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  • Writer's pictureLisa Rodriguez

Floor 19


Mary Ann Thompson smoothed her hands over the long-sleeved maid uniform before going through the service door to the Lord Baltimore Hotel. The entrance was a rusted green door around the back near the dump. A far stretch from the gold-plated revolving doors and mosaic floors of the lobby. But Mary genuinely liked her job cleaning the rooms of the bougie hotel. It was her duty to bring smiles to the wealthy fat cats in the elegant, carpeted hallways with old aristocratic paintings. Still, what she loved most about her job was the ability to conceal bruises.

“Good afternoon, Mary,” Taniyah smiled. Her words carried undertones of a Caribbean accent. Even at 46, Taniyah’s dark skin looked flawless against her crisp, white uniform. Her high cheekbones and full lips made her appear ten years younger.

“And what’s so good about it?”

Taniyah chuckled. “Never gets old, girl.”

Taniyah had served at the hotel almost as long as Mary. Both coming from troubled marriages, the two women hit it off instantly. Mary was there to support her friend when Rodney, Taniyah’s husband, up and left one day, never to be heard from again. She didn’t understand how a woman could give twenty-plus years to a man just for him to wake up and change his mind.

Mary put her purse in her locker and pulled out a small red ball, which she slipped into her pocket. A slice of white layered cake came out next.

“Ohhh, is this what you’ve been talking about…The Lady Baltimore?” Taniyah asked.

Mary nodded and set it down on Taniyah’s desk before turning to hook her radio to her fully notched belt.

“You’re too sweet, Mary, always thinking about others. Looks so delicious.”

Mary shrugged. She’d rather be called beautiful than sweet.

“How’s the shift so far?”

“The usual, I’m afraid. Melissa is up on floor 6 cleaning her second room, moving as slow as Christmas. Luna radioed she’s already finished 11, 12 and half of 13. The girl’s quicker than a jackrabbit in heat. And the newest girl, she’s almost completed floor 18.”

“What about floors 1–5?”

“What about them?” Taniyah put her clipboard down and stood up from her desk. “They’re done, finished by yours truly.”

“Naw.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, wonders never cease.”

Taniyah laughed. Her blood-red nails slapped her right thigh. “They don’t with me.”

Mary stood up and sighed. She pushed a strand of white streaked hair away from her brown eyes and grabbed a checklist. “Guess I’ll go make my rounds.” She started for the service stairwell but stopped. “If Brian comes by you can send him up.” Her voice held a sharp edge.

Taniyah’s face fell flat. She nodded. “Understood.”

Mary’s first stop was with Melissa, who she found digging through room 605’s fridge.

“Oh, I was just finishing up,” the young girl said in-between chews. Her blonde hair fell well past her shoulders and her uniform apron hung loose with food smears. It looked almost as dark as the heavy liner winged across her eyes.

“You’ve got to get faster, Melissa,” Mary said. “Your two-week trial was over last week. You should be in 612 by now.” She put her own checklist down on Melissa’s cart. “And look at your uniform. You’re a mess.”

“I’m sorry, Mary. I promise I’ll do better.” She tried to pin her hair back.

“Your apron’s filthy,” Mary sighed again and untied her own apron. “Here, take mine.”

“Thank you, and I swear this is the last time you’ll have to talk to me.”

“It better be, or you’ll have no place here.”

Years ago, she would have given someone like Melissa a few chances, but at 52, she had no time to bother with a little girl's laziness. There was enough of that in her life from Brian and his mistress.

In the hallway, Mary took her red pen and stabbed Melissa’s name out on her clipboard.

By the time she got to Luna on 14, her feet were throbbing in her white Keds. But she needed the exercise.

Luna, middle-aged and a Maryland native, like herself, didn’t even notice her creeping along the corridor next to the cart.

“Mary,” Luna jumped, dropping one of the dirty towels she held. “You startled me.”

“Sorry. Just wanted to let you know what an amazing job you continue to do each day.”

“Thank you for all the encouragement you and Taniyah have given me.” Luna smiled, highlighting the beginnings of crow’s feet.

“You’re welcome and if there’s anything you ever need, you come and find me.” Mary placed her unmanicured hand on the woman’s shoulder. “I still remember starting out at this job twelve years ago and being so very timid. There was no one to turn to. Don’t want my ladies to feel that way.”

“Much appreciated.” She took a deep breath. “If you don’t mind me asking, are all three of us assistant maids new to Lord Baltimore?”

