Every Wednesday, on Writing Under Pressure, you’ll find a post based on Today’s Word (from Wordsmith.org). Past essays, poems, or flash fiction pieces can be found under Wednesday’s Word on the sidebar to the right.
This has been one of those days when life gets well in the way of writing, and swearing seems appropriate — especially when you have a self-imposed deadline at your back.
Enter Wordsmith.org’s theme this week: words about swearing and name-calling. Not the four-letter words, mind you, but a more sophisticated list of insults.
odoriferous. adj. 1. Giving off an odor; 2. morally offensive.
Criticism with class.
Carol’s position in housekeeping at the Holiday Inn never won her great respect. Her mother berated her for picking up the dirty laundry of strangers. Her daughter told her, at least once a week over coffee, that she should quit that lousy job.
“It’s a disgrace that women still make up the majority of employees in that line of work.”
“I like my job,” Carol repeated after every criticism, and she shrugged her shoulders.
She loved her job, really. She loved the sight and sound of the sheets as she snapped them and let them fall on top of the mattress. She appreciated the smell of a freshly-cleaned bathroom. And, she believed she played a large part in setting the mood for young couples who stayed at the hotel: she turned down their beds, turned on the lamps, and sprayed their pillows with a hint of Calvin Klein’s Obsession — a bottle she found in room 101 last year that she kept hidden in her housekeeping cart.
Carol was thinking about the nice young couple she saw leaving room 212 this morning, when she rounded the corner of the hallway and was blindsided by a foul smell emanating from room 203.
The brass numbers on the door appeared smudged from greasy fingers. A pungent smell, perhaps a mix of smoked sardines and horseradish left out overnight, burned her nose hairs. The doorknob was sticky to the touch.
She slid on her rubber gloves and crinkled her nose. She reached under her cart and pulled out the big guns: bleach, a hard bristle brush, and a bottle of green liquid she bought off of Nancy, another custodian she knew who worked the Elementary School – a real cesspool. Nancy claimed, “One tablespoon of Green Go-Get ‘Em in a bucket of warm water and all evidence of festering bacteria be gone!”
Carol knew it worked. She had tried it once after the High School Prom. She had to clean five rooms so hard that she burned a hole through the index finger of her glove. But, when she was done, the rooms sparkled and smelled of a crisp, Spring morning.
Carol knocked on the door of room 203 with her gloved hand and said in her sing-song voice, “Housekeeping!”
She stuck her eye up to the peep hole and searched for any signs of light. It seemed the guest was out. Carol slid her master key into the lock and opened the door. The room looked like someone had been staying there, unkempt, for a week, and it smelled worse.
The bed sheets were half off and wadded up into a ball on the corner of the mattress. On the table next to the window, she saw two stacks of empty food containers that housed just enough scraps to entertain several hearty, green flies. She moved one hand to the side of her cart and whipped out the flyswatter.
A brown liquid, source unknown as of yet, dripped from the edge of the table and formed a puddle that bore into the upholstery of one chair.
While swatting at flies, Carol wheeled her cart with one hand over the threshold, around the bed, and right into a pile of clothes: overalls, a white t-shirt, a flannel, soiled socks, and a pair of well-worn underwear.
She searched the room for more refuse and noticed the bathroom door ajar. She cleared her throat.
“Housekeeping!” she tried again.
She set her flyswatter on top of her cart and slipped to the bathroom door. Through a crack, she saw a towel crumpled up on the floor. She pushed open the door, slow and easy, and then she saw him: bushy, brown hair, red nose, rounded belly, and naked.
Her shriek woke him. He kicked, waved his arms, and sloshed back and forth in the bathwater.
“Don’t you know how to knock?” he screamed.
Carol moved her mouth but words wouldn’t surface. She turned and ran, shocked at the horror of it all. She pushed her cart backwards into the hallway, hitting the chair and the table in the process and knocking Styrofoam boxes to the floor. Flies took off in every direction. She thought she smelled rotting cabbage.
Carol fumbled for her bottle of Nancy’s Go Get ‘Em.
In a desperate attempt to kill the stench and erase the image, Carol shot three long, sweeping sprays of the green liquid into the room, followed by several chasers of Obsession.
She slammed the door and scurried down the hall.