Thursday 25 April 2024

Dirty by John Saunders, espresso

He was clean. Always was. As a child, he never needed to be told. His mother set the parameters at an early age and from then on he behaved just as he did the first time. Washed his hands after the toilet, brushed his teeth twice a day, and never missed his daily shower. His room was an example of neatness, his wardrobe in military order. A place for everything. Everything in its place.

The boys in school noticed. They would often leave something out of place to get his reaction. He was first up to pick up a pencil from the floor, close a half-open door, or tidy a stack of books. In his day he was an example of neatness. In later times he most likely would qualify for a place in the taxonomy of child mental illness under N for Neurosis or O for obsessive or perhaps, both.

This is all by way of explanation as to why he ended up in the job. His correct title is Head of Sanitation at the Bartel Hotels group, a chain of four-star holiday hotels on the south coast. Mr. Doyle is in charge of the cleaning, not that he does any of the actual work now. He leads and supervises a team of young cleaners responsible for bedroom hygiene, previously known as chambermaids, and traditionally young female students doing part-time work or young immigrants not able to work regular jobs because of language or bureaucratic problems, like not having a work permit.

Each morning at 8 am sharp,  he assembles the team and delivers the usual homily about neatness and tidiness and the importance of the job for the total customer experience. The regulars can recite his words verbatim, and only the newbies are aghast at his enthusiasm and commitment to the goal – a clean and orderly bedroom is a clean and orderly life.

Tracy is one of the new ones. She is slender and lithe, almost emaciated looking with that skeletal look loved by young girls afraid to eat. She’s just finished her first year of Arts and needs the money badly. It's her third morning and she is still mesmerized by Doyle’s enthusiasm for cleanliness, his abhorrence of dirt and all things dirty. Here is a man she can look up to. He is a man who shares her values about cleanliness. Much of Mr. Doyle’s history is her history. He is clean-shaven, always wearing a tie, hair oiled and combed like a manikin in a hairdresser’s window. His fingernails are scrupulously clean. He smells of lavender.

Already she’s heard the stories of what the more experienced and bored girls do. Cleaning sinks with the guest's toothbrush, and checking pockets for loose change. Not her. She is a model of the perfect, strives to be the best, and looks up to the master of hygiene himself. She is virginal in every respect.

It was a complete shock the first time it happened. There it was on the sheet, an exhibit of the promise of pleasure, like a crushed slug oozing the thwarted opportunity of life. A spermatic dead end. She ran from the room to tell one of the others. Her mate rushed to the scene and giggled before grabbing hold of the offending item with a scrunch of toilet paper and flushing it down the loo.

“Men are such dirty creatures. Always leaving their mess behind. Don’t worry, you'll get used to it. Just use your gloves and tissues. We’re not supposed to flush them down the toilet but what else are we to do?”

She complained to Mr. Doyle.

‘O’ my dear Tracy,’ he said, ‘how awful, but still our guests are entitled to their private moments. It is not for us to judge but to accept. We must take these things as they come,’he replied with a knowing wink. The next time, she’s prepared and she gently grabs hold of the disgusting object and rushes to the bathroom. Why can't they do this themselves instead of leaving it in the bed or worse still on the bedside locker?  She consoles herself with the thought that at least they are being used, the dirty fuckers.

As time passed her discoveries became more common. In the beds, under the beds, on the lockers, even in the sinks. She came to know all the names from the torn sachets –  gossamer, extra sensitive, extra-long, glow in the dark, flavoured! The whole gamut of possibilities captured in a name. She got sick of it. Why should she be left with cleaning the mess of other people's pleasure? It was an insult to her as, a person, an upstanding citizen, a diligent student, a human being. The ignominy of this predicament is what drove her to react. Tracy was solution-focused, never one to let a problem press down on her. There was a problem and she was going to do something about it. Take her stand, make her protest, not let the dirty fuckers get away with it.

It's the day she finds four of them thrown about the room,  looking like rotting vegetables (one was hanging from the television screen, its contents drip dripping onto the coffee table below) that she made the decision. Slowly and calmly she picked them up and placed them into a sealable plastic bag, found a jiffy envelope, and checked the name and address of the departed guest. By the end of that week, she had five small envelopes. She took them home.

At the end of the season, just before she is due to finish up and return to college, Mr. Doyle as is his usual fashion chooses the chambermaid of the season, and this year its Tracy. In his own words and with eloquence and flourish he declares, She leaves no space unchecked, every room is immaculate and spotless as if it has never been occupied. She is the epitome of hygiene. An example to us all.

Tracy is chuffed, stays around to have a few drinks with the girls, and absorbs the glory heaped on her by Mr. Doyle. She leaves just after four, giving her enough time to swing by the post office before it closes

About the author

John Saunders is a founder member of the Hibernian Writers’ Group. His collections are After the Accident (Lapwing Press, 2010) and Chance (New Binary Press, 2013). His poems have appeared in journals and anthologies in Ireland, the UK, and America and on many online sites.

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