Dottie hadn’t expected to get the job. Most of her current clients were in Tiverton and Portsmouth. She had a couple in Middletown, but the Bradley House was her first in Newport.
For the last three years, Dottie White drove in from Central Falls to the island four days a week to clean houses. She was thorough, honest, reasonable and much sought after. Though, even with good references, she had never been able to get a client in Newport.
Despite her name, Dottie was anything but white. Tall, with skin so dark there was an almost aubergine cast to it that only made her appear even more exotic, Dottie could turn heads. She had large brown eyes and a long slender neck. At nearly 50, she didn’t look a day over 35. Her locks, which she’d been growing for many years added to her regal stature. Dottie, short for Dorothea, had a sweet melodious voice that she seldom raised accept to her 16 year old son, Henry, or her husband, Tad.
This was the third time she would be cleaning at the Bradley house. Because the house, which was built in the 1920’s, was so large - 6 bedroom, 4 baths, a large eat-in kitchen, dining room, a living room, family room and Mr. Bradley’s office - it took an entire day to clean, and that was just basic cleaning. That didn’t include the three chandeliers that needed dusting and a number of other “special projects’ that Mrs. Bradley had described as they walked through the house on Dottie’s first visit.
Dottie had just finished gathering all her cleaning supplies in the bright sunny kitchen when her cell phone buzzed on the counter. Normally when she was working, she would look quickly to see who was calling and return the call later, but with the problems that she and Tad had been having with Henry lately, she didn’t dare.
“Honey, it’s me.”
“You know my phone has already told me that. What’s up sweetheart, I’m just getting started here.”
“I just wanted to let you know that Henry stayed home from school today.”
“Why?” Dottie demanded, then remembered to lower her voice.
“He says he’s not feeling well.”
“Did you take his temperature?” Assuming that Henry would refuse to be treated like a 5 year old.
“Actually, I did. It’s a little high, but he really doesn’t look good.”
“Oh, poor baby. No sickness kept him from going out with his friends last night,” she paused turning a large vase of pale white lilies toward the sun.
"Oh well, tell him I’ll give him a call when I’m on my way home. I’ll see you at 10:00?” she asked, knowing that Tad was working a second shift as Floor Manager at Wal-Mart. “Love you, honey,” she said turning off the phone and slipping it into her apron.
The morning went by quickly. After she’d hung up with Tad, Dottie decided to start upstairs with the bedrooms and their respective baths. The house was still, all the Bradley’s were out. Dottie sang quietly to herself as she dusted and vacuumed. She stripped the beds and re-made each, with their high threat count sheets, dust ruffles, comforters, duvets and many pillows. The bathrooms were her biggest challenge. The smallest was larger than the one bathroom she shared with Tad and Henry in their small apartment. But that could change soon, especially with this new job. She had thought about getting an assistant, but decided against it for now. Nearly all the money she was making - and she was doing pretty well now - was going into their house fund. Tad had gotten a small raise when he was promoted back in the fall, but no Christmas bonus. And, she didn’t know what they were going to do about college for Henry when it came time, but she was hopeful.
It was just noon as she finished upstairs. Everything was on schedule. Dottie decided she would sit out on the back porch – Mrs. Bradley had called it the veranda - to eat her lunch. Today was the first sunny day in a week and though the temperature on her phone said only 55, it felt like spring.
Finishing her sandwich, she reached for her phone and dialed home. The phone rang so many times she knew she was going to get the machine.
“Henry,” She paused, thinking he’d pick up when he heard her voice, but he didn’t. “Hopefully you’re sleeping. I’ll try again later. Bye.”
The rest of the day went smoothly. By four o’clock she was finishing up in the kitchen, washing the floor. She had just begun putting away brooms, mops, swiffers, windex, and the liquid gold she used to clean and polish the large oak dining room table when Mr. Bradley came in.
“How are you Mister Bradley?” Dottie said, closing the cellar door.
“I’m fine thank you. How are things here?”
“Just finishing up.”
“Well then,” he paused for what seemed like a long time, “you have a good night.”
“You too, night now,” but Bradley had already turned away and was heading toward his office just off the kitchen.
Dottie, took one last look around, checked her apron pocket for her phone and her bag for car keys and left by the back door.
In the car, Dottie tried Henry again. Still no answer. Henry had been on her mind more lately. When she tried to talk to Tad about it, he blamed the teenage years or said Henry was just going through a phase. But Dottie thought there was more to it than that. Growing up, Tad had been outgoing and bright. He loved fishing with his dad and throwing hoops in the park across the street. He had been a good student particularly in math and science through eighth grade, but was having a difficult time adjusting to high school. Central Falls was not an easy place to grow up. The economic recession had brought the town to its knees. Bankruptcy and receivership meant no money for schools that had already been a long time in need. Passing the old mansions on Bellevue Avenue it seemed hard for Dottie to believe that Central Falls and Newport were even in the same country let alone the same state.
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