"I don't know if you'll meet him," Dr. Wilson said, and handed Lady a copy of the key. "He keeps ... unusual hours."
She thought to herself that Dr. Wilson kept odd hours too. She'd seen him coming home early in morning at his house -- his old house -- just as she arrived for the day. She'd seen him sleeping in the den on a few afternoons.
And she overheard arguments between Dr. Wilson and his wife while she worked in the kitchen or laundry room. Sometimes she'd start the vacuum cleaner to try and cover the sounds, try to ignore Julie Wilson's complaints that he was never there, shouts that he'd rather spend more time with his patients, or that he'd rather be at some other house.
Lady wondered if he had some other family, some other home where he spent all those hours. Then he called her a few days after he'd moved out, and asked if she was willing to clean at a friend's place where he'd been staying.
"Dr. House," he'd said, and suddenly the arguments made more sense. Not someone else's house, but someone named House. A friend.
She'd smiled at the thought, happy for him that he had a friend who would take him in. Lady liked Dr. Wilson.
"You can call me James," he'd said soon after she started working for them, but she never had. It never seemed right. She couldn't ignore the habits her parents and grandparents had instilled in her -- the idea that titles were a sign of respect.
Julie Wilson had fired her two days after Dr. Wilson moved out, giving her two weeks pay and a promise to write a reference letter. Dr. Wilson gave her directions to Dr. House's apartment.
It was smaller than she'd expected, and it took only a few minutes for Dr. Wilson to show her around. It wouldn't take long to clean, she'd said.
"Don't worry about that," Dr. Wilson said. "I'll still give you your full pay."
"I'll charge you for the time it takes," she insisted. "That's only fair."
Lady looked at the books, at the piano, at the guitars, at the furniture. For more than twenty years, she had handled other people's things, cleaned their messes, ironed their clothes. She'd learned the types of things people bought to impress others, and the things they bought for themselves and tried to hide away. She tried to picture the kind of man who would own the things crammed into these rooms, but had only a vague image, a ghost, fantasma.
"Is Dr. House here?" she asked.
"He's got a case," Dr. Wilson said. "I expect he'll be gone all day. If you do see him, he may seem a bit ..." Dr. Wilson paused and seemed to search for the right word. "Angry," he finally said. "He may yell. Don't worry about it."
"He yells a lot," Dr. Wilson said. "But he won't actually do anything." He shrugged. "Probably."
Lady nodded. "Ah," she said, "all bark and no bite?"
"I wouldn't say that, exactly," Dr. Wilson smiled "But he won't bite you."
He checked his watch, grabbed his coat. "I've got to go," he said. "Just ... make sure you don't throw out anything, even if it looks like garbage. House is very protective about his things."
She nodded. "I'll be fine," she said.
She'd started in the bathroom, because she hated cleaning bathrooms, then moved from there down the hall to the bedroom, to the closets. She'd seen worse. She'd certainly cleaned worse. It was more untidy than anything else. "Lived in," was the term one family liked to use.
Lady was halfway through the living room when Dr. House came in. He was tall and thin. He was leaning on a cane made with a dark mahogany that reminded her of the walking stick her grandfather used to take with him out into the country, back before everything changed. He had only used the stick when he was tired, or as they went up and down hills.
Lady could tell by Dr. House's uneven steps, even the way he stood, that this cane wasn't for show. She wondered if he'd ever been one of Dr. Wilson's patients.
Dr. Wilson was right. He yelled.
And then he thanked her. That caught her by surprise. He was gone before she could say "You're welcome."
It was a week before she saw him again. He'd come in when she was in the kitchen, tossed his keys onto his desk and lay on the couch.
"Hello," she said. "I'm almost done here."
"Whatever," he said, and turned on the TV. Lady could hear the roar of engines coming from the speakers, but couldn't tell what he was watching.
She was scrubbing one of the pots when he came into the kitchen nearly a half-hour later and took a bottle of water from the refrigerator.
"Why Lady?" he asked, and she jumped. She had thought he'd gone back into the living room.
"What?" She caught her breath, turned to see him leaning against the butcher block table, watching her.
"I'm going to guess you weren't born with the name 'Lady,'" he said.
He looked at her as if her name could tell him something about her, give away some secret. "It's a nickname," she said. "I grew up with five brothers. My mother always said they should treat me like a lady." She shrugged. "They started calling me Lady. It stuck."
"But it wasn't 'Lady' then, right? So, 'Seniorita?' 'Mujer?'" he paused, seemed to consider his options. "'Dama?'"
She nodded. "Dama. When I was nearly 15, my mother sent me to the states to live with my brother. He said it should be 'Lady.' A new name for new country." She thought of the years since then, realized she had been called "Lady" for nearly twice as long as she'd been called "Dama."
"So what's your real name?"
