2:20 a.m. is waking up a breath before my alarm goes off, catching my phone before it wakes my partner. It’s ripping myself from his heat and rest in the blackness of our bedroom. It is slow steps on a tired floor, moving toward the bathroom, where I’ve laid all my clothes out hours before; where I find myself blinking heavily, painfully in a shock of fluorescent light. 2:20 a.m. is slipping, begrudgingly, into a uniform: black slacks, button-up shirt, square blazer, and non-slip, anti-fatigue work shoes. It’s my hair pulling itself back tight, braiding itself into rope, wrapped and pinned. It is a time for shapeshifting—from loose fabric and soft circles to straight lines. Bolder. Older. 2:20 a.m. feels so much older. My gaze rests on a looking-glass, where just beyond lies another world of work in which Some of Us live. It’s a realm I enter by steering soft through an unlit house, past sleeping rooms and halls, down sleeping stairs and into sleeping streets. It’s a different tide in the day, staring at the stillness wrapped around Everyone Else in their beds, duvets heavy on warm bodies.

At this time of night, only the streetlights lock eyes with me; they’re guards, looking to see who is there traversing their quiet hours. And they permit me. I sail down a quiet Highway 1, where there might be one other car. Or two. Or three. Or four. But never more than that. Each car holding its reasons because 3 a.m. always has reasons. Mine are in Half Moon Bay. Some of Us are already there.

My phone dings. A text message from Jose reads: We had an incident, call me. And suddenly, a dread is cut loose and sinking, sternum to stomach. Jose Jimenez is the supervisor for the overnight cleaning crew I manage at a hotel on the coast. He’s been working since 9:45 p.m. the night before, with a crew of twelve who began their shifts at 10 p.m. Jose is a grump of a man, pushing fifty. He is only three inches taller than I am, but he is the technical expert, the muscle, the magician. He’s the person I call on, all the time, for everything.

“What’s up, Jose?” I ask when he picks up his phone.

“Ahh, we had a little misunderstanding in the kitchens. Omar says something, then Pancho chokes him. I’m talking to everyone, so they can explain me what happened. But security said they’re both outta here and now I’m trying to cover their areas.” Jose says it nervous, says it annoyed.

“Is anyone hurt?” I ask, knowing Some of Us are very, very strong. And when Some of Us are too tired to control our tempers, things go bad.

“Nah, they’re fine. It was stupid. Stupid-stupid,” Jose spits out the words.

“I’m almost there.”

The road to the hotel is one I’ve memorized. I know each of its curves, all its drops; the places to steal glances at a black and white Pacific when it’s lit by the moon. It used to be too long, too dark a road. But after two years, I arrive within minutes. I wake from a trance and simply step out of my car. My phone dings again. An email from security.

Outside, it’s a black cold, wet and wrapping around the bone. The hour’s chill sits on skin and consciousness. At this hour, you can’t really see the small cursive hills of the golf course, floating around this property. You can only see the hotel itself, aglow in stately, amber light. From the vendor parking lot behind the hotel, I can hear the ocean spill and push onto the rocks. I smell wet asphalt, fog mixed with earth. It’s the time at which I pass the raccoons, the size of small dogs, foraging through the trash bins. We eye each other quietly before turning back to our tasks. I walk quickly to the Employee Entrance, at the very back of the hotel, swinging the heavy door and entering into a different existence; fraternal to that which exists in the day. Here, the hour’s expected quiet is cut through by the humming of machines polishing floors. There is distant yelling. Puffs of conversation through the clang of metal somewhere. It is the time which begins my many, many greetings: Good morning! Buenos días! ¿Cómo está? It’s seeing EJ’s raw rimmed eyes, yellow meeting pink, at the security desk.

“Morning, EJ. Long night?”

“Hey, sorry about your guys…” EJ shakes his head at me while swapping my driver’s license for a numbered, colored, plastic badge. He watches me sign in. Name. Department. Time in.

“Didn’t call the Sheriff or anything, but had to escort them off the premises,” he says. “They can’t come back to this property. Ever.”

“I know,” I say. “I’m really sorry.” I think of Pancho. A massive man, the biggest guy in the crew. He is mustached and barrel-chested with full, black hair and hands bigger than my head. Pancho, who asks to work every night of every week, who I have to tell to take it easy, take a night off once in awhile. Pancho asks to do mats, the most back-breaking job of all the work that gets done. It’s the job no one else wants. Each mat weighs anywhere from thirty to fifty-five pounds alone. And there seem to be hundreds of them. By the time our team gets to them, they are covered in grease, caps of meat and dropped vegetables and all the stinking confetti of a busy kitchen. Because of their size, the mats are difficult to lift, roll up, and carry down long hallways. It’s difficult to get them outside onto the loading dock. And it’s difficult to clean them, removing syrupy oil from heavy rubber. It takes all night to get the mats washed before they’re lifted, carried, and returned to their exact and far-off places. Jose sometimes punishes guys by putting them on mats for weeks at a time. But Pancho would rather do mats each night alone than deal with everyone else. He is a silent man, who walks straight through conversations and personal space, shrugging when he offends people, nodding at jokes rather than laughing at them. Pancho often gets annoyed with me and makes sure I know it. Somehow, he is one of my favorites. I think of Pancho’s incredibly large, sad-eyed wife. I wonder if she will call me. Most wives call me, pleading after a husband is let go.

