← Issue 8
by Kellene O’Hara
The kitchen was dirty. There were crumbs in the kitchen. The kitchen had to be clean.
She would be the one to clean the kitchen because the kitchen must be clean. She couldn’t sleep when the kitchen was dirty. He could sleep when the kitchen wasn’t clean. He, the man who slept next to her, could sleep when the kitchen was unclean. But she couldn’t.
The kitchen was not clean.
She found herself in the kitchen. She looked at the counter. She couldn’t see the crumbs, but she knew they were there. The counter had to be cleaned.
From under the sink, she pulled out a bottle of kitchen cleaner.
The crumbs on the counter had to be chemically cleaned circularly. She moved her hand, in circles. Her thoughts circled around crumbs. Crumbs. The crumbs. The crumbs were everywhere, like dust. She thought about dust, about the collection of useless bits of her, sitting on everything, everywhere.
The counters were clean. But the crumbs had fallen to the floor. The floor had to be cleaned. There could be no crumbs on the floor. The floor had to be cleaned.
The crumbs camouflaged into it, the floor. She needed a broom. She corralled the crumbs, cornered them. She swept them into a dustpan. Sweeping was not sufficient. The floor had to be cleaned. There could be no crumbs on the floor. She had to mop the floor.
She started in one corner. That was the best place to start. One corner of the kitchen to another corner of the kitchen. She looked at the wet floor. The floor would dry. Then, the floor would be clean. Wouldn’t it?
Except…the mop pushed the crumbs. The mop acted as a plow. It had plowed the crumbs into the living room, on to the carpet. The crumbs were now there, in the carpet. In the living room. The crumbs were spreading. The crumbs could not spread.
But the sound of the vacuum cleaner would wake up the man upstairs.
She could not wake him. He could not know.
She could not produce sound. She had to remain silent.
In the carpet, she excavated the crumbs with her hands.
Her hands could only find and hold so many crumbs.
The crumbs are clever, she thought. The crumbs could have jumped onto the couch. The crumbs could not be on the couch. The couch must be clean. She probed the crevices of couch with her hands for crumbs. The couch, though, was next to the curtains. The curtains could be infected. There could be crumbs in the curtains.
She removed the curtains. She carried the curtains to the sink. The washer could have cleaned the curtains, but the machine would have produced sound. She could not produce sound. She had to be quiet. She could not wake the man upstairs. She could only risk a few drops from the faucet. She scrubbed the curtains with her hands. She thought, surely, that this would be the end of the crumbs. The crumbs would be washed away.
The crumbs could have fallen, as she carried those curtains. The crumbs could be in the rest of the living room and the hallway… the crumbs could have fallen. They could be anywhere now. They could be everywhere.
She would have to start over. She would have to clean the entire house again, from top to bottom. She would have to quarantine the place. The crumbs could not escape.
After all, she had done it to herself.
She had caused the crumbs to spread. It was her fault.
She didn’t know if the man upstairs knew. If he knew, he would know that it was her fault. She wondered if he saw the crumbs, in the early light of morning. He never said anything. Maybe he could ignore the crumbs. She could not.
She needed to destroy the crumbs before sunrise. If he hadn’t seen them before, she was certain he would see them now. The crumbs had spread throughout the house. The crumbs were unavoidable. The crumbs were alive.
She started in the kitchen. There were crumbs in the kitchen. The kitchen had to be clean. The kitchen was not clean. The kitchen was dirty. Her mother taught her to start with the counters. She started with the counters. But the crumbs fell to the floor, she knew it. She knew it.
She mopped the floor. She picked at the carpet. She cleaned the couch. She washed the curtains.
She started over.
She started in the kitchen. The kitchen had to be clean. The kitchen was dirty. There were crumbs in the kitchen.
Counters, floor, carpet, couch, curtains. Again.
The house was dirty. The house was infected.
She had done it. It was her fault.
Bits of her, floating away. The dust of her. Her. Away.
Kellene O’Hara is currently pursuing her MFA in Fiction at The New School. Her writing has been published or is forthcoming in The Fourth River, Sheepshead Review, Passengers Journal, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @KelleneOHara and online at kelleneohara.com.