What My Father Wouldn’t Clean
After he started taking pills in earnest, my dad was pretty concerned about cleanliness and swept the porch constantly. Or maybe he was just wrestling with the demons that inevitably reawakened every time the pills wore off — he always told me that the Lortabs he snorted were the poor man’s cocaine. When he finished with the porch, he would sweep the ground in front of it, where the rain dripped into shallow puddles from the grooves in our tin roof. Junior and I sometimes collected the water for no apparent reason, and I would watch the rain drip from the roof in waterfall curtains, mesmerized by their sure and steady paths. When Dad swept the ground, though, Junior and I would take the rare opportunity to laugh at him quietly, mocking him when we were out of earshot.
His approach to cleaning was all his own — he never came close to crossing any gender boundaries. He never washed the dishes or laundry — in fact, when Mom bought her first book telling women how to leave their abusive husbands, she hid it in the laundry basket in the bathroom, just below a soiled shirt or two, knowing he would never find it there. I came across it and asked her about it, and she assured me he would never see it in such a hiding place.
While I imagine he never cleaned the toilet, and I know he gave my mother crabs from some woman he fucked in the back of the gas station he managed, he watched me carefully when I set the table, chastising me if my hair hung over his plate at all. When he sat in his recliner, he inevitably found crumbs in it and accused my brother and me of eating in his chair. But we hardly ate in his chair at all, knowing that if we spilled something, he would be furious and our punishment would be thorough.
I daydreamed, though, of rubbing grape jelly all over his recliner and tying him down in it. I thought that being sticky would be the worst experience for him, and though occasionally my mind wandered to the idea of what it would be like to hit him while he was tied down, something about that fantasy seemed wrong. I ultimately decided that just being restrained would be torture enough for my father.
My mom and dad and a lot of their friends smoked cigarettes, so sometimes Dad would…