The house is an old Victorian painted in three shades of brown. It's a gingerbread house straight out of Grimm's. It belongs in the Alps. Or maybe it doesn't. Jan is not familiar with Alpine architecture, but this is a little game she likes to play, placing houses elsewhere. The Alps is a compliment. She likes this house.
She flips through the keys in her big ring. The key for this house is blue, though it really should be brown. She already had a brown one when she picked up this house. For the most part the keys correlate in some way to the houses. The key ring was built up so gradually over the past couple of years that she knows each key. A few of her clients never lock their doors. These are typically the messiest houses. This one today is kept pretty well.
Jan actually prefers messy houses. These are her people, the ones who really need her. She feels a certain fondness for the little hand streaks on the refrigerators, the toys all over the bedroom floors, the books and papers cluttering every surface. Her theory is that people who are truly engaged in their lives, the people who spend most of their time focused on the important stuff, rarely clean.
Jan pushes into today's house with her bucket and mop. She’s hit by the smell of cumin, maybe curry. They must have cooked Indian last night. They are, in fact, Indian, so it stands to reason. She goes back to the car to get the other bucket and vacuum cleaner. She prefers using her own stuff. It's impossibly warm today, maybe low 60s, which is rare this early in April. She’ll open the windows while she’s here. Air the place out.
Jan’s grateful for these empty houses with all their signs of life. In theory, she likes most people, though she enjoys their absence more than their presence in most cases. Small doses. She creates characters as she moves through the empty houses, little stories for the messes. It’s funny how she doesn’t get tired of this job. It feeds her imagination. She never expected that.
As with all the houses she cleans, Jan starts in the kitchen. This one’s old with vintage appliances, mostly because it has been a rented for so many years. The rental market in this town is huge, driven by the comings and goings of the university people. Jan had considered getting her real estate license, but now she’s glad she didn’t. All of that human interaction, the make-up, the uncertainty. That would have been too much for her. She doesn’t sell things well. Obviously. The cleaning turned out to be just as lucrative anyway. Who would have thought?
She doesn’t do this for the money. They don’t really need tons of extra money. It’s more for the idea of earning money. All those years at home with little kids, earning nothing, that didn’t sit well with her. Always vaguely arty, she never really caught on to a career. Nothing opened up before her. Nothing was obvious. She lacked mentors, truth be told. She sees that now. She must not let that happen to her own kids. She’s working hard to get them to understand the importance of asking for help. People are generally happy to help. That became clear too late for Jan. She missed the boat.
She moves through the kitchen putting things in piles so she can wipe down the countertop and the table. She whisks all the crumbs onto the floor, quicker to get later with the vacuum.