores these words, because at her feet sits the one for whom she still works for Mrs. AgaAgaAha. The one she is waiting for a meeting with in a happy …