A Clean House


I took a test on the Internet that calculated my risk factors and estimated my mortality. According to TheSpark.com, I will die on March 22, 2028, thirty days before my 64th birthday. Sixty-four seems a little young. My Mom will be sixty-four this year and she’s still going strong. Her eyesight isn’t what it used to be but I can handle fading vision. I’d rather be blind at sixty-four than dead.

Facing the bleak reality of an almost imminent death, I tried to plan my remaining twenty-four years. Should I begin connecting with all the people I hurt or disappointed? Should I confront all the people who hurt or disappointed me? Should I climb Mount Everest? Or maybe just try to get fit enough to climb Mount Everest? There are so many things to do, and so little time to do them. There are so many goals, so many dreams. The stress from trying to decide how to best use my time almost killed me, twenty-four years and one week prematurely.

My mementos and photos all told me the same thing, “Been there, done that.” Yet, I knew there was something unfinished, some task I was meant to do before I die, some scared mission. It came to me as I knelt on my kitchen floor. I wasn’t praying; I was cleaning the Chai syrup that Zoloft knocked off the counter so she and Ripley could finger paint. Amidst the mayhem of dog and cat footprints, I had a vision. I saw my mission clearly.

Just once, in my lifetime, in my meager 64 years, I wanted a clean house.

Oh, I’ve had a regular, everyday clean house; the kind of clean house that results from careful lighting, clever disguising, and maniacal hiding. I’ve had the kind of clean house that requires a gallon of Fabreze or a dozen scented candles placed as strategically as a S.W.A.T team. This time I wanted a house that would meet Nurse Ratched’s standards. I just had no idea how to get there.

My childhood room was a “disaster area”. Cleaning it meant shoveling everything under the bed. The sofa bed I bought for my first apartment didn’t have any space under it. Physics prevented me from folding it up with too much junk inside so I piled things in the closets. When all my dishes were dirty, I’d clean the bathtub so I could do the dishes in there. I learned some housekeeping basics in my late twenties. Now, to my mother’s surprise, I fold and hang my clothes, wash the dishes in the sink, make my bed, and put my toys away. Still, the house is never completely clean. How could it be? A glass sits in the sink. The clean laundry is in the dryer. The dog tracked mud on the floor. Life goes on.

But life doesn’t go on forever. After all, mine will stop on March 22, 2028. So, on Sunday, I hit the “pause” button. Life inside my house stopped. I took Ripley to the kennel. Zoloft saw the vacuum and disappeared. I bought every cleaning agent known to mankind, donned a sweat suit, rolled up my sleeves, and went to work. I opened the windows and welcomed the crisp winter air. I moved furniture and polished floors with lemony-fresh oil. I rolled the refrigerator away from the wall and poured straight bleach on whatever that stuff on the floor was. I scrubbed until Mr. Clean gave me a thumbs up, just like in the commercial. The vacuum and I became one. It was a magic time.

By 9pm, I was standing in my kitchen wearing nothing but a smile. Every article of clothing was clean and put away. All the garbage pails were clad in virgin trash bags. The recycling boxes were empty. My curtains were pristine. My bathrooms were radiant. There were no blown-out light bulbs, no disorganized closets, and no expired food in the fridge. My windows and mirrors were sparkling. Not a speck of cat litter was soiled. There were no unfinished Solitaire games on my desktop. My answering machine, and my cell phone voice mail, were empty. My house was clean. It was a magic moment.

But then I started to shiver. I realized that the fresh winter breeze was not good for my bare skin. I realized that the normal soft buffer of pet hair was no longer between my feet and the cold tile. I realized that all the new light bulbs made it possible for my unlucky neighbors to see my naked body through my open windows. I ran to my bedroom, hitting light switches as I went, and snuggled into my bed. I fell asleep quickly, eager to wake in the morning to a perfect house.

Instead, I woke to a smelly litter box, an overturned houseplant, and cat hair on the sofa.

But, on March 21, 2028, I will be able to look in the mirror and smile, knowing that, many years earlier, I had a clean house.

Jill Wragg is a retired police officer in Massachusetts.
She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com

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