David always looked forward to Maria's weekly visits. She hardly spoke a word of English, but he enjoyed hearing her speak, the words flowing over him like the mists of Pledge and Lysol. Her faint odors of sweat and pine scent.
He’d hired her when Ashley left him, after two months of sweeping thin shawls of dust from the tables and cabinets. Old issues of Wired had toppled one day to reveal a dead mouse, its desiccated corpse looking like the world’s smallest Peking Duck as it curled around a ball of captured fluff. This was the point of no return.
He hadn’t conducted interviews, or surveyed the market. Time was too tight with September’s software launch, and social interaction had never been his strong point. Ashley had been the lucky aberration. His clumsy attempts at camaraderie, his thinning hair and expanding waist, had clearly reminded her of a father she’d never known. When he’d finally met her actual father he’d been shocked to find that he was tall, taut, and strikingly handsome. There was no accounting for Freudian anomalies.
Ashley had left her goodbye note tucked under a wafer of circuit board on his office workbench, her handwriting neat and restrained. There were no stained patches from fallen tears. No recriminations or last minute confessions of infidelity. She had simply drifted away, and with time even the dimples her high heels had left in the floorboards disappeared as the grain of the wood reasserted itself. Shrouding itself in dust and drifting tumbleweeds of lint.
Maria had come highly recommended by Elton in Accounts, so when she’d arrived on time for the interview he’d taken that to be qualification enough. She visited on alternate Wednesdays at first, then after two years he’d asked her politely if she’d mind making weekly visits. He wasn’t sure that she’d understood him, but she had appeared the following week, and the week after, smiling and brandishing her microfiber cleaning cloth as if she were about to dance the flamenco.
His feelings had risen unbidden one July afternoon, as she’d bent over on the kitchen floor, the smell of bleach pooling around her. It wasn’t the truncated T of her thong that first attracted his gaze, but the dark shadows appearing in the underarms of her shirt. He’d stirred uncontrollably. What had seemed so distant before suddenly felt unbearably close, as if his eyes had been tricked into believing that she was far on the horizon, when actually she sat right under his nose.
When she was gone he reveled in the refreshing lemon scent she’d left behind in the bathroom.
It had taken another two years for him to develop a relationship, although the language barrier still defined the boundaries between them. At Christmas he’d surprised her with a hundred dollar bonus, and a tube of salted caramels shaped like hearts. Her confused smile was his gift to himself that year.
When they finally promoted him to Senior Software Developer, he was tempted to take her out for a meal, but he knew they’d have nothing to talk about. They shared only a few common words. Instead he signed up for a Spanish course at the local college, on Monday evenings after work. Sometimes he’d leave the office early and catch a movie at the Latino theater on 9th. When he closed his eyes the swiftly tumbling vowels would wash over him, calming him with their unexpected essence of Maria. The faint ghost of bleach on the theater’s floor made his head swim.
Then, as August drew to a close, he saw his chance. Six months of Spanish lessons had taught him enough to scrape by, and on her last visit he’d listened patiently while she told a story about her aunt losing her dog. Or it might have been her hair. Either way, he knew that he would never be more ready than this. As she pushed the vacuum cleaner across the dining room rug it was all he could do to keep from shouting his love over the whine of its twin turbines.
The following week was the fifth anniversary of the day he’d hired her. He took the afternoon off work, tidying the magazines into a stack at the foot of the couch, wiping the dust away with a damp cloth. He didn’t have time to do the dishes, so he piled them in a sink of sudsy water. By the time the doorbell rang the apartment was close to spotless. He ran his finger along the breakfast bar as he walked to the door, and it relinquished a satisfying squeak.
Maria frowned as she surveyed the overwhelming cleanliness that lay about them, her nose wrinkling when she detected a hint of Lysol in the air. David smiled. From the cupboard beneath the kitchen sink he took a bouquet of roses, thrusting them so forcefully into her arms that several thorns pricked her skin. His heart was racing fast. He stumbled over the words, his head frantic with learning.
“Te amo Maria. Te quiero. Te amo.”
As he kissed her dry lips he tasted lemons and pine. Maria stood frozen, her eyes glazing over as she watched the scum gathering on the discarded dishes.