Peeking in on Christophe she breathes quietly, he’s still dozing. Having hardly eaten dinner the evening before but sick again, a rough night for them both. The relapse. She could almost blame herself, for thinking it was possible to move on quickly, for being optimistic. Though what was the alternative? Because if you didn’t believe things would get better, there’d be no point in being patient or carrying on.
She looks for clues as to how the illness might progress, but even with close study it’s indeterminate. He’s fast asleep. And not the phlegmatic sleep of a sick adult, coughing and moaning, sweating, tossing and turning, but the settled angelic slumber of a child who’s barely running a fever, who ate his apple slices this morning, who might be miraculously better when he rises. Well, that’s the hope; as they say, only time will tell. At least one can be grateful for friends like Jenny, taking Katya to school and back, she won’t have to disturb Christophe at all.
Clicking the door shut, she heads downstairs: to begin again, prepare for Harry’s arrival, the countdown of days. This whittling away of hours, a life comprised of so much waiting, time itself must be filled with piecemeal action: predetermined duties, useful jobs, infinite minutiae to tackle. She takes a soft yellowed cloth and wax polish from under the sink. The study with its vortex of a black box already poses too much distraction, so better to start with the family room, even if that task risks never nearing completion. Dusting: a losing battle, silent war of attrition, like curtains versus sun. She sprays the coffee table legs and surface, wiping until they gleam. Of course it’s a temporary victory because no matter how many times you attack dust you can only push it around. Yet isn’t grasping at discrete particulars meaningless without some overarching purpose and continuity? Where are they all going, why bother? But it’s a part of existence, must be done if you’re to be viewed as a person who does things properly. So you carry on. As any good English person would.
She lifts the frames on the top shelf of the bookcase to wipe underneath: old family photographs with Piotr when he was small enough to qualify as a baby brother, and Magdalena, the oldest, always older looking even then: sullen, preoccupied. Maybe that’s why she stopped having photos taken altogether, or because later she didn’t have anyone to take them with. More recent shots show Piotr and his brood, and Mamcia and Tato smiling outside their rabbit-warren of a house, her parents ageless despite their years. Why didn’t they find it so tedious? Home never seemed a form of enslavement when they were growing up and there were many more people around then. In fact every household in Poland in the 1970s was overflowing with relatives, every corner crammed with monstrous furniture, the Soviet standard having been weight, not functionality, quality or aesthetics. Yet work was done and no one seemed overwhelmed or grumpy about it. Maybe a different character yielded a different result. Or in the past little else was expected. Maybe they ignored dust, deriving satisfaction from the labours of daily life and large family gatherings, the preparations all the merrier when someone managed to procure a good cut of meat or, so rarely, exotic fruit like bananas. Though it might have only seemed so merry because they were all squashed together, no privacy whatsoever. Perhaps the dust just never had a chance to settle.
The spray of aerosol in the air glistens momentarily, then vanishes. But it’s still there somewhere, like the dust in the universe, invisible specks to be eradicated that cannot be eradicated, only flicked someplace else. No, it’s not an absence of application or a lack of enthusiasm marring her experience of domesticity. But something is missing. She’s never been able to summon up Mamcia’s simple happiness or the excessive joy exhibited by other mothers at school. Even Harry acknowledged child-rearing and housekeeping had taken their toll on her. But they simply hadn’t known what to do about it.
© Lesia Daria