Last week, my husband of thirty-eight years made a startling and wonderful announcement:
“I’m going to vacuum and mop the floors tomorrow.”
This was wonderful, because I’m always up for a clean house, and here he was, making weekly dreams come true.
The startling aspect came from his unbidden initiative. He’s been helping me do the floors for the past few years, ever since I started cleaning houses for income and lost enthusiasm for bringing my hard work home. But I’ve always had to point out our dirty floors and ask him in advance. No matter how grimy and hairy the floors get (we have too many pets), he doesn’t notice. He has loftier thoughts on his mind – thoughts about God, Heaven, and the Incarnation, topics he’s writing about. His eyesight is perfectly fine, but it’s fixed on things above, not walking surfaces.
For most of our marriage, we’ve enjoyed a harmonious division of chores: I take care of household duties, he takes care of the cars, the bills, the banking, and those interminable calls to service providers when our internet service goes wonky. This works for us.
He’s also the on-call for late night or last minute runs to the supermarket or pharmacy. That way, I don’t have to throw on make-up or decent clothes before heading into the public eye, even if it’s 10 pm and most of the public are also vegging at home in their pajamas. (But you never know who you might run into, what neighbor or acquaintance might spot you with sketchy eyebrows. Oh, the trials of vanity!)
His cheerful and constant readiness to serve this way makes me happy. Being an adoptive mother, I never had the pleasure of sending him out on ice-cream and pickle runs to appease my cravings. I’m making up for that now.
Up till last week, our new cleaning arrangements followed the same trajectory, based on how urgently I wanted the floors done. Dirty floors are like haircuts for me: I’ll be chugging through my day, focused on other things, when suddenly the floors – or my hair – need instant attention. I cannot go another minute without fixing them. This has led to several hasty, unfortunate cuts in the hair department. And to bypassing Henry and doing the floors myself in the cleaning department.
Because Henry needs lead-up time.
I can’t ask him to clean the floors the same day. He needs at least a day’s notice; for him, the task is formidable enough to require some future planning. So I have to ask early, before the floors reach crisis state and send me over the edge. Many weeks I wait too late and end up doing the job myself, because tomorrow, for me, is too late.
So when Henry made his announcement, I had reasons to rejoice. We’d crossed a magical threshold where he was now taking ownership of our grubby floors. And appreciating our clean ones. In fact, he’d even started referring to the floors as his floors, as in, “Who messed up my clean floors?” a day or so after mopping them. That made me proud.
Another great milestone.
So delighted was I over his unsolicited offer, I gave him a day’s leeway. “You don’t have to do it tomorrow,” I demurred. “The day after would be fine.”
He took the deferment. Day One.
On Day Two, the vacuum came out as I was heading out the door for a hike. “Everything will be done by the time you get home,” he promised. “I want you to come back to a clean house!”
I return two hours later to an empty – and grubby-floored- house. The dining room has been vacuumed, but the rest is untouched. The car is gone, and the pets are happily shedding their winter fur in every room.
The vacuum is also missing. I remember, too late, that the cord had been giving me trouble the last few times I used it, and by jiggling and fiddling with it, I’d got it to work by partially inserting the plug into the outlet. I should’ve mentioned this to Henry.
My call finds him at the vacuum repair shop. The plug’s being fixed, but now he and the vacuum guy are troubleshooting my whole Dyson, figuring out what else might need replacing. The power nozzle’s been acting up, too. They’ve ordered some new parts, and of course, with steady customers coming through the shop, this whole transaction has taken hours.
I wait for his return; it’s still early in the day, thanks to Daylight Savings Time and the imminent arrival of spring. There’s plenty of time left to clean. But he comes home much later, running other errands and perhaps stopping at his favorite coffee shop to think about heaven and the next section of his book.
“It’s too late to vacuum now,” he tells me. “I’ll do it first thing in the morning, promise.” Day Two is a wash, but at least the Dyson is fixed.
