Friday, June 07, 2013

Re-write of a story I did around 1995

My name is Jesus.  I'm an atheist, but don't tell my mother, because there are two things she loves: Christ and Hispanic names.  Which doesn't account for anything, because we're Jewish.

My mother is a little strange, but so are a lot of people in my town.  They're funny, these people.  They make you laugh because they have no futures and are kind of losers.  But they're really sad in a way, too, because they aren't bad people and they deserve more.  They have happy/sad, crying clown syndrome.  Whole town seems to have it. 

Me, I don't cry.  Nothing to cry about, really.  I keep my life nice and neat.  I go to work at Sid's Mini Mart, come home to Peach Street, read a little Stephen King, do a little socializing, but that's about it.  I hear everything about everyone in the town because I work in the store, and sometimes I write it down and save it.  You know, in case someone is bored and wants to read about these people.

But let me tell you from the beginning, starting with the first story I ever heard about anyone here.  Of all people to hear it from, I got this tale from my mother, a woman who probably would have been more comfortable living back when married people cut holes in sheets to have sex through.  Not that I can or want to ever picture my mother having sex.  Too gross. Besides, my dad took off when I was two and I don't think she ever dated another man.  So it's a little hard for me to think of my mother as even knowing how to have sex.  But that's besides the point.

My mother is a cleaning lady, and I guess she sees some strange stuff when she goes into people's houses, but usually, she doesn't talk about it.  I think it's a privacy thing that she respects, but this incident at Fatima Santos' house was too disturbing for her to keep quiet about. 

Fatima is kind of famous in our town.  I call it town-famous because she has enough money to impress the rest of us but not enough to make the papers.  Just run-of-the mill rich I guess.  Ms. Santos used to have a husband, a Cuban gentleman of questionable background who moved into her house after they were married.  See, Ms. Santos owns the house.  So we all wondered if he was using her.  Anyway, he died of liver cancer three years ago, leaving his middle aged wife, still pretty and bored I guess.  So she started throwing these small parties, I guess to keep herself busy more than anything else.  Mind you, no one in our town is ever invited--she imports her guests from the city twenty miles away.  These people, as far as I know, aren't famous either.  I'm guessing if they were, the party would be in all the papers.  As it is, the local papers don't dare cover the parties because Ms. Santos is so stand-offish and would never give an interview. 

Most of the time, you never even know she's having a party.  If you drive by, you might see a few Mercedes in the driveway or hear some music leaking through the windows of her antique home, a circa 1878 structure with a sign saying "Columbus House."  You know a home is old when it's got a name. 

My mother always wanted to clean that house, and one day, she got her chance.  Seems Ms. Santos' regular cleaner, Mary Jane, was sick, so Ms. Santos called the agency who recommended my mother.  The way my mother acted, you'd have thought she had been invited to the party, not to clean up after it.  Anyway, my mother quickly checked to make sure all the curlers were out of her hair, something she sometimes forgets to do because she's getting on.  A couple of times, she's shown up at the store like that, two or three curlers stuck to the back of her head and I've had to leave the counter to take them out.  Anyway, she powdered her face, put on some red lipstick, found her best, starched apron and ran a clean cloth over her white nurse's shoes.

It was Saturday, and I never have to work Saturdays because Sid has some high school kids he uses on weekends.  So I drove my mother to the house, let her leave lipstick on my cheek after a kiss and re-shut the passenger door that never closes right unless you slam it.  Off went my mother, into the world of Fatima Santos, walking head bowed, like she was entering church.

Columbus House looks liked a well restored Victorian.  It's brick red with four floors and a lot of little white balconies.  I used to think it was Christopher Columbus's house, that he was buried in the basement or something, but around age eighteen, I finally asked and someone told me it had been built by a family unrelated to Chris.  By the 1940's, the family had died and the house was put up for auction.  The first generation of Santos's moved in and Fatima is their daughter.  My mother knows more about the house than she does her own family lineage.

This is how my mother describes the place: hard wood floors, polished, dark, banisters the same, maybe cherry.  High ceilings with brass fans.  A gigantic chandelier hanging from the third floor to the foyer.  Winding stairs, oriental rugs--the whole bit.  A fantasy compared to our cheap apartment which is all white with dull tan rugs.  But it's probably the cleanest apartment in town.

The way my mother talks about Ms. Santos, you'd get a picture of a queen or something,--tall, a pile of dark hair stacked on her head, white, straight teeth, elegant hands with a huge wedding ring still on the left one.  I guess, like my mother, Ms. Santos isn't into dating. But after I heard the story, I'm guessing she's not the hole-in-the-sheets type, either.

The bedrooms, my mother says, were amazing--gold leaf and brocade everywhere, mirrors reflecting more chandeliers, marble fire places in every room, a fountain in the hallway.  Sounds gaudy to me, but my mother says if she ever won millions of dollars, that's the kind of house she would get.  She said she really wanted to sit in the overstuffed chairs and put her feet up, but she didn't, even though she had to take a rest eventually because every room required such detailed cleaning and polishing and there are more than ten rooms in the place.  Plus, every bedroom had a bathroom as big as the bedroom itself.  My mother could tell guests had been there because the covers were crumpled and a couple of canopies were wrinkled.  There were towels on the bathroom floors and in one room, someone had left the cap off the toothpaste.  My mother was appalled these people would desecrate such a place. 

Anyway, my mother got really tired and did have to take a break, so she sat on the edge of one of the unmade beds.  She saw a black duffel bag against one hard wood paneled wall, but she figured a guest had accidentally left it there. So she took a chocolate bar out of her pocket, unwrapped it and ate it.  But then she needed a place to throw the wrapper.  She went into the bathroom, the most elaborate one she had seen.  She said there were mirrors all over, huge sinks, two gold fountains, a bidet...everything.  She said she had to "go," and there was no way she could resist sitting on the padded toilet. Amazed at how soft it was, she didn't notice until too late that there was no toilet paper.

Well, that wasn't good, obviously.  Clearly no one was going to toss in a fresh roll.  She waited a few minutes and feeling very silly and desperate had to do what she said "any woman would have done," which I guess means she waddled to the sink cabinet with her pants down (again, something I don't want to imagine).  She apparently found what she was looking for and after, feeling she defile the sacred, decided to start with that bathroom first.  So she went back to the bedroom to get her supplies. 

My mother says the tub was this big thing with claws, the kind that would have emptied our hot water tank just to fill up.  It had a shower curtain around it.  It wasn't her fault, she still says.  It was a big, deep tub.  But when she opened it... 

She screamed.

Now, maybe you're picturing a horror film where the tub is filled with blood or some jelly like stuff.  Maybe you're picturing something else, though, and if so, you might be right, but according to my mother, no one would ever have thought or should even guess...

There in the tub, passed out, were two men and a woman, "naked as you were the day you were born," she says, a champagne bottle still floating.  Apparently, my mother's screech brought them to, which made her scream louder the second time.  "And I could see the men's...MEMBERS!" she says.

The story gets a little hazy from here.  Sometimes my mother insists she left the room immediately but finished the second floor before she looked for Ms. Santos, who was nowhere to be found.  Other times, she says she ran out the door, down the stairs, called a cab and stood in the street waiting and crying.  Usually, though, she says she ran all the way home.  She never did get paid.

My mother's still into Hispanic names, and Christ is still a big thing with her, but she's not jealous of Fatima Santos anymore and has no problem talking to the neighbors about what happened.  Even now, five years later, it's one of the juiciest pieces of gossip in town--especially because Ms. Santos has had a live-in cleaner ever since.

copyright June 7, 2013, Katherine M. Gotthardt
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