The kids are school and kinder ready and sitting in front of the TV like dead bloated cows on the side of the river Ganges which means I have between six and eight minutes to get the toilet cleaned before the house keeper gets here.
Reservoir Mum emerges from the bedroom as I sprint down the hall all gloved up and prepping myself to go elbow deep into the s-bend if I have to, and it’s as she says, ‘What are you doing?’ that I notice a pair of my underwear jammed under the piano. Maki and Tyson woke before six this morning and I kicked them off as I was panic-dressing myself in the hall while trying to keep the boys quiet.
The undies are only partly visible but they’re bright red and just the kind of out-of-place-dirtiness a skilled house keeper would notice. I make a mental note to grab them after assaulting the toilet because the thought of a stranger having to touch them fills me with dread.
Reservoir Mum pokes her head around the door to find me on my knees scrubbing the outside of the toilet bowl with frenetic energy and panting like an Olympic swimmer in front of a microphone..
‘Can you stop cleaning the house?’ she says.
‘If I keep rubbing it like this,’ I say. ‘A genie might come out and grant me three wishes.’
‘It’s ridiculous to pay for a cleaner if you’re going to clean everything before she gets here.’
‘The first thing I’ll wish for is a guilt purging enema…’
‘I’ll give you a guilt purging enema,’ she says, kicking my bum in a way that feels just a little too hard to be playful.
‘Um… what?’ I say, as I flush some flushable wipes and stand up to face her.
‘We’re hiring a house keeper so you’ve got more time to write and work. Let the cleaner clean…’
The house keeper entered our daily conversations weeks ago when I realised that my life had come to resemble a burning lasagna. Over a thin layer of RD were the dozen layers of responsibility for four boys and several layers of housework and a layer of blog and even though that made for a hectic and hearty meal it was still manageable, cooking at just the right temp and within the confines of a 24cm glass dish.
But then came the unexpected layer of blog success and a nice fat meaty layer of book and – holy shit – cheesy layer upon cheesy layer of writing and financial opportunities were added along with tomato-rich dollops of be careful what you wish for sauce.
All of a sudden life was bubbling over the edges of the dish and splattering the inside of the oven and even though I was well and truly cooked – burning at the edges, just about inedible – the temperature just kept on rising.
I couldn’t see any way to avoid a charcoaly end and I was typing away madly into the early mornings imaging shiny-toothed devils dancing across the flaming pastry, laughing at me, before RM caught me slipping into bed one night at 3am and suggested we hire a cleaner until ‘things died down’ and while I didn’t weep myself to sleep at the potential relief in her suggestion I did moisten significantly at the eyeballs and get a bit of a runny nose.
‘I just didn’t expect the pressure that would come with hiring a cleaner,’ I say to RM, as she throws her bag over her shoulder and exits the toilet. ‘She’s going to be picking through our house, noticing all my deficiencies and…’
‘Oh my god…’
‘… judging me. Kind of like your Mum except the cleaner won’t have the power to say things to my face like this place looks like a bomb’s hit it or that’s not how you stack a dishwasher or you’re fricken hopeless…’
‘Just stop,’ RM says. ‘We’re paying a professional to do a job…’
‘And on top of all that,’ I say, as RM heads towards the front door and I foghorn down the hall to get the boys moving for the car. ‘I just feel guilty that some poor woman has to do my dirty work….’
There goes Archie and Lewis and Tyson and Maki down the hall and as I follow them I notice some clothes on the floor and parts of a jigsaw puzzle and I’ll need to sniff those pyjamas in Tyson’s room to make sure they don’t smell of wee and, damn it, I’ll need to put a heavier pillow case on Maki’s pillow to make sure that old blood nose stain isn’t visible.
On the way to school and kinder and childcare drop-off for my one child-free day of the week, where I can just write and sweat and write uninterrupted, Archie asks why I’m wearing rubber gloves and, great, now I have to clean the steering wheel and the belt buckles and the inside of my ear.
I charge the door once I return home and clean some more and then the doorbell rings and after pausing for a moment to swallow my nerves I put on a big smile, promise myself I won’t apologise for the mess, and let the house keeper in.
(Note: Laverne & Shirley is not her real name. Let’s be clear about that because I want to protect her identity.)
‘G’day,’ I say, smiling like I’ve just sat on an ice cream and want to keep it a secret. ‘I’m RD.’
‘I’m Laverne & Shirley,’ she says, and it only takes a micro-second to have my guilty feelings justified.
Laverne & Shirley is aged between forty and fifty and she’s leaning against the door frame like she’d just escaped a mugging by picking a fight with a Bengal Tiger. Her hair is a calfy brown and could use some product, I guess, but it’s the slumped shoulders and her expression of boredom and fatigue that’s making me feel so devastated. The only way I could feel guiltier is if she arrived in a wheelchair to expose my lack of ramps.
‘Come in Laverne & Shirley,’ I say, gesturing down the hall. ‘How are you?’
‘Well,’ she says, on her way to the living area. ‘I’m cleaning aren’t I?’
It only takes me ten minutes to show her around and after some very subservient instructions I let her know I’ll be locking myself in the study and there the hours pass slowly as my focus is constantly interrupted. I jump and twitch at every sound, constantly gazing at the study door, freaking out, certain she’s going to burst in at any moment to scream, ‘You expect me to pull your leg hair out of the shower drain!’ It’s like trying to write a humorous story on death row.
The only knock at the study door comes at precisely 1pm and as I walk Laverne & Shirley out for her first taste of the outside world in three hours she tells me that she’s actually an occupational therapist but had to leave her place of employment because of a difference in values.
I have the sudden desire to say, ‘What you do for a living has nothing to do with who you are,’ but when I dress it up a little, saying, ‘I was a cleaner for two years while I was in Uni’ she just looks at me – with the squint and half-smile of the patronised – and as the sunlight shines through her calfy, product-less hair, I feel like a total dick and more fatigued than if I’d just cleaned the whole house myself.
As I dawdle back inside, my mind pulls this statement out of the ethers – maybe from a television program I watched when I was child – I’m going to have to let her go.
The devils are dancing across the flaming lasagne again as I follow my reflection on the harrowingly shiny floorboards chastising myself, ‘Oh you’re going to have to let her go are you RD? Letting people go now, eh? Because you’re so freaking upper class are you? Clip-clop go the hooves of RD’s silver-clad steed! Look out everyone, it’s the Royal RD! He’s the crème de la crème! Kiss his boots for a chance to clean them!’
The pause in my tirade of self-disgust comes as I pass the piano and realise I forgot to collect the underwear I’d spent the previous day coating with the heady fragrance of my nether-regions. When I run to the laundry my worst fears are realised. There they are flashing bright red in the washing basket.
My first experience of hiring a house keeper has me drained and enclosed in a dark cave of shame as reality sets in: Laverne & Shirley touched my dirty undies.
The house is so clean it makes me weep just to smell it.
And yet I feel so dirty…