Jen Murvin Edwards
Contest - 3rd Place
Jen Murvin Edwards’ stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The MacGuffin, Palooka, Moon City Review, and Huizache literary journals, and she was a Finalist in Glimmer Train’s 2010 Very Short Fiction Contest. She has published in the comic book series Chickasaw Adventures, Stories of the Saints, and McGraw-Hill’s World History Ink. A native of Southern California and alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers (2011), Jen currently teaches creative writing and graphic narrative at Missouri State University in Springfield, MO, where she resides with her husband and young son.
Come In, Come In
I NEVER THOUGHT anyone would answer my Craigslist ad, but you were the fifth lady who called. I changed the headline to “House Cleaning Professional,” was that what made the difference for you? Well, maybe for some of the others. Don’t think I was lying, because really there’s no formal school for it, and I have been doing it for twenty years, so I’m about as professional as you can get. No false advertising. You have an interesting front door, and what is that little metal bar? Mezuzah? Sounds like Medusa. No, you’re right, cultural symbols are important. I just never knew anyone who was Jewish where I come from. But one of my father’s childhood friends was Jewish and he—my father—always said a bar mitzvah was better than any party he’d ever go to, even his own wedding. My mama passed just a month ago, so she won’t mind me telling you that, even though she tried real hard and always told the story about how she made her own wedding dress out of her mother’s silk tablecloth. That’s why I’m taking on more houses you see, since she died. After she died, I mean, and because she died. Both together.
Right, this room looks just fine, I should be able to clean it real nice for you. You have some nice things, where’d you get that couch from? I always wanted a white couch, never knew people actually put them in their houses on account of cats and kids and everything. No kids? Well, don’t worry. Of course you’re not worried, no, that would be silly. I’m sorry, I just never met anyone with a white couch before. Did you paint these pictures yourself? Oh, now that I think about it of course I’ve heard of him, yes, I should have recognized the style. I always thought paintings of naked people were so classy. Women in those paintings look more like real women, you know, with stomach rolls and soft hips, and their faces are rounder, like big peaches. They’re always on couches or holding pitchers of water, why is that? You’d never call these women girls.
Would you like me to do the dishes for you? I’m a wonderful scrubber. Is that a basil plant? You probably cook a lot, don’t you? No, I understand, being a bank manager would definitely keep you pretty busy, of course. My mama always told me a good wife cooked her husband breakfast and dinner and brought him coffee in bed, but I never had a chance to do that because my fiancé died before I got a chance to bring him coffee or anything else in bed, if you know what I mean. It’s alright, it wasn’t your fault. My mama warned him about that two lane highway so late at night but she couldn’t have known, she wouldn’t have wished it on anyone, I know that, even though she hated that he went to movies without me. I had to feed her through a feeding tube, in the end. But I didn’t mind, you know. I mean him going to the movies.
You must get a wonderful workout going up all these stairs, it’s probably why you are so thin and beautiful! You are! Your bedroom furniture is lovely, all the same design. Imagine, bed and nightstands and desk all matching, isn’t that beautiful. Maple? Cherry, of course, I should have known. I’ll get those little nooks and crannies, I have a special duster I designed myself, and I use Q-tips, that’s a little trick of mine, I do a real nice job, you’ll see. Nothing under the bed! I keep a suitcase under mine and a lot of cat hair, of course, like most people. You’re right, a lot of people are allergic to cats. I’ll separate the whites and the darks, no white shirts turning pink on my watch. Did I see you had a special hanger just for your bras?
Don’t go in that room? Alright, I’ll make a note, a mental note. I’d ask why not, but like I should have said before, I don’t look, I don’t ask, I’m not a curious kind of person. I had a room like that, too, for a while, where I put all my fiancé’s clothes— remember he died, I told you—and his books and his little collection of figurines. It used to be my guestroom, but I didn’t have any guests for a long long time and I kept it closed. He liked collecting these figurines and these little spoons from everywhere he went, and he had these wooden racks of spoons from places like Carpentaria, California and Minnetonka, Minnesota, and he even let his little nephew use the one from Poughkeepsie because he liked the name and wanted to lick up his ice cream with it. The nephew, not my fiancé. I had that room and I’d go in there and I’d just sit, right on the floor there, in the middle of his windbreakers and his spoons and his stupid little figurines. A grown man! There was one of a squirrel in a logger’s cap and he told me once they reminded him to wonder. Wonder about what, I asked him, and he just looked at me. I didn’t understand his eyes, eyes like my grandfather’s when he told the story from the war about how he watched this young guy who had been a car mechanic get eaten by a shark in the South Pacific. He told that story all the time, at every party, even though we begged him to stop because we knew how much it upset him. I still think about that, you know, when I swim. Wonder about what, I asked my fiancé, and he never did tell me.
