Alice was down on her knees scrubbing the kitchen floor when the doorbell rang. The kitchen floor always took a lot of cleaning.
“Come on in, Mom,” she called out, “the door is open.”
The expectation that her mother would walk in was not fulfilled. The doorbell rang again.
“Mom,” she yelled much more loudly, “the door’s open.”
As she walked from the kitchen into the living room, the bell rang once more. Alicia’s irritation level shifted into top gear; she threw open the door. “Mo –”
The tiny young Chinese woman was decidedly not her mother. Alice smiled apologetically. “I’m so sorry,” she said, “for yelling. I thought you were my mother.”
The petite young woman smiled up at her, tilted her head to one side, gave Alice an inquisitive look.
“I’m sorry,” said Alice, “can I help you?”
Again the young lady smiled, nodded, kept smiling.
“What is it?” asked Alicia, “Do I know you?”
The young woman reached into her bag, took out a notebook and a pen. She scribbled something and handed it to Alice.
“I am deaf,” Alice read aloud. “I am here about the cleaning job. I do not read lips good.”
“Oh, I see,” said Alice, realizing that the young woman would obviously not have heard her yelling that the door was open. “I’m so sorry. Please come in,” she said, waving the young lady to come inside.
She nodded again, kept smiling, and walked into the living room. She looked up at the ceiling, then took in the rest of the room.
“Please have a seat,” said Alice, indicating the rattan couch with red hibiscus cushions.
The young woman went over and sat. Alice sat next to her. She made a sign with her hand of writing; the woman passed her the pen.
“The position has been filled,” Alice wrote. “I’m so sorry.”
The young lady glanced up at Alice, a very sad look on her face.
“I really am so very, very sorry,” said Alice, attempting her warmest, most compassionate expression.
Rising from the couch, the young woman took the pen and notebook Alice held out to her. She turned and padded slowly toward the front door. Alice walked quickly ahead and opened the door for her. Patting her on the shoulder, she looked into the young woman’s eyes, said she was so sorry again.
Closing the door, Alice breathed a deep sigh. The phone rang. It was Charlie, her husband.
“No,” Alice said, “no one’s answered the ad yet. I’m scrubbing the kitchen floor myself right now.”
She listened to her husband, then spoke again. “It’s me, Charlie, me. It’s always me. It has to be me.”
After hanging up, Alice went back into the kitchen and looked at the floor. It was never clean enough. Never. She wished Charlie hadn’t placed that ad. It had to be her. She was the cleaner. No one could clean anywhere near as well as she did.
The doorbell rang. Alice shook her head, irritated at being interrupted again, turned and stomped back to the front door. Throwing it open, she saw her mother standing there.
“Dear,” said her mom, a look of shock on her face. “You look terrible. Did something happen?”
Alice shook her head, attempted a smile. “Sorry, Mom, sorry. It’s just that Charlie placed that ad for a cleaner, as you well know. I’m so upset. You know only I can do it right.”
“Honey, honey,” said her mother, putting her arms around her daughter. “It’s for your own good, my love. Charlie’s worried about you.” She didn’t have to say that she was worried about her daughter. That went without saying, had always been the case.
“I know he is,” said Alice, “but I wish he wouldn’t be. You know I can handle all of the housework. It’s not a problem.”
Her mother stepped back and stared into Alice’s face. It had been so challenging to raise her, living with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder her entire life. For her, it had been thirty years of anguish. She’d wondered if Charlie truly understood what all he was letting himself in for when he’d married Alice. So far he had been so good, so very understanding. She worried about how long that might last.
“Well, dear, we are both trying to help you now,” said her mother. “A young woman from my church, May Chang, will be stopping by to see you about the job. She’s just moved here from Shanghai and needs a job badly. She’s deaf, I can’t see that will be a problem. She’s a wonderful young lady. Her English is not so good yet, but I’m helping her with her reading and writing. You’ll see, it will be good for both of you.”
Alice was shaking her head. “No no no,” she said. “She was just here.
“That’s wonderful. I’m so glad she stopped by already. I just know you two will hit it off.”
Alice thought about lying to her mother, telling her it had been an awful meeting, but no, if they were friends then surely May Chang would tell her mother what had happened.
“Well, ah, yes,” said Alice, “she did stop by. I just couldn’t see it working out. We had trouble communicating. I had to write things out. I couldn’t see doing that. Besides, I don’t want any help, Mom. You know me.”
Her mother closed her eyes for a moment, tried to compose herself. “How sad,” she thought, “that May hadn’t been hired. If her daughter could only see the need her mother saw.”
“I was so hoping, dear, you know, that the two of you could help each other, two persons living with disabilities – ”
Alice went through the roof. “Please don’t say that! I’m tired of hearing it. I do not have a disability. She may have one, but I don’t. I’m fine!”
Her mother knew better, knew better than to use that word, a mental lapse, knew better that her daughter did live with a disability, even though Alice would never see it that way.
“I’m sorry, Mom,” said Alice. And then, “Mom,” she said, pointing. “The door is open.”
Her mother hurried to close it. She knew better. She knew.