I did not clean up immediately, and now I’m standing over the kitchen sink, considering taking steel wool to my skin. What I did instead of cleaning up was to sit down on the exposed plywood subfloor of the bathroom and stare at the wall.
I thought about patterns. On the wall was my incomplete work, plain squares marching horizontally along to a temporary terminus. I ran out of mortar, two ceramic tiles short of a row. Which sums me up: two tiles short of a row is the story of my life.
The mortar dried on my fingers while I sat there, ignoring the ongoing household list of near-catastrophes and thinking of patterns. Meanwhile, outdoors, I’m one starter coil short of a running lawnmower. In the living room, I’m one Swiffer short of a truly clean wood floor. In the bedroom, I’m one closet short of an organized space. In the kitchen, well — in the kitchen, it’s all over, Rover. The whole thing has to come out, and I’m the point woman for getting it put back together. There, too, I’ll be tiling. But not just a tub backsplash; the whole floor.
I looked at what I’d done so far and regretted that I didn’t put a pattern into it. I didn’t think of it, or not exactly. But in the corners, where the cut lines were awkward and things didn’t want to line up (three inches short of a tidy fit) I turned one thing around and made it pretty.
Just one thing: reverse the two tiles in the back corner to create a hint of patchwork instead of an out-of-place makeshift seam. I did something like that with a blanket, long ago. It wore thin, and I patched the plain blue with small floral squares here and there that looked purely decorative. Some were.
This, too, is the story of my life.
I’m the girl who thinks thoughts like, well, it’s only 4 o’clock. I guess I’ll go cement some tiles to the wall. I regretted not making a more intentional pattern, something with more elegance. Even just turning one central tile 45 degrees to make a diamond. I think I’ve found the confidence to try, next time. It’s just that I had never worked with tile on a vertical surface before, so I was concentrating on getting things straight and simple, level in all directions. Thinking upward. Adjusting to a new angle of view, and taking my time doing it.
Outside the window, there were songbirds flying and a crazy summer wind screaming through the unmown lawn. There still are, but I’m not done yet. I didn’t clean up immediately.
I’ve never been in a space, my whole adult life, where major features of my life landscape weren’t threatening to fall down flat. It’s tempting to take the steel wool to my own skin and say to heck with patience, I want this mess off me.
But I don’t. I soak in the warm water and let the dish soap do its work, and after a moment, the grime peels off almost of its own accord. Cleanup is easier than I thought it would be.
I go back into the unfinished bathroom and leave my trashed work clothes on the floor, because I have no place to hang them. I step through the walk-through closet that isn’t (yet), into the bedroom my love and I built together. It occurs to me that no closet means no room for skeletons.
Outside the window, the clouds sail by like ships in storm, and when I go into the living room, there’s a rainbow outside the south-facing window. No rain. Just a random rainbow, because this is the place where they live.
The wide blue sky is as clean and free as anything can get in this world. And I realize the grass grows up because up means something, not just because the mower’s broken. The dust settles on the living room floor because the window is open, and the sky has come to earth and breathed its way through my unfinished space, my incomplete work. The air of life has kissed the soils where my roots grow, and it left these traces behind like lipstick on a shirt collar.
I hear songbirds, but I can’t see where they are. On the wing, maybe. I go back into the unfinished room and take one more look.
This is my first vertical attempt. So far, so good.
More of the same: see my Hicksville Literary Journal posts
Off-blog stuff: Free short stories and other things as they come along.
Thanks for reading!