It was morning, light streamed around the edge of the window shades in pale streaks across the dark room. Kate looked at the clock, 9:30. Good, they’d both be gone now. Just in case she lay there, listening for any sounds indicating otherwise, but all seemed quiet. She climbed out of bed and grabbed the big, thick blue robe that lay on top of the pile of dirty clothes closest to the nightstand, wrapping herself up against the morning chill. She tiptoed out of the room and listened at the top of the stairs again. Still silent.
Downstairs in the kitchen while she waited for the water to boil she scooped coffee into the press and added sugar to the bottom of her large mug, three heaping spoonfuls. It was a lot, but she would be good for the rest of the morning; that was the plan, she would not eat until noon, this will be breakfast. No need to deprive myself of caffeine in the process, she thought. A good cup of coffee will do wonders for me. It will make things easier. Maybe the energy will get me going today.
While she waited for the coffee to steep she looked out the window over the sink. It’s a shame this was the window that had the best view of the woods, at least on the first floor. The upstairs windows were like being in the treetops, either thick and green, too dense for sunlight, or bare and stark revealing the harsh brilliant sky, depending on the season. But down here you could see the narrow straight trunks and the woodland floor dotted with patches of ferns. You could also see some of the old rock wall the farmers had laid long ago, lichen covered stones marked out some sort of boundary that no longer mattered to anyone.
Graham had joked once when they first moved in that maybe the pretty view would entice her to do the dishes more often. She hated it when he joked like that, because it wasn’t a joke, it was a subtle reminder of some way she failed to meet his expectations. He didn’t ever tease her about something sweet, something pleasant, only her bad housekeeping or forgetfulness, her carelessness. He’d laugh at her when he wasn’t angry. Sometimes she almost preferred his anger; at least it was honest.
When she looked down from the window into the sink she noticed for the first time in ages it was empty. Either he had loaded the dishwasher or he’d made Nola do it. Kate never did it anymore; she didn’t even make a pretense towards acting like she would.
Kate had always hated doing housework; she hated it with a passion. She felt demeaned by it and overwhelmed at the mere thought of being responsible for even the most basic amount of upkeep. Cleaning the bathroom every week felt daunting, vacuuming was monumental, dusting seemed pointless and doing the dishes was a new low in drudgery. Of course, one couldn’t say that, one couldn’t admit to having no intention of keeping their house clean. Everyone else in the world just accepted that this was part of life, this was just one of those things you had to do like brushing your teeth or paying taxes. But secretly Kate had never quite accepted the inevitability of having to clean a house. She considered it a large defect in her character.
When she worked they had paid for a cleaning woman to come in. Kate had paid, out of her salary. That was heaven, a relief beyond description. No one expected her to clean, to scrub, to wash anything beyond her own dishes. She managed that, it seemed small in comparison when isolated like that, the only cleaning required of her. A few pots, pans and plates seemed minor in the scheme of life.
But once she quit her job she was expected to start cleaning again the way she was supposed to when Nola was little. Only back then Graham’s mother had helped out a lot, especially when Nola was a baby. Kate’s postpartum depression had lingered longer than usual; to be expected after all she went through. She was still ill from the eclampsia and had lost weight, being that sickly Kate was obviously overwhelmed by motherhood alone and little was expected of her. Adding to it all, Nola was colicky and Graham was busy with one of his books. It didn’t seem so odd to have her mother in law “help”. Deirdre had been so happy to do it, she gladly did all the housework, most of the cooking, while Kate just slept and nursed the baby. When it was time for her to take over she could never live up to Deirdre’s ability, she realized her best bet was to try and get a job, she wasn’t cut out to be a stay at home mother. By the time Nola was old enough Kate was well and went back to work part time. Problem solved.
Now since she’d been out of work the house was a total disaster. Graham was refusing to do all but the bare essentials and they were both making Nola do more than her fair share. Kate knew this, she could see it, but she felt powerless to change.
Every day she woke up and thought that this day would somehow be different. This would be the day she made herself get up off her ass and clean or cook or do something productive. Every day she sat down with her morning coffee in the armchair by the window with the vague intent to plan her day, what she would do, when she would do it. But she never actually left the chair. Before she knew it the whole day had been spent eating and watching TV, daydreaming, planning and procrastinating and then suddenly she’d see Nola come down the street carrying her books. Kate would dash upstairs before she made it to the front door. She couldn’t face Nola, still in her bathrobe, nothing done, nothing changed since the girl left seven hours ago. If she could have crawled under the floorboards and disappeared she would have. Shame at that moment was sharp and sudden, choking; it felt like a noose around her neck.
Yet the next day she would begin again, and again it would end the same. The truth was deep down she didn’t care anymore if days went by, weeks, years even. On her own Kate really didn’t care if all she did for the rest of her life was read, watch TV and eat her way to even further enormity. It was only when she saw herself through someone else’s eyes that it made her feel badly. Then she was forced to see what she really was, a pathetic, lazy person, incapable of mastering even basic life skills. In the presence of others she saw how insignificant her life had become. Even enveloped in her increasing size she felt small, miniscule. No matter how big she got she would always be nothing.
There was something wrong with her that she couldn’t even muster up enough desire to run a vacuum. What kind of person was this overwhelmed by ordinary housework, by ordinary life? Someone extraordinarily screwed up. Damaged. The thought occurred to her, in moments of clarity, that she needed help. But the thought of asking for help, of admitting she was this far gone, only filled her with more shame.
So the answer seemed to be just staying inside, avoiding people. If you didn’t go out and no one came in you could hide and just live in peace, alone, in quiet, simple, undemanding peace. There would be no one to make assessments, no one to judge. You couldn’t fail if you didn’t do anything. It was easy. At least until Nola or Graham came home.
Then the cocoon was broken and pretending didn’t work anymore. It was difficult to maintain a normal demeanor around Graham and Nola; it seemed phony under the circumstances, and exhausting besides. So when they were home Kate stayed in her room if at all possible. She would get in bed and if they came up to see her she would say she was sick, a migraine, some other malady. Graham never came up. Nola did, but she never stayed long.
Otherwise, if she were downstairs with them and one of them cleaned in her presence, if one of them started doing dishes or if she came into a room while they were dusting or about to vacuum, it was like a smack in the face, it was like being yelled at or degraded. They knew she should be doing that, and she knew that’s what they were thinking. She could feel the resentment emanating off of them like heat. Graham’s silence was brutal; Nola’s pitiful.
She was better off alone, better off in bed, like an invalid, someone for whom simple tasks were completely beyond. Simple things like cleaning a house and…taking care of a child. She hadn’t even managed the simple task of keeping her child alive. Not unscathed, not perfect, just alive. Everyone else seemed to do it, or if they didn’t it was due to plagues or horrific circumstances beyond their control. But Ethan’s death wasn’t beyond her control. It was preventable. Yet she didn’t prevent it, did she? It would have been preventable for a different mother, a normal mother. A normal mother would have a live child and clean floors.
And then she’d remember that she did now have a live child who still needed clean floors and a normal, functioning mother. And if it were possible, Kate would then feel even worse.
six words: see ya soon - minor eye injury still needs healing