She plopped the toilet brush and cleaner bottle back into her cart, wiping her hands dry on a towel draped over the push bar.
“Alexa, play the local radio news,” Maya called out.
“OK,” answered the virtual female voice from atop the kitchenette counter.
The 9 AM news report cut in.
‘—ty roadwork department is at a loss to explain how major intersection traffic lights became unsynchronized. Traffic tie-ups continue at this time and public work crews are busy trying to find the source of the malfunction.’
Huh. That explained the traffic jam their bus encountered which had Zoe arriving late to daycare. Maya had been forced to sprint to make her punch-in time at the hotel. She’d get the cupcakes for Zoe’s party at her break instead.
‘Major carriers are reporting cellphone service outages—”
“Dammit!” Maya dropped the pillow case she’d been stripping off for a second time. Scooping it off the floor once again, she threw it onto the gathered pile of bed linens which she grabbed and shoved into her cart’s hamper.
‘The Weather Bureau has issued a revised forecast for today. They’re now calling for cloudy conditions with a 70% chance of showers throughout the afternoon and evening.’
Snapping out a fresh bedsheet over the mattress, Maya tucked in its corners.
‘In international news… Police in Stockholm are investigating an incident where witnesses claim a man in a formal suit and leather jacket visited different wards of a hospital claiming to be a doctor. The man allegedly gave advice such as bloodletting to release the bad humours and lobotomies for seizures. He disappeared before security guards arrived. No one was reported injured.’
The duster swished over the TV set on the dresser, raising tickling whiffs of lemon polish. Catching her reflection in the dresser’s mirror, Maya smoothed out her uniform with her free hand.
‘Firefighters were called to an explosion at a popular coffee shop in one of Paris’ central arrondissements. An eyewitness treated at the scene for minor burns and shock insisted to police that a man sitting alone on the terrace had blown up along with it after snapping his fingers. Forensic specialists are combing the debris for clues. Terrorist activity has not been ruled out.’
‘On a lighter note… Authorities are calling it a prank but telecommunication experts are scratching their heads trying to figure out how someone was able to pull a poetry recital stunt over radio stations across the globe around 6 AM local time.’
The rest of the report was drowned out by the vroom of the vacuum cleaner. Maya tugged the power cord behind her hip as she thrust the nozzle under the bed.
Check-in was at 11 AM. The room was reserved for a 2-night business stay. Maya sighed. Hopefully the guest would be a woman. They tipped better than the men who often left nothing at all.
With a practiced flick of her wrist, she whacked the fly that had been buzzing around the room with a swatter. The tiny corpse quickly vanished up the vacuum nozzle.
She gave the swatter a practiced twirl before slipping it back in the cart. The bug bludgeon of death was a far cry from the polished mahogany gavel she used to wield in her former life.
Going once! Going twice! Sold!
There were days when she missed the thrill of the seated rows of buyers before her as she stood under a spotlight calling out the last minute bids… the last minute tension of calling out an auction in the traditional way.
She’d started off with Sotheby’s at its inception in 1774. I certainly don’t miss having to dress like a man though. It was one of the rare Here and Nows where she’d had to pretend to be male in order to pursue the mortal life course she’d wanted as an antiquities auctioneer. When times changed and women were eventually accepted into the profession, she was able to forgo the disguises. Later on, the arrival of the Internet changed everything drastically too. Just as the arrival of Daniel had.
She’d met Daniel Tremblay seven years ago in this Here and Now. He’d been hired by her company at the time as a consultant software engineer. His job was to build their online catalogues and bidding platform program.
The man with the tousled head of soft black curls and sea calm blue eyes had caught her off guard when he’d appeared in her office doorway one morning asking her how she’d been able to reconfigure the bidding system to override the last minute alert notification. Busted! Living the last minute was her fix after all, and the annoying program spoiled it with its stupid alerts. She’d used her powers to mute the thing. Given her perfect sales record, no one had ever inquired about it.
Daniel had stood there with a puzzled yet keen look in his gaze which she kept getting drawn into.
“Secret, eh?” he laughed when she didn’t answer.
“Tell you what, Ms. Linden. Let me buy you one of those overpriced lattes downstairs while you get to listen to me bore you with all kinds of technical explanations about how it shouldn’t have been possible to do that.”
He never did discover how she’d done it. Just as he’d never learned what she really was, despite the increasing number of lattes which became lunches, then dinners, then dates. Eventually their friendship grew into something more, and the personal became physical. The way his body had fit to hers as did his heart… Maya thought it was the most powerful magic she’d ever experienced.
But she was wrong.
When she’d sensed the growing life inside her, she panicked at first. Immortals were born of the firmament of the Heavens. Pregnant?! How could she become pregnant, nevermind from a mortal man?
