by Sarah Van Cleave
My house job is drying the dishes and I take it very seriously. It seems simple, but it’s not. It takes real hard work. First you have to take the dish from the dish washer and you have to be real careful because the dish is all soapy and wet and slippery and you have to make sure it doesn’t get dropped in the space between when the dish washer lets go and when you grab on. I have to be extra-careful about this because I work with Derk and Derk’s not as careful as me and sometimes he gets distracted, maybe by the TV, or maybe by the pretty worker Barb (he likes Barb), or maybe by the birds singing sweet in the evenings, but anyways he gets distracted sometimes and that means he drops dishes sometimes and that means I have to be super extra-careful or else we get in trouble. As I’m thinking about it, a dish slips and shatters and I don’t know how because I was being so careful. The house leader, Henry, tells me it’s alright and it was an accident and that he knows we are doing our best, but then for the rest of the night I can’t stop thinking about that poor little dish and during bath time, when I’m sitting in all the soap and wet, I start thinking like I might be a dish and how I would feel to be dropped and I ask Gus, who helps me with my washing, what he thinks it would feel like to be dropped and he just says something like, I dunno Gertie, shudn’t you know all reddy? I don’t know why he thinks I would know, but I get a hot feeling up from my belly and after bath time I just sit on the floor of my room, and I don’t put on any clothes and stay wet and drippy and let myself get cold and get those little skin-bumpies as punishment for me being so messy.
The workers won’t tell me exactly why I’m here, but I think it’s something like because I’m so messy. I can’t remember how long I’ve been here, but I remember my daddy dropped me off one day and I know that because he was crying. I cry all the time, but my daddy never cried and that scares me. Sometimes I used to ask Henry or pretty Barb why I’m here and they just said don’t worry about it Gertie and I don’t want them to worry about me worrying so I stopped asking. I try to be good and just dry the dishes and watch TV.
The next day, I sit on the couch watching TV with Gus, when the door rings and Henry is making food, so he asks me if I can get the door and I say sure thing and I walk over and get the door. There’s a man there dressed in all brown and he has a box under his arm. He has a big mouth that can smile real big and he smiles that smile at me and I smile back. He says hello all sweet and asks me how my day is and I feel my face go hot because no one outside the house ever smiled at me like that before and that place between my legs feels funny and hot and so I turn to get Henry because he talks better than me, but I am so turned around that I trip and pretty Barb helps me up and Gus laughs and the man must think I am so messy so I just go to sit on the couch with Gus and watch the TV. Gus still is laughing and he says Gertie’s gotta boyfren, Gertie’s gotta boyfren and that makes me cry because the man isn’t my boyfriend and then I cry some more because he never will be my boyfriend and then I cry some more just because I know he will never be my boyfriend but I don’t know why and then I cry because I’m crying and crying makes me feel all small and messy and I don’t want to feel small and messy and I don’t want to cry. I turn around so I can’t see the TV because I don’t deserve to see the TV and maybe that will teach me not to cry. I see Derk in the kitchen washing dishes and he drops one. I know I should help him but my eyes are too wet to dry dishes so I just sit on the couch and think about how I need to dry out and how I forgot about the most important part of drying dishes, the part about making sure they have somewhere to go.
Sarah Van Cleave is an aspiring academic from Washington State. She hopes her writing fosters a greater compassion and understanding for communities of working class women and people with special needs. More of her work can be found in Brown University's The Sketchbook, The Round, and Clerestory, as well the University of Oxford publication The Isis.