I just couldn’t get clean enough. I would wipe away a smudge of dirt on my arm only to find smudges on my fingers. I kept throwing away the soiled towels and pulling out new towels, but I couldn’t get clean enough.
“We’re going to see the King,” Julia had exclaimed at work on Monday. ‘What king?’ I’d thought. We only have a president here in the United States. What king was she talking about? Someone else finally asked.
“What king? King Charles?”
“No,” Julia replied, “this King is not an earthly king. He resides in heaven!”
A low grumble rolled across the room as all the others present returned to their conversations. “Can you believe her? A heavenly king? She needs some help!” said a lady beside me. Everyone returned to the work at hand --- sorting. No one seemed to pay any attention to Julia anymore, yet she continued to be excited. She sorted each component with a new energy. She wasn’t tired or complaining like she (and everyone else) normally did about that time of afternoon. Nope, something had happened to Julia.
I eventually gave up on trying to clean myself up (as it was my custom at that time of the day) and I listened to Julia hum a song under her breath as the shift came to an end. In the locker room, I sat quietly on the bench, contemplating Julia’s king. Julia didn’t seem like the type to use drugs or come to work drunk, but you couldn’t go too much by looks these days. I’d known too many users in my time and no one “looked the part” until they got into it regularly and heavy. There’s no judging a book by its cover when it comes to drugs and alcohol. No sir. I’d been fooled before.
“Hey, Julia, tell your king ‘Hello’ for me, okay?” Phyllis giggled and waved as she walked out of the locker room.
“I sure will!” Julia replied as she pulled off her boots and changed into her street shoes. I looked down at my fingernails. They were black at the tips. I sighed and sucked my teeth. Julia looked across the room and saw me examining my nails. “Can never get them quite clean enough, huh?” I smiled and nodded my head in agreement.
I did not know Julia personally but I had sat at a table with her and some other gals from time to time at lunch. She was very humorous and appeared to be well-liked. Julia had some of the funniest stories. She would often share stories about her times out on the town or people she had met. Who would have thought she was one egg short of a dozen?
“There is nothing we can do on our own to get ourselves clean enough. I know because I have tried everything.”
“Everything?” I replied.
“Yep.” Julia replied.
“Well, I heard you could soak your hands in Ultra Clean and the grit and dirt would come from beneath the nail but I wonder what use it will be if I’m going to go get dirty again tomorrow.”
“Yeah, but I can tell that being dirty bothers you.”
“Yeah, it does. I just don’t want people to treat me funny because I am clean in appearance and dirty on my hands and nails.”
Julia picked up her bag and moved to the bench where I was sitting.
“Why do you care so much?” Julia asked.
“Well, I suppose I was brought up that way. We didn’t have much but my mother worked to keep us clean and looking nice. I suppose just because we were poor, we didn’t have to look poor.”
Julia leaned in and asked, “Did cleaning up change your poverty?”
“No, but it did keep us from getting teased. I saw how horribly treated the kids were that came to school looking dirty.” I gathered up the last of my work clothes to place in my lockers. As I closed my locker, I turned and said, “Uh, Julia, it has been nice talking to you but I need to get going. Good luck on getting clean. Let me know if you find anything that can get us clean.”
Julia smiled and knowingly said, “Oh, I’ve already found something.”
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