**Note: I am finding that I am so sleepy at night that my thoughts, though full as they sit in my head, are having trouble being expelled through my fingers. I’m fumbling usually. I’m dropping grammar and spelling. I’m forgetting my keys as I sit at the steering wheel. I’m adjusting to working outside the home again. The only time I have is late when X goes to bed, and by this time, I’m just a fuzzy version of my usually deeply focused self.**
I used to clean a Queen Anne house that was stuffed with goosedown feathers and filled with the accouterments of a proper Victorian mourning.
Black crape funeral hats and spidery laced hand fans floated in neat rows on the stuccoed dining room walls. Chestnut hair and pearl buttons from an affluent woman’s best dress were curled and braided into flowery wreaths tucked underneath thick glass frames that had grown cloudy and warped with age. Tiny tintypes of dead babies and their mothers were propped in front of miniature black bibles, bits of black and white brocade ribbon were draped over the little sad silver images; sometimes the baby was dead, sometimes the mother. Sometimes it was both of them who had left.
Dusting their furniture was a lesson in anthropology. In how to grieve with acceptance and style and velvet shrouds. Cover your mirrors, touch your lace handkerchief (with your dead husband’s monogram recently embroidered in glossy black) to your sniffing-red nose and get on with it already. There is work to do. There are honeycomb beeswax candles to light when the sun goes down, a house to fill with memory and chrysanthemums and cards lined with a black border. You must murmur. Sigh. Rustle in your petticoats.
In that old fusty dusty place, three ratty, tufty-fur cats roamed all four floors, their claws ticking at the hardwood. That sound, combined with the clicking of the ceiling fans (that merely stirred around the heat and the dust and the black ribbons) were the only things piercing through the stuffy stillness as I worked. There was no air conditioning. Upstairs was a clawfoot tub. In the basement was a monster boiler. It was a movie house, an angel crown house, a house that I remember all the time. I cleaned lots of old houses. I rubbed lemon oil on their woodwork and I ran my hands down their banisters and I placed my cheek against their cool crystal glass doorknobs. They showed me their insides, and now I’m showing you mine.