The World at Golden Way
Our House in Quarantine
By: Hilary King
One morning I wake up and the kitchen is empty. The cabinets beneath the stove, empty. The shelves above the counter, empty. Even the dishrack, these days a dump truck of pots, pans, bowls, spatulas, cake tins, beaters, ramekins, pasta maker and whatever else we used the night before, completely and utterly empty. Only the coffee pot remains, and it’s full, the little red light beaming at me, which is weird because I didn’t prep the coffee last night. I was too tired. I start to reach for the pot when I hear a clatter. I race to the front door and fling it open just in time to see my favorite wooden spoon and my favorite cookie sheet, scorched and bent, hobbling down the street. Stop, I shout. Come back! I yell. They keep going.
Glasses accumulate around the house like fingerprints. On the coffee table. On my desk. On my husband’s desk. On the washing machine. On the bench by the door. On the bookshelf. On every other surface in the kitchen. Large glasses, small glasses, coffee mugs, tea cups, yellow plastic cups from a barbecue restaurant, a tall glass swirling with the remnants of milky iced coffee, a lowball sticky with scotch, a stemless wine glass, its lip permanently stained red.
Like a dingy disco in some lesser Eastern Bloc country. So many stripes. So many wide-legged pants. The sparkling dreams of a trapped people. Each set of cheap heels seems to have one shoe with a broken strap. Why? What happened? A hook holds a cluster of tiny sequined purses with straps long as reins, the inside of the purses littered with ancient cigarettes and orangey lipsticks. The door here doesn’t close all the way.
We leave our shoes outside so that we can keep clean the high-pile of privilege we walk on.
My husband counts his worries, finds he doesn’t have enough, orders more. The garage fills. Among this miniature mountain range of boxes, he places a yoga mat. Here he meditates. Closes his eyes, lotuses his legs, holds in one palm his instinct and in the other, the Internet. When he opens his eyes, he knows what he needs to order next.
Weekends I don’t read the news. I clean, scrubbing the bathrooms, the baseboards, the floors.. Facts lurk under the bed. I push them further into the dark, but not too far. Later, I’ll want to take them out to the patio, have a drink, and look at them, really look at them. But not yet. Now, Saturday morning, I’m cleaning. I’m moving and removing. At the stove I lift off the heavy grates surrounding the gas rings. With a clean cloth, I wipe from our surfaces all the spills and stains.
Perhaps the Bathroom
Late in the pandemic, my husband begins talking to himself in the bathroom. Quietly, but forcefully and regularly. He did not do this previously or I was not always nearby previously to hear it. Now his desk is mere feet from the toilet’s bowl. Perhaps he carries from the constant stream of meetings a river stone of idea or thought. Perhaps they carry him. Perhaps he goes there to wash away the stink of business. He hates his job, so lacking in art and history and feeling. It’s a cloud, this hate, a saturation of emotion in his atmosphere. Perhaps the small room is a rain chamber where the cloud bursts and drains. Perhaps. I don’t know what he says. Not listening is how we protect ourselves and others.
Bed Is a Room
Afternoons, I build a cabin out of my fatigue and lock myself in. Wake me there and I answer in riddles, a sleepwitch. Sometimes I go to my daughter’s bed, hot and crowded with her girlhood. I curl my arms around the soft stuffed creatures that live there and let them seep into my dreams. Night brings relief. The house swells and there is room for all of our darkness. I drag my insomnia from room to room, the animals we have tamed following me.
Walls and Other Things That Are Supposed to Remain Upright
My husband’s the strongest. Never wavers, always upright in what we must do. My son is also solid. He’s fifteen and hates people. He’ll always be a door and never a window. My daughter’s a mirror, hears too much when sandwiched between her parents in front of the tv every night. Fine, she says. I’m fine, it’s fine. She wears her mask to bed at night and dreams of cats washing her hands. I’m the weak spot, parts of me already crumbing, giving way when the wind blows. I’m going out, I tell my husband. This will be how the house falls down.
Masks of course. The first set, a scramble to get. Simple in cotton, made by hand by a co-worker’s wife. Sterilized and left outside before being worn. The next, the rest, branded, logoed, high-fashioned, high tech, low with stink. We hang them from the mantle, upside down holiday.
Two missing puzzle pieces. This is not a metaphor.
Sourdough starter,bought online, named Jane, still hungry, still bubbling, still making the best damn waffles.
Tap dancing, Italian, singing, piano, guitar, math, yoga and everything else we meant to learn.
Toilet paper, paper towels, sanitizer, each still wet tears.
A floor covered in hair. Dog hair, husband hair, son hair, daughter hair, my hair in all its colors.
The dog, dead from walking.
San Francisco Bay Area
August 30, 2020
Categories: Essay, Poetry, shelter-in-place, Uncategorized
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