A Day In Aleph

Dirty_dishesA Day In Aleph [1]

Jordan finally pulled himself out of his reverie, and went to the back of his house, where his kitchen was. There was a sizable pile of dirty dishes in the sink, and the quality of the plates and mugs seemed to extend to the kitchen as a whole, creating an oppressive atmosphere. Jordan sighed and turned on the radio, and slowly began to busy himself as sound filled the air around him.

He found the largest pot he owned, and used the spray hose to fill it with warm water. Jordan had to grab and squeeze two empty bottles before he was successfully able to add some soap, and then let the pot continue to fill. In the air, a caller asked if there were warning signs that a parent could use to diagnose mental illness. Four experts all gave different answers.

Jordan hated doing dishes. He used to claim it was genetic, but his friends knew differently having met his brother and sister. Not that it changed anything for him; as far back as he could remember, he hated doing dishes, and had assumed that his parents did too, since he was often given the chore. Jordan turned off the hose and began to rearrange the contents of the sink, trying to make a plan of attack. Even though he lived alone, he briefly wondered if anyone would get on his case, or try to step in and show him how to do it correctly.

This rarely happened anymore.

A new caller asked about how We can promote green practices, not just in our homes, but our communities. Jordan laughed to himself, imagining the dialog to be about dope instead.

There was a particular case he remembered, perhaps one of the first times he ever had to wash the dishes. Even he had been surprised at how quickly the chore was finished, and before long he was back in the living room, wondering if Duncan & Orko were going to make another appearance.

Then: “Jordan, come here.”

Where had he heard that before? It sounded so incredibly familiar.

Jordan came into his parents’ kitchen, all of eight years old. The cabinets towered over him. His stuffed bear, Buffalo, nearly dwarfed him as he trundled along. The smooth, vinyl floor stretched out in front of him like a football field, expansive and grid-like, where any number of games could be entertained, provided the adults weren’t around. In front of the sink, next to the Formica counter, stood his father and the stool that he’d left behind.

“Get up here, you’re not done yet.” Déjà vu.

As he began to work on his own sink, he could picture his childhood kitchen perfectly. As he would run a sponge through the handle of a mug, his own father, years ago, repeated the exact same motions, teaching, explaining. No matter how differently he tried to clean his dishes in the present, his father in the past matches his every movement.

“Jordan, come here.”

Jordan turned around, with a spatula in one hand, a young man in a uniform, to see his boss – or was it his father again? – standing next to the industrial sized sink that loomed against the entire back wall of the kitchen. In comparison, his boss looked miniscule, pathetic. The enormous mat on the ground, pock-marked with the remains of food within it’s mesh, enveloped him with an oppressive sensation that seemed much more current than the job he once held, 15 years ago.

“Get over here, you’re not done yet.”

As he approached the sink, the kitchen seemed to grow, making each step toward it seem like a mile as the work ahead of him seemed to instantly fill up the rest of his shift, his week, his life. The murky water swirled in his father’s, his boss’, and now his own sink, a dark whirlpool of soap and filth, past and future, water and air, pulling Jordan in like a hole in space and time.

Uncanny. As Jordan gathered the silverware from his own sink, he vividly saw himself do the same from his father’s sink, from his boss’ sink, from sinks familiar and unfamiliar. “Jordan, come here.” Was that his friend Devin, who needed some help in the kitchen after a party? Maybe Martha, who was tired of him playing Civilization, and wanted him to clean up in their first apartment. The callers disappeared from the air, to be replaced by a physicist talking about string theory.

He began to cry silently. “You’re not done yet.” He looked at his own sink, and no, he wasn’t. Tears began to splash onto the food still stained on his plates and spoons.

How many times had he been shown how to wash dishes? How many times has he stared at the water, and felt overwhelmed by the work ahead of him? How many times have people that loomed so large in his life made him feel useless in front of a sink? His apartment was only big enough for himself, but his kitchen seemed crowded now with ghosts of the past and present.

Jordan, come here. Who said that? Or rather, why is it always being said at all? Being alone was supposed to be the ultimate reprieve from the daily chores that fill up our lives. When you only have to impress yourself, there’s no reason to make the bed, sweep the floor, or scrub the windows if you don’t want to. And yet the impression that’s been made over time fills him with constant guilt. You’re not done yet. He cannot escape it, no matter what town he moves to, or how many years pass between then and now. There will always be one more load of laundry, one more box of recycling to sort, and more dishes to wash. The drying rack will always be ready to receive the next communion saucer.

Jordan continued to wash his dishes with his own tears, and began to pull taught the thread that ran through his entire life. It connects his past to his future, and ran through him completely, filling him with the anxiety that there will always be another load to finish, and someone else not completely happy with his work. Every point along the thread came into focus as he moved through the contents of his own sink and as he sat there, overwhelmed by the cumulative effect flooding through him at that moment, as the air around him filled with abstract explanations that did nothing for him spiritually, he let out a long, sputtering exhalation, punctuated by the fury of his eyes and nose that were now working overtime to make sense of his inner turmoil.

He moved, imperceptibly forward along the thread, and soon 20 minutes had passed, and he was finished. He turned the radio off, left the room, and went to his bathroom to clean himself up. He reached for a towel, wiped off the water now on his face, and locked eyes with himself.

“You’re not done yet,” he said.

[1] Suds & Scrubs, Dishwasher Pete!

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