Nadav Spiegelman

A Manual for Cleaning Women

Lucia Berlin, Stephen Emerson, and Lydia Davis
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She always seemed dead anyway, but nicely so, like an illustration or advertisement.
saw blind Mr. Adderly on the 51 bus the other night. His wife, Diane Adderly, came in DOA a few months ago. He had found her body at the foot of the stairs, with his cane. Ratshit Nurse McCoy kept telling him to stop crying. “It simply won’t help the situation, Mr. Adderly.” “Nothing will help. It’s all I can do. Let me alone.” When he heard McCoy had left, to make arrangements, he told me that he had never cried before. It scared him, because of his eyes.
It’s Marlene the Migraine, an Emergency habituée. She is so beautiful, young. She stops talking with two Laney College basketball players, one with an injured right knee, and stumbles to my desk to go into her act. Her howls are like Ornette Coleman in early “Lonely Woman” days.
Eloise woke at six, as usual. She opened the shutters, watched the sky turn from milky silver to lavender gray.
There was nobody I could talk to about any of this, nobody to ask what was right or wrong, so I just felt wrong.
I’m hungry, I whined. Mrs. Snowden had foreseen that. Her gloved hand passed me fig newtons wrapped in talcumy Kleenex. The cookie expanded in my mouth like Japanese flowers, like a burst pillow. I gagged and wept.
Anybody says he knows just how someone else feels is a fool.
The bus is late. Cars drive by. Rich people in cars never look at people on the street, at all. Poor ones always do … in fact it sometimes seems they’re just driving around, looking at people on the street. I’ve done that. Poor people wait a lot. Welfare, unemployment lines, laundromats, phone booths, emergency rooms, jails, etc.
Women’s voices always rise two octaves when they talk to cleaning women or cats. (Cleaning women: As for cats … never make friends with cats, don’t let them play with the mop, the rags. The ladies will get jealous. Never, however, knock cats off of chairs. On the other hand, always make friends with dogs, spend five or ten minutes scratching Cherokee or Smiley when you first arrive. Remember to close the toilet seats. Furry, jowly drips.)
Try to work for Jews or blacks. You get lunch. But mostly Jewish and black women respect work, the work you do, and also they are not at all ashamed of spending the entire day doing absolutely nothing. They are paying you, right?
The girls wore the navy-blue uniforms of the school. Like muted birds they flirted with the boys, who cocked their plumed heads, who were brilliant in orange or yellow or turquoise pegged pants. They wore open black shirts or V-neck sweaters with nothing under them, so that their crucifixes gleamed against their smooth brown chests … the crucifix of the pachuco, which was also tattooed on the back of their hand.
I’ve never understood how so many
I came to enjoy the other patients. Most of them were even more senile than my father, but they were glad to see me, clawed at me with tiny fingers. They all recognized me, called me different names.
The ambulances are gray, the drivers wear gray, the blankets are gray, the patients are yellow-gray except where the doctors have marked their skulls or throats with a dazzling red Magic Marker X.