The Hard Way

Sometimes Rosalia thought she knew more about the family than they knew themselves. As she dusted, mopped and sanitised toilets, she observed her surrounds.

A new bra and underpants flung on the armchair in the master bedroom—Jamie was trying to revive her flagging marriage. A holiday brochure for Tahiti—her husband was doing the same.

A prescription for antibiotics—one of the children had an infection. Sometimes she would ask her employer about the information, but more often she kept it to herself. Being concerned was one thing, being nosy another.

It was Rosalia who felt the lump on Tilly the spaniel’s neck and saved her from terminal cancer. Tilly loved her with abandon. She would snuffle and cry at the door when she smelt her on the other side, flinging herself at the diminutive dark-haired woman as she crossed the threshold. Rosalia accepted her fervent licks as she filled the mop bucket.

Her daughter was studying law at university, funded by her proud mother. Rosalia had worked in wealthy homes for twenty years. As she lugged the vacuum cleaner up and down stairs she had visualized Karina’s graduation. Good fortune was gained through sweat and aching limbs, and she was content to be the conduit of a better life.

Jamie was forever distracted with her work, her tongue poked from the corner of her mouth as she stared at the computer screen. She would absently lift her legs as the cleaner vacuumed under them.

Rosalia performed extra tasks around the house—she fixed loose doorknobs and jammed windows, she aligned the vintage robots on the little boy’s shelf. It was the small things that mattered, she told herself.

Cleaning was lonely. Rosalia told Jamie about her gardening project and her daughter’s results. On a good day, Jamie would listen and ask questions, nod and smile. She would offer news of their next holiday, or a development in her work. Yet her employer suffered from black moods, and on bad days she would shut the sitting room door on Rosalia—a clear sign she wanted to be left alone. On these days, the cleaner conversed with Tilly, who wagged her tail and gave a canine grin in response.

Rosalia felt her own lump one early spring day as she cleaned Jamie’s ensuite. It was the size of a twenty-cent piece. She felt as strong as ever, and glancing in the mirror, saw her complexion was ruddy.

She was stony-faced as the oncologist delivered the results. Six months more of a life lived for others. She took a trip to Alaska—since childhood she had wanted to see the icebergs. As the ship passed the blue-tinged sentinels, she imagined their magnitude beneath. They were as impermanent as she, yet gave the appearance of solidity. She had been a solid presence in the lives of Jamie and her family, and her daughter. She had lived the hard way, to create a fluid path behind.

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