Copyright is held by the author.
“I have absolutely—”
A silk blouse fluttered like a leaf.
Black trousers landed with a muted thud.
A grey skirt and a piercing shriek followed, making Rosa’s ears ring. It was a cry of frustration, and it emerged from inside the closet.
The floor of the master bedroom was littered with some of Patricia’s nicest pieces. Patricia had left the door to the walk-in closet open just wide enough to chuck out any offending garments. Which, from Rosa’s vantage point, was all of them.
What a mess, thought Rosa. She chased the ejected pieces of clothing, picking them up with her capable hands and placing them—neatly folded—on the chaise-lounge at the foot of the bed. She sighed, thinking how long it would take her to hang everything up in its proper place in the closet. She would probably have to iron them all again too.
Rosa approached the closet door with trepidation. She had grown used to Patricia’s volatile moods after a year of working as her household maid. “Mrs. Adams? Is everything okay? What do you mean you have nothing to wear?”
“Nothing in here will work today,” came Patricia’s voice from inside the closet, along with a sigh of self-pity. She seemed to have calmed down a bit.
Rosa examined the discarded silk blouse in her hands. “This blouse is lovely. You’ve worn it many times. It would look beautiful with your grey wool skirt, and your Chanel blazer.”
“No,” said Patricia. “The wool skirt doesn’t fit me right. And the Chanel has lost a button. I think you vacuumed it up.”
Rosa rolled her eyes at the petulant tone, but tried to be helpful. “Mrs. Adams, we can find a new button—”
“And the blouse has a seam at the back that pricks my neck and drives me crazy.” Patricia’s tone was escalating again, and Rosa could hear Patricia stomping her feet for emphasis.
“What about the black Celine dress?” asked Rosa, hoping to forestall a new breakdown.
“Your Ann Taylor suit?”
“It looks cheap.”
“The Lanvin pants?”
“No! Too frumpy.” More stomps. “I told you. I have nothing good to wear, nothing!”
“Mrs. Adams, show me the seam on the blouse. Maybe I can fix it for you.”
No response. Rosa took a few tentative steps forward and tapped gently on the closet door.
“May I come in?”
There was no yes or no, so Rosa opened the closet door.
The closet looked like it had exploded. All that remained on the hangers were a peach silk evening gown, a black cardigan, and an elaborate Versace jacket that Patricia had purchased at an auction. Everything else was strewn across the floor or piled up in the corners of the elegant and vast custom-built master closet. Patricia’s vanity inside the closet was an equal disaster — bottles and vials and compacts were spilled across the surface, and the drawers had been haphazardly pulled open. The stand-up mirror was at a drunken angle, and a silk scarf hung from the crystal chandelier. All of Patricia’s handbags and clutches had fallen like a leather avalanche to one side of the closet. Her full set of Louis Vuitton luggage had been upended, felled like Stonehenge after an earthquake.
Rosa turned back to the mountains of clothes. Piles of black pants, all perfectly hemmed and pressed. Bundles of jackets, all expertly tailored to complement Patricia’s small frame. Sweaters, shells, t-shirts, tunics, dresses — all expensive and tasteful; all examined, judged and discarded.
Patricia was sitting in the middle of the closet floor, her head in her hands. She was wearing nothing but a camisole, a thong, and fluffy bedroom slippers.
“Oh, Mrs. Adams . . .” Rosa crouched down next to Patricia, and touched her shoulder. “I will hang all of this up for you. We will find you something nice to wear to work, don’t worry.”
Patricia looked up with a sniff. Her eyes were red, and all her carefully applied makeup had migrated down her cheeks. “It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters. I’ve got nothing.”
“No, Mrs. Adams, don’t say that! You live in a beautiful house, and your closet is filled with the loveliest things. And Mr. Adams—”
Patricia’s head shot up at the mention of her husband’s name. Her eyes were as hard as her voice when she spoke. “Mr. Adams is a callous, pompous, womanizing jackass.”
Rosa’s eyes darted to the floor, and a flush of shame crept up her neck. Patricia sighed again.
