There is always housework. Most of the time my home has been clean it means there is company coming or I’m too stressed to write. Nervous energy with a vacuum cleaner and suddenly set in motion is the death of spider webs and the dust bunnies become an endangered species. The mop is dampened once again and the broom comes out of the closet. Housework is the last refuge of the hopelessly caffeinated. It is the last hope of those who do not know what else to do.
I’ve never been an optimist. I’ve never been good at waiting. As a chess player my biggest fault and my biggest asset was to attack now, dammit, and let the blood flow as it will, and then we’ll see if there is a game plan. Make a mess and then salvage whatever is left on the board, yes, that’s the way I have always played the game. It usually works simply because chess players are a cautious lot and they assume anyone blazing away has a target in mind, even when they do not.
Life sometimes rewards action over waiting and sometimes it doesn’t but it is just an illusion. It doesn’t matter what we try to save or destroy because we are moving along at a pace that will kill us no matter what we do. We’ve all lost someone or something and we will lose some more before someone or something losses us. The house will sit empty until someone else comes along to clean it in their own frenetic way and then they will pass on or the house will. The pieces in the box will be scattered and lost or played again.
I still have a chess set I improved back in the eighties. I took some hollow plastic chessmen and filled them with plaster and I added some lead weight to the bases and covered the bottoms with felt. It was Summer and very hot that year and I remember sweating and sweating while mixing the plaster. I made a tiny rack to hold the pieces and I remember one of them tipped over and I spilled plaster on the floor. It was such a mess, I thought, but in the end everything turned out very well. Not that it mattered to anyone at all. I didn’t have anyone to play chess with those days and a reconstructed plastic set wasn’t something anyone thought was worth the time. Life is like that sometimes. What we value so much means so little to the rest of the world in general and to life not at all.
My grandmother liked the idea of us using the set of glassware she received as a wedding gift and I always like those glasses. They were wide at the top and narrowed to the bottom with a wide round base. Over the years, one by one, they were broken and shattered and finally gone forever. Each one took a little of her past with them, swept up into a dustpan and tossed away. Each one of them was like the people who remembered her wedding; each year brought one less witness to the event until no one ever spoke of it ever again.
It was an odd thing that woman’s funeral. My father and sister went to a lot of trouble to pick out a dress for her to wear even though the casket was closed. My father was really and truly stressed out because I was wearing white socks and he all but tackled me and redressed me in black socks. He followed me around for ten minutes with a pair of black socks in his hand, tears still running down his face, and I had to put on black socks or the world would come to an end. So I wore black socks and she was still just as dead and no one remembers who was wearing what that day and no one gives a damn.
My grandmother descended into death without grace. She fell and broke her hand and she fell and broke her foot. Her mind wandered off and there towards the end she saw and heard things that did not exist in anyone’s world but her own. She had given up driving many years before and she sat alone, mostly, and waited for someone to call or someone to come by or something to happen. When no one called her mind her voices to keep her company and when no one came her mind invented people to populate her world. All of this terrified her and her reflections of what she saw and heard was disconcerting to those of us who loved her but we had our own lives and all the wedding glasses were long gone by that time.
My grandmother died sleeping on the couch in the living room the one closest to the door, so she would know if someone came in, with the phone beside her, in case someone called, and finally Death did.
We cleaned the house and invited people over. People brought food and they overstayed their welcome. Everyone said nice things and they meant it, too. But at the end of the day the day still ended, even though I remember it being a very long, a very long day, but it has been gone for decades now.
This day, too, will end and the resolution, better or worse, will be temporary because all things are. There is no way around the truth of that and I know this. But here, in this moment, I feel fear again, and I will feel it again this very day and I know it, even if there is some relief to be found. The trip always seems long during the journey but after the day has ended where has it all gone? The pieces are back in the box and the game has ended and there is nothing left of the play but some memory of how it was done, perhaps, the tragedy of losing the Queen or the King, but the end began at the beginning or even before then.