catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 10, Num 6 :: 2011.03.25 — 2011.04.07


Deep cleaning

I wait for the phone to ring, shuffling papers on my desk, tidying up the piles, trying to look busy.  I squint and try to imagine what future lies beyond the walls. My husband waits in his office, at his own desk, shuffling papers, too, waiting for the call from the recruitment officer who will tell him if he’s made the cut for the next stage of job interviews. One little phone call. Should be easy enough, but my feet tap, my hands ache from another round of Solitaire, my temples throb. I take another sip of morning coffee.

We have this pattern to our lives, my husband and I. We reach a tipping point of sorts, five or so years into a job, a city. We look at one another over the dinner table, or maybe we have the discussion during a long car ride. We’re not unhappy. But we find we’re open for change. One of us usually voices it first. Maybe I have a bad boss or a dead-end job, or he has a desire for more challenge at work, or the house is just too big for us, or we share a fatigue around blizzards or hurricanes or traffic. But mostly our hearts just long to know another place as intimately as this one, to walk new sidewalks and pick up daily coffee in new cafes where they have yet to know our names. Each time we leave behind a patchwork of relationships. And ahead, who knows?

Two years ago we had Saturday breakfast at the Buffalo Grille in Houston. We ordered the usual at the walk-up counter: migas made with egg whites. One hotcake as big as Texas. One egg, scrambled. Two coffees. A father lifted up a giggling, curly-haired toddler to stroke the bearded buffalo head that hung above our table. And on the table we laid our future. We were ready, but our house was not.

Preparing a house to go on the market is a job best spread over several years. We’ve been at it for two. Big tasks come first. Dog-worn carpets replaced — check. Rainy day dog splatters cleaned from the walls, then a coat of fresh paint applied — check. Dog drool scrubbed from wood floors — check.

Preparing a house for homebuyer’s scrutiny requires painstaking attention to detail. It goes way beyond dog dirt. Seven years’ worth of dust morphs into a sticky coating on the plantation shutters. Coffee mugs multiply in kitchen cupboards. Jasmine overgrows the fence and reaches into the neighbor’s yard. Nightly, I am happy to get the dishes washed, the dogs fed and walked and the mail dealt with, before collapsing in front of the television to watch Glee. Who has time for scrubbing the shower or polishing the granite? Life offers better choices. Housework waits.

And now I wait, impatiently, for that phone call with news. I fidget, make lists, play endless games of cards on the computer in between bursts of work. And I clean. Each night, I tackle another area of the house.

I start with bedroom closets. I pull out eight bags of old clothes for the thrift shop, then organize the hanging shirts by color. Mine get clear plastic hangers; my husband’s, a light wood. I arrange shoes on shelves and stash workout tees in baskets. Then I spend the weekend voiceless, a reaction to the dust. “Why don’t you wear a mask?” asks my mom, offering helpful advice that arrives a day late.

After the closest comes the pantry and then the linen closet. I place like things with like: cleaning becomes a game. Next, the books get weeded and dusted, then the garage.

All the while, I struggle to keep the daily mail from piling up on the dining table. And the baths still need attention. Did you know they make a steam cleaner that not only claims to clean ground-in dirt from bathroom showers, but even to banish dust mites from old mattresses? The grout still looks grimy to me, though. I wonder what toxic combination of steam and chemicals I can come up with that would make the tile and grout shine again.

Cleaning calms me. I take pleasure in the ordered rows of white shirts, the canned goods arranged by type and size, the idea that people in need will wear my cardigans and old Eddie Bauer jeans. And then I remember that if the house is to go on the market, the woodwork still needs to be scrubbed, the paint touched up, and the bathroom counters cleared of any sign that some real person lives there. The number of tasks is limitless, my calm vanishes and my patience is tried by the waiting.

Don’t ever pray for God to teach you patience. When I was in college, after a bad breakup, I opened my Bible, pointed my finger to a spot and claimed a verse of promise. Psalm 37: wait patiently for him, for he cares about you. I remember this, thirty-five years later. In my new-believer naivety, I thought the verse referred to the boyfriend. In my current jaded state, I realize that learning patience requires life-long study. I’m not there yet.

I sit at my desk by the silent phone, close the card games and Word docs, and then shut my eyes. I breathe purposefully, out and in. Out and in. The call will come. I can do nothing to change the outcome. I can only be ready. 

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