Prose

Cleaner, Oh Glorious

31 March 2017

Gold Fields was an institution. Ero was told that on his first day at the Daily Deployment Office. He was brought onto the Gold Fields team as the Executive Internal Maintenance Officer; the EIMO. It was Ero’s duty to ensure the broad and bright houses of Gold Fields retained the pristine sheen for which they were celebrated. Ero began at Gold Fields on day one, after the opening ceremony. He reported for duty and was equipped suitably for his title: a mop and bucket, a back-mounted vacuum, a crate of chemicals, cleaning supplies and a master key.

Gold Fields was surrounded by a barren expanse of dead earth. It was on this bed of husks and needle-grass that the opening ceremony had taken place. It was a splendid affair: rides, tents and food-stalls went up the day before along with a towering podium for the President General. The fair-grounds were erected next to one of Gold Fields’ crowning achievements: its carpark. Five acres of flush concrete – polished like glass – housing five hundred and fifty perfectly demarcated spaces. One hundred and ten identical light posts standing at attention, reflecting the sun like crystal. Like all of Gold Fields, the carpark was industry-made art. The President General said during his dedication to the glory-winning lot:

A testament to the industry and luxury that we have cultivated for generations. A nexus of beauty, purpose, and above all accessibility to one and all.

The lot was cordoned off by nineteen hundred feet of velvet and gold bollards. Years later, Ero would still walk past those bollards every day on his way to work. They were weather worn now but their vigil never ceased. The carpark was unchanged, untouched and untouchable.

Ero’s master key was perfectly rectangular and smooth. It fit seamlessly into every perfectly rectangular and smooth keyhole in Gold Fields. As EIMO he was responsible for Mainstreet, his inferiors trusted with the less-visited attractions. Every morning before the crowds poured in, Ero worked through the 48 houses on Mainstreet, meticulously cleaning until they were void of dust, mark or mite. Dran, another executive, mowed every lawn, swapped the lights on every lamp and swept every street. Their final duty of the day was to polish the billboards on either end of Mainstreet that proclaimed in glistening white text:

MAINSTREET: HOME OF THE CLEANEST HOUSES

The signs had once read: THE CLEANEST HOUSES IN [REDACTED], however the name had since been painted over. Ero struggled to remember when exactly the signs had changed or what they had read before.
At 10a.m. the gates to Gold Fields opened and hundreds of patrons entered to see the most perfect neighbourhood there was. Mainstreet was, of course, the most popular attraction in the park. All day the thoroughfare was packed with families photographing the cleanest houses. They would track mud through shining tiled kitchens, touch grime-crusted hands to unblemished plaster. In the bathrooms they would stare longingly at broad shower-heads and stainless steel faucets. Ero would stand idly by the cleaning closets of these houses. He would smile at the families and sometimes answer questions about how the houses are kept so perfect. He occasionally recognised an employee who had drawn Filler out of the Daily Duties Lottery. Fillers’ task was to move through the crowd and photograph the sights, to encourage patrons to do the same. They walked through with dumbstruck awe on their slack mouths. With practiced precision they lifted heavy and expensive cameras to their trained eyes and flashed the moment into an eternal I was there. It worked like a charm and whenever a Filler moved through Mainstreet a chorus of shutters followed in their wake. To save money, the Fillers’ cameras did not hold any film.

By the end of each day Gold Fields was a dishevelled mess. Ero’s chest would swell with anticipation as he stepped through the filth that now inhabited Mainstreet. In the peak season he would use the evening to get a head start on the next day’s cleaning. Ero often walked through Gold Fields in the still of the evening. The hint of cool seeping into the air as the blistering sun lit up the Town Square’s enormous brass bell gave Ero the feeling of – something. He could never name the feeling. Some days it was distant and bittersweet, others it was an immediate but satisfying ache in his lungs. One night a blackbird avoided being caged and stored for the night during close. It sat in a pruned oak in the Town Square where it sang and sang, sending its call out into the peaceful sleep of the most perfect place. Ero sat on a park bench and watched the rogue creature flutter from branch to branch. It flew to the ground and sniffed the air, plunging its beak into the grass. It surprised him to see a small animal that seemed to be shiny and entirely legs being crushed in the bird’s beak. The blackbird continued to sing and took flight. It flew high and higher until Ero could not hear its song any more. He sat motionless for many hours after that. When he returned to the compound where Gold Fields employees sleep, he was reprimanded for missing Evening Leisure Time.

The Gold Fields Employee Compound was surrounded by a dull chain-link fence. Those with a south-facing window saw the sickly-yellow haze of Metro Proper. Ero’s window faced north and he could watch Gold Fields glitter as he fell to sleep. He stared as a bird circled high within his window’s frame. It was little more than a shadowed smudge against the night. It flew away and faded into obscurity.

The compound was the only shelter on the railway between Gold Fields and Metro Proper. Gold Fields was built fifteen miles out of the city. A two hundred and forty-five building oasis of weatherboard homes and lush lawns that sat on a dead plain, ravaged from the sun and poisoned soil. The President General had declared the amusement park as:

The economic stimuli that will save our Nation. A national project which I know will win our hearts and souls.

Ero eagerly signed up to be part of this great work. It was exhaustive, unforgiving labour that exposed him to many damaging chemicals and dangerous work environments. But as he laboured, Ero filled his mind with the smiling faces of the guests and every night he felt fulfilled knowing that his life was well-spent here. A lifetime ago, before Ero had become an EIMO, he had lived in Metro Proper. Once, the Daily Duties Lottery awarded him the task of Dirtier. He was loaded onto a train and travelled 20 miles south to Emerald Waves: a coastal town with broad, bright houses, wide streets and enormous courtyards. He was ordered to track mud through the spacious sandstone houses, touch his grimy hands to their walls and stare longingly at the broad shower-heads. Ero struggled to remember when he had visited Emerald Waves or what it had been like there. But he did not need to. Every day he saw the smiling faces of his guests, and he knew that there was beauty in his purpose.


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