Lady paused. No one else had ever asked her about her name. "Does it matter?"
Dr. House shook his head. "Just curious," he said. "Unless it's a big secret ... then I've really got to know."
Lady remembered the few times her mother had called her by her real name, remembered that it meant she was in trouble. "Candelaria," she said, "for the Lady of the Candles."
Dr. House stared at her for a moment. "You have a birthday last month?"
She smiled. "February second," she said. "During candlemas. You're Catholic?"
"If you're going to insult me, I'll leave," he said, and headed back into the living room.
Lady followed him to the doorway. "I'm sorry," she said. She wasn't sure what she'd said wrong, but she didn't want to lose the job. "I didn't mean ..."
"Don't compound the issue with an apology," Dr. House said. Lady watched him for a moment. He didn't seem upset, just comfortable. "And you'd better get those pots done before Wilson gets home." She caught a slight smile on his face. "Can't imagine why he just let those sit there."
She crossed her arms. "Dr. Wilson left me a note saying I shouldn't wash the dishes, that you were supposed to do them."
"He was obviously trying to trip you up," Dr. House said. "He's tricky that way."
Lady smiled, rolled her eyes and went back to the sink. One pot left, then she'd clear up the counter and be done. She heard movement behind her.
"So why did you?" Dr. House asked. "I'm not a sap like Wilson. Don't expect a tip just because I've got a kind heart."
Lady didn't turn around. She could see Dr. House reflected in the window, just beyond her own reflection. She rinsed the pot, put it on the rack to dry. "Because I don't believe in doing a," she glanced at his image, "half-assed job," she said. "That is the phrase, isn't it?"
Dr. House nodded. "Good use of the colloquialism," he said. He turned and went back into the living room.
Lady wiped down the counters, the dried her hands.
She walked through the living room, past the couch where Dr. House was fast forwarding through a commercial. "I'll be back on Thursday," she said. "I suppose that will be your day to do the dishes again?"
"Wednesday," he said. "But I'll stash some under the bed, if that'll make you happy."
She put on her coat, picked up her purse. "Good night, Dr. House."
"Hasta jueves, Dama," he said.
She didn't see him Thursday. Instead, she worked in silence. Her son had bought her a CD player once, telling her she should take it with her at work to help her pass the hours, but Lady enjoyed the silence. At home, it was never quiet. The TV was always on, or else the radio was playing, or one of the kids was begging for something new, or Carlos was fretting over the bills.
Work became her meditation. She'd fill the bucket, listening to the way the sound changed as the water neared the top. She'd notice the changing patterns on each wooden surface as she dusted, her rag creating brief moments of impressionistic art. There was the scent of the cleaner that reminded her of spring cleaning at home, with her mother.
She swept the floors, cleaned the rugs, put the towels in the washing machine. Under Dr. House's bed, she found a fork and a note. "Wilson found everything else," it read, "but I didn't want you to think I forgot about you."
She saw Dr. Wilson at the hospital on Friday, when she stopped by to pick up her check. He apologized for forgetting to leave it at the house Thursday, but she said she didn't mind.
"I'm surprised House hasn't scared you off yet," he said.
"He's not so bad," Lady said. "Like you said, he doesn't bite."
"Oh, he bites," Dr. Wilson said softly. "He just picks his targets."
The next time she saw him, Dr. House looked tired. She wondered if he had been at the hospital all night, like Dr. Wilson sometimes was with a patient.
He came home early in the afternoon, leaning heavily on his cane. A new cane, she noticed, this one with brown wood and a curved handle. She didn't like this one as much. It seemed ... ordinary. Dr. House wasn't ordinary.
He didn't say anything, just nodded at her and went into the bedroom, closing the door behind him. Lady changed her routine, cleaning the kitchen next rather than the living room. It was further from the bedroom. She moved carefully, lifting the chairs so they wouldn't scrape the floor, softly setting pots and pans in their places so they wouldn't clang together.
Nearly an hour later, she'd moved on to the living room, quietly dusting the shelves. Dr. House walked out from the bedroom, wearing just a loose pair of jeans and a t-shirt. He still looked tired, but not as drained as he had before. His feet were bare and she stole a quick glimpse at them, seeing the way that the heel of his right foot hovered slightly above the floorboards.
He motioned to her to continue her work and walked into the kitchen. She heard the refrigerator open, heard a cupboard door opening and closing, heard the rattle of silverware. When he came out he had a sandwich and a Coke in his left hand, his right firmly gripping the cane.
He paused at the couch, put down the sandwich and the soda and eased himself slowly down onto the cushions with one hand on the cane, one on the arm of the couch. He seemed older somehow than just a few days earlier, Lady thought. Despite the cane and the limp, he'd always seemed to move easily, quickly. Now ... now it seemed like he had lost something more than just a night's sleep.
