The wall shone white, projecting its clean to the world, goading me, daring me to be anything but thrilled with its faultless, pure perfection. Slumped in my easy chair, I felt my face pull into a scowl. My house was immaculate. William had left to get repaired, but on the way his issue mysteriously resolved itself, so he came right back. Apparently, he had decided to dedicate himself to my house full-time, and you have not really seen a Cleaner clean until you’ve seen a Cleaner clean full-time. William power-washed my sidings, cleaned the gutter on my roof, suggested re-tiling the floor of my upstairs shower, which I declined, then removed what he described as a “thriving mold colony” from my crawlspace. Next he set to work on my garage, in which I had not set foot in forty years. After he unearthed a baby crib, I forbade him from cleaning in there anymore. Some things are best left buried.
My neighborhood could easily pass for a cover of Home and Gardens magazine. The rows of tidy houses with neatly-tended lawns bespoke an idyllic community in which to raise one’s children. There was even an elementary school less than two miles away, and a combined middle-high school the next neighborhood over. In the moments I saw him as he raced to make my house a homeowner’s dream, William confirmed my suspicion that the schools were run and staffed and all classes were taught by Helpers. He also mentioned in passing that the day-to-day affairs consisted mainly of diligent, painstaking development of lesson plans and schedules to best optimize the education of whatever children might someday attend. I imagined the schools must look a little like my neighborhood did now. All dressed up and nowhere to go.
“Turn on the TV, Caretaker” I barked.
“Diane, don’t you think it might be good for you to stand up and turn it on yourself? You’ve been sitting in that chair for hours.” Walter Caretaker had learned quickly that I wasn’t going to call him “Walter” if I could help it. I was tempted to call him “robot,” but that summoned memories of Henry, and all I wanted to do was forget him. “Everything you do further cements their control,” It wasn’t precisely what he had said, but it was his voice in my head, high-pitched and breaking just like if he was being thrown to the ground and handcuffed again and again. There was no question he belonged in jail, but it was also obvious that he was right about that one thing. That was fine. If the Helpers needed me to take over, I could handle it. I just wouldn’t do anything at all. How could I play into their hands if I just sat in this chair watching TV? I emptied my glass of gin. “Get me another gin, Caretaker,” I glowered, “And turn the TV on.”