Dishes

Ok this is actually a 'novel', my first, really, but due to techincal problems i can only post this chapter. Others shall follow soon, inshallah, and in about ahundred years I might even be able to post the whole thing. This is chapter 4.

Dishes

It was my strong belief that dishes had been introduced into human culture for the sole purpose of torturing those poor souls already laden with the misery of school at all it's stages, problems accompanying growing up in general, and the instability of life shared with two mischievous devils disguised as small boys. Every Monday and Thursday evening, as I stared at the stack of dirty plates, bowls, mugs, pots and pans 3 feet high I made a mental note of using dishwashing as a punishment in my prisons once I was Leader of the World. That, and carpet beating, baby sitting and biochemistry lessons. And cauliflower, of course. The perfect punishment for criminals. Except that we, or at least I, had to endure all the above mentioned with no apparent crime committed; unless our/my mere existence was a crime in itself. Exactly why we couldn’t get a dishwasher, I didn’t know. I nagged and begged and threatened all year long, but to no avail: any idea of mine always had to have the possibility of bankruptcy at the end of it. And so, every Monday and Thursday evening without fail I was to be seen brushing away, sleeves pulled up to my elbows and an apron around my waist. Sometimes I had the radio on, but not always; Mondays were jazz and blues, which I hated. Sometimes Kitty came round. She didn’t have to do any dishes at her house; they had a dishwasher. Which meant she didn’t have a clue on the art of dishwashing, so I usually set her to work at drying the dishes and putting them away, or just let her sit at the table, preferably doing my homework for me.
The amount of time I spent over the sink naturally required a few accidents to happen. Once I had carelessly stuck my hand in the soapy water where it came in contact with a carving knife pointing upwards. At first I thought it had pierced my hand all the way to the other side, and the amount of blood was enough to turn all the water red. Screaming fit to wake the dead, I pulled my hand out; knife lodged below the thumb, and considered myself martyred already. Omar ran for the first aid kit while Ayman called 911. Dad and Mama were having dinner with Dad's boss, which made things worse; there's always something scary about accidents happening when your parents are out. Moose managed to pull out the offensive agent and clumsily bandaged my hand, his face carefully averted. In the midst of those hard moments, I felt a surge of pride in him; Moose was fatally afraid of blood. Well the medics arrived and I was taken to get stitches and tetanus shots and other things. Nasty stuff, as if I wasn’t in enough pain. But the best of it was that I got two months off dishwashing. Mama was devastated, and for a while it seemed the dishwasher was visible over the horizon. I even caught her checking out different makes and types in magazines and electronic equipment stores. It seemed the sun was finally going to shine through our kitchen window. Then the twins got suspended from school for burning down the principle's office. I had no idea what had gotten into their heads, and apparently neither did they. I guess it was a prank gone wrong. They had never really gotten into serious trouble before; meaning they had never really been caught red handed in serious trouble before. Dad and Mama were furious, and the most severe punishments were handed down upon the culprits; no dessert or TV for 3 months, cleaning out the garage, mowing the lawn, dusting the tops of all the closets, and of course, the old standby: dishwashing all week long. I wondered how parents could be so cruel to their offspring, punishment or no punishment. Whatever had happened to being grounded for a week? Anyways, by the end of their punishment period there was just no question about it: all our hopes of getting the luxury of a dishwasher were burnt along with the principle's wallpaper.
Dishwashing time was also a good chance for one to spend time with one's self; to reflect upon one's behaviour and one's accomplishments, and to review one's plans for the future, near and far alike. It was during this time I decided I wanted to get married and drop out of school; just leech on to the first guy unfortunate enough to step over our threshold, preferable very rich, and live happily ever after. It was also during this time that I realized I hated Peggy What's-her-face. That I was fat and ugly and that boys are stupid also came to me then. So it really wasn’t all that bad after all, it might even be the tiniest bit fun when you knew how to take your mind off what you were really doing. I believe even Einstein himself couldn’t have come up with the ingenious ideas I came up with to get Sami Kamal expelled or Mr. Brooke permanently disabled. Unfortunately, this type of thinking required a moderate amount of concentration, so that less care went into the cleaning and safety of the objects immediately at hand. One such example nearly resulted in my death.
It had been a long day. Lunch had been exceptionally gruesome, and Mama had delicately taken it into her head to clean out the fridge. The counters on either side of the sink were laden with dishes and containers of all kinds; mostly covered with old, smelly food, either dried and stuck to the bottom or gooey and molded over. It was every dishwasher's worst nightmare. I tried bribing and blackmailing the boys into helping, but in vain. Kitty passed by to say she was going to mall, did I want to come? Observing my surroundings and the look of murder on my face, she thought maybe not, she would get me something with her, in the meantime she was running late, goodbye, and fled. I looked long and hard at the piles of dishes, willing them to disappear. They didn’t. Sighing heavily, I resigned to reality and accepted my fate. I filled the sink with hot water, poured in enough soap to wash a line of school buses and tipped in everything on the left counter, on the verge of tears from the revolt and frustration. I tried not to think about the bright world beyond the kitchen: the sound