“Rosa, do you think you’re the only one who knows what goes on in this house?” She watched as Rosa started picking up clothes and putting them back on their hangers. Sorting, tidying. Getting rid of the mess. “I have known for years what Gerry gets up to when I am away. What he does on his business trips. What he does under this very roof.”
“I don’t think I should hear—”
“Why do you think he keeps an apartment in the city? To avoid the commute? Maybe. I could buy that. But isn’t it strange that he’s never given me a key?” Patricia smiled wanly and leaned back against a chest of drawers. “I remember how special I felt when he was courting me. The flowers, the limos. The weekend trips to Paris, just to see the lights.”
Rosa busied herself with untangling a mass of stockings to avoid Patricia’s gaze. “He is a very generous man.”
Patricia eased off the floor, and examined her face in the vanity mirror. “Yes, he is. If a woman catches his eye—even a completely unsuitable woman below his station—he’ll make her feel like the only woman in the world. Beautiful. Cherished.” She used a tissue to swipe at the makeup under her eyes with cold cream. “It feels so long ago, and it’s only been seven years.” She reset a photo of herself and Gerry that had been overturned on the vanity. “When he asked me to marry him, I thought I had won. I thought my life would be like our courtship. Flowers every day. A maid all to myself. I would never have to worry again.”
The tangle of stockings was defeating Rosa, and she let them fall to the floor unsorted. “You are a very lucky woman,” she said, as she pushed a balled-up pair of socks away from her with her toe. She looked around at the mess of clothes, not sure where to go from there.
Patricia repinned her hair at the base of her neck in a dignified chignon, and met Rosa’s eyes in the mirror. “Lucky? No. I was smart. Once I figured it all out, anyway. He used to break my heart. But once I let it all go . . .” She shrugged. “I let those late nights at the office slide. The work dinners that would be too boring for me. The hang-ups when I answered the phone. I decided not to let those little betrayals hurt me.”
“Why do you put up with it?” She wandered around the closet, tapping the hangers as if they were chimes. Bonk-bonk-bink.
“Independence. Prestige. Money.” Patricia applied a coat of red lipstick, and tucked an errant lock of hair behind her ear. “It’s like a game we play—I know, and he knows I know, but we pretend and we give each other a lot of space. It’s very liberating, actually.” She turned back to the continents of clothes on the closet floor, hands on her hips. “Pass me the grey pants. No, the pair to your left.”
Rosa handed her the pants in question. “But you must have your own money, people who can help you. You have no children. You can go anywhere, do anything you want. You’re not like me. You’re not stuck. You don’t have to . . .” Her words died away.
“Clean up after other people’s messes, you mean?” Patricia smiled. “That’s true. But you say stuck. I say secure.” She pulled on a sleeveless blouse, and did up the clasp on a glittering statement necklace. “Where is the jacket that goes with these pants?”
“I think it’s on the floor behind you,” Rosa said, pointing vaguely. Patricia picked it up, and flicked it vigorously to get rid of any creases.
Jacket. Watch. Shoes. Armour. Patricia was finally dressed. She straightened the mirror and took one last look, then turned to face Rosa.
“I have made my choices in life. Sometimes I question them, when things get messy. But in the end, I know I made the right, rational decisions that worked for me. Do you understand?”
Rosa stood in front of the peach silk evening gown, letting her fingers run down a slippery sleeve. “I think so.”
“I’d like this all cleaned up before I get home.”
“Yes,” Rosa replied.
“Mr. Adams has made his choices too,” Patricia said as she buttoned her jacket. “He will never leave me. There is too much at stake, too much for him to lose. You know this.”
“I know,” Rosa said in a small voice, retreating further into the closet.
Patricia moved to leave, but turned back with an afterthought, and watched as Rosa sank, defeated, to the plushly carpeted floor.
“I’d like you gone by the time I return as well. You may take the Louis Vuitton set. I will never use it. It’s not the first one I’ve had to let go.”
With that, Patricia closed the door to the closet.
A peach silk evening gown fluttered to the floor.