I told her I was glad, and said I’d text her the address after we hung up. She said she’d be there after her first house the next morning, sometime around 1, and I said that would be great.
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“How much do you usually charge?” I asked, knowing I’d pay her more.
“For this kind of thing, probably 30 an hour,” she said.
“Oh wow!” I said. “You get 30 an hour?!” Then I backtracked. “I used to clean houses in Missoula, but I charged like 15 to 20. That was a while ago, I guess.”
“Yeah,” she said, and nothing else.
I told her I’d see her tomorrow.
When Michelle arrived the next day, I put the dogs in the yard so they wouldn’t bother her. I’d already picked up the kitchen as much as I could, putting away all the dishes and clutter. I’d swept the floor. I’d grimaced at the thought of scrubbing it, even though that’s exactly what I had asked someone else to do. As Michelle walked into the kitchen, I fumbled through the story of hurting my back, and Michelle nodded, knowingly, and told me about her herniated disks. My hands found each other, and I fiddled with my ring.
“Okay,” I said. “I guess I’ll leave you to it. I have to check up on some emails today, so I’ll just be in the next room.”
Michelle nodded and walked toward the front door to get more supplies.
She ended up cleaning for four hours that afternoon, and I chatted with her a bit whenever I grabbed a glass of water, or something from the fridge. I gazed at her yellow gloves; her bucket full of water, soapy from Murphy’s Oil; and the scrubby sponge that looked to be on its last leg, but was new when she arrived. She was often on her knees or sitting when we talked, and I tried not to make a face. I remembered what it was like to talk to a client in the position Michelle was in: on her knees, looking up at a person the same age or younger who has hired you to clean a huge house by yourself, and I told her so, asking her if she needed anything.
“No,” she said, then asked how long I cleaned houses. We ended up talking for quite some time. I eventually told her about my book.
“Oh, my daughter would love to read that! She wants to be a writer,” Michelle said. I ran to get her a copy, pausing to personalize and sign it first.
When she left, I wrote a check for $40 an hour instead of $30, and said I might need more help with cleaning out my old house for my landlord. She smiled, and we agreed to keep in touch.
That night my back went out completely, and I was in bed for three days. The pain was some of the most excruciating I’d ever experienced; my left leg later went numb. By the time I saw Michelle again to do a walk-through at my old house, it was the third day I’d been able to walk more than a few feet, and I told her so.
“Yeah,” she said, rubbing her lower spine. “I hurt my back carrying a cooler this weekend when we were camping.” She’d already had a long day. “That’s why I was late getting here. Moving a little slower, I guess.”