At the moment, I am working feverishly to meet a major writing deadline. But as the deadline draws closer, I have begun to hear a faint and distant voice beckoning me away from the keyboard. A voice in my head, you ask? Don’t be silly. It’s coming from the floor. The whole floor, and nothing but the floor, so help me Mr. Clean. And it’s begging: “Clean me, please. Don’t forget that spot over there. I know it looks clean, but it’s NOT!”
As I struggle to focus, to put the words on the page––the correct words in the correct order––the voice becomes more frequent and more insistent. Early on, it took on the syrupy whine of a junkie scamming for another fix: “Come on dude, just once more with the cool damp cloth, or the tingly dust mop––your choice––and then I promise, promise, promise I’ll go away.” But it never does.
Should I ignore it for too long, it can become demanding. Unattended past that point and I know it will become downright mean. What began as a polite request will mutate into something strident, something that sounds dangerously close to threatening. Attention to the changes in the pitch and timbre of the voice tell me it’s the kind of sound that could quickly grow teeth.
I don’t want to say it’s made me obsessed with keeping the floor clean––every square millimeter of it––but in my shameless, spineless capitulation to its demands, the voice has revealed to me some heretofore unknown and/or unfairly overlooked aspects of this floor beneath my feet:
- The behind-and-under-the-furniture corners and crannies that no one will ever, ever see (unless I have the misfortune to be invaded by a squadron of cleanliness-obsessed guests who mount a hygiene offensive into these hard-to-see, hard-to-reach places. Even though this has never happened to me before, the voice insists that something like this could happen, and that it certainly will happen at the worst possible moment: ‘There was that couple in Macon, back in the 80s . . .’)
- Those microscopic spaces between the hardwood floorboards (upon casual inspection, the boards appear to be tightly fitted together, but who knows what they’re doing when they’re not being watched––spewing filth from the hellish environs of the basement? manufacturing grunge by some as-yet scientifically unstudied process? You can’t be too careful. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Hand me that mop, will you.)
- Those pesky angles where the floor meets the baseboard molding (a grossly underappreciated space where dust and dirt seek asylum from the careless swipe of the cloth or the too-fast sweep of the feather duster)
I’ll be so glad when this deadline has been met, so I can be free of the voice of the begging floor. If history is any guide in these situations, once the deadline is safely in the rearview, the voice will grow fainter and fainter until, eventually, with a cynical snicker, it will fade entirely . . . until the next deadline appears on the horizon.
Perhaps next time the floor will (sorry!) yield the floor to the windows with their smooth glassy voice which, if unattended to, can in no time flat, begin to feel like shards of broken glass square-dancing on your eardrums. In their quiet times, it’s so easy to see them as benign transmitters of happy healthy sunlight from outside to inside. Don’t be fooled. The windows themselves may be transparent, but their motives are anything but. And their demands to be cleaned when you know good and well that you have more important matters to attend to can become impossible to ignore. Fair warning: Should you give in to their siren-song entreaties, they, like the floor, will show you aspects of themselves you never dreamed existed––unwholesome harbors of civilization-threatening grit and grime that, unless they are cleaned right this minute, will rise up and ruin everything. And I do mean everything. If this sounds like the voice of experience . . .
And if it’s not the windows, it may very well be the countertops, or the closets. Something tells me that in the not too distant future, as a pressure-filled deadline looms larger and larger with every passing tick of the clock, the floors and the windows and the closets and who-knows-what-else will develop some secret language by which they can communicate with each other and then enter into some unholy alliance commanding my attention and my time.
Author of Dark River Rising (St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books-August 2017)