The Crime Writers' Association

Decluttering - Rosie De Vekey

The Greenville Herald

21st December 2018

‘Ghosting husbands’ on the rise!  Pressures of Trump’s America blamed for men disappearing from families in record numbers.

 

A beginning

It’s a warm spring day when she arrives.  Pink blossom showers her path like confetti to welcome her.  I welcome her.  I hear her laughter like a tinkling bell as she steps lightly out of her truck.  She is the last person you would expect to own a truck, but somehow, she is making sense of it.  She emerges gracefully, having swung both feet round together, like they teach you at finishing school (not that I would know) and hops lightly onto the pavement.  Everything about her is neat and considered.  Her hair looks as if it is always sitting in a perfect bob (it is) and that she doesn’t wake up looking like an extra from an 80’s rock video and not in a good way (as I do).  She wears a 50’s style skirt with kitten on it, which manages to look retro-cool on her and not like some sad, desperate cat woman as it would on me, even though I don’t own a cat (Mike is allergic, or just hates them, or both.  He didn’t clarify).

Before she begins, she mutters something sage under her breath and sort of hugs the front door.  I feel a bit disconcerted, but I go with it.  It’s lovely to spend some time with someone else.  Then she hugs me.  I stiffen.  It’s a really long time since someone hugged me affectionately like this.  I don’t know what to do with my emotions, so I go with my gut.  Bury, bury, bury.

What have I let myself in for?  It’s fine.  It’ll be fine.

It’s just a bit of tidying.

 

Day 1

I’ve checked her out.  She seems legit.  Always gets 5-star reviews.  People banging on about her incredible life-changing powers.  I could do with some help.  My house is full of crap.  Mike can’t believe I need someone to help me do a bit of tidying up.  Why can’t I manage it?  I’m so useless.  He thinks it’s a total waste of money, but my mum left me this money and she wouldn’t mind what I did as long as it was something for me.  I’ve taken two weeks off work now, so I have to go through with it. I sit down.  She’s making me some tea.  It’s nice when someone else makes you tea – always tastes better somehow.  Clutching my hands, she explains we’re going to work through a number of stages to clear up the house.  I realised things have got out of hand.  She asks if I feel ready.  I do.  Time to clean up.

The first step is clothing.  I have to get out all the clothes and put them on the bed.  There is a lot.  I don’t know when I stopped throwing anything out.  A few years ago, I guess.  A clothing mountain stares back at me.  I have a lot of mountains in my life.  Loads of stuff still has labels on it, never worn.  I take a deep breath, and with her encouragement, I start to pull out items that I just don’t need to keep.  We make some progress.  Slowly, I think I can shed some of this stuff.  It feels good.

Mike yells some encouragement from the living room.  “Tell her to chuck out the thin clothes.  No point keeping those!”  He nearly chokes on his beer.  “Holds onto everything, my girl does, never gonna change her.  Never gets rid of anything: newspapers, clothes, the baby weight – even managed that without actually getting a baby at the end of it – that’s what you’re dealing with here.  Good luck, lady!”

She barely reacts and just smiles a positive smile at me, but I swear the corner of her eye flinches.  She nods at me to continue and bobs a sweet, little bow.   Suddenly, she’s out of the room and I never saw her go.  She’s like a silent ninja in the body of an extremely polite decluttering expert.  Something’s been said to Mike because he huffs into the hall and heads out the door, slamming it.  I sigh deeply.  I do that every time, actually.  Smiling benignly, she returns and we continue.  We make progress.

When Mike arrives home at midnight, I’ve cleared most of the clothes ready to donate and my closet is organised.  I’ve left out a sandwich and another beer open on his table in the lounge room.  If I’m really lucky, he’ll just eat that and fall asleep at on the couch.  I turn up the heating, it makes him drowsy and I’ll be sure to get up early to turn it down again before he notices.

I sit up through the night and take each item.  I fold down and then fold gently into 3.  So satisfying.  1, 2, 3, perfect.  Place into the drawer.  1, 2, 3.  1, 2, 3.  Ordered.  Beautiful.  All better.

 

Day 2
When Mike wakes up, he is a bear with a sore head.  He’s a bit confused when he sees I’ve done his closet too.  “If you think I’m doing this God-damned folding, think again!”  He bellows.  But I don’t care.  It’s not like he ever did any laundry before, so I wasn’t expecting him to start now.

He goes to work.

She arrives.  Proudly, I show her the closets.  She whoops.  Is that a tear in her eye?  God, this woman really loves to tidy!  I have done so well, she tells me.  Mrs. Maxwell in the 5th grade used to make me feel like this.  Elated, I tell her I’m ready for more.

Today, we look at books.  I tell her I don’t believe in getting rid of all your books.  She agrees but asks me to look at the newspapers and magazines.  I feel easier today.  Lighter.  We gather them into one place.  Another mountain.  I take out the recycling bags and I put every single one in.  I don’t even know why I buy all these magazines.  It’s not as if I don’t have Mike to call me fat every day.  Why add to the pile?  It’s not as if any of these celebrities are happy anyway.  None of them can stay married for more than a year at a time.  And they have a million people online calling them whores all the time.  Who gets to be happy, I wonder?  Who really does any more?  I don’t think even kids get to be happy for long before all the sex and obesity and drugs and misery gets them too.

