by Madeline Byrne
Juliet cleans houses. The wealthy, high-ceilinged kind. She navigates hallways whose walls have absorbed the smell of absinthe, the spritz of champagne, the spell of lovemaking. She changes bedsheets and breathes in clouds of perfume, so potent, they pass through walls like full-bodied ghosts. There’s music, too. The walls take it in, every spin of the vinyl, every child’s violin lesson. Every woman who stumbles home after the opera, drunk and singing and making her lover laugh, cringe.
When Juliet cleans, she leaves a little part of herself behind. She is nowhere and everywhere at once; a payslip in the housekeeper’s tray, a strand of hair in the coat closet that causes her employer’s mistress to worry. Invisible cells of skin in the dustpan. When she walks the city at night, she becomes no one. A traceless blue shadow, an outline.
There was a time when she would walk halfway home before waving for the bus. Listen to the ebbs and exchanges that leaked over café terraces, the notes of heightened, private conversations drifting out of upper windows like the hems of curtains. It had been a time before Michel, before the subdued city. Now, it was a place where one fell into two of four sorts. The visible and the invisible, the dancers and the ones who turned their ear away from the music, toward the wireless with its shifting dials and talk of war.
When Juliet gets home, she watches her son sleeping. She lights a cigarette. Outside, a lone, late-night musician attempts to penetrate the night with the keys of a piano. Inside, the radio murmurs ceaselessly, filling the walls with voices.