“I hate you. My old bones hate you. Every bit of me wishes you were dead.”
Joe Wimby came home from college in the summer of 2011. He had just finished up his junior year of school up in Michigan. It took Joe four days to drive back to his mother’s house down in Alabama. The back of his sedan carried two luggage bags, a folding chair, three shoe boxes and a half-eaten bag of trail-mix. His entire life couldn’t fill up the semi-spacious cargo room.
When Joe arrived, it was 4pm on a Tuesday. His mother wasn’t at the door waiting. She had the doors locked. Upon discovering this, Joe took out his key chain which had a spare for just that occasion. He singled out his house key and tried to unlock the door. The key wouldn’t budge. He turned the key upside down. If key fitting were to be boiled down to a science where one unit would be the level of “fit” a key has, then this new, upside down position, opposed to the original position Joe first attempted to open the lock, would be measured as: less.
Joe knew only one way to get inside the house if he was locked out or if he needed to sneak out. So, knowing this, Joe Wimby unloaded his sedan and walked the side of the house until he reached the window to his bedroom in the backyard. Joe planted his wide hands on the glass. He pressed hard against it and pushed up. The window squealed open little by little.
In high school, Joe Wimby would sneak out through the same window. The first time Joe tried this, the window squealed and woke his mother up. She came in and spanked her 18 year-old son raw.
Finally, the window was fully open which allowed Joe to hold it open with one hand. With the other hand, Joe lifted his luggage through the door. Once the luggage was in, Joe tried climbing through the window. He had to let the window pane drop in his body as he shimmied his way into his room. The window let out one last death squeal as his shoes stepped on the carpet.
His room was clean. The maids must have gone through already. The white walls glowed with the sunlight pouring through the window. The room wasn’t cleaned. It was sanitized.
Joe Wimby tucked his luggage in the corner of the room. He’d unpack later.
Joe ventured through the house in search of any life. He was hoping to find the maids chatting about. Instead, he found his mother in the kitchen eating.
“Hey, mom. I’m home,” Joe said to his mother. She was focused on her plate.
“Yeah, I heard,” she replied. She never looked up.
“I should have left you on the street for the dogs.”
The maids came in the next day at six in the morning. Consuelo and Nina keyed into the house. Past the living room was the kitchen. From the front door, Consuelo and Nina heard clangs, bangs, grease sizzle.
“What the hell is that?” Consuelo asked. “La Margarita doesn’t get up this early.”
“Did someone break in?” asked Nina.
“To cook breakfast?”
The two cautiously made their way into the kitchen. There, Joe Wimby was in his whitey tidies cooking eggs and bacon. A rubber spatula in one hand and mug of coffee in the other.
“Hola, ladies.” Joe Wimby said to the maids. He was in his underwear. The maids turned to each other and laughed. They were too embarrassed to look at Joe again. They left to start their cleaning day.
“La Margarita’s son really grew up,” Consuelo said. She had her blue rubber gloves on to clean the toilet.
“You know, the bathroom is already clean when we get here. How much of a mess can an old lady make on her own?” Nina was on her knees in the tub scrubbing the inside.
“I think she’s lonely,” replied Consuelo.
“La Margarita? Lonely? I don’t believe that?” said Nina.
“Neither do I. But there has to be a reason she has us around. Maybe she wants to have friends.”
Nina stood up from inside the tub. “I think she needs a man.”
“If her husband didn’t kill himself, then I’m sure La Margarita would have done the job for him,” said Consuelo.
Joe Wimby passed by the bathroom door. His bulge still bulged. The maids blushed and continued cleaning the bathroom.
“I don’t care that I’m your mother. I can’t love you.”
Over the next month, the maids would come in at six in the morning to find Joe living. Joe lived by making his own breakfast, mowing the lawn, reading a good book, painting, listening to music on his dad’s old jukebox he dug out the garage. His mother hated him for it.
He made messes which was a change of pace for the maids. They were used to cleaning what was already clean. Joe’s clutter and jumble was his imprint on the house. To let his mom know he was alive.
“Make you get that old man’s stench out of the house. I smell it extra today.”
La Margarita spent her days locked in her room after she divorced her husband. No one knew what she did, not even the maids. They weren’t allowed to clean her room. Three times a day La Margarita would leave her room to make a mess in the kitchen while she made her meals.
One day, La Margarita came out of her room for breakfast at eleven. Joe and the maids were chit chatting in the living room that was connected to the kitchen (yes Joe Wimby was in his underwear). La Margarita hobbled into the kitchen. She was hunched over. She looked like a road map with her blue veins coating her skin. She was sick. Diagnosed with hate and bitterness. Was given her whole life to live. No one told her she had to live in order to live, so she died long ago. She didn’t know this fact either.
She entered the kitchen and glanced over to Joe and the maids talking and having breakfast. She scoffed.
“Am I not paying you to clean?” she yelled from the kitchen.
The maids jumped out of the couches they were sitting in. They picked up their spray bottles after crumpling up their lunch packed in tin foil. With their mouths still chewing, the maids hurried to the staircase to continue cleaning. Before they could reach it, however, Joe decided to talk.
“They’re on lunch break, mom,” Joe said.
The old woman stood still. The rage paralyzed her. Her veins popped out even more than they already were.
“No. It’s okay. We’re finishing our food. We’ll go clean now,” said Consuelo. Nina nodded her head furiously.
“They haven’t eaten yet, mom. Look around. It’s already clean. They keep the place clean. Give ’em a break, huh?” Joe said.