We have bags and bags.  I stow them all in her truck.  She’s taking them all to the recycling centre before I change my mind.  I come too, so that I’m part of the process and agreeing to it.  We stop for a coffee.  I’m people watching out of the window, when I catch a look at myself in the glass.  Who is this sad woman?  How long has she been me?

When we get back, she’s looking in the basement.  She shows me what she’s found.  A box of baby books.  I can’t, I say, I just can’t.  I ask her to leave.

“See you in the morning?” she calls hopefully as I shut the door and collapse on the floor.

I’m still there when Mike gets home and I haven’t made his dinner.  He yells at me, but I can’t hear anything anymore.  He steps over me and goes out.  I curl up and hug my knees.

Once outside, he yells back, “one of these days, I’m gonna leave you and it will be all your fault, you useless bitch!”  Loves a bit of drama when you’re literally on the floor, that’s my Mike.  I think perhaps some of the hard of hearing on the other side of town won’t have caught his screaming, but I’m sure Katie at number 81 will make sure everyone knows the state of my marriage.

Before I know it, he’s back.  He drags me up.  I oblige.  It’s easier if I’m willing.

 

Day 3

I actually have a few days before I let her come back.  It’s a good thing we got rid of those bags because I would have brought every single one back into the house.

Today, she’s wearing a light blue sweatshirt with a subtle rainbow across it and a lemon-yellow skirt.  She’s brightening the room as she enters it.  I can tell why people love her.  My hands clasp around some tea concoction (greenish?) and I feel lighter and softer.

I haven’t mentioned the baby books.  I stashed them back in the basement.  I can’t let go of them.  Not yet.

She wants me to tackle paperwork.  Some of it is easy.  Just old bank statements and phone bills from 10 years ago.  She’s brought her shredder with her.  It’s definitely industrial.  I’m guessing this woman has a few gadgets that give her great joy.  I’m thinking she might spend a fun weekend considering which laminator or label maker would make her life complete before really thinking if she needs anything new…

I ask her why she does this job.  She replies that she loves to tidy and to help people.  Full service, she loves providing a full service to her clients.  She smiles again.  Who knew tidying could make someone so content?  My Momma used to sing when she was dusting.  She could make everything fun.  Always singing.  We used to sing together.  Mike doesn’t like music.  It’s quite unusual isn’t it?  He just thinks it’s noise.  I say it brings memories.  He doesn’t like remembering stuff really – leave it in the past where it belongs.

I’m going through some boxes.  So much I don’t need to hold on to.  There are mobile bills.  There’s some in Mike’s name from a few years ago.  A cell number that I don’t recognise, but billed to him.  Only calls to one number.  When was it?  I flinch when I realise when he was using this cell.  That time.  When I needed him.  When I was alone.  When I thought he needed to be alone too.  Because we were both so sad?  I pick up the whole pile and feed it through the shredder.  Shred, shred, shred.

 

Day 4

This morning, I look in the closet.  It’s nice to pick from things that fit, that I like.  I choose a shirt I used to love, it’s blue and covered in seagulls.  It makes me think of visiting the coast with my mom.  I smile at the memory and choose a necklace.  I even put on some lipstick.

He doesn’t like it.  Before he leaves, doesn’t even say anything.  He just smears the lipstick across my face and walks out.

It’s not his fault.  Too much change.  He doesn’t like too much change.  Lose the weight if you need to change, he says.  Although I don’t think he would like it if any man gave me a second look either.  Fat is safest.  Disgusting and invisible all at once.  Magic.

He says I could make some more money.  Maybe work on your cooking.  That could change.  I think to myself there is only a limited improvement I could make to my burger and fries’ preparation which is what he usually wants, but what would I know.  Or finish high school, he offers, you could do that, but then he quickly backtracks.  Of course I’m too stupid to finish high school and they’d never have me back.

Even Mike had to admit he can invite his buddies over now there is space in the lounge room.  He’s not going to plan a party, he just thinks now he can bring his boys back whenever he feels like it.  He says he might call ahead if he needs me to make food or get beer.  It might be nice to meet his friends, I guess?  Maybe I could invite someone over?  Maybe I could call up some of the girls I used to work with.  Maybe I could make a new friend?  Maybe I could stop being alone, Momma, what do you think?

Today we are tackling miscellaneous items.

I feel ready to get rid of some stuff today.  Her enormous truck is waiting.  I head into the kitchen good to go.  All the stupid machines are all going.  I don’t make ice cream or bread or doughnuts.  I don’t need crockery for an army.  I’m really the only person I feed all the time.  I keep the basics and lose the rest.  I keep some cake pans. We used to bake together, Momma and me.  One day I wanted to bake with someone else.  Maybe I will?

I do the same in the bathroom.  Just keep what I absolutely need and toss the rest.