"I could leave this until later," she offered. He didn't say anything, but shook his head, and she went back to the shelves.
She expected him to turn on the TV or the radio. He didn't do either, instead just sat in the quiet.
Lady had worked in other people's houses for years. Some people ignored her. Some people told her about their day. Dr. House didn't say anything, but instead, eased himself into her own quiet mood. He sat back with his eyes closed as he ate his sandwich, listening to the sounds of the rooms around him, and the swishing of her dust rag. She let herself drift with the noises as well, working in comfortable silence.
"Don't you hate this?" Dr. House spoke for the first time that afternoon just before she finished cleaning the desk along the far wall. His voice was quiet.
"Everyone hates work," he said. "But this work especially. Cleaning up other people's crap, having to do whatever someone tells you to do, always having to meet someone else's expectations of what you're supposed to do."
Lady smiled. "It's work," she said, and shrugged. "If I like the people I work for, it's not so bad."
"But you're not an idiot. You could be doing something else."
"So only stupid people work as janitors and maids?"
Dr. House didn't apologize, just looked back at her. "Not always," he said, 'but usually, yeah. The dumb and the lazy."
Lady turned back to the desk, seeing the assortment of books there, the games, the music players, distractions from the real world. She turned the rag in her hands. "My mother wanted me to go to school. She sent me here thinking I could go farther with my studies here," she said. "After she died, it didn't seem very important any more. I went to work to earn money to bring my other brothers here, bring them somewhere safe."
She heard Dr. House move on the couch, and turned to see him looking at her. She was reminded of the men at the fair who wager that they can bet your age.
She nodded. "This isn't the life I thought I'd have when I was a little girl," she said. "But we don't always get what we want, do we?"
He smiled slightly.
"This isn't so bad," she said. "My family is here, my children are safe, I love my husband and he loves me."
"But it could be better."
She nodded. "Everyone wants something better," she said. "That's human nature, isn't it? But if you keep expecting things to be perfect, you'll never be happy."
Dr. House nodded and turned away again. He turned on the television as she finished the last of the dusting, then collected her things and put them away.
She cleaned the knife he'd left in the sink and put away the peanut butter.
"Anything else?" she asked, and he shook his head.
Lady smiled. "All right. Good night, Dr. House."
He nodded. "Good night."
Lady was at work when she heard the news nearly two months later. She was halfway through her schedule, scrambling along with everyone else as the center cleaned up from one conference, and prepared for a golf tournament that weekend.
She was taking a break, eating in the lounge, when she heard someone mention a shooting at the hospital. She held her breath, listened for details. Someone heard there were at least three people dead. Someone else said no one was dead, but the police had shut down the entire campus while they searched for the shooter.
"I'll bet it was someone who had an insurance problem," said Sergei. He was an immigrant too, from somewhere that used to be Russia. They were all immigrants there, looking for something they didn't find at home.
She said her prayers in silence through the afternoon, with the TV turned on in every room to the local news, listening for names, hoping she didn't hear one she knew.
Dr. Wilson told her the next morning that Dr. House would be all right. His voice sounded shaky over the telephone, and she wished she was there, just so she could squeeze his hand, give him strength.
Two days later, he called again, telling her Dr. House had agreed to see her.
"Just for a few minutes," Dr. Wilson said. "He's not feeling as good as he'd like us to believe he is."
He walked with her up to intensive care, stepped into the room, then leaned out, and gestured her inside.
Dr. House was pale. His beard had grown out a little, but it only made his cheekbones stand out more in his thin face. There was a layer of white gauze against his neck, and he spoke softly.
"If you've come to beg for your old job back, forget it," he said. "I still haven't found half my stuff."
She smiled. "I'm sure Dr. Wilson told you I got another job, at the resort outside town. It's full time. I even have insurance and benefits." She leaned toward him. "There's even a union."
He shook his head slightly. "He never mentioned it," he said.
"I've had my application in there for a long time," Lady said. "Just after Dr. Wilson moved out of your place, I was called for an interview. The head chef there said he knew you."
Dr. House shook his head.
"His name is Anton. He said he enjoyed talking to you a couple of months ago."
"Never heard of him." Dr. House took a deep breath then, closed his eyes. Lady saw him fumble with his left hand for a piece of plastic, push down on a button.
"I should go," she said. He didn't argue. "I just wanted to give you this." She held out a small box. He opened his eyes and reached for it.
He pulled off the top and looked up at her when he saw the single fork with the resort's logo stamped on the handle. He pulled the note from beneath it.
"Dr. Wilson says you can't eat anything yet," it read, "but I didn't want you to think I forgot about you."
He smiled. "Thank you," he said.
"You're welcome." She walked to the door, saw Dr. Wilson waiting for her beyond the glass. She put her hand on the door, then turned back, nodded. "Be well, Dr. House."