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A Girl to Do the Cleaning

Sunday, October 4, 2020


You know, when Snow White first showed up at our little home, I felt for her.

She gave us a long—and very sad—spiel about being mistreated by her vain step-mother. You know how Freudians are always going on and on and on about the tsuris that patients get from their mothers? Let me tell you, mothers got nothing on step-mothers in that department.

Endless guilt-trips are one thing; sending a kid into the forest to be slaughtered by some hunter in a goyishe red plaid jacket is something else altogether. Sure, the guy didn’t go through with it, but—just telling her that he was supposed to cut out her kishkes, and bring them back for her step-mother’s dinner—it’s the sort of thing that could keep a girl in therapy forever.

Besides, at fifty bucks a pop, who was going to pay for all those sessions?

Anyway, the outdoorsman let her go. In a kind of mitzvah—not that goyim have any idea what a mitzvah is—he kills a wild boar, and cuts out the lungs and liver to fool the old bitch. I ask you, how ironic was that? She had no idea that, instead of step-daughter, she was noshing on treyf!

Anyway, let me get back to her story. Snow White had been wandering around in the forest for some time, when she stumbled upon our house. We were all at work at the time, so she just walked in and helped herself to my left-over kugel, washing it down with our last bottle of Doctor Brown’s Cel-Ray tonic. Losing that soda was the first thing that made me question the wisdom of keeping her around. You know how hard it is to find Cel-Ray out here in the sticks?

Anyway, tired from all that wandering in the wilderness, and stuffed with the last of our food—and tonic—she decided to take a nap. One-by-one, she tried out all seven beds, without even thinking of making them afterwards. She finally found my bed, and fell fast asleep.

When we got home from work, that’s where we found her. Everyone was annoyed, at first, by the mess she made—but they got over it once they got a good look at her. She was a knock-out, I’ll admit it. Still, her looks didn’t make up for taking over my bed.

Flustered, and still a little groggy, she told us her story. Six of us took pity, and invited her to stay. Not for free, of course. A little rent would’ve been fair, but the girl didn’t have a penny to her name. I knew I would be out-voted, so I kept my opinions of her to myself. I did manage to get her to agree to work off her rent by keeping house for us.

I should tell you that it’s been ages since we had a cleaning lady come in. Actually, we’ve never had a cleaning lady come in. The place looked it, too. Still, it was our schmutz—our cobwebs, our greasy dishes, our dust-bunnies, our moldy crusts of rye bread, our dirty socks—we were used to things being the way they were and we liked them that way.

Then we discovered that, in addition to an OCD approach to cleaning, the girl could cook.

I have always done the cooking for all of us, in exchange for having someone else do the dishes. Of course, that meant that no one did the dishes, but given the general appearance of the place, no one much cared. Still, I was hesitant to give up my status as head cook. At least until I tried her kasha varnishkes. And her kreplach. And her knishes. And her matzoh ball soup. And her latkes. And her brisket that was to die for.

Even her kugel was better than mine. So, I decided to keep her around. Considering what she had told us, we warned her to never let anyone but us in the house—and be especially careful when we were at work.

We have to go to work every day—except Saturday, of course. We work in the mines, prying gemstones out of the rock. I know, I know—you’re going to ask, “what are seven good Jewish boys doing, working in a godforsaken mine, doing physical labor?” While our mothers wanted us to be lawyers, doctors, or—at least—CPAs, that kind of work is hard to find in the forest.

We usually tell people that we’re in the jewelry business.

Anyway, Snow White agreed that our advice was worth taking—so, every morning, it was off to work we’d go. When we came home, each night, tired and hungry, she was waiting for us. In a clean house. With a table heaped with food that was so heavy it could choke a bear. Not that any of us had ever seen a bear, but still. Heavy food—and heartburn—are part of our heritage, and we would never give them up.

What else would we have to complain about?

Speaking of complaints, I didn’t really have any—despite my earlier reservations about her. Well, almost no complaints. I wasn’t thrilled when she made up new names for all of us. She called Avram “Doc;” I have no idea why. Ethan became “Sneezy.” Itzhak was renamed “Sleepy.” Tzvika became “Bashful.” Zadoc, for reasons I’ll never understand, she rebranded as “Happy.” It made no sense; Zadoc has been a nudnik as long as I’ve known him. Maybe the girl had a sarcastic streak. She called Reuben “Dopey.”

