Copyright 2009 Elliott Joseph
Last week, after years of happy marriage, my wife, in the spirit of the times, gave me an ultimatum. From now on, she said, she would no longer do both the cooking and the dusting. I was to take on one of them, and I had my choice.
If the truth be told, I have always had trouble seeing dust. Under the circumstances, however, it was clear which responsibility I had to assume. The woman simply cooks too well.
The question was how would I know when it was time to dust.
Almost immediately, it seemed, my wife started wringing her hands and shaking her head. Before I knew what was happening, she had placed a rag before me.
When my wife would dust she would whiz through the house, grabbing things and setting them down as though she were in a race. I'm the kind of person who likes to take the time to do things right.
I took off my rubber-soled shoes and put on a pair of leather-soled shoes to avoid creating static electricity that would make the dust stick to the furniture. Then I put on my glasses, in case there would be something to see. I would not use a feather duster. Sure it would be easy to wave the thing like a wand over a table or a delicate ceramic, but that would simply circulate the dust. You had to wipe things carefully if you wanted to do a proper job.
I picked up the rag and painstakingly began.
Before long I came upon the carved old wooden watchman my wife and I had bought in Oberammergau more than thirty-five years ago. I moved my rag covered finger over his thick gray mustache and into the intricate lantern he carries to light his way on his rounds. It brought me back to the hills of Bavaria and our beat-up little blue Volkswagen on one of the marvelous trips we were able to make during the year I was a student in Paris.
As I wiped the sawbuck table in the living room I was once again bargaining with that big red-headed guy we got it from in New Hope. We had been married about five years and I had my first real job. There was so much ahead of us then.
The Greek chess set didn't take me back to Athens so much as to the time my young nephew checkmated me in three moves. I'm still trying to figure that out.
At the bookshelves my dust rag caressed the old bindings of WAR AND PEACE, ULYSSES and THE UNIVERSE AND DR. EINSTEIN, recalling for me the struggle to understand what Tolstoy, Joyce and Lincoln Barnett were saying.
I put on a recording of Rubinstein playing the Mazurkas of Chopin, to accompany my labors. Then I played a little SOUTH PACIFIC, MY FAIR LADY and THE MOST HAPPY FELLA. They reminded me of those golden Broadway years, buying the tickets to the shows, seeing them with our friends. Old shows now. And old friends, some still here, some gone.
I worked the rag over the frame of the Clavé print and thought of the auction where we bought it, surprising ourselves by refusing to give in when the bidding got tough.
Then there were the snapshots of children, of parents, of grandparents. And my wife's photographs. The three men and three women bathing in the Ganges at sunrise, taken from the small boat we had hired. The old woman, with her dark, creased face, sitting in prayer before the stupa in Boudhanath.
I almost forgot myself, dusting off these memories, when I smelled a wonderful meal being prepared. In a half hour or so I was finished and sitting down with my wife at the dinner table.
"This is delicious," I said. "What is it?"
"Can't be duplicated," she replied.
"You used leftovers, right?"
"Yes," she said. "Thanks for doing the dusting."
"My pleasure. Wasn't as bad as I thought it would be."
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