← Issue 10

Being Clean

by Riana Odin

When I began avoiding the dinner table, my parents feared anorexia. My father was by all accounts a world-class cook, always outdoing himself with meals that none of my friends’ parents had ever even heard of. Roasted quail with crispy duck sausages. Prime cuts of beef with peppercorn butter and syrah reductions. Polenta savarin. I think the more I avoided eating at home, the more creative and extreme his menu choices became. But what they didn’t understand was that it wasn’t the food— although I do refuse to eat any part of a duck. It was sitting at that oak table by the bay window in the kitchen and knowing the whole time what would come next.

The dishes.

My dad loved to say that the dishwasher isn’t meant to wash, just sanitize. That meant that after every meal, we would need to scrub our plates to his standard of cleanliness before being able to retire to the couch to digest. Sometimes, after scalding my hands with the “correct” temperature water, I would return to the kitchen for a glass of water and find my father re-scrubbing each plate himself. He never looked more disapproving than when he passed the sponge over and over an already clean plate, scraping away at some invisible germ.

 “Being clean is the most important, Katie,” he said one night as I tried to slip out of the kitchen unnoticed, cookie in hand. I swear he could notice one streak on a wine glass but couldn’t tell you the first thing about me.

The night I lost my virginity I made sure to smooth my hair and straighten my skirt before walking into the kitchen, where I found my dad, of course, doing the dishes. Without looking up he asked almost violently, “Do you know what clean is, Katie?”


Riana Odin is a creative writing MFA student at Fairfield University. She previously graduated from Emerson College with a BFA in Writing, Literature & Publishing. Her work has appeared in BlazeVOX.

Image: Plate, Strasbourg Pottery and Porcelain Factory, Chicago Institute of Art