That, at least made some sense because he’s always been a schmendrik.

I guess what really galled me was the name she chose for me: “Grumpy.” My mother named me “Malachi,” which—while not perfect—was at least bearable.

Anyway—we were at work, a couple of weeks ago, when Snow White answered a knock at the door. The girl is, as I’ve said, pretty, but she’s also pretty dumb. Or maybe she’s just not a good listener. Whatever. So—as we later learned—she invited in an old seamstress who was trying to sell some special dresses she had made. 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, over the years, is that pretty girls always want to be prettier. That made her a sucker for the old woman’s sales pitch. She tried on a kind of corset gown, and let the seamstress adjust the ties at the back. She was thrilled to see that her waist seemed to shrink away—at least until she began to find it hard to breathe. She begged the old woman to loosen the ties, but when she turned around, the woman was gone.

By the time we got home from the mines, Snow White was on the floor, gasping for air. She did look good; practically no waistline and her bosom bulging out in a most provocative fashion. Well, it would have been provocative if her normally creamy skin hadn’t taken on a bluish cast from lack of oxygen.

Avram grabbed a scissor and cut her out of the dress.

When she recovered enough to speak, she gasped, “Thanks, Doc… but I really wish you hadn’t ruined the dress. I bought it wholesale… on credit… and now I won’t be able to return it!” Nothing was ever good enough for her; she always found a way to kvetch about something. We explained, again, what a bad idea it had been to let a stranger into the house.

She looked like she believed us.

Still, only a few days later, another old woman knocked on the door. She was selling beautiful combs and brushes. Naturally, our girl couldn’t resist. The woman showed Snow White a particularly lovely comb made of genuine mother-of-pearl—and offered to let her try it. After just a few strokes through her wavy black hair, Snow white began to feel woozy. The poisoned comb was still in her hair when she dropped to the floor. She tried to get the woman’s attention but, once again, the old woman was gone.

Again, Avram was the one to save her; he plucked the comb from her hair and flung it into the fireplace. Again, she said, “Thanks, Doc… but did you have to ruin it? It was so pretty!” Once again, we explained how foolish it had been to let a stranger into the house.

She looked like she believed us.

Still, a week later, we got home to find our girl lying on the floor. A partially-eaten apple was beside her, right next to her outstretched fingers. Snow White has always been a slow learner, but it looked like she had finally learned her lesson. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t do her any good, as she was also as cold and dead as leftover kugel.

I had mixed feelings about all this. Sure, it was sad that she was gone. And I would miss her cooking. And she did brighten up the place, just by being there. It didn’t hurt that she also washed the windows, which made a big difference. Who knew? On the other hand, I never really adjusted to all the new names she’d given us. No matter how dumb, no good Jewish boy wants to named “Dopey.” Or “Grumpy,” for that matter, ‘though “Grumpy” was a whole lot better than “Dopey.”

We took her out to a clearing in the woods, where she would be surrounded by birds and flowers, and laid her on a glass-covered bier. Despite the solemn occasion, I couldn’t hold back a smirk when I thought it looked like a deli’s showcase. We could have called her “Goldilox.”

The gems weren’t going to spoil in the mine, so we took a week off work to sit shiva. On the third day, we heard hooves on the path. Looking up, we saw the most elegant rider we’d ever seen. He was so clean-cut, I would’ve bet a dollar that he was goyishe. He swung down from his big white horse, and walked solemnly to the bier. He knelt beside it, and removed his big plumed hat. That’s when I spotted the prince’s payes. I never would have guessed he was one of us. 

He gazed longingly at Snow White’s face, then raised the glass lid, and kissed lips that were as cold as a pickled herring. To make a long story short, she woke up, they embraced, they got married, we kvelled. The reception was fabulous, with more chicken liver pâte, schmaltz and gribenes—and Cel-Ray—then even I could finish. 

It was bittersweet to lose her—again—but at least we can brag that we once had a princess who did housework.

This story is excerpted from Backstories: As retold by Gary Allen, available in two formats:


©2020 Gary Allen


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