Mary raised her eyebrows. “Uh, yes. Yes, you are…but slightly different lead times. You’ve been here the longest.”

“My, all new help, eh? Well, hope whatever ran the other three girls off doesn’t happen to us,” Luna said with a laugh.

Mary’s face stayed statuesque. “I’m sure it won’t, as long as everyone follows the rules.”

She gave her a nod and turned to the stairs again, radioing Taniyah for what floor Olivia was working on. It was still 18.

“Are you okay?” Mary asked, finding the young redhead maid on the white cushioned bench next to the stairwell up on 18. In the middle of the afternoon, most guests departed for the day, either shopping or seeing the sights. The two ladies had the floor to themselves.

“Yes, ma’am.” She wiped her eyes with the back of her sleeve. Her southern twang coiling around her words. “I was just getting…” Snobs billowed from the woman. Her shoulders hunched over.

Mary sat down and put an arm around the woman. They began rocking back and forth together. “What’s the matter, Olivia?”

“Ma’am, I’m supposed to be cleaning 19 next, but I just can’t. I can’t go up there.”

“Why not?”

Olivia turned to face her directly. Her hazel eyes gushing water. Her mouth opened, curling at the edges like a hole caving in. She inhaled. Her voice, a whisper. “I’ve seen them moving around. They scare me.” She shook her head. “I believe one day I’m gonna be cleaning and that’s the last you’ll hear from me. They gonna take me.”

“Shhh, don’t talk such nonsense. No one is up there. The floor is empty.” She patted Olivia’s back. “I can clean floor 19 for you, if you’d like.”

“Really? You’d do that for me?”

“Yes, but only if I can use your cart.”

“Of course.” Olivia’s smile spread across her thin lips. “I’ll go get another cart right away and start on 20.”

She gave Olivia a thumbs up as the tail end of her skirt disappeared through the service elevator.

Mary nodded to herself. It was going to be alright. Floor 19 was her floor, always would be.

“Mary, do you copy?” Taniyah’s voice spoke through the radio.

She pushed the button. “Copy, what’s up?”

“It’s your husband. He’s in the parking lot with a young girl in his truck. He’s coming in.”

“Okay. Send him up.” She paused. Her jaw clinched. “Send him to 19.”

There was silence on the other end.

“Will do.”

Floor 19 was like the other floors, but there were no guests, ever. Management refused to use 19 anymore, therefore it was rarely cleaned except for mandatory dusting every two weeks. Keep up standards, the most important rule of the day.

She pulled out her card to unlock the stair door to floor 19. Only the maids and management could unlock it.

Low lighting illuminated the black-and-white framed photos lined along the hall walls. City images of a time long forgotten. Mary’s eyes scaled the tiny yellow lines as part of the carpet’s design. They ran the full length of the corridor, disappearing around the corner. The carpet wasn’t as posh as the other floors. Almost rough looking, the outdated vibe matched the loneliness of the floor.

Mary pushed the cart along. The two front squeaky wheels sliced through the heavy stillness. “One, two, three.” She counted the solid wood doors as they rolled by. “Four, five, six.”

Mary must have walked the floor a thousand times, and, like clockwork, goosebumps accumulated along the tops of her arms. Her knuckles remained white around the cart’s handle.

Reaching the corner, Mary looked down the next hall to the neon red exit sign at the end. A faint buzzing sound emanated from the sign, echoing against the ferocious quiet. Mary grabbed her skirt pocket and, with a sweaty hand, pulled out the ball. She stared at it for a moment, a perfect sphere of red.

The slap came out of nowhere.

“Ouch!” she cried, grabbing her throbbing fingers, pained by the hit. The ball went flying backwards down the first part of the hall. She turned to see Brian standing next to her. His brown hair slicked back and stuck together in a solid block. He thought Tiffany liked it better that way. Made him seem younger, but Mary thought it made him look stupider.

“Why’d you do that?”

“Couldn’t you hear me calling your name?” His mouth turned into a sneer. “You made me walk all the way down this damn hall because your dumb ears aren’t working. I’ve been texting you all day.”

Mary shook her injured hand and turned her body to her husband. “What do you want?”

“You know what I want. I want you to sign those papers. Just face it. Me and Tiff are together. I don’t want you no more.” He still wore his white shirt and dress pants, the typical manager’s uniform for any Golden Corral. Beads of sweat formed on his forehead and melted into a receding hairline, despite the cool October day.

