Short Story by Iris Carden
Out damn spot! Karen groaned, and rolled over. Lady Macbeth. She was thinking of Lady Macbeth. Lady Macbeth awake in the middle of the night, trying to clean away her guilt. How could you wash away guilt? Not when the red blood was running down the walls of the house of sin. Was that Lady Macbeth? No, it was another play, wasn’t it? Agamemnon – it was the prophetess – what was her name? Iphagenia or something?
Could she wash away the guilt, the sin? How much could be washed away? Karen decided to try. She wasn’t really sleeping anyway. Just dosing, and being nagged by thoughts of blood and sin and evil.
Perhaps she could wash it all away. She started in the kitchen. She’d heard on A Current Affair that there could be millions of micro organisms in the kitchen – e.coli and other disease-causing nasties. She pulled on her gloves, got out the “hospital strength” disinfectant, and began scrubbing.
She emptied cupboards, and scrubbed down the shelves, she washed and rewashed every pan, fork, dish. She threw all the tea towels and table cloths in the washing machine. She swept and mopped the floor. Then she got out a scrubbing brush and on hands and knees scrubbed every corner of the floor. She cleaned the oven, and emptied the fridge and cleaned it out.
Next was the lounge. She vacuumed, dusted, tidied and polished. She washed windows, cleaned the sills, washed fan blades. She found some sugar soap in the laundry and washed down walls.
Then it was the bedrooms. She emptied wardrobes, turned mattresses, vacuumed and vacuumed again. She washed curtains, and washed sheets. She hung quilts outside to air in the sun. When had it become daytime? It had been night when she started, she was sure of it. There was still so much to do. What was the time? She looked at the clock. Midday? How had that happened? She should eat something, breakfast, lunch, something. But that would dirty the kitchen, and she’d only just got it clean.
Karen went on to the linen cupboard, emptied everything out and started to wash shelves, and re-arrange linen. Was it clean enough? How clean was clean enough? If A Current Affair checked her house, would they find the blood dripping down the wall, the deadly e.coli, the house of sin? Out damn spot!
The laundry. She mopped, scrubbed, washed walls, sorted shelves, washed down the washing machine (between the constant loads she was running) and the dryer. Why was it dark when she went out to hang out that last load of wash? How late was it now? Seven pm? Seven? What time had she started? Two am? Something like that? Was the house clean yet?
The front patio was next. It was swept, tidied, the furniture re-arranged. Then everything was hosed down for good measure. When A Current Affair came with their cameras and their test kits, they wouldn’t find the e.coli, the sin, or the blood. Not on Karen’s patio. She wouldn’t be the housewife caught out for everyone in Australia to see, and know that her drains were death traps, that her house was evil. Out damn spot! There were no spots in her house, or there wouldn’t be. When the Trojan prophetess saw the walls, would she see the blood and the guilt? Not, if Karen could help it.
She was aware that she was hungry, but she couldn’t stop, there was too much to do, and to eat would mess up the kitchen. She was tired as well. But if she went to bed, she would have to wash the sheets again. She’d have to hide the evidence, the guilt, couldn’t let the prophetess or A Current Affair, or CSI catch her out. The spots would all have to be gone, then she could eat, then she could rest.
Next was the toilet. She knew the germs and micro organisms loved the toilet. She began by scrubbing the walls, and the floor, with “hospital strength” disinfectant. She the window. She cleaned the cistern – inside as well as out – it paid to be careful. There was no knowing where A Current Affair or CSI would look. A prophetess fresh off the ship from Troy, what would Appollo let her see? Wash it away, the germs, the e.coli, the blood, the sin. Out, out, out damn spot!
She scrubbed the bowl, flushed, scrubbed again. Then she carefully disinfected all of the pipes that were visible. Every nook and cranny.
That was it – there was only one room left.
Karen went into the bathroom. She began with walls, windows, curtain. Disinfectant, lots of disinfectant. Who knew what was lurking? House of sin. The red blood is dripping down the wall. Scrub, scrub.
