A woman gets a doctor-ordered maid.
“I just… I don’t even want to get out of bed anymore… I don’t—” I cut myself off, “Ah… I…”
“You don’t what?” asked the therapist with a kind tone.
“I don’t… Well, I don’t want to be locked up in the psyche ward for saying this, but…”
“Go on. I can promise confidentiality, at the very least.”
“I… sometimes, I don’t feel like I want to live anymore. I just wake up… and I think to myself how wish I wouldn’t have woken up… The only reason I’m here today is because Sarah made me come…”
“That’s your friend, I presume?”
“Have you been taking care of yourself? Have you been eating?”
“I… I’ve been eating.”
“Have you gained weight?”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
“Have you been cooking?”
The therapist gave me an inquisitive and understanding look. She scribbled something down on her note pad. “I think,” she started, “That what you’re experiencing is natural. It’s grief. You’re family was your motivation to carry on, and now that they’re gone, you feel as though you’ve lost your reason for getting up every morning, both literally and metaphorically. What I am concerned about, though, is how deeply it has affected you. Sometimes after a traumatic experience, people can neglect their living spaces severely, and it creates a cycle of depression.”
I frowned, but didn’t say anything.
“I think what you need is a cleaning service.”
“I—I don’t think that’s necessary…”
“You said you haven’t been cleaning.”
“I know, but… it’s not that dirty.”
“It’s just in case. I don’t want to see you go down a dangerous path. From my experience, I think this is the best course of action.”
“If you insist…”
I sat on the couch silence for a while longer while the psychiatrist flicked her pen back and forth. Finally, with a definitely whoosh, she looked up to me and asked, “See you next week?”
The red light shimmered on the dark pavement, and I stood in front of the mangled car. My daughter stood beside me as we watched the men in blue and white pry apart the wreckage. Behind me stood my husband as he quietly said “Good thing it wasn’t us.” My heart raced faster as I tried to look away, but I couldn’t. Headlights appeared over the horizon in the distance. That’s still a distance aways, I thought to myself. I clasped my daughter’s hand as we watched the men go in and out. The lights got brighter, and we all looked over to them. Too close, I thought frantically. Then the car was nearly upon us, and I tried to run. My legs wouldn’t move, and I looked over to my daughter, doing everything in my power to scream at her to run, to get out of the way. But nothing I did worked; every scream was in vain and it hurt to even try. My own legs wouldn’t listen to me as I became a deer in the headlights—
I woke up, startled. I was so relieved for that awful nightmare to be over. But something else caught my attention. Is that my doorbell? I questioned. Who could it be?
I quickly pulled myself out of bed, the adrenaline still present in my system; I rushed to answer the door in my pajamas. I twisted the knob and pulled it open, just be left in a stupor. Seeing no one immediately, I looked down. Then I saw her: a rather short girl stood in front of me, covered in fur with two cat-like ears flicking this way and that. Rather, her whole body seemed to be cat-like. Lacking long hair on her head, a tail sat idly behind her, and I could barely see her elongated face as she stared at the stones of the patio. Her attire, on the other hand, was far from unusual. She wore a black skirt down to her knees, tennis shoes, and a white blouse. Curiously enough she held a black suitcase beside her. Is she a helper? I ventured.
“Ah…” I started, “May I help you, miss?”
“Y-y-yes, ah, uhm, I—I’m here f-f-f-for Mrs. Allen? I-I-I’m the helper. Er, the help. S-s-s-sorry.”
“Oh… no problem, but—” as I was about to reject her, I remembered my psychiatrist’s recommendation. “Oh! Were you ordered by the doctor?”
“Ah, uhm, I-I-I don’t know… I-I-I-I was just told to c-c-come here, I swear!”
“Oh… Well alright then…”
We stood in silence for a few more moments. I finally broke it. “Would you like to come in?”
“Y-yes!” she said without hesitation.
I stepped out the the way and she rushed in past me, the wheels of her suitcase clicking on the door frame. She must have remembered her manners as she stopped dead with a mortified expression. A bit melodramatic, I thought, but who was I to judge. She stood still until I walked past her to show her the house.
The first room we came to was the dining room, and I felt obligated to explain. “So this is the dining room. I don’t think it needs much cleaning…” I trailed off. I noticed that she stared at me with an inquisitive expression as I looked away. “Ah, I don’t know. It hasn’t been cleaned in a while.” We walked from room to room, each room in varying levels of disarray. My kitchen and bathroom were by far the most embarrassing. Every other room was coated in dust while those two were coated in filth. I had just kept telling myself next week every time I stacked a new dirty plate beside the sink or spilled something down the side of the fridge. Thinking back on it, I’m almost glad I forgot to take off my pizza stained sweatpants to the doc’s; at least, I hope that was what tipped her off, because if it wasn’t then I was missing a crucial rule of personal hygiene.
