Cassandra’s Tears

Tears of joy, tears of pain, we are reflected in the salt-water pools we create. So let us build a fleet of paper boats and sail them on our ocean of indecision, laughing at the wind-whipped white-crested waves that would wash over us, drowning us in our own despair, yet somehow never vanquishing us in the end.

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Location: Lennoxville, Quebec, Canada

Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Isabelle scrubs the bathroom floor. She starts at one end, near the shower, and works backwards so as not to paint herself into the proverbial corner. The water in her bucket is rapidly cooling, even though she drew it as hot as she could stand from the bathtub tap, and the suds disappear as the water goes from clean to dirty. She has done this before, countless times, in countless bathrooms. Some are more interesting than others. Some go very quickly, those with tubsurrounds and cabinetted wash basins. Others seem to take forever, the ones with the footed bathtubs and pedestal sinks. There is comfort in routine: dip the rag into the bucket, wring it out, slap it on the tiles, swish it around, drop it back into the bucket, move on to a different piece of floor.

Isabelle starts at one end and carefully washes around the baseboards and in the corners and under the shower door where the most dirt seems to collect. There is always an abundance of hair: curly short body hairs, long fine silky hairs, bits of beard trimmings and eyebrow pluckings. There is always dust, dust that is caught in the hairs and caught in the inevitable soap scum left from the splashing of baby’s bath. Sometimes there are other things besides hair and dust and soap scum: little pieces of toilet paper in hard-to-reach places, toenail clippings, dryer lint, a button, the cap from a discarded shampoo bottle, bobby pins, safety pins and a sock that missed the laundry basket and ended up behind the bathtub. They are all eventually caught up in Isabelle’s rag.

Once she found an earring, a beautiful delicate thing of diamonds and filligree and was almost tempted to pocket it, but at the last minute refrained--far be it for her to be labelled a thief. The same with a stud from a man’s tuxedo shirt, mother-of-pearl and sterling silver.

The area around the toilet she always pays especial care to. This is where the mistress would notice if she has been remiss. She sits on her haunches for a moment, easing out the kink in her lower back, wiping a whisp of hair away from her brow. The tiles of the floor glisten in the sunlight, tiny flecks of gold dance in their matrix. Isabelle watches as the water dries in one spot and the reflective surface changes. With her wrung-out rag she gently wipes the area in front of her, then observes how the tile changes colour as it goes from wet to dry. She pulls her finger along the grout, feeling the gentle bevel of the porcelain. She is mesmerized by the play of light on the gold flecks as she moves her head slowly from side to side.

With her rag now she wipes the dust from the baseboard heater and then pulls her cloth along the window sill. There is a collection of dirt where the condensation has pooled. She notices the transparent wings of a fly on the window as it wipes its eyes with its forward legs. Everything has slowed down. Dust motes drift in a beam of sunlight, the same sunlight warming the fly and illuminating the gold flecks in the tiles. Isabelle watches, the rag hanging limp, forgotten.

There is an abrupt throat clearing and the maid looks up suddenly, guiltily, as the mistress says, “Will you be done in here soon? I have to go!”


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