Can I tell you something? You seem like a nice lady and you won’t be shocked, and it just hit me right here, right in front of your closed room where I can’t go in, that maybe I loved him more after he died. Like maybe the way we remember our childhoods. Thank you for holding my elbow there for a moment, I think I’m recovered now, so sorry about that. You’re so nice to say it’s alright, it wasn’t for a long time but it is now, the guest room, and I only kept the spoon from Old Santa Barbara, because the top of it is shaped like a mission, with the windows and everything, and you imagine that maybe in Santa Barbara there aren’t any sharks.
I don’t use bleach, that stuff will kill you. Vinegar does just fine, even though it’ll stink for a little bit, but mostly on my hands.
What a wonderful tub. I just love blue tile, it’s probably named something like “Sky” or “Serene.” Like a magazine. You must soak in here every night. Well, of course, it’s easy to just fall into bed, don’t I know it, after a long day. And all these nice soaps shaped like seashells.
Your husband’s bedroom? Of course, much more practical, as you say, and what more does a woman want than a closet all to herself. Does he snore? Well, that’s good, I hear snoring could be a sign of sleep apnea. Yes, I’ll keep his dry cleaning separate, and isn’t the bedspread such a nice masculine color? Grey is so classy, I’ve always thought. No, no, it’s only natural to keep a bottle of Scotch by the bed, no need to pick it up, that’s my job anyway, a-ha! I read somewhere that a glass of alcohol can help you to sleep, and didn’t my fiancé have a glass of red wine every night with dinner, or sometimes whiskey when one of the kids didn’t make it. Did I tell you he was an orderly in the kids’ unit at the hospital? Sometimes he’d take some little figurines to work with him. I always said a little prayer when the whiskey came out, still can’t really smell it, you know, without getting heavy in the stomach. Would you like some water? Yes, there’s something going around, and of course you’re tired, so busy at the bank. Here, let me. What a lovely faucet, and I always loved those sinks that look like bowls sitting on the counter, what a creative idea. Drink this, there you go. There you go.
These stairs again, my, it’ll be like a job and a trip to the gym at the same time. You’re so thin! I’ve always been a bit rounder, pear-shaped. But maybe that’s a good thing, right? Like something people used to paint.
Did you forget something? Of course, I’ll come back up with you. Huff and puff like that children’s story. What beautiful pictures, did you use a level to line them up so perfectly? They’re of you, I see you there, but they look like they could be in a magazine. Isn’t he handsome, the way he has his arm around your whole waist, like a safety belt.
What are you doing? This door? Like I said, I don’t ask questions, and I won’t go in. I promise, I won’t go in.
Oh my, I see. What a beautiful nursery. You did such a wonderful job, pink like cotton candy or the inside of a shell. Winnie the Pooh is perfect, I always thought he was so gentle with that high voice. Twenty weeks? Oh, my. I never had children myself, no, but that seems pretty far along, doesn’t it. Old enough that it’s more than an idea. I’ll use a Q-tip, there, for the little picture frame with the shells all around the edges, and for the little carousel up there on the shelf. Those aren’t horses on that carousel, but I see an elephant, and a wolf, and is that a mushroom cap? How creative, like someone thought about all the different ways they’d like to ride around the world. Sometimes I wonder how people imagine these things. Now let’s sit down in our usual spots, there you go in the rocking chair, and I told you I always went right here, on the floor, right in the middle of it all. There’s a word for this. Yes, that’s the one I was trying to remember. Shiva. What a lovely word, like a whisper. It’s only natural for us to cry, it’s a loss, isn’t it, and that’s how the body responds. We lose blood, we cry, we lose skin, we cry. Isn’t it natural, the most natural reaction in the world. No, it’s easy for me here, I can just reach right out, I’m really quite flexible, and it’s not far anyway, is it. Your hand is so soft, you must use lotion all the time. I’m sorry mine are so rough. Yes, you’re right. From all the cleaning. I like it, you know, cleaning houses. A space says something about a person, what they let in, how they surround themselves, and maybe I’m part of it somehow. I kept my fiancé’s figurines, you know, in the end. They say don’t be materialistic, but sometimes we keep something to remind us what’s been taken away. Hold on, I’ll be right back.
I never liked the taste, I told you about the smell, but it just seems right, doesn’t it? I knew you’d think so. Maybe there’s something to it, maybe it’s been there all along. Here, down like fire, isn’t that what they say. So warm, I can feel it already. Like fire, down our throats, into our blood, into our hearts, our hearts.