It’s not often you know something beyond a shadow of a doubt. I’m not talking about the space between more likely than not and beyond a reasonable doubt. I’m talking about no question in our mind. Although I didn’t witness the crime, every arrow pointed in the same direction. The facts are on my side. And most importantly, I saw the aftermath, nervousness, avoiding eye contact, and the body language. If you can’t trust your eyes, what can you trust?
When my boys were little, to keep from getting caught breaking the rules, they’d fib. “I washed my hands,” or “I didn’t eat six cookies, just two.” But if I happened to spy the little guys run out of the bathroom past the sink, in other words, no contact with water, case closed. And when I’d see them creep out of the kitchen like the dwarfs in Snow White clutching a heap of cookies against their chest leaving a trail of crumbs the birds in Hansel and Gretel would give their beak for, I knew. They denied. I’d ask they show me their tongue, and then I’d announce, “Oh dear, your tongue is black.” Black tongue meant they’d lied. But sometimes the stakes are higher as it was with two young women who cleaned my two-story house.
The day began like many Michigan winter days. The radio announcer is listed the school closings in each county. “Roseville, in Macomb County,” the district where I work, “Students and staff are not to report today. Evening classes and all extracurricular activities closed as well.” I snuggle deeper under the duvet. Tim’s snoring sounds almost endearing. Almost, but doesn’t quite clear the bar, so I nudge him in the shoulder a signal to turn over.
With one daughter in high school and still at home, I listen for Mercy High School, a 25-minute drive away. Gréta chose the school for its golf team. Now wide awake, I get up to fix coffee that stimulates and lifts my spirits. I wonder if this is how having an affair feels like, jittery and excited. More likely jittery is the caffeine and excited has to do with my cleaning crew that is scheduled for today. For a change, it won’t be Tim letting them in. Gréta asks why I’m still in my robe. Before I answer, she catches on, “Don’t tell me. You have a snow day, and I don’t.” Her morning mood, which is usually quite mellow sinks to the South Pole. “They never close school! They’d rather jeopardize our safety on icy roads than have us skip church for one godly morning.”
I recall the first day I dropped her off at this all-girls’ Catholic school. I was raised a Lutheran. There is no separation of church and state in Iceland and every child is baptized and confirmed. Instead of Sunday school, we had Bible classes from first grade through high school. I liked the stories of Jesus and said my prayer every night in my childhood years. However, this never translated to church attendance for my children. The older kids insist they can count how often I took them to church on one hand. None of them have more than five fingers on each hand. Back to Gréta’s first day of high school, wearing a plaid skirt and white blouse, she is nervous. As she steps out of the car, unease engulfs me. I grab the tail of that cute skirt and pull her back into the car. Aggravated and embarrassed, she hisses, “What?!”
“Gréta, do you know who Jesus was?” Big time annoyed, she pushes my hand away, “Yes, mamma. I know who Jesus was.” What a relief. I drive away free of guilt. I’ve done my job.
The cleaning women are late. “The roads were not really bad,” Mary, the tall one and the supervisor of the crew of two apologized. Sara, shorter than Mary by a head, said people don’t know how to drive in snow and ice, and the car accidents causing the delay happened earlier in the morning. It’s not clear to me how she knows this but it doesn’t matter. The two of them remind me of Dr. Seuss’s book, Big Dog, Little Dog.
Working in my office, I hear them moving around the house, toilets flushed, vacuuming, and kitchen trash carried to garage. Often they skip cleaning under the toaster or on top of the refrigerator. Mary looks startled when I come into the kitchen. “Mary, please be sure to get the top of the refrigerator and wipe the counter under the toaster.” She nods without looking at me. Sara pipes up, “we are told not to move things that look expensive.” That surprises me. My J.C. Penny toaster looks expensive? I tell her this was not the case so they can move it without concern. As I walk out of the kitchen, I can feel Mary’s eyes following me. In what seems quicker than usual, they are done and prepare to leave. Thinking they are about to leave without the check, I catch Sara as she is closing the front door. Looking down the driveway, Mary is already in the driver’s seat looking straight ahead. What’s with Mary? I wonder.
From the day we married, Tim had gifted me beautiful pieces of jewelry. Finally, I asked he not do that anymore. I seldom wore the ones I already had so adding to a rarely used collection seemed unnecessary. He is not the kind of man who bought me a gift after every big fight we shared, fights he was to blame for. If that had been the case, I’d have had many more pieces. My current stash was enough to leave to my daughters and granddaughters for them to remember me by, wear, or hock.
The day I figured out what’s with Mary came later. It was the day an invite to a Connelly daughter’s wedding arrived in the mail. What dress to wear? And a chance to wear my jewelry. Reaching into the back of the top drawer of my dresser to go through the necklaces, bracelets, and earrings, I came up empty. Every box had been removed, Pulling out underwear, bras, sweaters, etc., for a better look—nothing. Perhaps I moved it to a different drawer. Six drawers emptied, a heap of clothes on the bed, still nil, zilch, zero. When was the last time I had worn a piece? Aha! It was before Mary and Sara cleaned the house on that January snow day.
I called my daughters and told them what had happened. I detailed how peculiar Mary had acted. “She wouldn’t look me in the eye,” I said over and over again. “She didn’t even say good-bye.” They expressed dismay. “Have you told dad?” they asked.
Accusing a person of theft is not something you do over the phone. I called the owner of the cleaning business and asked to meet with her. She sounded concerned, for a good reason, and we scheduled the appointment for the end of the day. At the last minute, a work meeting intervened and I called to reschedule for the following day.
That night, I drank vodka and tonic while cooking dinner. Highly unusual. I’d not told Tim what happened. The guilt and not finding a better place to keep his expressions of love resulted in me dumping instead of sprinkling salt to the spaghetti sauce that would now compete with Gaet’ ale Pond in Ethiopia as the saltiest body on Earth. “Tim,” I took another sip. “I need to talk to you about something.” My term of phrase arched his eyebrows as he looked at me. “Okay,” He’s fixing himself a drink, probably wondering how much and for how long emotions will pour over him. Does drinking quell the salt taste receptors?
“Honey,” I begin. It can’t hurt to start with a term of endearment. “You know all the jewelry you have given me over the years?” He’s says nothing. “The pearls and silver ring with the Icelandic stone?” I return the salt to the cupboard and reach for the pepper. Now there is too much salt and too much pepper. I take as deep of a breath as my lungs will allow. “And I hardly ever wear any of them.” I might as well get it all out. Lutherans don’t do confessions, but we do drink. And after we drink, confessions rolls out. It’s not like I set out for Long Lean Mary to steal my jewelry. Stuff happens for goodness sake. I wish it hadn’t. But it did. So, let’s just get over it. “After the invitation to Tess Connelly’s wedding, I decided to wear some of my jewelry. Perhaps the necklace you bought me when I turned 40.” He still hasn’t said anything. “Tim, you know what I’m talking about? Then you bought me a matching bracelet…”
With no effort to conceal his impatience, he finds his voice. “Yes, I know. You are talking about the jewelry I’ve bought you in the last thirty years. The jewelry you asked me to lock up in the basement vault because maybe the dresser wasn’t the most secure location in the house. What about it?”