Chapter 55 - Jobs Like Buses

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«[Come with me,]» said Mrs Chen curtly, turning and walking out the door with the sheet.

«[But-but... I have not--I...]» Valentina stammered looking at the other women for help. They all looked down, carrying on with their work.

Mrs Chen led Valentina to her office where she gave her the address of a couple from Paris – esteemed clients of the hotel, who were in desperate need of a cleaner to do some light work at their small weekend villa.

Mrs Chen would deal with the girls upstairs in her own time, but at least the completely useless, little, prima donna English speaker was out of her hair. And so the wage skimming without fear of reprisals, the acceptance of general staff waywardness and miscommunications (which was all to be expected due to their low pay and lack of language skills and other finesses) could all go back to normal... Valentina would never make it to work in the restaurant, or to be later hired as Mrs Huwyler's trusted and lovely personal assistant (as she might have come to be known as – for a little while anyway) or ever meet the genteel, attractive –and recently divorced– writer from New York who would visit the hotel in the winter and become instantly captivated with her. Not knowing what her fate might have been if she had stayed at the hotel, Valentina was just relieved she wasn't being fired (not outright in any case) and went to the villa without question, or any firm understanding of what had happened back at the hotel.

The new position seemed preferable anyway: The new employers were icy, but polite and far less demanding or fault finding than Mrs Chen, which was a big relief. And it was light work, which consisted mainly of turning on lights to a certain schedule, taking in post, watering plants and checking that the pool water was at the correct pH on Fridays so that it was always ready in case the owners came, plus a little shopping and cleaning a few hours a week when the owners did come, which wasn't very frequently, or ever for very long (AND they sent their laundry out). It even paid more... The only problem was it was only for a few hours a week.

Just as Valentina returned home, with the renewed panic of money due to so few work hours and the still relatively small pay, she received a call from the wife of an English ex-pat family living nearby. The woman: Mrs Emily Jane Shnellbrot-Thomas had seen her notice for 50F an hour and needed "rather a lot" of cleaning on account of her large house and many children.

It was a very large, fairly damp and not very pretty (but not all together unattractive) house that had been the combined postal offices and Mairie's office in the past century. The building had had an assortment of clumsy extensions over 133 years of passing hands several times for various uses and had unfortunately been painted a putrid looking, pale, orangey-yellow by the previous English owners who had left abruptly a couple decades before. The new owners who had acquired it for a very good price either hadn't gotten around to re-painting it a different colour or didn't have the vision that it would probably look much improved if they did. It was a house with potential and there was lots to be done after being shut up for such a long while...

Valentina had never seen an English family with so many children! They had had five girls, all almost exactly eighteen months apart. She assumed the number of children was down to the couple trying for a boy, but found it strange just the same. Why the English were so old fashioned about that, she had no idea – but it wasn't any of her business. After the line of girls, they finally had twin boys. However, on top of this, with the twin toddlers just at that active stage where everything was running and laughing (or crying and screaming) there was yet another little Shnellbrot-Thomas on the way (presumably this one by accident).

Mrs Shnellbrot-Thomas and her husband pronounced their words with an uninterested, flat drawl that Valentina found very unpleasant on the ears and also fairly discomfiting. She had heard the accent imitated before, but she didn't think people really spoke like that in modern times. She had assumed it was more of a tongue-in-cheek parody by other –perhaps mildly resentful– social classes who were in turn parodied themselves by the other –also mildly resentful– social classes. It was worrying because even though the Shnellbrot-Thomas's seemed to be in a fair mood and were clearly eager to make a good impression on their potential new staff member in all of the things that they said and did, there was little tenderness (little empathy) in the sound of their voices. It made Valentina wary that they might not be very nice people and therefore not very nice to work for.

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