Day Three starts with a bang. At seven a.m. – much earlier than my night-owl husband usually rises – Henry bolts upright, throws off the covers, and flies out of bed, making an ungodly amount of noise and commotion. He calls my dog to follow him, something my constant companion, curled snugly at my feet, would never do. He yodels down the hallway at the cats. And I’m wide awake, begrudging the extra half hour of sleep I’d get if he hadn’t rudely awakened me.
Five minutes later, he’s standing in the kitchen, calling my name. “Where are you?” he wants to know. Apparently he missed seeing my sleeping body next to him, assuming I’d already gotten up.
I yell back, and he comes to the bedroom, as baffled as I am. “Didn’t you wake me up and tell me to start vacuuming?” he asks. “I saw you standing by the bed and miming vacuuming, just before you left the house.”
He’s been dreaming, of course, and I point this out. I’m still under the covers. It’s still early. And I would never, ever wake him up with an order to start vacuuming. Must be his guilty conscience, finally activated to monitor household duties.
We chuckle a bit and I get up, unable to return to sleep. Henry crawls back in bed to compensate for another late night, promising to do the floors as soon as he’s awake. I head to work, off to vacuum and mop other people’s floors.
Six hours later, I pull into the driveway, noting the vacuum canister sitting by the front door. He must be finished. But no. When I walk inside, there’s no smell of bleach and scented floor cleaner, no dint on the dust balls and crumbs on the kitchen floor. Henry lies on the couch, one leg elevated, moaning in pain. Apparently the screen door gashed the back of his ankle on his way inside, just as he was about to start vacuuming. We need to do something about that door; it attacked my ankle, too, just days before, but didn’t break the skin.
But Henry’s wound is major, and he’s talking hospital. He thinks he needs stitches, and worries over tetanus. I take a look. The gash looks an inch or so deep and five inches long, a narrow line. I talk him down, the bleeding slows, and we fashion a heavy-duty bandage with paper towels and a pink shoelace so he can hobble his way back to a reclining position.
He needs recovery time. Day Three is a wash.
By now I’m offering to do the floors myself, given the pain, inconvenience, and injury they’ve put him through, but he refuses. “I want to do the floors for you,” he says, clutching his damaged ankle. “I LIKE doing the floors. It’s one way I can serve you for all the other stuff you do around here.”
It seems we could make an exception today, but repeated offers fall flat. He’ll do the floors tomorrow, assuming he can still walk and hasn’t been felled by tetanus.
Day Four. The vacuuming gets done, but other plans, distractions, and disabilities get in the way of mopping. Again, I offer to help, even begging to let me finish. A vacuumed but unmopped floor is as good as dirty to me, and I’m sick of seeing the mop, bucket, and cleaner propped by the kitchen sink, ready to go. Honestly, this last step of cleaning takes me 20 minutes, tops. But he refuses, even getting a little harsh.
“I SAID I was going to do it, and I’m going to. Just give me one more day.”
I fight every urge to fill the bucket, and retreat to rooms with carpeted floors.
Day Four. Almost there.
On Day Five, he keeps his word. I come home to the wonderful fragrance of cleaning products and survey the gleaming floors. He’s lying on the couch again, still wearing the paper-towel-shoelace bandage. He thinks he might have permanent damage, a serious infection. Could I gently remove the bandage and take a peek?
The bandage comes off dry and easy. There’s no sign of infection or swelling. He’ll be fine. He goes back to thinking on the couch, a central aspect of his writing process. Half an hour later, he hobbles into my writing room.
“That was harder than climbing Kilimanjaro,” he says, referring to the grueling hike we conquered twenty years ago. “Climbing Kilimanjaro only took three days.”
The floors will stay clean for two days, if we’re lucky. Now that spring’s here, muddy paws will follow. I’m already planning my next vacuum and mop, stealth-style, when he’s not around.
This might be safer for everyone.
Categories: True and Amazing Stories