by Laura Cody
You linger an extra five minutes over your second cup of coffee, luxuriating in the quiet house after what virtually amounted to fourteen months of prison time in G-pop. With friends, you pay dutiful lip-service to the hidden blessings of the pandemic, the silver linings behind the sorrows. You say it taught you to slow down, to enjoy simple pleasures – a home-cooked meal, a jigsaw puzzle, a socially-distanced stroll in fading sunlight. You don’t mention how your house shrunk to the dimensions of a tuna can, how your husband set up his work-from-home office in the dining room, so his voice boomed throughout the house all day on videoconferences, how it became impossible to exit or leave without his notice, how you couldn’t enter the kitchen for a nibble without his head bobbing over your shoulder to see what you were eating. You don’t talk about how your three kids staked out personal territories in the house with all the don’t-cross-this-line menace of schoolyard bullies, how you were relegated to a “home office” in the corner of your bedroom, essentially a small desk next to the bathroom.
You put the empty coffee cup in the dishwasher, and savor the solitude. Your husband went back to his real office, kids to in-person school. You, yourself, are heading back tomorrow.
But you have today.
One day to remedy fourteen months of self-neglect. There will be a run, a shower and blow-dry, a DIY mani-pedi. Dear God, how you need a mani-pedi. By the time the troops swagger in this evening, you’ll look like Mrs. Brady, perfectly coiffed and groomed, humming a tune while stirring something savory on the stove. Chicken with lemon and capers, you think.
But first there is cleaning to do. You look around, briefly consider Googling a crime scene clean-up service, then shake your head. No, you’ve got this. You’re unstoppable. A few hours without distraction, and you’ll have the place back in tip-top shape.
You begin in the kitchen, scouring the sink and countertops until they shine. You open windows, sort mail, dust the china cabinet and breakfront. You spray lemon Pledge throughout the living room and shimmy between coffee and cocktail tables, wielding a dust rag like a ribbon dancer. You vacuum.
Back in the kitchen, you sweep crumbs from the tile floor. There are far too many, so you squint – and see ants. Ants everywhere. You toss the broom aside and start vacuuming. As soon as the ants are sucked away, more re-appear.
No worries, you’ve got this. A slight detour up to your bedroom office for a Google consult. Cinnamon, you learn, is the answer.
Multitasking, you snatch a basket of laundry and teeter down to the basement, load the washer. You remember that you need to defrost chicken for dinner. By the time you get back to the kitchen, though, the only thing you remember are the ants. You pull cinnamon from the spice rack and sprinkle it in the creases between floor and walls. You head upstairs, pull sheets off beds, douse the toilets with cleaner and Windex the mirrors. You bring the overflowing trashcans downstairs, only to discover the breeze through the open windows has blown cinnamon all over the kitchen floor. The ants seem to like it. You vacuum again and feel ants crawling on your legs.
You go downstairs to deal with the laundry. Someone had a red pen in a pocket. Ink blobs with fine spider-leg projections stain all the light clothing, and the bottom of the washer drum is permanently dyed the color of blood. A few futile squirts of stain spray, then you return upstairs to Google “ink removal.” You learn its hopeless, so you shop for new clothes on Amazon.
In the basement, you put over another load – this time you check the pockets – and remember the chicken. But in the kitchen, audacious cinnamon-coated ants are scurrying across the kitchen floor like its open-skate at the ice-rink. So, you forget the chicken and go out to the garage where you sort through a neglected collection of dirty bottles perched on a rusty shelf. You locate ant poison – Safe for Humans! – and return to the kitchen. You follow the label instructions, then go outside to escape the fumes and pound the welcome mat.
You vacuum up the ants again, fewer this time. You need to vacuum upstairs, but the vacuum is making funny noises now because the chamber is overstuffed. The thought of cleaning it out roils your gut because it is filled with dust and hair and cinnamon and ants. So, you put the vacuum out in the backyard. You retrieve the dust-buster from the utility closet. Slowly and painfully, you dust-bust the upstairs rugs. You carry the sheets down to the laundry.
You meet your husband in the kitchen. He’s picked up your son who is dribbling a basketball on the kitchen floor, unwittingly crushing ants. He says it smells like cinnamon.
Your husband asks what’s for dinner. You never did defrost that chicken. You hang your head and glimpse gnarly toenails, still in desperate need of a pedi. You think of how you will need to have a pair of closed-toe shoes afoot for your office return tomorrow, then laugh maniacally at your own wit. You sort of want to cry.
Order a pizza, you say.
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