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Fahmidan Journal / Issue 7 

The Site Cleaner

by Betsy Robinson

Hannah had lived a sensible life. Although she had no affinity for religion and no aptitude for mathematics, she had made most of her decisions based on a combination of the Golden Rule and statistics. For instance, in grade school she deduced that everyone ran faster than she could; she learned the pain of being labeled a loser, a blunderer, and the cause for the final out of any team she was on. So she vowed never to compete. Nor would she be the reason, directly or inadvertently, for another child feeling rejected or reviled. This resulted in simplicity:

As soon as doing so was optional, she rejected team sports. Because her older sister was pretty and her younger brother was brilliant, she gave up ambitions in those areas and instead excelled at diligence. Diligently, she was a good girl, doing chores without being asked twice and always turning in homework, well-written albeit uninspired, on time. She never missed a deadline or said anything critical of anybody. Diligence in college led to part-time cleaning jobs—locker rooms, biology labs, art studios—and she was proud that although she was too busy cleaning to concentrate on her studies, she graduated with a C average and no debt. She had several dates in college, but as soon as she discovered another girl who was interested in the man who had asked her out, she feigned disinterest and encouraged him to call her. Although she bemoaned the fact that it seemed she could never have anyone without hurting somebody else, she was content that she was not the agent of pain.

So dedicated to this principal was she that she inserted into her living will a paragraph prohibiting any treatment that might involve the death of another creature—no pig or monkey parts for her. And she specified that her carcass disposal should in no way take up space or hurt the planet and, if possible, her remains should be a benefit to all living and nonliving things. 

She ponders this as she lies on her deathbed, gazing through smoky eyes at the water-stained ceiling in the Sacred Heart Charity Nursing Home. Aware but blind to the pealing floral-wallpapered walls, broken television, and unused visitor’s chair, her gaze is internal and panoramic. 

At sixty-five, with thin white hair and weathered complexion, Hannah looks at least twenty years older. No wonder, as she had rejected all forms of unnecessary self-care such as skin lotions and dental appointments—a logical financial decision to accommodate her bare-bones budget. For forty years she worked as a site cleaner for a landscaper. She began as an apprentice gardener, hoping to learn the business, but when she saw that young married men with families to support needed the promotions, she altered her goal and cleaned so diligently she became known simply as “the site cleaner”—the unnamed person who came in after the crew was done and swept, dumped, repaired, cleared, and, unbeknownst to everyone, recycled plants known as weeds and relocated “pest” critters to other locales, then disappeared, leaving property owners to marvel at how a whole crew of men could have been so conscientious and careful.

When she dies, there is nothing. No remains at all. The nurse nuns marvel at the miracle and discuss submitting her for an examination for sainthood, but nobody knows if she was truly a "servant of god" or if some rapscallion played a trick and stole the body for nefarious purposes, even though closed-circuit footage clearly shows no visitors and moreover allows them to witness the evaporation of the corpse with the mysterious smile. In the end the nuns decide against fuss as she—they have the hardest time remembering her name—had no survivors and, to their knowledge, wasn't Catholic.


Betsy Robinson is a novelist, journalist, and book editor. Her most recent novel is Black Lawrence Press’s Big Moose Prize-winner, The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg.

Suggested musical accompaniment: “I Don’t Mind Failing” sung by Malvina Reynolds,

Betsy Robinson

Author / 

Betsy Robinson writes funny fiction about flawed people. Her novel The Last Will & Testament of Zelda McFigg is winner of Black Lawrence Press’s 2013 Big Moose Prize and was published in September 2014. This was followed by the February 2015 publication of her edit of The Trouble with the Truth by Edna Robinson, Betsy’s late mother, by Simon & Schuster/Infinite Words. She published revised editions of her Mid-List Press award-winning first novel, a tragicomedy about falling down the rabbit hole of the U.S. of A. in the 1970s, Plan Z by Leslie Kove, when it went out of print. Her articles have been published in Publishers Weekly, Lithub, Chicago Review of Books, Oh Reader, The Sunlight Press, Prairie Fire, Salvation South, Next Avenue, and many other publications. Betsy is an editor, fiction writer, journalist, and playwright. Her novels Cats on a Pole and The Spectators will be published by Kano Press in 2024.

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