Coming to a stop in dining room, I said to her, “And that’s everything that needs cleaning…”
I could tell she looked concerned, but didn’t have the courage to speak up. “What’s the matter?” I asked.
“Ah… it-it-it’s just…” she stopped, “I don’t know w-w-w-where I’m staying…”
“What do you mean?” I asked incredulously. I wondered if she could be homeless with what I presumed to be a full time job. Were people really that cruel to helpers—would they not even let them rent?
“I—” she started, marking a terse cutoff, “I-I-I don’t know—”, again she paused, furrowing her brow, “W-w-w-which room is mine?”
I was a bit shocked to say the least. “I’m sorry?” was all I could muster.
“Ah—” she cried softly. She bit her lip in a fit of anxiety. “I—I—I—I—I—”
My heart sank as she figuratively short circuited in front of me. I reached out to put my hand on her shoulder and she jumped; I quickly pulled my hand back in defeat. “Everything’s alright. Calm down. We’ll get this sorted out, I’m sure.”
She stared at the floor, biting her bottom lip. After getting bored of doing that, she sighed, and began to speak. “I-I was told I w-was supp-supp-supp-supp—” she frowned. Finally, she said with nearly perfect iambic pentameter, “I was told that I was supposed to stay here.”
I gave the dumbest look I could muster. Stay here? Like live here like a maid? I asked myself. “…How long is this supposed to be for?”
“F-for the month, ah, uhm, f-f-f-for a month, I mean.”
“For a month?”
“Yes…” She looked down, dejected.
“This must be some sort of misunderstanding. I was told you were just supposed to clean. Not… be a maid or whatever.”
“No, I don’t think it’s your fault,” I said in thought. “I know, I’ll call your work. Do you have their number?”
She looked fearful. “I don’t.”
“It’s alright. What’s the name? I’ll look it up.”
She told me the name, and I found the number online. I hastily dialed it in. The phone rang endlessly. “Ah, it’s still ringing,” I smirked, trying to break the silence.
The girl in front of me, on the other hand, was sulking, obviously even more anxious than before. The dread she was emitting was palpable, and it filled me with pity.
After even more waiting, the a man picked up the phone. “Tilney Services, this is John, how may I help you today?”
I began speaking immediately. “Yes, I believe there’s been a mistake. I just had a helper show up and… she said she was told she was a live-in. Ah… You see, I talked to my doctor and she recommended that I get a cleaning service to come in and clean, but I only thought she meant for a day… So, you can see where the confusion comes from.”
The man was silent for a moment, probably processing everything I had just said. “Can I get your name and the name of helper?”
“Yes, my name is Katherine Allen,” I put the phone down, motioning to the girl. “What’s your name again?”
“Elizabeth,” she said.
“I-I-I-I don’t have a last name.”
I brought the phone back up to my ear, “Her name is Elizabeth.”
I heard clicking from the other end of the line. “Ah, here… you… are. So, let me get this straight. You’re saying there’s a mistake? That… Elizabeth isn’t supposed to be a live in?”
“Yes? My doctor implied that she was a one time kind of thing.”
“Oh. Okay, well, miss, I must inform you that you that we only do live in arrangements. I haven’t dealt with a situation like this before. Let me talk to my supervisor.”
The phone went silent, and I again was left quietly giving a poorly reassuring smile to Elizabeth. I wasn’t even sure if I had asked for her name before, and I felt bad. Some more moments past before I head murmurings from the other side. “Sooo, we have a few options here. We can either terminate immediately, or she can stay for the remaining time. It looks like the service was paid for already by the insurance, which is rather surprising, but yeah. That’s the situation.”
I looked over at Elizabeth’s solemn expression. All her mannerisms added up to pure tension; at that moment in particular all her nervous ticks were amplified. Her ear twitched, her tail swished unnaturally, and she was biting her lip with her eyes forcefully shut.
Suddenly, I had an epiphany; Why do I need to add to her problems?, I wondered. But where would she stay? I didn’t have a spare room, I thought. I considered my options, and I eventually decided the couch, unconsciously neglecting a particular room in the house. With what little determination, I made up my mind. “I’ll just let her stay here. I think that will be the easiest for everyone involved.”
