Laundry and Prayer

Rubbed by the dimly raucous timbre of an accordion, mellow, waltzing music drifts through the open window where I have hung the hand-washed laundry to dry because I can't stop thinking of you.

Children dressed in stale gray school uniforms dawdle in the street licking strawberry ice cream cones, their books clutched in their free hands, careful not to spill a single drop of pink sweetness on their vests because it reminds me of you.

On the corner, a man in a drab beige coat buys the morning's newspaper from a rod-thin boy in overalls and pays him with small, dull coins that tinkle together, painting your face with sound.

Down the street, a cart pulled by a sweat-lathered worker bounces along on the cobblestones while its contents—chairs and tables and footstools—knock together, drawing the attention of a small terrier that yaps at the grinding wheels. It seems I cannot escape you.

I draw away from the window and plunge my bare arms into the tub of soap water so I can fish out another shirt to run across the washboard, but my hands find nothing. Not a single garment remains unwashed except the faded, flower-patterned clothing on my back. I've cleaned everything, and still it all reminds me of you.

In three days, the house is spotless. In three days, the flowers are over-watered and dying. In three days, my hair hangs loose and wild because every chime of the hour in the north clock tower and every toll of the bells in the south cathedral reverberates throughout the empty house and incessantly peals your name.

I wonder how I will ever be able to do anything but clean if every thought I have ends in your name.

The want ads lie open on the kitchen table next to the salt and pepper shakers; so many people are asking for housekeepers and caretakers of all nationalities, of all varieties. Women eloquent in foreign languages, skilled with the abacus, mesmerizing on the pianoforte, the violin, the cello, the viola, the harp, the flute—but especially women who can scrub a room from top to bottom and leave it spick and span. And I can do that, and so much more.

I can write the passionate poetry of the poor. I can sing the melancholy tunes of the street. I can recount the cynical fairy tales of our childhood. I can praise the Lord with every breath but never spare a thought for Him because of you.

That seems to be the one thing I cannot do. I clean and I sing and I even weep sometimes but I cannot take you from my heart. I may be just a poor girl now, but I was once poorer. And now that I know wealth, I cannot give it up. Such a greedy child I am, who cannot for the sake of reason abandon fallacy.

In the Church, they damn me, the little woman cleaning in the window, for Eve's sins. But perhaps she felt as I do, filled with light from the forbidden fruit, and a hope unending.

How strange that logic should point me in one direction, while this feeling turns me right around in the other. There is nothing to tie you to me, but I am so very happy. Just this—this—is quite enough.

So I'll clean forever if I must, if that silly sense of common sense within me insists upon erasing you from this house, but each time I try to wipe you away, your imprint gets darker and runs deeper in the wood, the glass, the tiles. I try to forget while the memory grows so vivid it seems realer than my own flesh.

If I could pray to God without calling out your name, perhaps I would see the holy light gilding the clouds. But how could I wish to be devoid of your name, the silvered hymn that coats umbrellas with beaded rain and inspires the hush of afternoon slumber, when each wink, pause, glance, and curtsy of the word creates the world, the world that echoes your name, the name that kisses me in the lonely hallway.