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Spring Cleaning

Her knees began to colour as she made a final assault on the tiling, she worked with vigour and vexed. She was cleaning because if nothing else there would be the anti-septic squeak of the air. She worked at the grout in between, went over the bath again, up the shower, the window sill within and without, windows themselves. Once she had finished the bathroom, she went on to the bedroom. Sheets were drying in the garden, she thought she heard rain and went sharply to the window. Hoover the floor. She had understood when she had married Neil that she would be cleaning for the rest of her life, it wasn’t only that he was untidy, it was that he hoarded. “You have to let go and change,” she grunted. Her back had been hurting recently and so she had to be careful with the hoover which much like Neil had grown heavier over time. Remove the objects from atop the chest of drawers and shelves to dust and wipe down. This is where it was. Can you imagine? In their bedroom of all places. This one had been her father’s. Neil had so fallen in love with the object that he had demanded it be in their bedroom despite her dislike for it. But she grew intolerant of seeing it, loathed to dust it. The long dour face made her feel uneasy. And so two springtimes ago she went to Roger, and he had said £150 for it and she had sold it and Neil hadn’t even noticed it was gone. 

Mary raised her charcoal eyebrows, Neil played with his nose.

“I was doing some spring cleaning. It’s going to be impossible for me to live amongst all this now that I’m in the house. No, really, it is. And so, I sold one of my items.”

“What did you sell? Better not be anything of mine.”

“I just said it was mine.”

“What did you sell?”

“The Gabonese mask from the bedroom.”

“You didn’t.”

“I bloody well did. It was mine.”

“Mary, you know I loved that thing.”

“It’s been gone six months you didn’t notice.”

“You sold it six months ago!”

“Yes, and I would have told you earlier but the real money’s only just come in. It went to auction, I made £10,000.”

At this point Neil’s mouth fell open, and then shut and then fell open again. Roger had sold it on in a French auction. At which point he had contacted Mary, and offered (in the name of guilt or goodwill) a miserly sum of £10,000 (miserly for he had made an inordinate amount). Mary recognised the shame of having been duped, but in order to save face masked it in a piety that disavowed worldly concern. She was unfussed by what Roger had made — and thankful. 

“Wow. For that thing?”

There was silence as Neil’s anger fled him in a leaden thud, “You took it to auction? When?”

“I didn’t, Roger did.”

“Roger did?”

“Yeah, I took the mask to him.”

“And then he took it to auction?”


“And so he’s getting a cut of the money.”

“Yeah kind of.”

“What do you mean kind of?”

“Well he took it to auction on his own, I’d already sold it to him.”

“Oh,” Neil paused, scratched his nose again, “For how much?”

“Nice of him to offer anything really, didn’t have to.”

“That was damaged, must be really old. I thought it was a replica,” then he repeated, “How much did you sell it to Roger for?”

Mary shrugged, “Don’t know, doesn’t really matter now.”

A piss warm glow took to Neil’s eyes, “How much?”


“That crook. And he’s gone on and sold it for how much? I told you not to trust him. How much did he make?”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes you do. He’s offering you guilt money he must have made a fortune.”

“Neil I don’t know, it doesn’t matter. What does it matter? £10,000. That’s what I just said. For a piece of tat around the house. We’re £10,000 richer thanks to me and even better I don’t have to look at that ugly thing ever again.”

Onto the kitchen. There was a grease spot on the stove that looked like a melanoma. She’d scrubbed at it for 15 minutes and attacked it with various solutions but eventually gave up and sat on the sofa and stared at the wall. They were supposed to be coming back in an hour and she still wasn’t dressed. Neil and her daughter. Her daughter was coming around more often because Neil was sick and so she was now perpetually present, accusing Mary with her unwanted help. Their daughter had insisted on confusion as usual. Neil had discovered what Roger had earned and along with the daughter had proceeded swiftly to make a racket. They had refused the offer of £10,000 indignantly and had demanded the whole lot. Took it to court. Mary wanted nothing to do with it — she had sold the mask to Roger, he had bought it in good faith. There was no case in her eyes, the matter was closed, Roger’s money was his and their money was theirs, Neil was sick, there were other things to be upset about.

She hadn’t gotten along with her daughter in many years, it had all come apart on account of her relationship to God. When Mary found God it was a change so magnificent that her countenance had transformed from one day to the next; her late mother, even in her near blindness, had recognised it. It was as if Mary had seen the most startling vision and her eyes had taken a new shape as a result, she had reached an understanding. She felt it so profoundly, so remarkably that the indelible shadows on her heart, the ones that had fluttered there since childhood, were burnt away and brushed off. She had raised her daughter a Christian, but Rebecca had always been pig-headed, and as she grew older it surprised no one that she continued to be so. At a certain point Mary couldn’t look at her. 

“I only want you to apologise,” Neil said.

“Why should I apologise?”

“How could you sell something like that without consulting me?”

“If it is such an important artefact to fetch such a sum, they should send it to Gabon.”

Her daughter interjected, her tone purposefully provoking, “I might agree with that Mum but regardless of that, you should have been fairly remunerated. Roger has swindled you. Just accept that. Even if it makes you feel stupid.”

Mary felt the tears welling up and her throat constricting, she started crying and swiftly left the room. Neil called after her, she didn’t hear her daughter's voice. She went upstairs into the bedroom and sat on the edge of the bed. She would not apologise for this, could not. Had made it a matter of dignity. There was hopeless injustice in their failure to understand, she felt herself shrink down smaller with every filed eye thrown carelessly in her direction. What they forgot was that she was the one who had dusted it, fussed over it, moved it up and down despite her dislike for it. They hadn’t looked at it in years. Most of that stuff that her father had left was not worth a dime and they had not cared and she had sold on or passed on or organised or filed countless other things, for everyone else, for their family, they had never complained before. 

In her bedroom, she thumbed through the hangers and found a heavy dress, white with softly embroidered edelweiss down the sides. She heard a car coming up the driveway with her husband and daughter in it. When they had lost the case, Neil had stopped talking to her. Now, his eyes drifted across her face to other things in the room. He still wanted her to apologise. Her daughter had softened somewhat after the verdict. She would hang around for half an hour after Neil went up to bed, she had stopped bringing it up. Spring had announced itself, the grasses shirked, surprised by idiot yellow flowers. Mary watched from the window as the car crawled under the cherry blossom. 

Seeing her daughter made her pensive these days, even with her face cold as marble, and their conversations of curt replies, it made her sentimental. It was a feeling she had had increasingly since Neil’s diagnosis. A sense of marvel and loss, she was spinning through time, and losing as she went along. “You can’t hold onto things,” she said, things, friends, family, self, eventually they let you go. Another day puts its tired frilly dress on and hopes the fraying isn’t noticed, greying dogs howl the same beat to the same penny-farthing moon. It all got woven into the tapestry and then swiftly forgotten and lost under the rolls. She watched them get out of the car and walk up to the door, Neil limping. She smoothed down her dress and went down the stairs, unfolded the neatly folded laundry and set herself busily to refolding. She pretended not to hear them come in.


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