Mary pulled into the parking lot of the Nashville Comfort Suites, where she's worked for the past eight years, and killed the engine, leaving the radio running. She was ten minutes early, which was five minutes too much. Five minutes early, well that's time enough to listen to one last song and have one last cigarette before going in. Ten minutes? That's time enough for all that, with a handful more to start thinking about how she's worked there seven and a half years too long.
You would think that it would be easy for a college graduate to find a nice job in Nashville, but it's not. Having a college degree, now, is the same as having a high school diploma. It tells someone that you learned the basics, and avoided real life long enough to scrape together a shit ton of money to learn a few more basics, but of a much more bullshitty useless nature. She had friends with master's degrees who worked at coffee shops and grocery stores, what would ever make her think that her little bachelor's degree should earn her anything more than what she had, a low paying, unnecessarily time consuming job cleaning rooms in the city's second to cheapest hotel. But again, those are the kind of thoughts that five extra minutes of free time brings her. So maybe she's better off just working herself ragged, no matter where the working is worked.
She checked the time on her phone. Jesus. Still three more minutes till she could clock in without having her manager key in her code. Like three extra minutes of pay would even hurt them, or benefit her, in the slightest. What's three minutes of $10 an hour come out to? Hell if she knows. She went to school for journalism. Think about that for a second. In the year our Lord 2018 if you were to walk into any high school, in any city, and offer the first kid you saw a full ride in the journalism program of their choice they'd be like "who?" If she was smart she'd have not gone to school at all, saved her money, and started her own business. Any kind of business. But she didn't. She thought she could pay for a piece of paper that would magically make her a writer worth paying for. But no one pays for writing now anyway, and they never really did to begin with.
She checked her phone again. Shit. Now she was late. Looks like she'd have to ask for that manager code anyway. "Well, there you go Nashville Comfort Suites," she thought to herself, turning off the car all the way and getting out. "I just saved you about a nickel today."
Summers in Nashville were unbearable and the humidity of this particular August morning was already making her stiff blue work shirt stick to her skin. Most of the room attendants were given dresses of the same material, a crunchy blue, denim-esque, but she convinced her manager to let her wear the front desk uniform. For this reason, she was always mistaken for a front desk clerk by impatient guests rushing to check out or in, which drove her manager, and especially the other room attendants, crazy. She didn't have any friends there, which was fine by her. Friends, she's come to learn in her 35-years of life, are just more work.
Entering the employee entrance by punching in her own key code (Fort Knox at the 'ol Nashville Comfort Suites) she went over to her manager's office, located conveniently next to the time clock, and saw that she was on the phone. She hovered there for the time it took for Barbara (aren't all managers named Barbara?) to notice that she was there and then twiddled her fingers in the air which, to her, was the signal for "come clock me in, bitch."
"Late?" Barbara said with one eyebrow raised, getting up from her desk and pulling her khaki lady slacks out of the crack of her ass. Mary thought of her mom at that moment. Not because her mom was known for pulling her pants out of her butt, but because she never would. In fact, her mom gave her three memorable pieces of advice while she was still alive and "don't pull wedgies in public" was one of them, right along with "don't ever say the word pee," and "as long as you have clean hair you look better than most."
"I would have been less late but ..." Mary made a gesture with her hands which, to her, was the signal for "you couldn't pull yourself away from whatever breaking news was being spoken to you through the old ass coffee smelling phone in your farty office."
Barbara and her crack, which had already been refilled with fabric during the 20 seconds it had been in motion, punched in the code which allowed Mary to clock in and start her day. And what a day it was shaping up to be.
The Nashville Comfort Suites had three floors, and three room attendants worked per shift, which meant that each woman was responsible for cleaning a whole floor between 8am, when their shift started, and 11am, which is check-in time for new guests. With twenty rooms to a floor this is nearly impossible, which is why job turnover there is notoriously fast. For whatever reason, Mary got into a groove that allowed her to not only finish well before 11am, but to consistently be tipped more than any of the other room attendants. The other ladies would make stupid mistakes like only leaving out two rolls of toilet paper instead of three, or only leaving bags of decaf coffee instead of one of each. Mary never forgot anything and she even went above and beyond, cleaning stuff that she wasn't even required to. She had a great eye for detail. "Must have got that from journalism school," her manager would often quip.