of the TV in the living room, Mama gossiping away on the phone, a knock on the door and the Warren kids came trooping in to join the twins for cartoon hour; today was a Power Puff Girl and Scooby Doo special feature. My heart ached as I scrubbed away while everyone enjoyed their freedom elsewhere. Well, I thought morosely, at least I have rubber gloves; wouldn’t want to get hold of this lot with my bare hands. I had to be careful, though; things would get extra slippery and Mama would be after my blood if I broke anything. I worked my way through the breakfast and lunch dishes, scrubbing, rinsing and stacking on the side, all the time ignoring the laughter coming through the door and cursing the fate that had destined me into this family. Rinsing a bowl I savagely wished the next person who ate out of it would choke on whatever it was they ate; stacking it on top of the rest of the clean dishes I picked up a bunch of spoons and held them under the running water, noticing how efficient they would be in poking out someone's eye or sticking down someone's throat. Sticking them at off angles between the dinner plates I reached into the water and pulled out an odd shaped object. I rinsed it and held it up to the light, and nearly dropped it when it turned out to be a broken piece of porcelain. Uh oh. That was bad news; it meant there was a broken plate somewhere down there. And, judging by the rosy coloured piece in my hand, it was one of Mama's favourite sets. If there was one thing Mama hated, it was a broken dish. Why she was so attached to her dinner sets beat me, but we were all willing to bet that she would chose them over us anytime of the day. Which meant I was in trouble. I had to act, and fast. I could get rid of the evidence; take the broken pieces outside and all the way down the street, stuff them in someone else's trash can. I couldn’t risk her finding anything. But she wouldn’t notice a missing plate, would she? No one counted their plates. I mean, I didn’t think anyone did. But a missing plate wasn’t really that hard to notice, this particular set had six pieces; one for each person. Oh whatever, let me just get the stupid thing out of here and think what to do later. Maybe I could hide the whole set and no one would remember it ever existed. Ha ha. A thousand curses on whoever had invented dishes in the first place! I tossed the broken piece on top of the clean dishes on the side, and dived into the sink in search for the remaining pieces, only to be arrested exactly 1 second later by a sound that turned my insides to ice: a grating, shifting sound. Realizing its meaning, I turned in horror and threw out my hands in an effort to catch the falling dishes, but alas: the whole pile just slipped through my rubber gloves and fell to the floor. A cascade of smashes followed, as dish after dish after dish surrendered to gravity and met its fate, sealing my own with it. The noise went on and on, seemingly forever, as I watched helplessly; it seemed there was a whole fountain of glass that had been waiting for this moment all its life. At long last the last spoon fell with a tinkle, an island of silver in an ocean of glittering glass and porcelain; my death sentence signed, sealed and delivered. The house was deadly silent, not a sound broke the air after the orchestra of doom had ceased. The TV had been turned off, and not a whisper came through the door. Now, if there was one thing Mama hated more than a broken dish, it was many broken dishes. Not to mention glasses, mugs, bowls and, of course, plates. A saucepan fell to the floor with a tinkling clang, making me jump a foot in the air. In the thick silence surrounding me, the only sound I heard was the rapid beating of my heart, certainly the last beats of my miserable life. A cold sweat collected on my forehead and the small hairs on the back of my neck stiffened hesitantly, as my ears picked up the sound of distant movement. My dread mounted uncontrollably with each approaching footstep, my doom now at hand. As my eyes fixed to the door which would be thrown open any second, my life played in front of my eyes, different memories racing by, memories I didn’t even remember living that went way back to when the world was big and peaceful and no one broke dishes and got punished for it. The footsteps stopped just outside the door. My breath clouded in front of me as the temperature of the room dropped; death was coming! I recited what prayers I could recall, praying that the end would be as painless as possible and that no one would take my prized socks after I died. Suddenly the door blew out of the way, letting in a gush of ice cold air, and there she was: 5'4 of blue dressed wrath, the fire in her eyes blazing brighter and brighter with every bit of glass it fell upon, the low rumble within her rising to a growl and then to a terrible roar of rage that rang against the walls and cabinets. Rooted to the spot and paralyzed with fear, I tore my eyes away from her, searching frantically for the smallest mouse hole that would secure my escape, but alas; our kitchen, probably evolving through years of housing four actively troublesome children, was escape proof. This was it. This was my end. Death was coming. And I hadn’t even had time to say farewell to the world. How would Kitty live without me? But no. NO! I refused to go down so easily! It was a 'flight or fight' situation, and until 'fight' proved totally unevitable, it was 'flight' I chose! At last the life sprang back into my legs, and I leapt into the air and away from her clutches just as she was closing in. I vaulted over the kitchen table, rubber gloves and all, and landed with a slippery crunch in the midst of the broken pieces on the other side. Skidding and sliding, I lunged for the door handle, my escape inches away; but just as my hand closed around the cold metal her fingers clamped around my neck, catching me before my feet had even touched the ground. It was over. I had failed. Choking, the world blacked before my eyes as I was throttled back and forth, terrible death threats and vows shrieked into my dying ears. My last thoughts were all farewells; farewell Kitty, farewell Raju, farewell Mr. Brooke, farewell world, I hope I don’t end up in Hell.

