There the pile sits in the morning kitchen: water glasses with lip marks and fingerprints; small plates smeared with food, accompanying utensils splayed over them; tea cups and travel mugs with rings of dried milk and sugar; plastic leftover containers, greasy lids akimbo.
Usually it doesn’t feel like an onerous chore. But a not-unexpected sadness has come to nest in my house this fall.
I know that when you lose someone, like I’ve lost J, you revisit your other deaths, especially those you have not finished mourning. You acknowledge and examine the loss of friends, places, homes, relationships, belongings, patterns of behavior, certainty.
That is the work I am doing.
Part of the floundering has included a scary disinclination to write, choosing entertainment over introspection, an old habit I thought I was done with. I haven’t felt like cooking. Or even cleaning up after the take-out.
But then I remember J half-joking, half-begging: With these lungs, I may not be able to vacuum or dust, but I can still stand here and wash a few dishes. Just let me do them!
A little bleary-eyed, still in slippers and ‘jammies, I set up the water boiler on the counter, fill the empty ice cube trays and put away the clean dishes washed a week ago.
Another voice from the dead, Great-Aunt Helen, whose legs were heavy and painful, fingers mangled by arthritis: This is my house and don’t you touch those dishes!
But Aunt Helen, we helped make this mess, and you must be tired after baking cookies and Mahogany Cake–and cooking brisket and dirty rice. It will be so much easier for us to clean up.
We’all are gonna sit in the screen room, have some Dr. Pepper, and listen to the night sounds. Leave the dishes ‘til morning! When I wash ‘em up tomorrow, I can take as long as I want and relive all the arguments, and the jokes, and the silliness. I know you mean well, but I want to remember the good time we had while dirtying these very dishes. No arguments; it’s settled.
So today at the sink I pay monk-like attention to details: the sound of the tea water moving toward a boil, then the smooth matte surface of robin’s egg and gold stoneware plates in the sink, essential oil of lavender soap bubbling my hands.
I remember the phone conversation with a fellow writer while I drank the Earl Gray Cream out of this Shakespeare Quotes mug, and commiseration with an out-of-work friend accompanied by Russian Caravan in that blue flowered cup.
Having reached temperature, the water in the boiler is poured over loose Truffle black tea, bits of dried coconut and chocolate chips visible. Back at the sink while it steeps, I revisit Lad Nar over garden green beans here, the half sandwich left from a writing session at Professor Java’s there, and an apple-farm Honeycrisp purchased in September after a sunny bike ride along the Mohawk River, sliced carefully onto a blackberry colored plate. Washing, rinsing. Washing, rinsing.
Outside the window, ivy reddens on my building, the green ivy opposite just barely blushing yet. Rain pelts the cars rushing by and students grind wet gravel underfoot as they hurry to class. Up the hill, willows and maples and birches and oaks are all changing color at different speeds.
I scrub to get every bit of scrud off a pot, rinse it thoroughly in hot water, then place all the dishes one by one on the gas stove so as to be perfectly dried by the heat of the pilot lights. When ready, there will be the satisfaction of putting each plate, each mug, in its own place once again.
After the fixtures and counter are wiped down and dry, I pour a cup of tea and finally, finally make the frittata I planned a week ago.
It consists of: freezer spinach overdue for use, a teeny green pepper from my garden (one of five whose existence completely surprised me two weeks ago), four ounces of muenster cheese, half a white onion, a teaspoon of salt, some crumbled dried sage from another friend’s garden, a pinch of nutmeg, six local eggs, a couple tablespoons of flour to thicken. Out of milk, haven’t gotten myself to the store, so I just steam all the veggies in the microwave, keep the liquid, and stir it all together with a tablespoon of butter chopped up.
I bake the sun-yellow concoction in a greased oval pan in my convection toaster oven at 375 for 15 minutes. With puffy browned edges, eaten off a pretty green plate, the frittata tastes of warm kitchens past and present, meals present and savory meals to come.
Tomorrow morning I will make tea and wash these dishes, too. No arguments; it’s settled.