The summer trips are over. Sand still dusts the bottoms of suitcases, and where the crease of canvas gathers – lint from dirty toes. Walking down the heart pine hallway, I loosen the tufts of Amelia-hair from the floor boards, a reminder of promises not kept (to always vacuum when he mows) and schedules not followed (to do both weekly, cheerfully). We have forgotten our filth long enough, turned a blind eye from the clay-colored toilet bowl and the web-covered dining chairs and now our home’s in need of a reckoning.
It’s time for our annual deep clean.
We begin on the outside. This is the part of us people can see, and we figure if others look upon us with some sense of kindness, we can do the same for ourselves. He starts in the yard, I in the screened porch. This is what feminists call the division of labor, and until I was in the business of dividing my labor with a man, I thought myself hardy enough to work the whole lot. I am wiser now. I know how the pink of my skin rises with mosquito bites when exposed to the summer air. He knows how his knees give when he’s spent too long scrubbing the one spot. Although we are divided by fault lines, we work in each other’s sight lines. We work together.
We’re to start in the kitchen next, the dirtiest room in the house, but we’ve been playing ping pong in a rainstorm and will have to return later for our soaking bikes. When we get home, we’re too tired to make another mess, so we microwave canned soup and since it says it’s organic we feel alright. We know our limits now. “Are you ready to do this?” he asks, and I say with mischief in my voice, “Nope.” He laughs. I’m serious. “We’re adults, man! Who says we have to do this tonight? We can do whatever we want. This is our house.” We pour another glass of wine and yield to the rhythm that’s ours.
We’ve worked our way through nearly the whole house by the time we get to the kitchen two weeks later. Everything has been touched. Everything has been brought out into the light and inspected and had to pass the, “Do we still want this?” test. We are changing, always changing, and the answer to last year’s question of the brown-woven place mats could be different this year. It’s worth asking again. “Do we still want this?”
Do we still want this board game?
We are in the kitchen now. It has taken us five hours, but we don’t care. We have a job to do, with our bodies. I like this work, this list of rooms and checklists and doneness. There is a sort of deviant control to this deep clean, a belief that if I’m wide awake to my life, there will be no careless mistakes. “There’s a grease spot on the side of the toaster,” he says. I cleaned the toaster so I don’t say anything, not until we’re on the floor with blackened rags. “You know, I cleaned the toaster.” “I know,” he says. “So if you don’t like the way I did it, just do it yourself.” He says, “Okay.”And we are okay. There is still carelessness, but we are okay.
For another week – a month, if we’re lucky – I’ll be able to pad around the house and feel the sticky-clean floor under my feet. The shower mat will be white as store-bought cotton balls and the microwave won’t smell like our past. I can see the surface of things again and am no longer afraid to open darkened drawers. There is enough darkness to be afraid of.
My house will have no part in it.
“Christ was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope.”
– Hebrews 3:6