She washed the mirror, and looked at her reflection. A woman in her pink satin nightie and oversized yellow cleaning gloves. Her hair was unbrushed, and there were huge dark semi-circles under her eyes, and a huge purple bruise beginning to show across most of the left side of her face. Two teeth were broken. She looked like some sort of tormented being, like Lady Macbeth. Out, out, out, damn spot!
What time was it? Through the window the sky had gone from black to glowing red, with black on top. Sunrise was coming soon. And she hadn’t slept since when? She was tired, but she wasn’t finished. No, she wasn’t finished. They could come at any time; the prophetess, A Current Affair, CSI, the police. If she didn’t finish, they’d find it all, the e.coli, the blood, the sin, the guilt. Out, damn spot! How much had Lady Macbeth had to scrub to get rid of that spot? The floor, time to disinfect the floor. “Hospital strength” disinfectant, was that the strongest you could get? Was it really what they used in hospitals? Hospitals had to be really clean, didn’t they? You couldn’t have micro organisms in hospital.
She’d left it to last – the absolute worst part. The bathtub. How could she deal with it? Clean it the same as everything else, she decided at last. Throw out the rubbish, and then scrub and scrub and scrub with her brush and her “hospital strength disinfectant”. That was how she would do it. She’d get rid of the blood, the sin, the guilt, the e.coli. She’d be ready when A Current Affair arrived, not like the woman whose house had the micro organisms in the kitchen for all Australia to see.
Garbage bags, that’s what she needed – strong ones. She knew she should get the ones from the garden shed. (Why hadn’t she thought to clean the garden shed? Who knew what evil, guilty, micro organisms could be growing in there?)
In the garden shed, she found the strong bags, and another thing she’d need: the ratchet-powered secateurs, the long-handled ones that Barry used to cut thick branches. That’s how she’d handle the garbage from the bathtub, the same way Barry handled the big branches he’d pruned – but them down into smaller bits, put them in the strong bags, and then put them in the wheelie bin. Of course, after the garbage truck had been, she’d have to disinfectant the wheelie bin.
She took the secateurs and extra strong bags to the bathroom. Just cut the rubbish up, put it in the bags, and put the bags in the bin. Then she could scrub out the tub with her “hospital strength” disinfectant, and forever get rid of the sin, the guilt, the evil, the blood, the e.coli. Not even the prophetess, or CSI, or A Current Affair would find any sign of it.
Just cut up the rubbish into small enough pieces. How big a piece was small enough to handle? She positioned the extra strong, extra sharp, ratchet-powered secateurs at Barry’s elbow. Half an arm, she should be able to lift, after all, most of the blood had gone down the drain by now, hadn’t it? It had to be lighter than it had been when it had hit her that last time, and every other time. She cut, the thud was sickening. But suddenly, she knew it was going to be all right. For the first time, she really believed she could do it. The end was in sight. A few more cuts, take out the garbage, and it would be all over.
Then she just had to wash up. There’d be no more blood, no more guilt, no more e.coli, no more sin. She’d be ready when they came to the door: all of them, the police, CSI, A Current Affair, the Trojan prophetess. She would smile when they swabbed her drains and tested for micro organisms. All Australia would see she was ready, her home was clean. Lady Macbeth would wash away her spot.
This short story appears in my book Patchwork.
An anthology of poetry and short stories.
Spend a sleepless night with The Possum in the Roof, or with a werewolf in Bad Moon Rising.
For People and Planet
While we’re thinking about cleaning, have you thought about your cleaning products lately? Zero Co cleaning products are environment-friendly products. The products come in refill bottles made from plastic reclaimed from landfill. Once you’ve used the product, you send back the refill pack in the supplied reply-paid envelope, so it can be washed and reused. The refills can fill your own dispensers, or you can buy Zero Co dispensers made from recycled plastic reclaimed from the ocean. All that for around the same price as a supermarket product. To get $25 off your first order from Zero Co, click here. (Disclosure: if you use this link, I also get $25 off my next order.)