Because Mary was a bit late that day she was left with the worst floor, the top floor. In the summers the top floor was easily 30 degrees hotter than the other floors, and thats with the AC cranked. Whatever, she was already sweaty, what difference does it make? She got her cart out of the supply room, stocked it quickly with towels, little soaps, and all the other stuff you'd expect to see in a cheap, but not too cheap, hotel room, and got to work. The hotter it was up there, the more incentive to get it over with.
When the service elevator let her out on the the top floor she rolled her cart to the very back of the hall. She liked to start there and work her way back up to the elevator, which signified completion, and freedom. She put in her earbuds, which they weren't technically allowed to use, in case a guest needed to ask her something, but they helped her work while also drowning out the chatter in her head. Kinda like that wormy kid in that dumb Baby Driver movie that everyone liked for some reason. She used her key card to open the first room door of the day, knocking first to make sure no one was in there, and got to work.
You would be amazed what people do to hotel rooms. You might think that, at one point in your life, you really went nuts in a room by like period bleeding on the sheets or spilling nachos on the rug, but no. Ever since her second month working there when she opened a room to find that someone had used the pages of the Gideon Bible to wipe their ass and then wallpaper the bathroom walls with it, she steadies herself before each entry, never quite sure what she's gonna encounter inside. Really though, even though the money was bad, her manager sucked, and no one liked her there, she couldn't imagine a better dumb job. If she had to have a dumb job that wasn't the dumb job she went to college for, this was better than most. At least she got to work alone, for the most part, and snack on the occasional stolen Snickers from the mini bar. Speaking of mini bars, guests will come up with the most creative ways to eat something and make it look like nothing was eaten. Know what passes pretty easily for chocolate covered peanuts? She won't make that mistake twice.
Mary moved at her signature fast pace, regardless of the heat, and was almost done by 10am. She only had a few rooms left so slowed down a bit as to avoid the kind of "but did you do this" conversation that Barbara likes to start up whenever she finishes what is thought of as "too early." Yes, there is such a thing as being too good of a worker. Why do you think so many workers seem to suck? They started off as great workers, forced themselves to slow down as to avoid scrutiny, and then the slowing down just felt too good.
She entered the last room of the top floor, the one right before the elevator, at 10:30. Knocking on the door and entering with an armload of clean white towels, she got to work on the bathroom first, her least favorite, and then started on the bed linens, her second least favorite. Pulling off the dirty sheets and throwing them into her cart's laundry basket, she took out a fitted sheet and shook it out, making that satisfying crack and releasing the smell of bleach into the room. Tugging the elastic around the bed's corners she lifted up the mattress to make the sheet snug and saw something there on the boxspring. At first she thought it was a piece of gum, sometimes people will use the space in between the mattress and boxspring as a trashcan, but that's not what this was. Mary reached her gloved hand towards the thing and picked it up in her fingers, bringing it close to her face to inspect. A pill. Somehow a pill ended up in there.
The pill in Mary's hand didn't have any letters or numbers on it so she sniffed it to make sure it wasn't just a mint. It wouldn't make much more sense for a mint to end up in between a mattress and box spring than for a pill to appear there, but she was just ruling things out at this point.
No minty smell. Definitely not a mint.
She wondered why she was spending so much time examining something she found crammed in a dirty hotel bed, something she should just pitch in the garbage, but she was curious. She wasn't a pill head, by any means. Her mom, the previously mentioned "don't pick your ass" lady, had been one of those, so she steered clear, fearing that a hereditary urge would kick in if she were to dabble, and ruin her own life as well. Ruin it twice, she should say.
Mary stuck the pill in her shirt pocket and finished cleaning the room. Eventually she forgot about it.
That night, when she was getting into her own bed after a long, sweaty day, she thought about the pill again. Her work shirt was laid out on the washing machine and she could see the tiny outline of the thing behind the fabric of the pocket. She took it out and popped it in her mouth without even thinking twice. The next day she quit her job. She did it over the phone.