My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.
Even in death she scraps the easy path, choosing thorns and rocks
over blossoms and a groomed walkway. On hands and knees,
scouring the floor with ghost water and a scrub brush made of ancient
thistles, her pale figure flares yellow in the kitchen. Mom, you don’t
have to do this, I say. You’re dead, and besides, I have a swiffer
in the garage. I can almost hear her humming a Ray Charles
song from an album back in the sixties, and I notice that the water
in the transparent bucket remains clear and at the same level no matter
how often she dips into it. What do you say to one who never replies?
We’ve long splashed through that puddle of contention, and though
wary of repetition’s erosive qualities, I resort to ritual, drop a piece of
kombu into a pot of water, bring it to a boil, remove it from the heat,
sift in a handful of dried bonito flakes and a few drops of soy sauce,
stirring it a few times. Then I strain the liquid, spoon in some miso,
add chopped green onion and a few cubes of tofu. I ladle this into two
black and red laquer bowls and set them on opposite sides of the table.
Hours later, the glow from the kitchen has faded, but I fidget and lie
awake, pain pulsing from hip to knee, and wonder if surgery is impending,
whether I should hire someone to temporarily mow the grass. How do
we reconcile reality with desire, with emotional drought and flood-swollen
creeks and the inability to draw together those things we desire most?
In the morning the floor is still dirty and the soup is where I’d left it,
at the sharp edge separating table from space, another stuttering symbol,
cold and unappetizing, smelling faintly of fish and muddy water.
“My Mother’s Ghost Scrubs the Floor at 2 a.m.” first appeared in The Indianapolis Review, and was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize.