Emend by Eclipse
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
January 14, 1974
Mrs. Parnell watched the two boys who were hard at work. She was having second thoughts, wondering if she had made a good decision to hire them to clean the office building she owned. They were so young, but they had come across very professionally in selling the idea of contracting their cleaning service. Their professionalism aside, she had been more tempted by the chance to get cleaning the common area off her shoulders.
The price they had quoted her was reasonable. There were seventeen businesses renting office space in her single story business building. She had gone around and talked to her clients about increasing the rent twenty dollars a month to include simple cleaning services. With only a single exception, they all went for it. Even the guy who initially complained about it finally accepted the price increase. It wasn’t that much extra to have someone come in and empty the trash every night and to vacuum the floor.
She had to admit that the boys were hard working. They had gone through the building going from office to office emptying the trash and vacuuming the floor. She had hovered over their shoulders while they were in the offices to make sure that they didn’t do anything they shouldn’t. There were no doubts in her mind after watching them for a while that they were all business. She was surprised when they used plastic liners in the office trashcans.
While Tim had continued vacuuming, Benny had gone into the bathrooms and started cleaning there. Standing by the open door, she could hear him scrubbing the toilet with the brush. It wasn’t long before Benny had finished the bathrooms. He packed the cleaning supplies into the two buckets they had brought with them.
She stepped into the bathroom and was nearly knocked back by the strong odor of cleanser. She had to admit it was immaculate. The porcelain and metal fixtures were shining. She hated cleaning the bathrooms and usually only did it twice week. Having them clean the bathrooms nightly was almost worth the money she was paying them by itself.
Benny took the trash out to the dumpster. He also carried their supplies out to the van. Upon returning, Benny walked down the hallway to where Tim was vacuuming. “Tim, we’ve been here for forty minutes. We should be wrapping up soon.”
“I’m still vacuuming. I’m only halfway done here.” The frustration in his voice at how much time it was taking to vacuum the place was quite evident. They had seriously underestimated that in their initial planning.
“We need another vacuum cleaner.”
Still hovering over them, Mrs. Parnell couldn’t help overhear their discussion. She volunteered, “I have a vacuum cleaner in the closet.”
“May I use it?”
A minute later, Benny was vacuuming the other end of the building working his way towards the center reception desk where Mrs. Parnell usually sat. Benny went to work with a repetitiveness of movement that was almost robotic in appearance. He was thinking about what small changes they could make in how they worked which would allow them to get the job done quicker.
Mrs. Parnell stood back and watched them work. It was amazing, but they were totally focused on what they were doing. She’d seen hard workers, but these two boys had taken head’s down working to a high art. It wasn’t that they were rushing around, but rather that they didn’t waste a single second.
It took them almost fifteen minutes to finish vacuuming. Benny returned her vacuum cleaner to the storage closet while Tim carried the one he had been using out to the van. Tim came back and walked the hall checking that each door was locked.
The two boys went to Mrs. Parnell’s desk. Tim said, “We’ve finished. We’ll be back tomorrow at 4:45.”
“You boys work quick.”
“Thank you, Ma’am.”
She watched them leave. Impressed with the job they had done, she hoped that they would keep up the good work. It was her hope that she could leave them there to clean up so that she could go home early. It wasn’t much fun having to be the first to the office and the last to leave. It usually took her an hour to clean and she cut corners by emptying trashcans every other day and vacuuming the public areas once a week during the day. She didn’t vacuum the offices except when someone moved out.
She watched the van pull out of the parking lot with Benny driving. She locked up the door and headed home. Even after staying there to watch them, she was leaving fifteen minutes earlier than usual. That was a change.
“Vacuuming! That’s our Achilles heel.”
“I thought it would go quicker than that.”
Benny pulled into another office complex. He parked near the front door. They climbed out, unloaded their cleaning supplies, and went into the building. It was 6:00 on the dot when they entered. The owner was waiting for them.
“You’re on time. I’m surprised.”
“We should do better tomorrow, Mr. Matthews. Our first office building took us a little longer than we expected.”
The man held up a key. “This is the master key.”
Tim took it and added it to his key ring. “Thanks.”
“You know what to do?”
“Get to it. Don’t forget to lock up the building when you leave.”
