She greets me at the front door of the complex, baby in sling across her front, warmly surveying me through Calvin Kline geek chic glasses. Quick! Think of something witty! It's always smart to greet people like her with a witty or worldly remark so that your personality shines through the uniform. We climb the three flights to her upper flat, a two-bedroom with unfinished concrete walls and baseboards of untreated wood. Very vogue.
She directs me toward the to-do list, pausing on the "cat house" item. Leading me to the guest bedroom she points out the object in question. "My husband likes to call it the cat condo," she jokes. Everybody has a condo these days, I think. "It's not so bad, I can see the design element," I say. Now she trusts me.
I comment on her furniture and choice of color palette. "I see so many that are just beige and more beige," I compliment her. Now she really trusts me.
Despite my muted jealousy, I want to tell her how nice it is to be here in her home, to have a refuge away from Pottery Barn-decorated condo after gay condo. I want to tell this woman how refreshing it is to be cleaning the home of a straight, married couple with a child.
But I know she won't understand me, won't see how big a threat the former is to the latter's existence. "And besides," she will change the subject, "this really isn't our home so much as it is our dwelling."
Their dwelling? I keep my mouth clamped shut, for fear I will seethe. Even now I am finding it difficult to suppress my desire to mock the magazine titles that adorn this woman's cultured Indonesian coffee table: Metropolitan Home, Modernism Magazine, the New Yorker.
I decide to get started. Looking for a broom, I open the closet door to reveal the whole line of products our company uses; environmentally- and pet-friendly all around. Never mind that they don't work as well as the regular stuff, we've got to preserve the planet! We've just got to!
In the bathroom, the faux bamboo tissue, cotton ball and soap holders seem to mock me. "Even we have our place," they whisper. "You care about the wrong things." I turn again to envy while polishing the cloudy green bottles of Aveda products. I scrub the tub solemnly, making small circles of lemon-scented cleanser, washing away dirt that isn't there.
When the time comes to pay me, she hesitates. I do not expect a tip; they are young and have money, but are smarter with it than I am. Not wanting to, I admit to myself that their life is in a lot of ways better than mine. They are capable and committed to each other and their child. But I feel very certain they do not know the truth.
"You're so quiet," she observes softly. "It was as if you weren't even here. I am embarrassed to say it's a little unnerving."
She has literally asked me to break my silence.
"It is not your dwelling, it is your home. It is not just love that is important, it is the sanctified union of two people, a man and a woman. You are meant to cherish and protect these things with all your might. These are God's gifts to you and you take them for granted! God will take care of his planet. Your job is to preserve God's idea of a family!"
I show myself out. She stands in the doorway, the check shaking slightly in her hand.