Mona Kirschner ~ I Clean the House

 The house is large.

There are ani­mals and a dam­aged man and curat­ed plants and old floors that bend. There is fur­ni­ture and dust and good light from the south side of Williamsburg.

I clean the house to restore order. The house is usu­al­ly a mess. There is plen­ty to clean.

I clean the house to feel of use. To soothe the pro­cras­ti­na­tion that plagues me, that wraps it’s firm arms around me like a gen­tle abuser. To dis­tract from my trained avoid­ance of what needs to be done. Of the things I don’t want to see.

Which mag­nets are mine? I place them back on the dou­ble-doored fridge after dust­ing. Mallorca. Warsaw. Colorado. How could we begin to sep­a­rate them?

So I stay.

I pick up his dress shoes when he kicks them off into the liv­ing room – the old, soft wood clang­ing loud­ly under their sharp heel. I wor­ry briefly about the neigh­bors as he explodes through the heavy door, talk­ing loud­ly of trips we must take that we can­not afford. I count his mood sta­bi­liz­ers on those days, four left when there should be three.

Other days he cooks me glazed salmon and sweet pota­toes. A red card with my name on it lies propped up on a full vase of pop­pies, clean water under their neat­ly cut stems. Four pills when there should be four.

I clean the house to feel of use. The love meant to keep me safe burns through my fin­gers like the wax I scrape off the floor. I clean the house as I ignore my mother’s calls as my work stag­nates, as the Zoloft script sits unused in the drawer.

I scrub the bath­room floor to watch the tiles change col­or. Their pale yel­low comes through. My guilt eas­es. I clean the house to busy my mind, the fog makes any­thing else difficult.

Cleaning I can do.

I do the laun­dry so often the ham­per is always emp­ty. The bot­tom of the ham­per is peace­ful to me. I walk back to look at it, my hands heavy by my sides, smelling like fab­ric soft­en­er. I stare at the wrin­kled fab­ric, eggshell white, my claim to order.

I shrink his sweaters that were sup­posed to be dry cleaned. Merino wool. He holds them up, shrunk­en. I’m usu­al­ly metic­u­lous. Maybe the tasks blind­ed me. Or maybe I didn’t miss the tag. Maybe it’s a small revenge.

I vac­u­um the floor as the cats cow­er in the cor­ner, won­der­ing undoubt­ed­ly how one can be so attached to this vicious machine. I use it on high pow­er.

Normally I clean alone, scrub­bing shame­ful­ly, like pick­ing at an ingrown nail after it’s bled.

Sometimes, he’s there.

You know that’s not nec­es­sary, baby.

This is the shrap­nel of what was our best sto­ry. Our con­vinced invin­ci­bil­i­ty, his charm and charis­ma at its shini­est peak, his boom­ing laugh rip­ping through a damp field in a hot Spanish sum­mer as we made impos­si­ble promis­es that would sure­ly save us both.

While he’s at work, I reor­ga­nize the pantry, scrub the shelves, and place the hot sauces next to one anoth­er, orga­nized by size. They stand there, obser­vant, their bot­tle­necks sticky. I talk myself out of wip­ing them down. That would be too much.

I place the Tupperware inside of each oth­er and the lids off to the side. I run the dish­wash­er so often that we are always out of soap.

I would love to buy the soap. She nev­er asks! 

He tells our ther­a­pist as I sit on the soft leather couch with my arms crossed.

I can’t risk it.

But I don’t say it.

I make the bed every morn­ing, turn­ing down the wrin­kled sheets as I walk to either side, two or three times each. The dog splays out on the left cor­ner when I leave, sighing.

I clean the house to feel of use. To prove how much I do, how much I carry.

I fold the t‑shirts that unfold them­selves. Whites to dark. Grays in between. I car­ry the Windex back and forth, wip­ing down the mir­rors as I avoid my own eye con­tact, my nails dirty from the dust.

I rub leather but­ter on the couch, an old Chesterfield that sits regal­ly in the mas­sive liv­ing room, the book­shelf the man built tow­er­ing above it, dust float­ing slow­ly through the beams of light hit­ting the char­coal wall we paint­ed that spring. The pale gauzy cur­tains blow upwards, one now curled and black at the bot­tom from the last day I begged him not to smoke inside.

I dust the books I don’t read as they glare at me. The sponge is too small, but the couch shines.

I clean the house as the life we built falls apart, as the dif­fer­ent ver­sions of him fight for cen­ter stage.

I clean the house as our depres­sions rub off on one anoth­er, as the promis­es we made prove shal­low, like the water under the dead flow­ers we both ignore until they stink.

I clean the house as I try to right it. I busy my poor, fog­gy mind.

I fin­ish and then there’s noth­ing left.

But the house is large. The dust always ris­es. There will be plen­ty to clean.

So I clean the house.


Mona Kirschner is a Brazilian writer based in New York City. Her writ­ing has appeared in LongreadsCatapult MagazineThe Porter House Review and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. In 2023 she was nom­i­nat­ed for a Pushcart Prize.