He ears perked up, and she looked up at me with wide eyes. I smirked.
“Are you sure miss?”
“Well, she won’t have a place to stay for a while, right? I have a place to stay for her, so I think that this will work out best. I’ll be the only one who’ll have to change their plans, right?”
“That’s great. I’m glad everything worked out. Is there anything else today?” the man finally said.
“No, no, sorry for taking your time.”
“It’s perfectly fine. Completely understandable. Will that be all?”
“Yes, I believe so. Have a nice day, thank you!”
“You too, thank you!” he said finally. He left the phone on until I hung up.
By this time, Elizabeth was staring at me in awe. “D-d-do y-y-y-you mean it?”
“No, I was lying,” I said with a straight face.
She was shattered, her lips contorting into a deep frown, seemingly on the verge of tears.
I realized my mistake, and I tried my best to correct course. “I’m kidding!” I announced, pausing, before adding, “Sorry.”
Her features softened and she relaxed. I noted that I probably needed to wait on the sarcasm; she seemed like a very literal girl. Not that I could blame her; I didn’t use irony very often, but I found it could lighten the mood. Unfortunately it wasn’t always as effective as I hoped.
She clasped her hands and shifted around, looking down aimlessly at her shoes. She started to hum, but it was a moment before I realized she was trying to say something. “I-I-I-I’m-m s-s-s-sorry th-th-that I’m making you do th-th-this.”
I wasn’t angry at her, but I was starting to understand the gravity of having a random helper girl stay with me for a month. “It’s okay,” I said without conviction. I mentally chastised myself for not thinking it through as I slightly pursed my lips in wonder. I wasn’t worried so much as I was overwhelmed with how it was going to work out.
“So…” I murmured with little intention, “I guess you can sleep on the couch,” my mind blocking out that other room.
Her eyes widened in an indiscernible emotion. “A-a-are y-y-you sure that’s okay?”
I looked at her with narrowed eyes, offended by her gal. I couldn’t tell what she was asking, but it sounded like an attack on my skills as a host.
She obviously read my expression as she tried correcting course. “I-I-I-I mean, I c-c-can sleep on th-th-th-the floor.”
My eyes narrowed again, this time in utter confusion. Asking to downgrade her bed? I wondered what kind of psychopath I was dealing with. “What? Why?”
Her mouth flung open, but no sound came out. It looked as if she were trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis standing in my living room. Finally, after a pregnant tens of seconds, I broke the silence, trying to lighten the mood. “Do you shed or something?” I giggled awkwardly, realizing that might have been offensive.
“Yes!” she nearly shouted, before folding back her ears and quickly bringing a hand-paw to cover her mouth.
“Uh…” I awkwardly let out. “Don’t worry about that, I have sheets. I mean, it can’t be that bad,” I offered, feeling like a jerk.
“N-n-n-no…” she started, before petering out. She looked at the ground, her nervous shuffling acting up again.
“Uhm… yes?” I let out, her quirkiness acting like a contagion. There were a few more moments of silence before I decided to wrap up the conversation. “Well, I’m going to get some sheets and a blanket.”
She didn’t say anything, but I thought I could make out the slightest nod, so I walked off towards the hallway closet. I fetched the things, and threw them onto the sofa behind the girl.
She looked up at me, another blank look plastered on her face. “I-I-I’m going t-t-to start.”
“Alright… the cleaning stuff is in the bathroom and that closet I was just in, if you saw it,” I nearly sighed. “Uh, I can get the dishes cleaned up in the kit—”
“N-No!” she cried, quickly doing her characteristic walk back, “I-I-I m-m-mean, I-I-I-I will do it.”
“…Okay,” I said unintentionally dismissively.
“S-s-s-sorry,” she said, before straightforwardly walking away.
I sighed as I watched her go. I wondered what I had gotten myself into with letting this strange, stuttering girl into my house. A lot of hair, apparently, I thought as I chortled to myself.
I went back to my room, longing relaxation. I had barely done anything, but all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and watch movies. Being exhausted all the time was exhausting.
I don’t know how long I stared at my little phone screen, but by the end of it my eyes were sore and the sun was getting low. Throughout the day I heard clatter of dishes and the subtle gravely whine of spray bottles. I could tell she was doing work, but I didn’t want to think about the stranger in my home. After the initial rush of meeting someone new and the hasty decision had worn off, I was left feeling more reclusive and empty than before; as the hours wore on, I felt more and more awkward about stepping out of my room, until my bladder was nearly bursting and my throat as dry as a desert; I had neglected myself in order to avoid the strange girl.
