The tips of her fingers turned to prunes over an hour ago, but Beth drops her sponge into the ammonia bath once more. It’s not clean enough, not yet.
She hunches forward like Hugo’s deformed bell-toller, stretching to reach the crevices no one will ever see, scrubbing, scrubbing, and scrubbing again. The close, pungent air stings her eyes, but she pours another cupful into the bucket. This time she’ll use it straight, undiluted, the way some people drink scotch.
No, she won’t think about scotch.
Focus on the spot, on the hidden grime under the surface, on the bacterial colonies that feed and fester in the curves of the porcelain, staining them pink. She hates the pink stain that discolours her perfect, lily-white tile, hates the life that grows in the grout, hates the splatter on Emma’s potty seat like a good Christian hates the sin of her first mother.
Scrub again, put your back into it, as Beth’s own mother had said. Don’t stop until it’s finished. Don’t think about the cramp in your fingers or how it will hurt to stand up straight when you’re finally done.
Get it out. Get it all out.
At nine in the morning, she is on all fours in the kitchen, bleaching the linoleum where Emma learned to crawl, where Jack screamed at her the morning after. Her knees are grapefruits, swollen and fluid-filled and heavy. Beth ignores them.
After the kitchen is done, she’ll go out to the garage, start on the car, wax-on, wax-off in painful arcs until her shoulders are on fire, a kamikaze karate artist in training. She’ll Windex the glass, Armor All the dashboard, Rain-X the windshield she couldn’t see through.
It was raining. I couldn’t see because it was raining, she tells herself. She has told herself this before.
Emma’s toddler seat is in the back and Beth will clean it again with the leftover baby wipes from the nursery. She will sit next to it, buckle the straps she forgot to buckle, and caress the stain-resistant fabric.
When she works on the car, she may start the engine. She may or may not open the garage door. She may clean and scrub until her tired fingers go limp and her lungs fill with the pure, odorless gas from the exhaust.
Christina Dalcher would rather write than clean house. Her short work appears in Zetetic, Maudlin House, and Pidgeonholes, plus other dusty corners of the literary ether. Find her at christinadalcher.wordpress.com.