The God of Housekeeping
I am lying in my bed. It is late afternoon. I know this because sunlight is appearing in dusty beams, slotted by the mini-blinds, on my bed and it can only shine through these windows from the west. My cat is sleeping against my leg, in the V shaped by my knees, and when I move he lifts his head and cleans his paw. I like the sounds of his cleaning: the wet licks, the clicks he makes with his tongue and saliva. After a few seconds he puts his head back down.
I remember a time when the sun was innocent, and we could run along the boardwalk, holding our towels out behind us, pretending they were parachutes as we jumped into the sand. My mother's nose was the only part of us painted white, and we thought she looked funny, like a clown. But even this was not the sun's fault; it was from her father that she got this nose that protruded into the sun no matter which way she turned her head. If I were to go to the beach now, I would bring several bottles of lotion, beginning with SPF 50 for the first day and work my way down to SPF five or six by the last day, and my body would have been slathered with the lotion before I stepped from my hotel room. But I haven't been to the beach in a long time.
Outside the dogs are barking. I only lie on my side when I am feeling sick, but even if I wanted to roll over I could not do so without disturbing the cat. The dogs do not bother me and they do not bother the cat. I used to live with a girl who would open the window-- the one that is farthest from me, the one without a screen-- stick her head out, and yell at the dogs to shut the fuck up. There is one dog that does not bark, but howls, sort of; he sounds like trash cans being thrown around or someone in terrible misery. I used to wake the girl up-- this same girl-- at night to tell her to listen, something was dying out there. She never could hear it.
I am thinking of death, now. When Casamento's husband died the friends and kin who were in the house at the time surrounded him and spoke not in hushed funereal tones but in normal voices, like they were sending a friend off on a long vacation and wanted to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything (passport? Plane tickets? Did you turn off the gas to the stove?). He had been lying in bed and he requested help to sit in the chair, so they all lifted him then held him upright in the chair while he breathed heavily for a few minutes, looked at them blankly, then slipped off his body. No one emitted any wails of anguish; nor did anyone sneak out of the room, eyes downcast, biting hard on their knuckles.
The light from the sun is creeping, elongating. When I first opened my eyes the sunlight was white and focused in concentrated spots on my blanket. When I look towards the window I can see tiny flashes behind my eyes, and I want to watch the flashes come and go, but my eyes blink and water as I stare into the sun. I think of the Ben and Jerry ice cream downstairs in the fridge. I think I might like to get some. I can't tell whether my stomach is still queasy and whether my head is still pounding or not. When I am lying here, doing nothing but listening to the dogs and watching the sun, I feel okay. Ron said, much earlier today, that I should give it a few more days; keep taking the medicine, maybe my body will adjust. I trust Ron about this because he has taken every prescription medication ever invented and a lot of other ones, too.
My mother used to tell us stories, sometimes. Usually she read books to us, and I remember these: The Cookie Tree, Wynkyn, Blynkyn, and Nod, The Cat in the Hat. But sometimes she would make up stories, and tell them to us; either we would be in the camper and we hadn't brought any books, or in our beds at home and were just not in the mood for a book. I can remember one of these stories. It went like this:
Once upon a time there was a little girl. She was a very lonely little girl, and she spent a lot of time in her room because she didn't have any friends to play with.
One day the little girl was playing with her dolls on the floor when she noticed a spider swinging from her nightstand. The spider swung closer and closer until it landed, with a plop, in the girl's lap.
"Hello," said the little girl.
And to her amazement, the spider spoke. It said, "Hello," back.
Well, that was the beginning of their friendship. The little girl talked with the spider every day and she felt so much happier, having a friend.
But one day her mother came in to vacuum and dust, and when she saw the spider, she just sucked it up into the vacuum without even thinking about it. The end.
Now I am thinking about cigarettes. When I saw the doctor, the one who gave me this medicine, he asked if I smoked, and I said yes. I remember when saying this wouldn't have been a confession and doing this wouldn't have been a sin. I remember when tobacco was innocent. My father used to roll his own cigarettes, using some sort of tool made for this purpose. He would place the tool on the dining room table and open a bag of loose tobacco next to the tool. He laid a small white sheet of paper in the tool, packed tobacco on the sheet, then did something with a handle along the tool's side. When he was done he had one perfectly round, perfectly trimmed cigarette. In the doctor's office, the doctor doesn't even ask me if I want to quit or explain to me all the health risks, he just asks which I would prefer: Nicorette gum or the patches.
I am thinking now about my cat. I am wondering if he is too fat. I am wondering if he will develop a disease of his pancreas if he is fat. I am wondering if a furball will lodge in his intestine and will I know it in time. I am wondering if he is going to die soon. This is the sort of thinking that the medicine is supposed to stop, but the medicine is clearly not working and the black hole is approaching. I wonder if my partner is going to die before I do. I wonder if my partner has cancer, and it's metastasized throughout his whole body, and he's not only going to die before I do but he is going to die tomorrow. A person can have cancer and be two centimeters from death and not know it, I think. My baby, our baby… I look over at her for the thousandth time. Her chest still rises, still falls. The movement is so slight I have to place my hand there to be sure. My partner could die, my cat could die, and our baby is surely going to die, and if that happens, I'll have to kill myself so I can be dead, too.
I pull the blanket over my head. I don't care about the sun, which has reached the wall, now; and the dogs have stopped barking, and I have disturbed the cat, who stands, stretches first his front legs then his back legs, turns around in a circle, and lies back down. I don't know how I could make myself die, I think. I'm afraid of pain but more than that I'm afraid of dying. I think about guns, overdoses, carbon monoxide. I think about ladders and nooses, fast trains, high cliffs.
I think about the Housekeeping God, the one who comes into my house on Thursday evenings, who washes the sheets and mops the kitchen floor and sweeps the cobwebs, and the spiders, from the light fixtures and the corners of our house.