this is the very short story of my alter-ego number two, Leda (post swan-rape), and how she cleaned her house.
There is something very interesting about having houseguests. One's normal routine is suspended; one feels the freedom to push aside certain things that ordinarily would take precedence. Things are washed and swept, there is an air of anticipation and preparation, then easy, outgoing fulfilment of the desire to see people one has not seen, perhaps, for some time. The chattering downstairs bounced off every wall of the house, the language filling every room like gregarious, quickly multiplying bacteria, and Leda felt her heart sicken for a guest of her own.
The guests downstairs were not hers. They were an breezy Japanese couple, visiting her mother. Her mother was Japanese, and fluent in both her native language and in English, while Leda was, like most Americans, monolingual. It depressed her a great deal when she thought about it in any depth; how easy, she thought, how easy it would have been for her mother to teach her that elusive second language when she was a child. Now, it seemed, that she would forever be buried beneath her hopeless lack of focus and her English entrenchment. She did, on occasion, describe herself as an anglophile, and she had cultivated an ability to speak in various British dialects. Leda doubted that there was anyone else in a ten mile radius of her that could distinguish a Yorkshire accent from a Devon. However, a skill with British has no bearing on a skill with Japanese, and she had felt her polite and friendly smile growing forced and impatient as the foreign conversation had continued on, and on, over dinner, until she finally excused herself. She had ceased to feel angry with her mother for neglecting to impose Japanese language lessons on her, but she felt a sort of lingering loneliness at times like these.
What would she do with a guest, Leda wondered, even if she had one? She liked to entertain, but her acquaintances had seemed increasingly boorish and upsetting, or merely boring, and she could not figure out if their behaviour was the same as it had always been and only amplified in her mind, or if there was truly something very wrong with nearly all of the people she knew. Maybe she was going out of her head; it would be just as well. Things might seem more interesting if she was crazy. She grew weary of the bitter boredom that had become her reality of every day. Though she felt shallow and guilty for every negative thing she said, she could not help feeling a sinking emptiness spreading within her, and, like a disease, taking a new stronghold inside of her with every breath: now her wrists, now her heart, her knees.
Looking around, Leda became aware of the state her bedroom was in. It was unfit for company, as was her bathroom. There were loose hair in the brushes, and dust covering little-used shelves. She knew about the dust in her closet, and although she could scarce see it, she knew also that a tall person could have seen it easily. She swept through the room, picking up and putting away a pair of stockings, and high heeled shoe that had never been worn. It was being saved for company.
She held an imaginary broom and imagined that she swept the dust from the carpet. She removed and single dark hair from the white carpet and very carefully placed it in the garbage basket, and felt a tremendous sense of accomplishment. She looked around again, but her gratification began to dissolve, slowly, and she was seized with revulsion for herself and the filth around her, and set to dusting shelves furiously with a damp rag. She emptied her wastebasket and changed the sheets on her bed. Shaking her head at the mess that remained, she closed her closet door and opened the draperies.
The light which streamed in through the window helped things somewhat, and, more pacified now, she turned to her bathroom. Thinking it in a state of disgrace, she went quickly downstairs to where scrub brushes and cleansers were kept and brought them up. She went stealthily, so as not to arouse the curiosity of her mother's guests. Once inside the bathroom, she quietly closed and locked the door, and then kneeled, rolled back the rugs, and began a thorough scrubbing of the linoleum floor, counting again and again the tiny pink roses and green leaves that comprised its pattern. Any guest who happened upon this room, she thought with some measure of growing pride, would be able to see their reflection, not only in the broad, spotless mirror, but in the immaculate floor as well.
In the middle of this comforting thought, Leda realised how like flesh the rags she used were, how like hard flesh the floor. So like violent flesh and flesh was her scrubbing that she recoiled, her wrist to her mouth to stop her cry. Could it be that she was not cleaning, but ravenously raping, for her own needs? Her anger and violence could not be directed only at the grime and dirt, it couldn't be. Her vicious housework was becoming something else. When her guest arrived, Leda decided, she would greet them with a voluminous voice and a breathtaking embrace, and they would sit together and she would tell them every secret she kept. It would be a very wise person, an understanding person who would be enough like her to understand why she felt things, especially when she was unable to bring herself to explain them. Why is it, she mused, that things mean so much more when they are not said, but only instantly understood?
Leda's face crumpled halfway and after minutes of trying, it was still not quite right again. There was nothing in the world that she wanted more than an understanding of this kind with someone. She did not know how to communicate to people that nearly any one of their ranks would be accepted, if they only fit the criteria of fascinating her. She did not know how to say that if one person were to step into her sickly light and give of their thoughts and minutes, she would give anything in return, asking no questions. Of course this person could not be human. Leda had met such people. She often had contact with them. They would tire of her flutters and jerks after brief interest, but Leda was a quick study in matters of human nature only when they did not involve her.
When she heard her mother and the guests leave the house on some jaunt to the city, Leda breathed a relieved sigh to think that she was alone. She crept down the stairs, and, tentatively at first, then more and more frenetically, she cleaned the kitchen. As she scraped crumbs and jam from the edge of one counter, she realised that there was nothing wrong with what she was doing, that people were all so afraid of being caught looking dirty or disorganised in any way, even caught by people who were just as disorganised as they.
Well. Her guest was not dirty, nor disorganised. Her guest, wise and understanding though he might be, would certainly not understand the intolerable mess in her house. She felt like she could almost rest in a moment, except--the intolerable mess in her house! She didn't understand how things could ever have been allowed to grow so squalid. There were particles of dust, drifting gently on the air. She couldn't breathe. She saw vividly what it would look like if she fell there, how the room would spin, sideways, and then turn black with the closing of her eyes. She could feel the dust closing off her throat and nose, covering her. It was like watching a film. It was all so clear.
As Leda's mind was filled with the image of herself, on the floor and choking, she knew that she had to hurry. In another parallel, she had obviously neglected her cleaning, and as a consequence, she had choked on all of this dust. She knew that if time were the fourth dimension, then these parallels must exist in the fifth, and that if she wanted to avoid her death in this dimension, she had to stay clean. She had died so many times she couldn't count them all on her fingers, but this time she would stay clean.
She banged pots and pans in the sink, washing and drying fast and frantic, and vacuumed the living room, the dining room, and each room again. The table--a disgrace. How could she expect her guest to sit there? Leda ran to the linen closet and selected a fresh, white tablecloth. It seemed to be a saucerfull of light and purity. In the laundry room, she pressed it carefully with a streaming iron, and then went into the kitchen, her face tight with concentration. She snapped the tablecloth open in air, and watched as it floated down, delicately, billowing like a yacht sail in crisp summer. She began to straighten it, then looked up sharply, her lips parted.
There was no one coming.