Daniel had been ecstatic. He planned to launch his own business soon but went out of his way to be with her in case she needed him. It was why that fateful day he’d been driving six hours straight to get home after having had two days of back-to-back investor meetings in separate cities.
Maya had never been able to get into a car since.
Daniel was gone. And so were the high energy days of auctioneering.
It wasn’t so bad being a maid. Housekeeping at a hotel afforded her the stability and flexible hours needed to provide a steady homelife for Zoe. And like her First brother had said, it allowed Maya to live quietly under the radar for now until such time as she could decide a longterm future for herself and her daughter.
“Earth to Maya!”
Gracie was leaning on the room’s open door frame with her arms crossed. “You asked me to come by when I finished my first round of rooms.”
The other maid tsked as she entered. “What gives, Maya? You planning on the guests making up the bed themselves?”
Maya blinked at the bed which had half a folded blanket and no pillows on it. She could have sworn she’d done it up. Gracie opened the closet to get the fresh linens from the shelf.
“Grab your corner,” she said. “I’ll help.”
Together, the women made up the bed.
“Uh, you forgot to put the dishes away too.” Gracie tilted her chin at the kitchenette’s counter.
Sure enough, a clean stack of dishes waited by the sink.
“Hey Maya, aren’t you a little young for senior’s moments?” Gracie laughed. Feeling her face flush, Maya slammed the cupboard doors closed after she shoved the plates and cups back.
“The reason you wanted me to come by, was it because of Zoe’s birthday?”
Maya hooked the vacuum cleaner to the side of her cart.
“Zoe’s birthday? Mmm, no, I don’t think so.” She gave the room a quick once over. “I’m done with this one.”
Gracie scanned the room chart taped to the cart.
“Why don’t I help you finish your last one and then we can go grab lunch together. We can go over some of the details for my bachelorette next week.”
Maya’s smile faltered. That’s right. Gracie’s self-organized bachelorette. I forgot. Ugh. I need to get a gift.
“Sounds good,” Maya said.
“Alexa, shut off.”
A kids’ party mix played over the classroom’s computer speaker.
Bright balloons and streamers decorated the ‘Happy Birthday Zoe!’ banner strung around the table edges.
The children were helping themselves to the sandwiches and juice boxes laid out on a purple table cloth, along with the chips and cut fruit in bowls.
All except the birthday girl.
A quiet Zoe stood staring out the window of the back garden, her toy projector held tight in her arms. She’d begged her mother to be able to bring it to daycare, and after showing it to her classmates and teachers, she continued to carry it with her.
“Zoe?” one of the daycare teachers approached her. “What’s wrong, honey? You barely ate any of your birthday lunch.”
Zoe didn’t reply. The little girl kept looking out the window.
The teacher crouched beside her. “Your mom must be running a little late,” –as usual-– “I’m sure she’ll be here soon, Zoe.”
“It’s not really my birthday yet, Annie. I was born at the last minute of the day.”
“Oh? I didn’t know that.” Annie faked a smile. Something about the child had always struck her as odd. Her colleague Pauline was convinced the girl was gifted, given the level at which she could read and write, but Zoe’s mother always seemed less than interested in getting Zoe tested whenever it was suggested. The girl had a strange manner about her, sometimes speaking like a normal kid, other times, like an adult. But Zoe was always well-behaved and not a troublemaker. The teachers and the other kids all got along well with her.
A movement outside drew Annie’s gaze to the view of the window. A large, black bird sat on a tree branch.
“Were you looking at that big crow, Zoe?”
The child’s grey eyes narrowed. “It’s a raven.”
“Oh, a raven.”
“Someone’s going to call for me,” the little girl said.
“Call? Did you want to try and call your mom?”
“She forgot her phone in the kitchen,” Zoe answered.
“Zoe, it’s your birthday lunch. Come have a sandwich, ok?”
With a deep breath, the little girl nodded and allowed herself to be led back to the group.
Pauline was busy wiping BBQ chip smudges off one of the boy’s cheeks.
“Shouldn’t Zoe’s mother have been here already to drop off the cupcakes?” Annie asked in a quiet voice.
Pauline shrugged. “Ms. Linden is always last minute.”
“Yes, but now she’s well past late.” Annie glanced out the window Zoe had been at. The raven was gone. “Zoe says her mother forgot her cellphone at home so we can’t call her directly.”
Both women started when there came a loud tapping at the front door.
Zoe, who’d made her way unnoticed to stand behind them, clutched her projector tighter.
“Nevermore,” the little girl whispered.
⇛ Next part: VIII – Deep into that darkness
⇚ Previous part: VI – Of Two Worlds