In the basement, we have a load of old furniture.  Bye bye.  I feel like weights are lifting off my shoulders.  I don’t know how long they’ve been there.  My body has ached for a long time and so has my heart.  It’s not just what he’s done to me, or does to me.  It’s what I’ve allowed him to do to me.  That’s what’s hurting me the most.

 

Day 5

Today might be the hardest day, she says.  We are tackling sentimental stuff.  I thought I had become completely numb to life, but this last week has taught me that I was utterly wrong.

She’s wearing a pastel pink sundress with a pattern of old photographs on it.  It’s quite lovely.  She seems indifferent to the weather today, which has me in a turtle neck and huge cosy cardigan.  Cosy or hidden away or both?  Regardless, she is sitting under her own weather system like Olaf in Frozen, but she is basking in her own ray of sunshine.

Taking my hand, delicately, she leads me to the basement.  There are a lot of boxes.  Most of them belong to Mike actually.  His old hockey gear and team shirts.  Fishing stuff.  I asked him a bunch of times to clear up.  He told me he had.  I think clear up equated to writing a couple of labels.

She has the baby books in her hand.  My eyes fill up.  Are these yours she asks me.  Without warning, the story escapes from my mouth.  I tell her about losing the baby.  The most longed-for baby.  How it was all my fault.  She clasps my hands urgently.  Not your fault.  She squeezes them tight.  Never your fault.  She puts the books in my hands and presses down.  Keep these, she says, looking me straight in the eye, you will need them.  Do you know what?  Somehow, I believe her.

My eyes lands on a lovely box in the corner.  Placed high on a shelf above his hockey crap.  I can keep the books in there.  I have to get a chair to reach, as I’m stupidly short.  I can’t remember having seen this box, although it seems dimly familiar.  I open it.  Inside is a letter, it’s been opened.  I read it.

 

To my beautiful girl,

This is a box to remember me now that I have gone.  I want you to know that you are everything to me and you have brought me more joy than I thought was possible for one person.

Never forget that I love you and you are so, so special.  More than anything, I want happiness for you.  Please promise me that you will search for it and don’t stop until you find it.

Don’t let anyone crush you, my beautiful flower, because you deserve to grow strong.

 

I love you forever and always,


Momma xxxxx

 

She understood at once and just held me while I sobbed on the floor for an hour.  Then she wiped away my tears and made me more of her green tea.

When I came to, I remembered that the letter was open.  Someone had already read it.  He had.  Worse than all the beatings and the other stuff, worse than the cheating and the lying and the yelling and the belittling.  He had kept her from me, when he knew what she meant to me.  He had seen me so sad and he let me live there.

After a time, I began picking up boxes.  All his boxes and put them in the truck.  We clear out the whole basement until there is just one little floral box left on the shelf.

 

Day 6

Of course, he came back last night.  He went down to the basement to get more liqueur and found everything gone.  There was such a long silence, that I almost thought he was pleased for a second.  He was not.

He did a lot of screaming.  He got into a great rhythm.  Why (punch), do I stay (punch), with you (punch), you stupid bitch (punch)!  Over and over and over.  He was very pleased with himself.  I’m sure the neighbours really heard a good show.  I didn’t even care this time.  All I could think was, you took Momma away, you took the baby away, you took Momma away.  Over and over and over.

This morning, I can barely move.  My face looks normal but the rest of my body is purple and broken.

Then she arrives.  I so nearly don’t open the door, but she’s seen me and the thought of her tea and her sunshine overwhelms me.

Today is a curiosity.  On her website, she only talks about the steps we have already done.  My house looks amazing.  There is space.  There is light.  Everything is organised.  I love that she wants to spend more time with me, I find her presence intensely calming but I realise that I am just her client, not her friend.

She looks at me and holds my hand.  Now that we have sorted out all the things, she wants me to think about everything in my life that might need clearing.  To find my inner peace and focus.  Is there anything in my life that does not bring happiness?

I turn over my life.  I guess I probably worry about what people think of me.  Perhaps social media stuff, I offer?  She nods her encouragement as I delete all my accounts.

We have made such progress, such big steps, she tells me.  She does not want it to be for nothing.  We must respect and respond to the wishes of our mother and the needs of our soul.  She draws her fingertips together in a silent prayer.  I join in.  Not sure if I should, but I do.

I think, she says, her laugh tinkles, that you might need further help to declutter your house.  I’m not sure what she means but if she takes any more furniture, I’ll have nothing to sit on.

Close your eyes, she tells me.  If your house was to be free of all mess, what would it look like?  Imagine you are walking through the door.  Walk, slowly into each room.  Look around, what is there, what is missing?  How does this make you feel?  I’m there, I’m calm.  I’m in my lounge room.  On the mantle is a picture of my Mom, smiling at me.  When I open my eyes, it’s not there, it’s a picture of Mike instead.  I gaze at it, intently.  Her eyes follow mine.

When I find a stain, she says, it needs to go.  Or you live in a place that always has a stain.  She looks deeply into my eyes.  Some things just need to be rubbed out.  Scrubbed away.  Gone.

Gone, I say.

 

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