Eventually, I built up the courage to exit my room. I walked to the door, making sure I wouldn’t have to let her see and judge me. After all, I was making her clean up after me while I laid in bed and did nothing; I wasn’t ready for any potential spite. I sighed and pushed the door open to find a transformed hallway. At least, that’s what I had been hoping for. It wasn’t clear to me whether or not she actually cleaned the hall, as it still felt grainy and grimy under my bare feet. I was a little upset until I remembered that she had a month to do it and a lot more to do. I did my best to sneak down the hall to the bathroom and discretely do my business.
I found the next item on my agenda to be more daunting. I could hear her in the kitchen, and the kitchen was where the water was. I shrugged it off, making a beeline for the faucet.
When I rounded the corner I was pleasantly surprised. The counter was free of the mountains of contaminated porcelain, glass, and steel that had overwhelmed me for so long. It was if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
I saw Elizabeth over by that same counter chopping something. Her ears were high above her head, signaling to me that she had been alerted of my presence. I powered through it and walked around her to the cupboard to grab a glass. But I realized I was out, and so I looked to the bloated drying rack. Sighing internally, I grabbed a glass and ran the faucet. I hated it. I already hated having this random girl do the things that I should have been doing in the first place; the feeling it gave me wasn’t one of helplessness, but rather one of shame. I knew that I was capable of helping myself, and yet I didn’t.
I looked over at her. She wore gloves and a pensive expression. She had slowed down her chopping as I got to faucet, perhaps in contemplation. Or perhaps in indignation. Or perhaps spite.
I stared at her while I filled the glass. Maybe it was too long, because she responded in kind with a quick glance of her own. Our eyes nearly met, but I turned away, not trying to arouse suspicion. I was curious, however. When she looked at me, I could tell it wasn’t annoyance or animosity that plagued her, but rather fear. Whether it was a fear of the unknown or a fear of me—I hoped it wasn’t the latter—it felt good knowing that she didn’t outright detest me.
I finished my chore and promptly left the area, the sound of her preparations speeding up agaim and fading.
I sat back down in bed, sighing. It was exhausting to be exhausted all the time.
Time flew by as I distracted myself with garbage on my phone. It felt meaningless, but it was a better feeling than utter sadness.
There was a knock at my door. It startled me, and I shot up out of bed.
“M-M-M-Mrs. Allen?” Elizabeth asked meekly.
I frowned. I wasn’t upset, but the same feeling of shame creeped up on me again. "Yes?’ I asked clearly.
“I have pr-pr-prepared d-d-d-dinner.”
“Okay,” I said flatly.
“I c-c-c-can p-p-put it by the door…” the said quietly.
I almost didn’t catch it. Reluctantly, I agreed. At least I wouldn’t have to face her. “Okay,” I replied in my same, monotone cadence. I wasn’t even hungry, but I simply thought it would be more of a hassle to refuse.
I heard the plate set on the ground, and the creak of the floor as she walked away. I sighed for the umpteenth time, walking over to the door and getting my food.
I brought it back to my bed before I noticed there was no silverware. I groaned, grabbing an unused plastic fork from a takeout bag on my bed stand, and dug in.
The food was good. Sorry, I lied. It was mediocre. It lacked flavor, but I could tell it was made with care. What truly diminished the meal, however, was the feeling of dread I got with each bite. Being such a drain on society was crushing, and each bite brought me closer to the verge of tears.
I managed to get to the end without spilling a tear, but I simply put the dirty plate on my dresser and laid back in bed. Before I fell asleep, I noticed a single tear running down my cheek.
I stirred sometime later. I noticed that I had to use the bathroom. It was late at night, so I groggily sat up, slowly inching my way toward the door in the pitch black room full of obstacles. I managed to get the door open, and was greeted with moonlight bouncing around the hallway, giving me easy passage to the restroom.
On the way back to my room, I noticed something. It was two bright marbles shining behind an even brighter light. I realized it was Elizabeth on her phone, sitting on the couch in the living room. I could make out her mouth, and it hung open in obvious drowsiness. She was staring at her phone mindlessly, much like I had bee all that day. My body was telling me that it was about very late o’clock, which naturally meant that my body wanted sleep. I briefly wondered why the girl was up so late, but my mind was soon returned to the world of dreamland. It was exhausting to be exhausted all the time.
This is intended to be a slow-ish burn. While it probably won’t be very long, I want to try and make the character’s relationship feel as warranted as possible. Also, title suggestions welcome (or any kind of suggestion, for that matter.)