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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 33 page 06


some rare postage stamps

The Cleaning Lady

by Abe Margel

Thelma could not find her transit pass. The Presto Card was not in her purse and not by the toaster where she sometimes placed it. She and her daughter searched the apartment for twenty minutes but had no luck. It was getting late so Thelma had no choice but to head out the door.

Outside, the August morning sun fried the pavement. Its warmth seeped into the soles of Thelma’s shoes making her feet sweat.

At the bus stop a middle-aged man turned to her and said, “Summer in this city is pure hell. Why does it have to be so damn hot and humid?”

“Yeh,” she said pointing to a Mercedes that was passing by. “I bet that guy is nice and cool.”

The Dufferin bus arrived. With no Presto Card Thelma had to pay cash. The bus was crowded but the air conditioning was working. A young woman got up and gave Thelma her seat.

Twenty minutes later as she got off the bus her cell phone rang. A man yelled through the phone, “You’re behind in your payments. We need our money now! You understand? Now!”

She had received emails, letters and texts from the collection agency but this was the first phone call. Her heart raced. “Yes, of course. I’ll pay off everything right away.” But Thelma had no idea how she would be able to do that.

She calmed herself and made her way down Dufferin Street then turned right at the first corner. At house number 11, Hugo Walker’s house, she climbed the steps to the front door and checked the mailbox. There was an advertisement for a Chinese restaurant and an ad flogging new condos on Yonge Street. There was also a letter from the New South Wales Association of Stamp Collectors, a beige envelope with a large colourful stamp attached. Thelma shook her head. Why spend three dollars on a letter nowadays when you can email or text? Seeing money wasted was particularly painful this day. Cleaning people’s houses until recently allowed Thelma to pay the rent, buy groceries for herself and her unemployed daughter, and go to the occasional movie, but little more. The collection agency’s demands were for credit-card debts for groceries and from Christmas. How far in the past Christmas seemed to her now.

Still standing on the front porch, she allowed herself to slip into despair. A lone tear trickled down her cheek. As if money weren’t short already, yesterday she learned her aged mother in Halifax needed a mobility scooter. Her brother was useless so the pressure was on Thelma to find the three thousand dollars.

She’d talk to her brother tonight, who knows maybe he’s working again. Or maybe Aunt Mary would help? Maybe, maybe, maybe. God, get a grip on yourself. No time to feel miserable. I have a job to do.

Thelma had put on weight in the twenty years since she started working at the Walker home. Tall with graying brunette hair she nevertheless remained a strong woman able to do heavy work. If only the job allowed her to make ends meet.

The old bungalow was in good condition. There were rows of such houses all over North York with large lawns and mature trees front and back. It was similar to the home Thelma herself had been raised in, in Halifax. Thelma searched her purse for the key and let herself in. Being Wednesday, Hugo would be out volunteering at the food bank and she would have the house to herself. She placed the mail on the side table in the entrance, adding to the existing pile. It was surprising that Hugo had neglected his mail. She hung up her hat and coat then changed into the slippers she carried in a plastic bag. A black and white photo of some long-dead couple hung on one side of the hallway entrance. She sighed. Mrs. Walker once told her who those people were but Thelma no longer remembered.