Much to their surprise, Mr. Matthews left the building.
They looked at each other for a second and then headed to the far end of the hallway. They went straight to work emptying trash and vacuuming the offices. They worked without pause. Again, Benny had finished emptying the trashcans and cleaning the bathroom before Tim was halfway through with the vacuuming. This office was nice in that only the offices were carpeted. The public areas were tiled. Benny started mopping the floor. They finished at about the same time.
After packing their cleaning supplies, they carried them to the truck. Tim went back in the building to make sure that all of the office doors were closed and locked. They were. He locked up the front door and climbed into the truck. He checked his watch pleased with the amount of time it had taken to clean the building.
While driving away, Benny said, “Well, it looks like it’s going to take 45 minutes for each building. It takes time to get from the first one to the second. We might as well schedule it as an hour at each site.”
“We’re definitely earning more than minimum wage.”
They were charging $300 per building per month to empty the trashcans, vacuum the carpet, mop the floors, and to clean the bathrooms every day. They also agreed to clean the windows in the common areas twice a month. It sounded like they were charging a lot, but it wasn’t after taking into account that they were paying for the van, the insurance, cleaning supplies, equipment, and wages for themselves. They also had the costs of being insured and bonded.
They were limited in how much they could make from this business. The number of hours they could work were limited by the fact that they were still in school and had to be there bright and early in the morning. They could only do one building at a time since they only had the van for transportation. At the moment, they didn’t need to hire anyone else.
“It’s almost seven. Do you think we can do another office building?”
Tim wasn’t talking about cleaning another one that evening. He was talking about adding another customer.
He added, “We can do two more buildings if we’re willing to work until nine.”
“Let’s just keep it at the two buildings for now. If one of us gets sick, it’ll be tough to get two office buildings, much less four, cleaned in one evening.”
“If you get sick, I’ll be going from office building to office building in a taxi.”
They were silent for a moment with Tim looking out the side window of the van. Tim said, “What a miserable day. It’s nearly freezing and there’s been a fog all day.”
“I know. I really don’t remember the weather ever being like this back ... well ... now,” Benny said stumbling over that past and present dichotomy. It was odd trying to make reference to now in the past.
“Let’s go by Denny’s and get something to eat.”
“Good idea. We’re going to have to figure out what to do about dinner. With us working from 5:00 to 7:00, we’re working right through dinner time.”
“I know. We can’t afford to eat out every night.”
“Can we claim that as a business expense?”
They went to a chain restaurant that was near the last office they cleaned. It wasn’t a particularly nice place to eat and the food was only decent, but it was close and convenient. They accepted that they were going to be eating there quite often. They were going to have to explore the menu to find what they liked here.
After ordering their meal, Tim said, “We’ve got work for two hours a day at five days a week. That puts us working at 90 hours a month. I figure we’re going to be making about $6.60 an hour each.”
“It’s costing a bit more than that when you take into account social security.”
“I know. The point is, we’ll be making about $75.00 a week.”
“We need to set aside $600 for your truck.”
“I can’t get my license until August.”
“I know. Still, we want to set aside the money now.”
“Okay. So we each put aside $50 a week. In six weeks, we’ll have $600.”
“So what are our plans with the rest of the money? We can’t afford the taxes we’d have to pay on that much money.”
Benny leaned over and whispered, “I’m going to visit Carol once a month.”
Benny had visited Carol twice now. The second time had been right after his Birthday. It had served its purpose. He had gotten rid of his horniness and could concentrate once again.
“Do you like Carol?”
“No. It’s just nice to go through life with a clear head.”
“Tim, this is the best I’ve ever had it. No drama, no begging, no nothing. I don’t even have to pretend that I like her. I go there, give her the money, and get my rocks off. I’m good for another month. I can’t beat that.”
He would have said more, but the waitress delivered their dinners. The food looked like regular diner fare. They each dug in and started eating. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad, either. They decided they could take eating here frequently.
The discussion had bothered Tim although he knew how Benny was. It was just hard to hear him state it in such blunt terms. Tim wanted a lot more out of a relation with a woman than that. He wanted it all – love, companionship, and romance. Of course, he was somewhat emotionally crippled because of his first marriage with Joyce. She had really torn him apart and he found it very hard to trust women. The only person he totally trusted was Benny.
