My mother never wore gloves to clean, and she never used trendy, fresh-scented cleaners advertised on TV. She cleaned the bathroom with bleach, and the windows with ammonia. She scrubbed the floor on her hands and knees with a brush and Fels-Naptha, wearing my brother's football kneepads; never with a mop. Her other implement of choice was a rag, whether cleaning the toilet or her ceramic figurines.
Any fabric that had outperformed its original duties was re-purposed for cleaning. A faded T-shirt became a dust cloth. A sock polished shoes. A threadbare washcloth sat under the soap dish to absorb drips. Every morning after washing her face, my mother used that soaped-up swatch to wipe down the sink, fixtures, and vanity. She cut over-fraught bath towels into pieces for cleaning the toilet. She swished the brush only to remove visible stains, then flushed and poured a cup of bleach into the bowl, thrust in her hand, and scoured the porcelain with the same determined vigor she used on pots and pans. I learned this routine when I stayed home from school with a cold.
Just the thought of ammonia still burns my sinuses. But my mother appeared to enjoy sloshing a soaked rag over the windows then wiping the pane with an old, torn dishtowel until the glass was nearly invisible. Afterward, she would admire her wedding set, sparkling on her hand. "Cleans diamonds better than anything."
- judy b. is the author of the fiction collection Stories for Airports, and she leads literary bike tours with readings in the San Francisco locations that inspired the stories. She co-produced and co-starred in Kristin Tieche's award-winning short feminist horror film The Spinster and produced and co-starred in Gates and Strays, a webseries created by Jen Ralston. From December 2015 through February 2016, judy b. is a resident artist at Listhús Artspace in Iceland. Find her at onze11 and on Facebook.