Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Key, Chapter 20

The Key
by Eloise Hawking

Chapter 20


     I heard the sound before the barking began.  Not the barking of a dog of the canine kind—the barking of the Top Dog of our household, Mother Eloise.  It was the snap crackle of a plastic garbage bag unfolding with the flick of a wrist.  I heard Mother’s footsteps approaching the kitchen. 

     “Operation Clean Sweep begins in T-minus ten and counting!”  Mother Eloise yelled in a drill sergeant like voice.  “If it is not nailed down or it does not look like it has been held or loved in the last two weeks kiss it goodbye because it is headed for the landfill!”

     Once each season my mother attacked the house with a cleaning vengeance.  She always began with “Operation Clean Sweep.”  This meant that she walked through the house, room to room with an open garbage bag and shoved in whatever looked like it didn’t have a use.  When she was focused, I could see her eyes all squinty, scanning the room from side to side like some sort of special agent.

     Dad was on board, too, but his post was from the living room recliner.  The college football Pre-Game show was on.  He had a whistle around his neck and a megaphone in hand.  Dad was at the ready to coach us through the weekend tidy-up, and would shout orders through the mega phone.  Three whistle tweets meant we weren't working fast enough.

“Mom, do I have to help?” I asked.  “I really wanted to have Jack over today.  I haven’t seen him since school started.”

     Jack was my cousin who was a year older than me.  I thought of him as the older brother that I never had.  He lived in the same town as me, but he went to a private school.  I only got to see him on weekends once school started.

     “Well, that is a good idea, Slick, but you aren’t sliding out of this one.  You need to give me some help and then you can give Jack a call to see what he is up to.”

     “Set the alarm clock for the usual time?” I inquired.

     “Yepper, Sly, and grab the feather duster.  You can start with the dusting.”

     I saluted and set the kitchen timer on the oven for 33 minutes.  My mother had a thing for numbers and she loved the number 33.  She told me that it was a special number, and as I went through life I would learn the significance of it in time.

     I figured out that 33 was kind of like her birthday which was March 3rd.  She was happy I put that together this summer.  I could tell by the twinkle she got in her eye when I told her I figured out one of the reasons.  It made me feel good when I pleased my mother in this way.

   I clicked “start” on the timer and went about my dusting.  Mother bought us a brightly colored feather duster.  She said dusting was a boring job and thought the bright pink, lime green, and royal blue feathers would liven things up a bit.

     Hope was assigned the windows and mirrors today.  Sam seemed to get away with it again—no specific chore for him today.  As long as he was playing and staying out of everyone’s way Mother was pleased.

     My favorite room to dust was my parents’ bedroom.  It was always clean, but a little cluttery.  My mother had this huge, cavernous roll top desk that had millions of drawers.  My favorite thing to do was sneak in there and look through the drawers to see what Mother had shoved away.

     My mother kept our house pretty thinned out.  She got rid of old papers, fast food kids’ meal toys, and the general junk a family collects.  But she’s a sentimental soul.  Mom holds on to things that are significant and meaningful, although I don’t always know the meaning behind everything she saved.

     Mother has a cool wooden box collection.  She’s picked them up from various places she’s visited, or people bring them back to her when they go on trips.  She keeps them on a table in her bedroom.

     There is one, which must be her favorite because she keeps it next to her night stand alongside her stacks of books she reads every night before bed.  I moved her reading lamp to the side and stacked all the books on her bed—East of Eden by Steinbeck, a book about Autism, one of her spy novels, and of course her Bible.

     I looked around to see if I was alone in her room and picked up the wooden box and held it in my hands.  I ran my fingers over its carved lid.  It had a fancy cross engraved into the center and the in the corners there were five pointed stars.

     I gently lifted the lid to find its contents—always the same:  a daisy, a rock, a tiny old fashioned key, three pennies, a small glass turtle, and some seeds from something.  They looked like the kind of seeds that you could plant.  I’ve peeked into that box for years, always hoping there will be something new within it, but there never is.  I’ve had half a mind to ask her why those things are in there a million times, but I kind of like not knowing.  It gives me something to wonder about.

     “Looking for something?” my mother said.