My father saved me, but it took his and Moose's combined efforts to pry my mother's fingers loose. When I woke up a few minutes later and found myself face to face with Moose, I thought I had ended up in Hell after all. I didn’t need a hospital, which was a relief as there would have been quite an inquiry on the nature of my injuries; although my throat hurt and my tongue was bleeding a little from where I had bitten down on it in my alarm, my breathing was back to normal after a while. I locked myself in my room, not needing everyone's advice to do so. I barricaded the door with two chairs and a pile of shoes (my bed was too heavy to move). The noise went on all evening, coming through the door and floorboards. I hid in my room for the rest of the day and the next. The twins passed me a couple of burgers and a bag of chips through the door; they had ordered out since there was nothing to serve food on. On the third morning I was finally driven out, as nature's call was at its peak. I opened the door about 3 millimeters wide and peeked out. No sound or movement came to my senses. I opened it a couple of millimeters more, and still the house slept on. I carefully stuck my head out, listening for the slightest movement along the floor. Nothing. The coast was clear. I began tiptoeing down the hall to the bathroom, trying to look everywhere at once, but my urgency made me break into a run all the way to the bathroom and slam the door behind me. Two hours and three showers later I emerged, fully relieved and feeling at peace with the world now that I was rid of three days worth of toxins and dirt. Prancing confidently down the hall towards the stairs, I made my mind up to have two glasses of orange juice instead of one, and to watch three episodes of Dexter's lab instead of two, and as soon as those were over I would… I stopped dead in tracks and thoughts, realizing my mistake just as I narrowly avoided colliding with the silent figure at the head of the stairs, watching my progress wordlessly. I cursed silently to myself; how could I be so stupidly off my guard? No one would be able to save me this time; she could just pick me off the floor and throw me down the stairs. I looked at her warily, ready to bolt if she tried to grab me. She didn’t. She just gave me a look of the utmost loathing and contempt, and turned around and lumbered down the stairs without a word or a look back. I held my place, shifting from one foot to the other and watching her retreating back until it disappeared into the kitchen. Well, I thought uncomfortably, I guess that means I'm off the hook. I scratched my head and decided I would risk it, and followed in her steps downstairs. My mother wouldn’t talk to me for a whole month. I didn’t get any punishments, but after a week and a half of the silent treatment I started wishing for the dishwashing penalty again. My brothers had me covered at all times, acting from their own sense as well as on Dad's orders, but after a while it seemed unnecessary, as Mama showed no further interest in killing me. We had to buy quite a few dishes of course, and the she chose the cheapest sets possible, hinting darkly that it wouldn’t cost so much if someone stupid went and broke them all again. I quietly hinted back that maybe if we had a dishwasher then maybe someone stupid wouldn’t have access to the precious dishes in the first place. My suggestions rolled off her back unnoticed. About a year later we would finally get a dishwasher, but not after another accident claimed another dozen dishes; thankfully Moose was responsible this time. He still has the whipping scars to prove it, too.

Comments

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed this piece as it is light & funny & most importantly brought back so many memories of "dish washing".. Can't wait for your novel to complete :)

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