Background: Victoria Wells, one of the lead characters of the novel, meets another Long-Timer, a black woman who calls herself Maxi, in early 20th century New York. Victoria wants to bring Maxi to her apartment, but because the buildings in Victoria’s part of town are restricted, Maxi instructs Victoria to introduce her as the maid, which mollifies the neighbors for a while. Mrs. Mayfair is Victoria’s friend and assistant.
Maxi’s comings and goings become a source of growing friction for the other residents of Victoria’s building who have taken to charting when she arrives and departs. They note the irregular hours, the long stretches of time she’s there and the total lack of any sort of cleaning supplies entering or leaving the apartment. Victoria and Maxi try a number of strategies to mitigate the controversy from having Maxi show up in a variety of maid’s outfits to wearing a sign that says, “I’m her maid” but none of it seems to quell the tension. Speculation runs rampant that Victoria is some sort of anarchist flaunting the social mores or she’s a Jewish radical and concealing her identity or even worse, she’s a radical Jewish anarchist flaunting the social mores while concealing her identity. One resident proposes burning her place down, but this idea loses steam when it’s pointed out they’d also burn their places down if they did.
Finally someone sends over a police detective to get to the bottom of what’s going on. When he knocks on the door, Mrs. Mayfair cheerfully welcomes him in then calls out, “Miss Wells. There’s a policeman here to see you.”
This leads to a brief scuffle in the bedroom. The detective hurries over and opens the bedroom door. Victoria is seated on the bed nude but with a sheet wrapped around her. On the floor beside the bed, but out of sight of anyone at the door, a scraping sound can be heard. Maxi’s voice comes from below the bed, “I think I just about got it.”
Victoria looks at the detective and says indignantly, “Officer, what is the meaning of this?”
“Detective, ma’am. We’ve had reports that there is a colored woman living in this apartment in violation of your lease,” the detective says. “Whoever’s on the other side of the bed, stand up.”
Maxi stands, completely nude. She covers her breasts with one arm and her privates with a feather duster.
Indicating Maxi he says, “You want to explain what she’s doing here?”
“She’s cleaning under the bed,” Victoria says as though she’s explaining something that should be obvious. “Detective, as I have made it very clear to my neighbors and building management, Maxine does not live here. She’s my maid. She cleans up then she leaves. And yet they persist in harassing me just because I want a clean apartment.”
The policeman looks over Maxi and says, “Ma’am, why is your maid not wearing any clothes?”
“I don’t want her bringing in dust from outside on her clothes,” Victoria says. “She comes in, takes off her clothes then cleans my apartment. I don’t see what’s so odd about that.”
“But you’re naked too,” he points out.
“I am in my private apartment with the curtains drawn. If I want to prance around naked, I’ll do it.”
He indicates Mrs. Mayfair and asks, “Why isn’t she naked?”
“Because I don’t impose my beliefs on anyone else,” Victoria says.
“Except your maid,” the detective says pointing to Maxi.
“I pay her more than enough to make up for the imposition,” Victoria says, a wild look in her eyes.
“I don’t really mind,” Maxi says in a deferential voice.
“There’s something awfully strange going on here,” the detective says, “and I really don’t want to know what it is.” Pointing to Maxi he says, “You put your clothes back on if you’re going to do anymore cleaning,” and to Victoria, “you wait until your maid is gone before you do anymore prancing,” and to Mrs. Mayfair, “and you — you should get an apartment by yourself. You seem to be the only sane one here.”
He heads to the door and says, “Now I don’t want to have any more complaints from this apartment. Is that understood?”
They all look around at one another and say in unison, “Yes.”
After he leaves, Maxi says, “We could just stay at my place.”