Cleaning – By Norbert Kovacs 




The stain had grown out of hand, Marcia Wilson thought raising her spray in the family bathroom. Black mildew that first covered a patch of the tub bottom had spread upward, snaked through the tile grout, and crept onto the beige tiles of the wall. One way or another, she would have to get all of it out before she could call the shower area clean. Marcia drew a long breath, stepped into the tub, and squatted on its edge.

Lifting a hand, she sprayed the dirty tiles on the wall and moved in with the sponge. The mildew, stuck hard in dark lines, resisted her. As she worked up and down on the tiles, she thought of the many tasks she had to do that Saturday. There would be cleaning the children’s rooms. Then laundry. Vacuuming. Cooking dinner. A day of labor. With a last swipe, she quit the tiles and proceeded to the grout, dousing it in a fresh round of spray. She ploughed with the sponge, her hand scrubbing along the white lines. She would have to shore up John, too, she thought. Her husband was giving a big sales talk next week and he would share his anxiety over the event. She would have to listen as he went into the involved details related to getting ready. Smile if he suggested any possibility of success. If she did not do all this, he would feel uneasy, the considerate person he else was. Don’t you see I’m under stress?, he would tell her with pleading eyes. She had heard it from him earlier.

The grout was done; Marcia got from the tub and kneeled by its side. She sprayed the stain in the tub bottom and scrubbed it as she had the wall. Her arms and back shook as she pushed the sponge. Our friends will visit tomorrow afternoon, she thought, bowing into her work. She would have to play the host for them. Make more sandwiches than they might eat. Laugh loud enough at their jokes. The whole nine yards. Marcia gave a final swipe at the tub. She had scrubbed the stain from the stall, but a light tinge from the mildew held everywhere her sponge had gone. That is too bad since I’m done, she thought, turning away. She saw the cleaning had taken the whites off two of her fingernails and wrinkled her hand. Like I grew old while I cleaned, she told herself. As she rose to stand, pain shot through her long-bent knees. Her neck and back ached their whole length.

Marcia walked from the bathroom into the second-floor hall of her home. She could not decide whether now to see to the mess in her children’s rooms or to ready the foyer for the Sunday visitors. Either choice seemed a headache. As she considered which to attempt first, her husband John came to her from up the hall. His grey eyes touched with concern, he held out a blue, formal business shirt.

“Honey, could you sew the top button back onto my shirt?” he said, his tone pleading and upset. “It fell off, and I need the shirt for next week.”

Now, Marcia was an accommodating woman: she had to be in a house with a busy husband and two, active children. But after her effort in the bathroom, she had no stomach for her spouse’s request. Even if it was the one, small button.

“I won’t,” she said. “I just got done scrubbing the shower tub and the wall. Do you know what that did to me?” She glared straight into John’s face. “My knees are shot. Back’s gone. I feel sore all over!” Marcia drew quiet then, beside herself. She never complained to her husband like this over household work. She had imagined it beneath her, a deed to avoid. Now she had done it, she felt relieved. She wished she hadn’t exploded, but she did feel that much better. A burden had rolled off her shoulders.

John dropped his blue shirt on the floor beside them. “I am sorry,” he said. “I didn’t know it could be that much trouble.” He drew close, his grey eyes widening. “Where is it you hurt?”

Marcia saw the concern in his thin, beige face was sincere. She craned a hand carefully behind her head. “In my neck,” she said. “My back.”

John went behind her and laid his hands at the place that she touched. He rubbed her with the tips of his fingers. “How does that feel?”


John continued to press. “Here, how about if I rub you awhile on the couch?” he said. “While you lie down.”

“But what about your sales project? You had so much to do for it.”

“It can stand a break. You need some care after what you’ve done.”

“I’ll be glad for any I can get.” Marcia let her husband lead them to the living room as he continued working at her neck. She lay face down on the couch and he sat on the edge of the cushion by her.

John went to rubbing Marcia with as much energy as Marcia had scrubbed the tub and tiles. He placed his hands between her shoulders and pressed them over her back, so that they jostled the flesh inside her cotton shirt. She let her head recline on the soft couch cushion under her. As she lay holding still, the scent of garden tulips came to her as if from the blue. Marcia remembered she had bought tulips for the friends visiting on Sunday and put them in a vase on the living room mantle. A shift of her eyes showed the red, yellow, and purple flowers over the dark couch top. Don’t they refresh the room? she thought. The way they’re bright and new like spring with their heads open.

John’s hands lifted and rounded her flesh. Marcia felt her muscles loosen. She lay quiet and listened to the otherwise still room. Soon, her children’s voices drifted in from outside. Their faint sound told her that Brian and Susie had gone some two or three houses up the street. They must have ridden their bikes to see Mark, the nice boy by the corner, she realized. Her lips rose in a smile. She knew they would bike with Mark around the block most of the morning. She turned her neck gently as she imagined her children pedaling along the street.

Marcia’s husband splayed his fingers between her shoulders.

“Is this okay?” he said.

“Yes, it feels good.”

John worked on at Marcia without speaking. It’s nice that he stays quiet, she thought, her head nuzzling the couch. He doesn’t have to talk; it lets my mind clear. John’s hands moved, and her muscles became supple. Maybe once he’s done, she continued to herself, I can get through today without falling to pieces. Not everything might be easy, but I think I will be ready. Really, I just needed to relax. I will have to make sure to do that more after today. She smiled feeling how simple and pleasant an answer she had found to her day’s troubles.


About the Author

Norbert Kovacs lives and writes in Hartford, Connecticut. He has published stories in WestviewThin AirHeadwayCorvus Review, and The Write Launch. His website is