La Margarita scurried to the living room. Fastest she had moved in years. Her bony fingers formed two fists clenched to her sides. She stood in front of the couch Joe Wimby was sprawled at. She couldn’t look him in the eyes.
“I pay for them. You don’t. You don’t tell me what to do in my own god damn house.”
“You can at least have the decency to let them eat. Have some heart. Care about someone other than yourself.”
“You sound like your father.”
“I’m his kid. Makes sense.”
She pointed as the basket of liquids the maids brought in every day. “You smell just like him. You stink up this house so much not even those chemicals burn away your stench. I wish you’d go with him.”
“He’s fucking dead.”
“Exactly my point.”
La Margarita stormed off. She blew past the maids on her way up the stairs. Joe and the maids looked at each other in equal parts fear and disbelief. The sound of a door slamming boomed through the house. It scared the birds outside.
“Joe, you’re going to give her a heart attack,” Consuelo said.
“We were having a good time,” he replied.
“You living like that for two more months, Joe?” Nina asked.
“I got a very needed vacation to New Mexico coming up.”
“What are you doing over there?” asked Consuelo.
“Getting away from this. To go be happy.”
The next couple of weeks, Joe and La Margarita would get into scuffles twice or three times a day. They wouldn’t go past five minutes each. The maids would watch from a safe distance. Every day they would come in and talk about what they will argue about. For a while, the maids were convinced that Joe would purposefully find La Margarita when she was out of her room just to argue.
“I wish you’d just disappear and leave me to die alone.”
In the last few weeks of summer, the maids came in the house to clean. It was quiet that day. The two looked at each other and wondered why they could hear themselves think. They had gotten used to Joe making a ruckus or having a screaming match with his mother. On this day, the maids found the house as clean as they left it the day before.
They didn’t want to call his name in fear of disturbing La Margarita, so they cleaned the house with their heads on a swivel to see if they could catch a glimpse of Joe’s underwear passing by.
When it was time to clean Joe’s room, they found nothing. It wasn’t clean nor was it dirty. His bags were gone and so was any trace of him. Nothing.
“I hope you do walk out that door and never step foot in this house again”
They went home without ever seeing anyone else in the house with them.
A few days went by. The maids were concerned.
“You think La Margarita died?” asked Nina.
“Joe probably killed her by now from all the abuse,” Consuelo responded.
“Or the other way around.”
“You think we should knock?”
“On Joe’s door? He’s obviously not home.”
“No. On La Margarita’s.”
“She told us not to ask for her while we work.”
“But what if she’s dead?”
“Wouldn’t it smell?”
“The door’s closed. We can’t tell.”
“Fine. But if she’s dead, we call the police and we leave quick. I don’t like being involved with people like that.”
The maids crept up to La Margarita’s door. They knocked softly. Several seconds went by before the sound of footsteps were heard. The door was opened slowly. On the other side was La Margarita. Her eyes raw, pink, and fleshy. Her hair was in knots. She smelled like exhaustion.
“Yes?” she whispered.
The maids didn’t think they’d get this far. “Sorry to bother you. We’ll go clean now.” The maids turned around and started walking away.
“No don’t,” La Margarita said, “please come in.”
“Que pasa, doña?” asked Consuelo.
Keeping secrets was La Margarita’s greatest skill. However, when you harbor a real secret. One that you won’t even let slip in your mind. One that chips away at the end of your fingers and slowly a numbness climbs up to your shoulders and rests on them like a pendant of misery. It becomes heavy, hunching your back forward like a fish hook. Too many of those and you’re humbled to your knees.
This is where La Margarita was. On her knees. Humbled. Unable to lift her misery with her rigid neck.
“My son. He took his life.”
In regards to the affairs of consolation and grieve management, there is not much to say. Instead, one must listen as the shambled heart of a person is expelled out of their body. Not only does a heart glass break easiest, but it is also the hardest to put back together. La Margarita’s was a mixture of glass and coal. The years of fire and fury stuck inside of her hardened into glass. The hatred and self-loathing turned to coal. No matter. Both pieces were nothing but dust.
La Margarita pulled out her phone. On the tiny screen, she poked around with her rigid fingers. She opened a photo of Joe hanging from a pipe in a darkly lit room.
“They sent this to me two weeks ago,” La Margarita said.
“Who?” the two maids asked.
“I don’t know. It says it’s one of his friends.”
“We’re so sorry…”
“Me too.” La Margarita sunk back into the darkness of her room.
The maids went along cleaning the house for the rest of the day. Their minds couldn’t get off poor Joe Wimby who was dangling from the ceiling. Such a nice boy. So full of life.
“I don’t think he killed himself,” Nina said.
“Nina,” Consuelo said sternly.
“I’m serious! I don’t think he killed himself,” Nina doubled down.
“Why would you say that, Nina?”
“Who just takes a picture of their dangling dead friend? It seems off to me,” Nina said.
“Maybe it was for evidence,” replied Consuelo.
“The dead body would be evidence itself, Consuelo. I think he faked it to get away from La Margarita. It’s a number she doesn’t know claiming to be his friend. It doesn’t sound all that believable.”
“That’s crazy thinking.”
“If she was your mom, how far away would you go to get away from her?”
“Yeah, but look at her. To fake your death and put that guilt on your mom, you have to be just as cynical and hateful as her.”
“You might be right.”
“Either way, I’m calling my mom on the bus ride back.”
Happy Mother’s Day