Here in Camberwell, we like to think of our town as New England's most progressive community. In many other places in America, women are expected to do the housework. In Camberwell, everyone avoids it.
Debra Vasquez rooted through a mound of clothes on the family room futon. "Have you seen my green sweater?" she asked her husband, Gary Walker.
"Nope," Gary said. "But wouldn't things be easier to find if they were on hangers or in drawers?"
Debra peered underneath the futon. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"It's just an observation. There isn't a single surface in this house that's clear of crap."
"I give up." Debra pulled a brown and white cardigan up from the floor by its sleeve. "I'll wear this." She slipped it on. "You could pick things up."
"You knew I was a slob when you married me," Gary said. "But I didn't realize you were one too."
"Would you rather have married a 50's housewife?"
Gary put his arms around Debra and hugged her. "Of course not. Never. But what about having someone come in and clean?"
Debra noted that a dust bunny was clinging to her elbow. "I suppose we could use one." She brushed the dust bunny back onto the carpet, where it belonged. "But I don't relish the idea."
"Don't think of it as hiring a servant and joining the Ruling Class," Gary said. "We'll hire a cleaning professional to come in twice a month."
Debra glanced at the crumbs and stains on the coffee table, and shuddered. "I can't stand this, either. Okay."
A few days later, Gary announced, "I spoke to our neighbors across the street. Their house is spotless. They use a husband and wife from Cambodia."
"A man who does housework!" Debra straightened Gary's collar. "That's kind of sexy."
"Nice try," Gary said. "Sarath and Darina are coming tomorrow at 8 AM."
Debra scanned the bedroom. The sheets were bunched in the middle of the bed. Her bureau was covered with hair clips, pens, empty wrappers, ATM receipts, and jars of skin cream and anti-perspirant.
"Would we be exploiting Third World people?" Debra asked.
"At $95 a visit? I don't think so."
There was a pair of slacks draped over a chair. Debra hung them up in her closet. She picked up the pennies on the bureau and deposited them into a policeman piggy bank. Then she picked up a book Gary had left on the floor and slipped it into the bookcase.
"What are you doing?" Gary asked.
"I'm putting a few things away."
"I'm reading that book."
Debra pulled it out and tossed it to him. "Here."
"Were you hiding Das Kapital?"
"Seeing Marx's face on the cover might give them the willies. They're Cambodian. You know--The Killing Fields."
Gary threw up his hands. "You're blaming Marx for that? Pol Pot was an ethnic chauvinist who only claimed to be Marxist."
"Sarath and Darina might get the wrong impression."
"Let them." Gary sat down on the rocking chair. "Karl and I are going to spend some quality time together."
Later, when Gary came down to ask her to come to bed, Debra had on blue plastic kitchen gloves and was wiping down the sink. She said, "Hide the soft porn."
"What is this, the Hays Code?" Gary asked.
"Post-Feminist concern," Debra replied.
At 7 AM, Debra woke up on a chair in the family room, still gripping a feather duster in her right hand. She washed her face, and went into the kitchen.
Sarath and Darina arrived at 8 AM. Sarath was taller than his wife, but Debra towered over both of them. She showed them around the house.
"You keep this very clean," Sarath said.
Debra ushered them into the dining room. "Would you like some tea?"
"Yes, please," Darina said.
"I baked a banana bread this morning. May I offer you a slice?"
"Certainly," Sarath said.
In the kitchen, Debra set Gary to polishing a tarnished silver platter which they'd rarely used since receiving it as a wedding gift. Then she had Gary set out the plates and pour the tea.
Debra marched in to the dining room carrying a sparkling silver tray full of fresh fruit and baked goods. She served Sarath and Darina and stood back to watch their reactions.
"Aren't you going to have some?" Sarath asked.
"I'm watching my figure," Debra said.
Afterward, Debra brought over a check. "That's enough for today. You've been great."
"But we haven't done any cleaning," Darina said.
"Don't worry about it," Debra said. "We'll see you again in two weeks?"
"Then, you'll let us clean?"
"Just come in two weeks."
Sarath said, "The people across the street never let us clean either."
"It's good to clean in Camberwell," Darina said. "They pay you money but you never have to do any work."