     I whirled around to see her standing there watching me.  Slightly embarrassed I said, “I was dusting.  I’m almost finished.”
     Mom paused a second looking into my eyes, then quickly scanned the room.  “Yes, Cinderella.  I’d say you are about done.  It looks good.  Thank you for the help.”


     That was the sound of the kitchen timer going off.  My time was done.  I put in my 33 minutes and it went by pretty quickly.

     I followed Mom into the kitchen and as I walked through the house I have to admit I was amazed how quickly we could get the house ship shape when we all helped.  All but one person that is.

     “HEY!  I didn’t get a turn!  Nobody picked me to do anything!  I want a turn with the feathers!  Onion is hogging it!”  Sam entered the room madder than a hornet that he didn’t get included in the cleaning “fun.”

     The last time he tried to help he cleaned the toilets with the old feather duster.  The beep of the timer must have reminded him of being excluded.

     “Oh, Sam!  I didn’t forget you!”  said Mother stroking his hair as he clung to her leg.  “Why, I saved the hardest and most important job for you.”

     “What is it?” Sam whispered with baited anticipation.
     “Well,” Mom said sighing, “It’s a really big job.  I’m not sure if you are old enough.”

     “Yes I am!  Look at my muscles.”  Sam stopped and flexed like a body builder.

      “I noticed the outside of the house has taken quite a beating from all of this rain.  I think it needs a coat of paint, and you are going to be my painter!” exclaimed my mother.

     I heard the Game Day Pre Game Report go immediately onto mute and my dad spun his recliner to face my mother with an incredulous look.  Mom smiled at him and walked right on by with no further explanation.

     “Come on Leonardo, let’s go mix some paint,” she said to Sam.

     Leonardo DiVinci was my mother’s favorite artist.  Her classrooms were decorated with posters of his art work like the Mona Lisa and his inventions.  She couldn’t display the ones with more religious meaning like The Last Supper or Madonna on the Rocks at school, so she saved those for home.  She printed images of them off the internet and framed them with dollar store frames and had them sitting around the house.

    There was also one of DiVinci’s works that she altered.  It was DiVinci’s Vitruvian man, but I just called it The Naked Guy.  He stood with his feet wide apart and his arms wide open and he wasn’t wearing any underwear.   Mom made clothing for his body to cover up his private parts.  Once she taped on a fake fig leaf like the kind Adam and Eve had.  Another time she made him a tutu out of Kleenex.  She's also crafted him a loin cloth and a very cool kilt.

     Historians say that DiVinci carried a notebook around with him to write his thoughts down in as soon as he thought of them.  Mother Eloise always carried a notebook around with her like that, too.  In fact, she was holding her notebook in her hand right now.

     She stopped in the middle of the kitchen while leading Sam to his task.  “Wait a second, Sam, I have to cross paint the house off of my list,” said Mom smiling at him.  She reached out and ruffled up his hair.  “You are such a big helper.”

     “I’m a big helper, Momma?  I’m a big boy now, right?” asked Sam as the pair vanished out into the garage. 

     This could get interesting.  Man, was I curious as to what this was all about.  I could hear her out in the garage searching for a bucket.   “Here, this should do just fine for the paint mixing,”  Mom said.  Paint mixing?  What was she thinking? 

     I looked around the house and it was all organized and it smelled clean.  There was still a lot of the weekend left and it seemed like the hard part was over.  It felt good.  I walked through the kitchen towards the garage and leaned against the open doorway.

     Mom spotted me and said, “You’ve been a trooper, Sweetheart.  Go ahead and call Jack and see what he’s up to.  Also call Emily because you know what I say—things are always better if they are done in threes.” 

     Mother Eloise paused and then her eyes brightened as if she remembered something.  “The game is set to be continued tonight at 7:00.  They can stay for dinner and go with us if they would like to.”  She reached down to remove her clip pen from the notebook’s spiral spine, and jotted something down.

     “Thanks, Mom,” I said giving her a salute. 

     The storm had passed, the inside of the house was ship shape.  Sam was occupied for the time being, and our team had neither won nor lost…yet.  I felt warm and clean and fulfilled and good.  A rare moment of peace on a Saturday in September.  I headed towards the phone and sighed.  Peace.  Maybe that was the key to all things.

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