“I’ll sign them when I’m good and ready. We’ve had thirty years together. Another week will not matter. Plus, my lawyer needs to read them over.”

“You lawyered up?” Brian shook his head. “When did you decide to lawyer up?” He began pacing, running his hand through his matted hair the best he could. “I knew this would happen. Knew it. I will tell you what. You’re gonna sign them today.” He pointed his finger at her face.

“I will not.”

“Shit. We ain’t got time for this.” Brian grabbed her by one hand. “You’re gonna sign now on my phone.” He lifted the palm of his other hand, muscles flexed. Mary squeezed her eyes shut and ducked her head, ready for the strike.

“Ugh! What the hell?” he yelled.

Mary felt his grip let go. She opened her eyes and saw the red ball bounce sideways against the left wall. It settled near Brian’s foot. Her gaze rolled to a little girl in a cream-colored dress who stood at the far end of the hall.

Brian rubbed his shoulder. “Hey, was that you?” His brow furrowed at the girl. “Stop throwing things.” He reached down and grabbed the red ball. With a smirk of satisfaction, he stuffed the red ball into his pocket.

The little girl remained motionless. Two dark eyes like saucepans on fire. Her bangs framed her face perfectly. Her skin, matching the color of her dress, looked even paler against her dark hair.

Brian grunted and turned back to Mary. “Like I said, you’re signing those documents today, even if I have to make you.” His hand reached for Mary’s arm again, but another, ashy skinned hand grabbed his. Its bulging veins of blue and purple made Mary repulse back. It was the little girl.

“Give me my ball,” she said. Her voice reached just above a whisper but still earthy-cold. Her fingers squeezed his flesh so hard that blood droplets formed.

“Ahhh!” Brian screamed, clawing at the little girl. Using his one free hand, he tore at his arm in an unsuccessful attempt to loosen her grip.

Mary fell backwards, attempting the crab walk to scramble away. Drafts of cold air blew through the corridor, blowing her hair against her face. The lights flickered and two more bodies appeared beside the girl. A man and a woman, both dressed fancy in a pinstriped suit and traditional flapper gown. All three waxy faces leered at Brian. Their smiles showcased sets of sharp, white teeth as they greedily licked their lips.

“Mary, help!” Brian reached out for her, but she backed away further. She stood up straight, powerful.

The three strangers pounced on Brian. Teeth tore at his throat, hand, and shoulder. The snap of bones echoed down the hallway.

Without a flinch, Mary turned around. Brian’s cries were high-pitched, squealing, almost pig sounding. The last thing she remembered were his wide eyes, moistened with tears. Mary’s eyes stayed as dry as hollow bones.

A step forward, then another and another. The screams suddenly stopped. This was the part she always doubted. The part when she wondered if they’d still be there waiting for her when she turned around. She expected it every time. But then again, maybe Hell wouldn’t be so bad once she got there. She breathed deep and made a 180 turn.

The hall was empty. Traces of Brian were nowhere to be found. Floor 19 was silent, almost peaceful. The manager told her he didn’t record there anymore for fear of what could get out. He always lacked proper control and actual balls.

Something rolled against her shoe. Mary looked down and saw the ball with its perfect symmetry and blood red color. She picked it up, squeezed it once, and slid it into her pocket.

“Mary, do you copy?” Taniyah’s voice came over the radio.

She reached down for the button. “Copy, go ahead.”

“A woman named Tiffany is here. She said she came with a Brian…is she talking about your husband? Have you seen him today?”

Taniyah was always reliable. She kept their story straight. That was why their business with her own husband, Rodney, was so easy to complete five years ago. Yet the debt collector before him, a much bloodier situation.

“Send her up, Taniyah. I can assist her better that way.” A jagged smile stretched across her face, much larger than normal. Traces of lines formed in jigsaw patterns around her mouth and cheekbones, giving them an unnatural formation. She reached down to fondle the ball in her pocket. “Just make sure she comes to 19, please.”


 

Lisa Rodriguez is a new author who currently lives with her family at Ft. Meade, Maryland. She loves to write flash fiction and short stories. Her words can be found in Cafe Lit, Instant Noodles, and Bright Flash Literary Review. In her free time, she enjoys ghost hunting, Mexican wrestling (Lucha libre) and loves black coffee with two shots of espresso. She hopes to spook you out with her writing one day.

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