Minna can’t bring herself to throw away the azaleas that Madame buys in bloom and banishes a month later. There is no room to plant them in this Pacific Heights garden so they line up on the patio like tourists at the Crookedest Street in the World. Now there are a dozen, and I have to move them to sweep. Minna asks me if they are doing okay. “I fertilize every two weeks with Miracle Gro,” she says. She is from Finland, her accent still thick after twenty-some years here. The blonde of her hair starts a half-inch from the gray roots, and her face is perpetually flushed. She lives in a small apartment nearby that Madame rents for her.
I tell her the azaleas look fine, and she tells another bead in her rosary of sighs. She is new to the job and worried, constantly worried, Madame does not like her. “Did she say anything to you about me?” she asks.
Yes, Madame has complained but I say no, not a word.
“It is not my fault that Madame bought a different floor wax,” she says, resuming an earlier topic. “She looked at me like it was my fault. Would you do something? Check the gutter for leaves?” This is the second time this month she has asked me to do this. I tell her that in ten years Consuela, the previous maid, never once checked the gutters. But Madame mentioned the rainwater spilling over so Minna has the gutter to worry about along with everything else.
I have begun my own rosary of sighs. It hasn’t rained for weeks. I climb the ladder. “It’s fine,” I say.
“None stuck in the corner?”
“None.” I dismount.
She looks sharply at me, her face a raspberry of worry and disdain, and slides the ladder toward the corner. “Look up there.”
I climb the ladder, run my fingers through the muck near the rainspout, and drop a few soggy black acacia leaves onto the patio. Horror crosses her face and she hurries to fetch the broom.
She is going to get fired and lose the apartment. There’s nothing I can do about it.
While she cleans up the acacia leaves, I rake beneath the trellis. Here in the center of the metropolis, I hear nothing but the scritch-scritch of the tines of the rake and the whisper of water from a wall fountain. It feels like a conspiracy of silence.