“Oh, and thanks for handling the elevator incident a couple nights ago,” EJ says.

“It was all Jose.” I only write up the invoices. This time for an unscheduled deep cleaning of a guest elevator. But it was Jose who had to clean up the space after two drunk boys decided to urinate in it. Wasted kids from a family paying over $700 a night to spread their smells and vomit and do whatever they want. “Does Mike want the invoice?” I ask EJ.

“Go ahead and send it to me and I’ll forward the charge to the juvenile’s parents,” EJ says. I nod and walk away down the brightly lit back hallways, my eyes already searching, sliding onto everything, staring at the scuff marks on the VCT floor. My black, faux-leather notebook opens and my pen scribbles down all the things that were missed. The long list of not-good-enough:

—Back Hallways: Floors due for strip and wax; schedule asap.

I walk past a new delivery of outdoor patio chairs, a pallet full of wine orders, and a metal rolling shelf crowding the hall. I bend down and rub my fingers on the baseboards.

—Lots of dust on baseboards.

I use my index finger to swipe at the moldings.

—Moldings and ledges are better.

I go into the men’s employee locker room, stand on top of a bench and wipe the top of the lockers. Not bad. I nod at the consistency. I go into the restrooms and peer everywhere. I look up.

—Vents need attention.

Outside and down the hall, I see Pedro’s short, stocky form steadily polishing, moving one of our machines and its spinning disc over the floor. Pedro’s hair is always shiny with gel. His navy polo shirt is tucked into his black slacks. The shirt’s logo, embroidered in white, sits cleanly on his chest. He is wearing black sneakers. Not exactly work boots, but still up to code.

“Buenos días, Pedro. Todo va bien?” I call and watch his smile dip when he sees me. He gets nervous when I’m there, but he nods. Sí, sí.

“Que bueno,” I say as my eye catches the copper pipes in the first kitchen, spotty and dull. “Pedro, can we get these polished this morning? I need them shiny for our walk-through with James.”

“Sí, sí,” he nods, fingers pinching and turning the rag he’s pulled from his pocket.

 

By 4 a.m., the morning stretches; it warps. It’s the weight of what’s necessary and the weight of what feels wrong. Like telling someone, whose sweat I see seeping through his shirt, how to do his job. To do it better. To do it again. It’s asking how Pedro’s soccer game went on Sunday; how Jose’s kids are doing at their new school; if Jesus is getting enough sleep; if Vianey’s shoulder is feeling better. And at the same time, denying all their requests for Christmas Eve or New Year’s off. It’s questioning someone, who is the same age as my mother, why scores are down in her area.

“Yes, I clean those areas every day,” Rosa says.

“What time do you usually clean those areas?” I ask.

“4:30 a.m. Maybe 5 a.m.?” she says.

I take out my phone and pull up the photos that the hotel staff sends me. The hotel has its eyes everywhere and even more fingers, ready to wag and point at Some of Us contracted to work overnight.

“See this photo? This was taken at 5:30 a.m.” I show her the images on my phone. She scrolls, eyes squinting, mouth open.

“Okay, but sometimes the guests, they come and…” she begins to protest.

“And that’s fine. I understand that and I have already told the hotel that guests come have coffee here early in the morning,” I say, nodding. “But Rosa, I am here at 5:30 a.m., at 6 a.m., at 7 a.m. There are not always guests here at 5:30 a.m. They don’t always put their hands on all the glass on every table.”

“Okay, Aimee, but it’s the people who coming and mess it up,” she says arms crossed. I take a deep, silent breath through my nose.

“Rosa, I’m going to check this area exactly at 5:30 a.m. today. I’m going to look at the glass and underneath this table and that table and that one. I will take pictures of any guests sitting here this morning and send it to the hotel. But please, please, please keep an eye on this area, okay?”

Some of Us get upset with the critiques and complaints that come in. Some of Us take each complaint and fix it right away. They shake their heads but the legs of chairs are left shiny. Carpets combed through, coffee stains removed by hand. The air made fresher, exhaling a careful cleanliness. Throughout the enormous scope of work, the enormous hotel, its public areas, its underbelly, requests are met. Miracles performed. Some of Us rise to the challenge, cutting the throats of every complaint. And Some of Us will quit.

 

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