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Before and After

Tomorrow, my mother and I are going to the nearly-rebuilt house with buckets and mops and rags, and we are going to clean.

The floor is streaked by dirt and paint and dust; it is so new that we must sweep the afterbirth from its forehead before we set it down to live in this world. We’ve had a floor for two weeks and already the boots of construction workers have traipsed stories upon its shiny surface. There are places where it creaks when your foot touches, and it’s always in different places from the before. The doorknob on my closet is on a different side of the door than it was; my knuckles have struck wood three times already with muscle memory. It’s one more thing for my mind to embrace, one more way to remember that this is not the same as it was before.

I am a slob. I do laundry as little as possible, and only when the basket begins to overflow. Dishes reside in the sink. I dust the most-obvious places, and leave the rest to the bunnies.

But cleaning someplace new is more hallowed.  Your knees hit the floor, you bend your back to stretch into a corner. Soap stings beneath your nails.  Sweat gathers within the grooves of your spinal cord, and even if it’s abject misery, there’s a satisfaction in seeing what came before and what came after.  If only life could be so easy.  We’ll tear the dirt from the floor until it gleams, until it looks more like something for a house and not an alleyway for stray cats to gather.

There only part of the house that is the same as before is the stone fireplace. It didn’t crumble when the roof gave, and it withstood the onslaught of firemen’s hoses and the glint of burning walls.  It was exposed to the country air for three months before a roof stood over it once more.  They advised us to get rid of it so we could create a new floor plan, but Mom stood firm. It had survived. Let it thrive.

There is a dark smudge of burnt something on a rock on the left-hand side of the fireplace.

I have no intention of cleaning it off.  Mementos of a night of grit teeth and hard loss and something else far cleaner than my watery rag could make it.

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