A Manual for Cleaning Women by Lucia Berlin
A list of objects from Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women
A “cold wet one-sock” placed on a passed-out man’s head in a laundromat.
A set of false teeth that a girl puts in her grandfather’s mouth. He teaches her to pull out his real teeth and passes out, making a “red waterfall down his chin.” She puts a handful of tea bags in his mouth to stop the bleeding.
A puzzle piece (“sky, with a little bit of maple”) that a cleaning women from the titular story hunts for on her knees on green shag carpet. While she searches, she smokes and slides her ashtray along with her.
Spice Island sesame seeds, stolen by the same cleaning woman from the fifteen bottles in the house.
An airmail letter, written by a girl’s father, which her mother burns because she’s angry that he writes to her daughter more. “She lit a kitchen match on her thumbnail and burned the letter as I raced up the stairs.”
A playpen, in which two newly acquainted women sit with their coffee and ashtrays, watching their toddlers pull books from the shelves.
Mousetraps that a girl cleans out for the nuns at her Catholic school in exchange for biscuits and lunch tokens.
Four dollars that a woman scrounges from pockets and purses in the early morning so she can walk forty-five minutes to the liquor store and be back in time to make breakfast for her sons.
A $150 false breast to sew into a swimsuit, which a woman buys for her sister because she’s recently had a mastectomy. They go on holiday after their mother’s death and her sister’s husband leaves her.
“Two fingers in a baggie.”
The Rio Grande Bridge, where a college student is pushed out of the car by her boyfriend after telling him she doesn’t want to get married.
Three washers at a laundromat: a woman puts her last quarters in the wrong machines and rewashes someone else’s laundry. He asks her, “You always fuck things up?” Later, she has to carry her wet laundry home.
A grocery list that a cleaning woman finds: “Please pick up Tide, a package of green linguini and a six pack of Coors. I didn’t mean what I said last night.”
Doors that are taken off the hinges and brought to the roof so workers can install doorknobs without waking a woman’s sister, who is dying of cancer.
A blackened spoon and a syringe for heroin, which a woman finds her lover with in the bathroom of a hotel in Acapulco. She says “That sounds like the end of the story, or the beginning, when really it was just a part of the years to come.”