Spotless - Lyz Lenz
If he wanted their daughter, my parents figured he should take their
God. They hoped it would help him stop drinking so much. So he grabbed
them both with his broad, fat hands grasped together in prayer and
brought them to his apartment in the lower level of a split-level house
only three blocks away.
When I walk into the apartment, pushing open the door against the
past-due bills, Weight Watchers report cards, fishing lures, and shoes
that gather behind it, I know neither my sister nor God are really
here. There's no room.
Dishes pile on the counters, rings of brown residue, beans, and hard
kernels of rice cling to bowls and plates. The cable, the electricity,
and the phone go on and off, oscillating between function and
In a corner of the kitchen, the linoleum peels up like a page in a
book revealing the next chapter—tacky floorboards squiggled with
glue. I press the page of linoleum back. Lining their shoes over it to keep
it from turning. I fill the sink with soap and scrub the kidney beans
out of the bowls. I vacuum the rugs. Straighten the ratty Afghans on
the couch. I spray disinfectant in the bathroom and scrub the tub with
"You don't have to," my sister says. "It's not worth it, it's just
gonna go back to how it was."
But I wear rubber gloves and dust off the television. I straighten the
coats in the closet and stack the games in neat piles on the shelves,
starting with Clue and ending with . Crayons are lined up by
color in their box. Books are made to stand up straight, their spines
even. DVDs alphabetized. I even install a program to clean up the
naked women, bent over in high heels, who pop up in little banner ads
and groan with pleasure. I pick up the keyboard, hold it upside down
and shake until dust, pieces of food, and chewed up finger nails come
out. I shake it harder. More dust falls out. It rattles in my hands
and my throat is tight. My sister tells me to stop, stop before I break
I open the windows, even in the bitter cold, letting the sharp clean
wind slice through the thick heavy air.
Then I dust and vacuum until everything is gone and the house smells
clean and the baseboards no longer carry the residue of the lives
lived in this apartment. Until there is enough room to open the door.
My sister sits on the couch. "Why do you do this? It's not like I
I smile, "I just want to help you."
"You've done enough."
The door slams. I turn and see a new stack of bills, now crooked in
their basket holder. Not organized by due date and size. He must be
home. I leave. I can't see it go back to the way it really is. But I
come back the next week, this time with my own assortment of sprays
and disinfectants marshaled together in a sturdy blue bucket. This
time I clean better. This time I move the couch and hear metallic
pinging as I vacuum dirt, buttons, and paper clips from behind it.
This time I clean the dark wood under the linoleum, using my finger
nails to pick up the dried fragments of cheese, kernels of rice, and
hard gray pieces of dirt that have wedged themselves between the
linoleum and the wood. I scrub it with hot water that burns my hands.
This time I don't wear gloves. The linoleum feels pliable and I press
it down on the floorboards again. On top of it I put shoes, purses,
and a wayward umbrella. I stand there with the neat pile of heavy
things holding down the linoleum, hoping my weight will remind it that
it needs to be in its place. It needs to be clean.
One night, I dream my hands press gently against the surface of my
sister's once white walls, now marked with black scuffs, the dried
tears of an unknown brown liquid, and several deep red splatters. I
dip my toothbrush in a blue bucket filled with bleach and I scrub,
taking away every mess. Cleaning every stain.
I am no longer invited over to my sister's house. At and on
birthdays, I do my best to ignore her yellowing skin, the soft break
in her voice. In return, she never mentions those three months I
tried to make her life spotless.