Cleaning Away Crazy
by Tammy Peacy


Residents of E House crowded around me in clusters of three or four, watching as I stood on a step ladder, my arms stretched above my head, scrubbing the wood paneling with a rag dipped in the water and Murphy's Oil Soap solution. The water blackened after only a few rinses of the rag, an old scrap of t-shirt, and I went through the entire bottle of cleaner before finishing three of the four walls of the foyer. My audience bored quickly and interrupted often, asking for cigarettes or something from their personal shelf. I was irritated that no one offered to help, to join in my tirade against their mental illness, but why should they? In some way, whether directly or indirectly, they were paying for me to be there.I was doing my job. I am not a tidy person. I clean my house because I am afraid of the criticism of visitors, not because I achieve any level of satisfaction in knowing that I've just spent the last several hours picking up stuff that will need picking up again later. But while working at E House I used cleaning as a form of therapy for myself. I thought if I scrubbed the floors, the walls, the counters, used enough bleach, I could scrub away some of the madness the residents faced each day. Maybe if this house was just a little cleaner the people forced to live within could get a little happier.

My boss started calling me her "Little Cleaner." She would list out chores specifically for me to do, knowing that I would be thorough and would not complain. One chore was to clean the ladybugs from the recently enclosed veranda on the second floor. I sucked them up into the vacuum cleaner, sneezing as the suction tore the tiny red and black shells open, releasing their powdery, decayed viscera into the air. Tanya watched from the doorway. She announced that she was happy to see so many dead ladybugs. She had been bitten by one recently and hated them ever since. Could I get her a cigarette?

I resented all of the interruptions, feeling that I should be allowed to go about my cleaning, immerse myself in my own rehabilitation. I contemplated checking myself in. If I were a resident this would be the cleanest group home in the county. I would not gather at the foot of the staff person doing the scrubbing, asking for smokes, asking why they're bothering with the cleaning anyway, reminding them that it's just going to get dirty again and no one cares. I would work on getting myself better.

Don laughed at me as bleach water ran down my arms and into my armpits, via my sleeves, as I reached for the tops of kitchen cabinets, scrubbing away years of grease and bug parts. He watched, looking up from the counter he was perched upon. I wished he wouldn't sit there. I wondered if he could see up my shirt.

"Why the hell are you doing this? Do you actually think any of these nut jobs care that you're cleaning up after them? Come play chess with me."

I told him I didn't care if they didn't care, it needed to be done. It was part of my job. "No offense, but any asshole with a GED could do this job. Why are you here?"

Before I could answer, tell him that I was just another asshole with a GED, he was walking away, yelling over his shoulder, "Hey, get me a smoke. I'll be outside."

I cleaned and in between I retrieved cigarettes and sodas and towels and anything else locked away. I scrubbed, and I mopped, and I sprayed, and I wiped. I tried to clean away the crazy that seemed to breed in E House, in spite of all of the drugs and the visits to psychiatrists.

In spite of my cleaning the crazy stayed.


Please send us your comments, including the name of the work you are commenting on.

Don't want to miss out? Contact us and we'll send you an e-mail message announcing each new issue. (Be sure to see our Privacy Policy.)

Copyright © 1999-2007 by Amarillo Bay. All rights reserved.
Individual works are copyrighted by their authors.