“There’s another one.” I point out the small brown ant crawling across my kitchen counter this warm July day. “And another one.” The first ant is joined by a friend.
My cleaning lady, a young blonde woman from
Russia the Ukraine East Yurkania Central Europe with a name that has too many consonants for me to pronounce, nodded her head. “Raid,” she said. She made a hissing sound through her teeth as she pantomimed spraying the kitchen counter top with insecticide.
“Well, no, I don’t think that’s the answer.” I don’t even use weed-killer out in the backyard. As a consequence, we have weeds. I’m okay with that. I’m not okay with six-legged beasties crawling across my kitchen. “I cook here,” I said and it’s technically not a lie because I did microwave a mug of instant coffee just that morning.
She nodded, but I can see in her eyes that she’s thrown away too many pizza boxes and Chinese take out containers to believe much cooking goes on in my kitchen. You really can’t keep secrets from your cleaning lady because, sooner or later, you’re going to forget and leave your vibrator out on the nightstand.
I moved the toaster from its spot on the counter to reveal a trail of bread crumbs that remain, even though she’s just cleaned the kitchen. A
gaggle herd school murder bunch of ants are feasting there. “I think it’s these food crumbs that are attracting them. I think if we”–and by “we” I mean “she”–“remove the food sources, the ants won’t have a reason to come here.”
“Raid,” she repeated, and sprayed the toaster ants with her imaginary can.
“No, no Raid,” I said. I pantomimed wiping the kitchen counter. “I think we need to clean better. Get rid of the crumbs.”
“Okay,” she said before flattening the ants with a paper towel and squirting the counter top with the environment-friendly cleaning spray I bought that costs $7 a bottle. “No crumbs.” She looked at me, and I wonder if she’s wondering if I’m going to call her boss and complain.
“Okay, no crumbs.” I gave her a curt nod before I left the kitchen. I’m not going to call her boss. I’m done talking with her boss.
Now please don’t think I’m a chronic complainer with the cleaning service owner’s number on speed dial, ringing up and demanding refunds because the house didn’t pass my white glove inspection. I’ve only called twice: the first time to ask what happened to Luz, my cleaning lady of three years (who kept my kitchen ant-free, by the way) and the second time to ask why the new cleaning people (It was rare that I would get the same woman two weeks in a row. There seemed to be a group of young blondes who rotated the duty of cleaning my house) had started showing up on Tuesdays instead of Thursdays.
“They probably mixed up the days,” the cleaning service owner told me the second time I called. She has one of those old Pennsylvania Dutch names, which aren’t Dutch at all, they’re German, names like Schmidt and Dietrich and Heinz, and that means her family has probably lived in the area since the first Europeans
invaded settled here in the 1600s. “I think there’s another house in your neighborhood that’s on a Tuesday schedule. I’ll make sure they come on Thursdays from now on. Or would you like to switch to Tuesdays?” she asked. “That would make things more efficient.”
No, I told her. I want them to come on inefficient Thursday, just like Luz did.
“Thursday it is, then!” the owner said with forced cheer.
I need the housecleaners to come on Thursdays because Thursday is the day I make sure I’m out of the house. Scheduling a meeting? Let’s do it on Thursday. Lunch this week? Thursday is the day for lunch. While I want someone else to clean my house, I really don’t want to be there when it happens. I think it’s a little bit like that saying about sausage-making: Everyone loves to eat sausage, but no one wants to see how it’s made. Except for that one vegan friend you have, who’s always trying to convince you to give up meat (or at least eat a salad once in a while). She wants you to see how sausage is made, thinking it will get you to finally join the cause.
But I was at home last Thursday, so I could point out the ants. Now here it is Thursday again, and I’m home because there are still ants. There have been no crumbs on the kitchen counter all week, and yet I’m still finding ants.
I opened the door for the cleaning lady and she looked up in surprise. I’d seen a white minivan pull up outside through the front window, discharging three young blonde women. The two others dispersed down the streets, to other houses to clean. My cleaning lady, the driver of the minivan, pulled into my driveway. She must be their supervisor, I think. Or perhaps it’s just her minivan.
