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Housekeeping by Julie Henson | Word Riot
Creative Nonfiction

May 16, 2015      

Housekeeping by Julie Henson

Scary world to be a girl with landlords who call & say, I’ll buy you a new oven when you prove you can take care of an oven. Mid-seventies, white, two fat hearing aids. I wipe the broken oven down every day. Housekeeping, the landlord says. It’s all about housekeeping, and you’re not good at it. I’m sorry but it’s true.

To be a girl is not to be a housekeeper, rather it’s for someone else to accuse you of not being one. To be a girl is to be a blank slate for future failures. Such am I one, I had to look the word up in a dictionary. The running of a household.

When I was a girl, I was a poor girl, and we used blankets as curtains. We bought bags of frozen Tyson chicken breasts, and Russet potatoes. This is what we could afford. There were pop cans everywhere.

When I was a girl, a poor girl, and my mother paid with stamps, she loved me enough to let me stand in the entrance to the store pretending I wasn’t with her. How many times have I pretended I wasn’t with her? There is so much that shames us. So much that our bones call out for breaks, as if opening them could empty that shame out.

We had midcentury furniture passed down from grandparents and it was the ’90s, so the aura in the room hung like a sentence we had forced to be run-on. It made my sisters and I wild to have this aura around us, and we destroyed everything, and at the same time we had nothing to destroy.

One sister lit match after match and put each out in Pepsi. Used magic marker to paint REDRUM on every inch of her bedroom walls. With a small pocket knife, I carved notches on my bookcase. Another sister smashed a plate on an end table, yelled as loud as she could. She was the only one that got braces. That’s how it was. There was something messy inside of us we needed to get out.

Girls of a passive mother have no choice but to scream. When my mother needed to scream she would go into the bathroom, click the door locked, and from across the house, you could hear one punctuated swear.

Then it was over. Sometimes I am so nostalgic for our angry togetherness. I know I should
feel complicated about it, but I refuse. We loved each other loud enough to touch.

When we had nice things we learned to keep our doors closed, hide these things away from each other. My poster of Justin Timberlake. Oldest sister’s six bottle set of perfume. Her thrift store loveseat, stitched on pineapples. Middle sister’s new Puffy & The Family Saga CD.

When I was older, quick study, I met people outside the front door. I still do.
If I complain about my landlord’s sexism, his blatant gendering, how I am doing
my best with nothing, my sister tells me, so you have sisters, so that’s what you’ve got.

I wish I could pretend I was my mother when my landlord uses that word, shames me so richly, keeping your house. But I do not know what her expression would be. I learned so early to look away.

10568983_2247253258529_5807532080237741618_nAbout the author:

Julie Henson’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Quarterly West, Subtropics, CutBank, Iowa Review, Southern Indiana Review, New Ohio Review, dislocate, Yemassee, and others. She was a finalist for Washington Square Review’s 2015 poetry contest, a finalist for the 2014 Iowa Review Award and a semi-finalist in Boston Review’s 2014 “Discovery” poetry contest. She lives in Lafayette, Indiana with her cat Pippa and a (currently) working stove.

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