It’s the little things in life that matter.
Correction: it’s the little things in life that make me want to bash my face into a wall.
Further correction: it’s the little things in life that are exaggerated to make it seem like they actually matter, that make me want to bash my face into a wall. Twice.
For instance, my father is extremely proud of the fact that my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather once sloshed a bucket of soapy water onto his neighbor’s window and then cleaned it up, therefore cleaning the window in the process. It would’ve been a nice gesture, except a) it had only been that one window, and b) it had been completely unintentional.
Apparently, my great-however many greats-grandfather had only wanted to clean his car, but, being the epitome of grace that he was, he’d tripped over a hose pipe on the way, sending the bucket flying out of his hands and splashing against poor Miss Mufty’s living room window, god rest her soul. Miss Mufty’s soul, that is. Not the window’s. Although the window had been broken soon after the accidental window-cleaning incident, but that’s a story for another time. Coincidentally, that was also my great-however many greats-grandfather’s fault, but like I said, now isn’t the time.
My father had been a child himself when he’d first heard that story, and ever since then, his big dream had been to start a window cleaning company. God only knows why. He’d been successful, somehow, and then, of course, he’d wanted to get his son into the business.
That’s where I, Thomas Glass—no I’m not making that up—come in. Ironically, my great-however many greats-grandfather is my namesake, even though I’ve never wanted anything to do with the window cleaning business. But my father is so proud of our family’s legacy—and I use the term loosely—that he’d employed me as a window cleaner. Lucky me.
Which leads me to where I am now: on the top rung of a well-polished ladder, holding a squeegee in one hand and a bottle of Windex in the other, cleaning what feels like the millionth window of this goddamn hotel in New York. All I can say is, I’m glad I’m not afraid of heights.
Now, in case you’ve ever considered joining the window cleaning population, I’ll warn you, it’s a tedious job. In my opinion, at least, though I may be biased. But there’s one thing that can be very entertaining with this job, and that, of course, is the fact that I have a perfectly valid excuse to shamelessly observe whatever people are doing inside their hotel rooms. You may think that’s weird, even creepy, but I dare you to try cleaning the windows of a hotel in Manhattan without sneaking a peek or two ever so often.
I hum quietly to myself as I squirt some Windex onto a window. As I drag the squeegee over it, it emits a high-pitched squeaking sound which would have been satisfying if I hadn’t already been hearing it for the past two hours. I carefully run the squeegee down the window in a single, smooth motion. No streaks. Perfect.
Then, because I can’t not, I casually glance inside the room to see what’s going on. Only one person’s in the room. It’s an old man, and he’s sitting in front of the TV, watching a documentary about what seems to be badgers. Or maybe raccoons—it’s hard to see from this angle.
The old man suddenly turns around and glares at me. His mouth scrunches into a thin line and his eyebrows are drawn together, and his glasses, perched on the bridge of his nose, almost fall off. I laugh nervously and wave, giving him a friendly smile.
He just scowls and flaps his hand slightly, a gesture that I can interpret perfectly: get outta here, you young, muscular fool. Okay fine, maybe not muscular, but it sounds better than scrawny—which is, unfortunately, more accurate. Anyway, I move on to the next window, leaving the man alone to learn about the sleeping patterns of badgers. Or maybe raccoons.
The window I go to next is directly below the old man’s, and even through the glass, I can hear little kids shrieking. The noise must be deafening from inside, and I grimace—this confirms my theory that human children are actually devil spawn in disguise.
Suddenly, one of the kids—he can’t be older than seven years old—sees me, and sticks his tongue out. It’s bright blue, which makes sense, considering the artificial lollipop clutched in his right hand. I roll my eyes and consider sticking my tongue out in return, but I decide against it because I’m mature that way.
I’m halfway through cleaning the window when it happens. The goddamn kid hurls his toy truck right at me. Even though there’s a sheet of bulletproof glass between us, I almost drop my Windex in surprise, and if that had happened I would’ve killed that kid. I glare at him, but he only laughs. I hope that goddamn toy truck broke, I think viciously.
Unfortunately, when the boy goes to retrieve it, it’s still in perfect condition. Of course it is—those things are unnaturally durable. I finish cleaning the window and hurriedly move on to the next one.
Surprisingly, nobody’s in that room. I sigh in relief—after that last window, I could use a break from people. I might as well take my time cleaning this window, so I leisurely wipe it down just because I can, and then I realize that I’ve been absentmindedly whistling for God knows how long. But it’s been a long day, and my arms are tired, and I’m so goddamn hungry. One last window. Then I’m getting lunch.
I look down, and realize with a sinking feeling that I still have at least three floors’ worth of windows to do. I groan. If I hadn’t just cleaned this goddamn window, I would have slammed my head against it in frustration.
Well, I still won’t regret doing one more window. Even if my arms fall off, which is a very real possibility at this point, at least I’ll finally have a good enough excuse to quit this job. So I force myself to move on to another window.
There’s a young woman inside this room. She’s leaning against a table, and she looks so…sad. I mean, I’ve had a few bad days myself, but the look on her face makes me want to burst into tears. I rap my knuckles on the window, wanting to ask her if she’s okay, but she doesn’t even look up. Frowning, I knock again, louder this time, but she still ignores me.
I shake my head a little—what’s wrong with her? Then I look closer. Is she wearing…a hearing aid?
I look down at my hands, which are concealed by bright yellow gloves. I smile, and wave my hand energetically in front of the window. She can’t hear me, but it would be impossible for her to not see my neon yellow gloves, even out of the corner of her eye.
To my delight, my plan works perfectly, and she looks up. She smiles slightly, but it doesn’t reach her eyes, and she reminds me so much of my sister—she’s deaf, too.
So I do the one thing to this woman that I always did to my sister whenever she looked upset. I take off my gloves, never taking my eyes off her face, and she holds my gaze. After I tuck my gloves into my belt, I smile at the woman and sign two words to her: You’re beautiful.
And the way her face transforms, the way her eyes begin to shine and her face lights up, the way her lips are parted in shock and gratitude, and the way she signs back to me—Thank you—makes me realize that it is the little things in life that matter. Not always to me, but to someone else. But this time, it matters to me, too. And it’s what keeps me going, after I smile at her and continue down the ladder. The memory of her happiness etched all over her face is what makes me smile as I clean more and more windows. And maybe this job isn’t so bad after all. Even though it all started in the most ridiculous way possible.