“Hi,” I said and, because it felt awkward, I added,”You know, I’m not sure how to pronounce your name.”
“Lyudmyla,” she said.
“Lood-mee-la,” I repeated carefully. I’m reminded of my grandmother’s name, Genoveffa, and how my kids can’t pronounce it, and how they make fun of my grandfather’s name, Annibale, because they have a playmate named Annabelle. My grandparents are dead now; they died a good long while before my kids were born. “We still have ants, Lood-mee-la.”
She nodded. To her, this news is not unexpected.
“I’m not sure what else we can do,” I said. I started to tell her that I’m ready to give up and call an exterminator who will come out to spray chemicals that will ultimately leach into the water supply and cause freakish mutations in the offspring of my offspring, like maybe a useless flipper sprouting out of their foreheads.
She held up a finger to stop me from speaking as I’m flapping my hand on my forehead in front of her. “I have an idea,” she said.
She marched into the kitchen.
I followed. She spritzed the kitchen counter tops with the pricey green cleaning solution, drowning disoriented ants along the way, and wiped their little corpses into the trash. Then she opened a cabinet, the one that’s full of jars of spices left over from the days when I didn’t work so much, and filled my time experimenting with recipes I found on the internet. I set a chicken pot pie on fire once, trying to brown the crust underneath the broiler, but I also learned how to make a chicken piccata so delicious you’ll want to marry me, regardless of your sexual orientation.
“Here,” she said, finally. She turned to show me a jar of cinnamon. “We put on the counters,” she said. She made a gesture suggesting she would sprinkle cinnamon all across the kitchen. “Leave for one week.” She held up a single finger again. “Okay?”
I nodded. Why not?
The next morning, my husband said, “Wow, this cinnamon really works. I haven’t seen one ant today.”
He’s playing golf this morning so he’s in the kitchen putting on sun block. He’s Irish and gets sunburnt on partly cloudy days. I’m half-Italian but I don’t look it; instead, I take after my northern European father, with his fair skin and hair and blue eyes. Truthfully, I look more out of place sitting down to eat a big bowl of spaghetti than I would look tumbling out of Lyudmyla’s minivan.
Curiously enough, my husband’s Irish forebears came to the United States via Argentina. They had emigrated there in the 1850s, escaping the potato famine like so many others. There’s still lots of Irish left down there (according to Wikipedia, Argentina is home to the world’s fifth largest Irish community in the world) but, for whatever reason, my husband’s family left that part of the world for New York City around the turn of the last century. My mother’s parents (remember Genoveffa and Annibale?) escaped from post war Europe, settling in New Haven in the 1950s, joining relatives already living there.
More days pass, and it’s Thursday and there are still no ants. The morning television news is on as I’m getting ready for work and getting the kids ready for day camp. The announcer says that Donald Trump called the Mexicans rapists and murderers, swarming over the southern border. Some of the Republican candidates repudiate him; others don’t.
I’m leaving a note for Lyudmyla, telling her the cinnamon worked, and leaving her a twenty-dollar bill. I wish I knew how to say “Thank you” in Russian, or Ukrainian, or whatever language she spoke in her native land.
“Say ‘muchas gracias,’ Mommy,” my younger daughter suggested. Her older sister will be in middle school this fall, studying Spanish as her foreign language, and the three of us have been working through Easy Spanish Reader this summer, reading about the adventures of Maria and Enrique, dos estudiantes muy inteligentes.
“You can’t say that!” Her sister is appalled. “That’s Spanish! She doesn’t speak Spanish!”
“Quiet,” I said to put an end to the bickering. I scribbled, “The cinnamon worked! No ants!!!” and “Thanks, Lyudmyla!” and draw a smiley face on a yellow Post It note that I stuck to the $20 bill. I left the bill on the dining room table and headed for the door. “Vámanos,” I said to the girls, shooing them out the door ahead of me.
I backed out of the driveway and turned down the street, making my escape just as the white minivan appeared in my rearview mirror, pulling up to the curb in front of my house.
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