The Things She Carried Essay

1126 words - 5 pages

Her name is Martha, though most people, at least at work, do not know her by name. To the people she sees in the halls as she vacuums, sweeps or dusts she is just the cleaning lady at the psychotherapy clinic. The people she passes in the long hallways of the clinic are usually the therapists who politely acknowledge her with a nod of their heads or a quick perfunctory smile—the type of smile that people use as a way of saying “sorry” when they bump into you accidentally on the subway. Occasionally, a client will give her a nod but that is rare. Martha has noticed during the many years that she has worked at the clinic that the clients rarely meet her eyes—they are too busy staring at her clean carpet as they walk down the halls. It is almost as if the swirls in the carpet’s pattern have hypnotized them into a walking trance. None of this bother’s Martha as she is satisfied with her status and at age 62 she just looks forward to the day she can retire and get off her arthritic knees.
Martha works the late shift; half of her shift occurs during the clinic’s busy hours when the clinic is bustling with energy but the part of her shift she likes best is when everyone has gone and she is left with dozens of rooms to clean and tidy. She does a lot of vacuuming the first half of her shift, and it is an easy job to push the not too noisy Hoover over dirt that barely exists. At home when she vacuums she sings, but of course she cannot do that here, so the Hoover hums for her, a song that is surely monotonous, but has a safe and comforting rhythm to it.
By 10 pm the clinic is closed, the therapists have left with their heavy briefcases filled with notes and the clinic is once again as quiet as a library— the only people left are the ones between the pages of the outdated and worn “People” magazines in the waiting area. She tidies that area first, there’s not much to it, just restacking the magazines and some light dusting. Then she hauls her big garbage cart on wheels out of the supply closet and heads down the hall to the furthest therapy room. She will eventually make her way back to the waiting area once she has finished all the rooms. The rooms are not dirty, no one has thrown wild parties in them, and there are no half empty beer cans or pizza boxes laden with shriveling pizza crusts. There are no ashtrays overflowing with cigarette butts, in fact there are no ashtrays, but the rooms do overflow with the scent of humans. There is the smell of sweat, both the male and female variety, and sometimes the faint odor of perfume or shampoo will catch Martha’s nose, but the predominant smell is the smell of fear, regret, confusion and sadness. Sometimes the smell of sadness will overwhelm Martha and she will give into it by lowering her own heavy and arthritic body onto one of the well-worn couches and cry for a few minutes. For those few minutes she allows herself think of her own sad moments in her life...

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