The thing was that Benny wasn’t some 16 year old kid who didn’t know anything about life. Benny was essentially 62 years old. He had been married, he’d had kids, and he had died after a long painful illness. His marriage to Linda had been a disaster. He had proposed to his wife because she was the only woman who had stayed around long enough. She had accepted the proposal because he was an okay guy, who made good money, and she didn’t have any better prospects. They never connected emotionally, which wasn’t a surprise considering Benny’s peculiar nature. Initially, she had blamed herself for her lack of love for him, but it became clear that Benny just wasn’t capable of establishing an intimate connection with anyone. He was essentially a stranger to his children. Fortunately, his wife had taken over all of the child raising responsibilities so they hadn’t turned out emotionally warped.
Tim never understood why she didn’t divorce Benny. He was pretty sure that she had lovers on the side. He suspected that Benny knew about it. If so, it didn’t seem to bother Benny at all. In fact, he seemed pleased when his wife was off busy doing things away from the house. Actually, Benny was more bothered by Joyce’s cheating on Tim.
Was Benny capable of love? Tim had been taught that there were four kinds of love. Then he read somewhere that there were seven kinds of love. He never could remember all seven, but he did remember eros, agape, phileo, and storge. Benny was capable of agape and maybe phileo, but it was limited to Tim. He had the kind of love one has for a friend and loved Tim despite all of his faults, flaws, and peccadilloes. There was nothing homosexual about it. The fact was, Benny was totally clueless about eros and storge. He had never mooned over a woman, or been entranced by her appearance. He didn’t have a clue when it came to familial love. He felt a biological urge occasionally which continued to get stronger over time until he was forced to seek out a woman to satisfy it.
“Benny. Are you hoping to get married this pass through life?”
“No. My wife told me that our marriage was a sham. I guess I knew that, but didn’t care.”
“So you would be satisfied with a Carol type arrangement for the rest of your life? A visit once a month to some woman for sex and no other attachment.”
“I know you’re disappointed in me.”
“I’m not disappointed in you, but I think you deserve more happiness than that.”
Tim had always hoped that Benny would find a woman who would understand him. Maybe Benny liked solitude, but he didn’t demand it all of the time. It would have been nice for him to have a wife who would take care of him.
“I’m just not wired that way.”
That was the blunt truth. Benny just wasn’t wired to have a passionate loving relationship with someone. Was he too selfish, self centered, and self absorbed to have a loving relationship? No. The fact was that he just didn’t notice the people around him with any kind of consistency.
Benny looked out the window for a moment and then back at Tim. “I remember when I was dying. I had been lying in bed for more than a month. The cancer had spread to the bones. I was in pain all of the time. The morphine only kept the pain under control, it didn’t relieve it. I was miserable because the pain kept me from escaping into concentrated thoughts.
“I think it was a week before I died when I had one of my last conversations with my wife. She was sitting in a chair next to my bed looking at me and crying. I asked her why she was crying. She told me that I had to know why. I told her that I had no clue and that was why I asked her. Do you know what she told me?”
“She told that she was crying because I was the most pathetic person she had ever known and that she pitied me.”
“Of course you didn’t know why she should pity you and you asked her why.”
“That’s right. I apologized to her for not measuring up to her expectations. She stared at me incredulously and then left the room crying even harder.
“The next day, my daughter told me that I was the most unhappy person she had ever met. That took me by surprise. I replied that I wasn’t unhappy. I told her that I had spent most of my life uncomfortable, but not unhappy. I don’t think she believed me. I know that she didn’t understand what I meant.”
Nodding his head, Tim let his friend know that he understood exactly what he meant. Benny was happiest when alone in his mind. He didn’t need or want emotional attachments. He didn’t understand them. He didn’t know what people wanted from him.
“I was obviously a disappointment to my wife and daughter. I kept wondering what I would do differently with respect to the people around me if I lived my life over again. The only thing was that I knew I didn’t want to be around people all of the time. That’s all that I would change.
“I did know that I wanted to keep my friendship with you. Now that I’m living my life over again, all I want is to keep my friendship with you.”