Monday, May 17, 2010

 The Floor

(This started out as a contribution to this week's Poetry Bus, but something happened along the way. It just didn't want to be a poem. It wanted to be the beginning of a story, so I let it have its head. I hope Barbara will forgive me for playing fast and loose with her prompt.)

I got down on my knees and smelled the new linoleum, not sure why I had insisted, against all sense, on using this flooring. There are newer, fancier, shinier floors to be had - plastics that don't require waxing, that shine like mirrors for years, asking nothing but a quick sponge mopping now and then -- but here I was, smelling the motor oil smell, feeling the porous surface, staring at a background the colour of Jersey cream --

(Why start with white, when after a few waxings, you'll have yellow anyway?)

I found this roll of flooring. It was here when I moved in. I suppose economy had something to do with my decision, but there was more to it than that.

Gazing at lines of intertwined deep green stems and leaves, floral medallions set at intervals, roses the colour of candy floss, I realize why I have done this foolish thing, moved back into this old house, chosen to use this floor, summoned ghosts long quiet.

The man who installed the floor wanted to take up the old linoleum, but I wouldn't let him. "Just lay the new stuff on top," I said.

It comforts me somehow to know that under my "new" floor is the one that my mother scrubbed, the one with garish golden stars on a marbled background -- no doubt a stylish pattern when it was installed, but ugly to my modern eyes. When I move across the floor, scrub brush in hand, I see my mother's hand moving there, burnishing the stars. I hear her humming along with the radio while she works -- Edith Piaf is singing "Milord". From time to time my mother raises her scrub brush to shoo one of us out of the room, lest we undo all her work. What, I wonder, did she see when she stared at the floor? Her own mother's floor, perhaps,  the bare wood floor that my grandmother scrubbed, hidden beneath her own floor and underneath a torn layer of tar paper?

I can see my grandmother's hand even now -- careworn, red-knuckled, tired. I hear her muttering under her breath that she'll never see the end of this work, not with seven kids tracking mud through the kitchen, not with a husband who won't learn to take his boots off at the door -- a husband who comes home from work whistling, for God's sake. If he had to clean up after this brood, he'd soon stop whistling.

No wonder she always looked so sour in those old photographs.

I leave my grandmother to her grumbling and go back to following the line of green leaves across my own new floor. I look with tenderness at the rose medallions that speak of a gentler time, a time before vacuum cleaners and suffrage, before the Pill and careers for women. They lie, those medallions, but I think they mean well. Perhaps that is why my mother bought this pattern. Perhaps she bought into the notion of an idyllic past just out of reach.

I get down on my knees again and smell the new linoleum. I inhale the acrid smell of dreams deferred. I draw my hand along the nearest line of leaves, and I wish my grandmother, even my mother, had had a life not quite so circumscribed -- a life like mine. I've wanted for years to find a way back, to learn what life was really like for them, but I needed a key, a way to open the door into the past. And all the time it waited for me, rolled up tight, leaning against the far kitchen wall, tied with a piece of hemp.


Maribeth said...

Oh Sandra, every life has its own key. How blessed that you found yours.
Giggles and Guns

Titus said...

Beautifully done, Sandra.

I never truly appreciated the realities of my mother's life until I had a brood of my own. I loved the grandmother's muttering.

Poetikat said...

Sandra, I'm very glad you let the story have free reign as opposed to a poem. It is excellent. I love the idea of layer upon layer down to the tarpaper and who knows? on and on into the future. I loved the voice of the grandmother and her reaction to her husband's whistling.
If this is any indication as to your prose-writing, I can't wait to read the book you've been working on.


The Bug said...

Summoned ghosts long quiet - I love this idea. So often we run from the past - or think we're superior.

Karen said...

What a wonderful story! This is, as Kat said, a delving into layers of the family's history. Good work!

Pure Fiction said...

This is a really lovely piece of writing - not a word out of place. I really liked the way you brought it back full circle in the last paragraph with the repetition of the first line.

John Hayes said...

This is a beautiful piece of writing! The floor layers are perfect--both strange & completely real, & the details about the linoleum patterns are right on. Good work.

Sandra Leigh said...

Maribeth, Titus, Kat, Bug, Karen, Pure, and John --

Thank you to all of you for your kind comments. I'm just back from an exhausting day -- exhausting, but good -- and this was something wonderful to come home to.

semut merah said...

itu cerita indah yang baru saya baca!
(it's good storry. i love ot)

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