Category B: Highly Commended (2020) Monash Short Story Writing Competition
Author: Nydia Dara
Title: Soul dust
I have a cleaner, and she never shows up with cleaning supplies. Sunday afternoons, two to four, I’m always at the dog park. I get back, and the house is spotless. My cleaner glides out the door in her dainty white frock, her blonde curls bouncing at her chin, little nose pink in the frosty air. She doesn’t have a car or a bike, I don’t think, and I never check to see how she gets home. I might be a bad woman for that, but she looks like she can handle herself.
I have a cleaner, and I hired her by accident. I was slumped on the front steps of my porch, delirious, a wine bottle rolling towards the doormat. It was eleven on a Sunday morning. The young woman stopped hesitantly at my gate and looked around. She saw me, squinted, then proceeded with conviction. She grabbed the wine bottle, passed me a note that said, “I am your new cleaner. I charge an amenable rate per hour,” and left me on the steps while she entered my house. I must’ve fallen asleep, but the girl tapped me lightly on the shoulder maybe an hour later to pass me another note. This time it said, “2-4 next week.” She kept her promise.
I have a cleaner, and the house feels different after she leaves. I don’t mean the spilled cat food’s been vacuumed and the mouldy bread’s been taken out. I mean that sunlight reaches the deepest corners of my living room, despite the window facing the neighbour’s shed. I mean that the fruits in the bowl taste juicer, and there’s an empty shelf in the pantry where the wine bottles used to be.
I have a cleaner, and I think she’s a mute. Selective, though: I’ve heard her sing. It’s like nothing you’d ever get from Italian opera; it sounds inhuman. Like a harp, rather than a voice. Sometimes I come home a little early, just to catch a tune. I think she recognises the sound of my car, now, and leaves a little earlier. I haven’t heard her sing in weeks.
I have a cleaner, and last Sunday her eyes were glazed over with tears. I tried to hand her the bill for the past two months, but she took my hand instead. She slid a piece of paper that looked like it came out of my personal diary into my palm, next to the bill, and closed my fist. Then she headed off down the road.
I have a cleaner, and her last note said this: “It’s our last Sunday. I’ve been given a new assignment, and I must go. Please be good, and I will see you again one day.”
I looked up at my cleaner as she ambled down the road. From beneath that dress, she sprouted feathery, white wings. And then without looking back, she took off into the sky.