Sunday, 31 March 2013

Cleaning Fever

I have a fever. It is such a high fever that I actually think I'm dreaming when I hear girlish voices just outside my room. Girlish voices talking about vacuum cleaners.

"You've got to see this!" the first says, and this voice is familiar--it sounds like my daughter. "The suction is incredible--it'll pick up anything." Good God, that doesn't just sound like my daughter, it is my daughter!

There is a roar as the vacuum cleaner is switched on.

"Oh my God, you're right, this is amazing!"  This voice is harder to place, slightly accented. I recognize it eventually: it is Magdalena, my daughter's university friend who is currently visiting us.

"Try it over there, on the stairs," my daughter says eagerly. There is a satisfying sound of debris being sucked up. "See?"

I turn over in bed and blink. No, I'm not dreaming this up: they're actually out there, two eighteen-year-old girls, and they're having at the carpets in the hallway. The cat scurries in and jumps onto the bed, obviously traumatized.

"Isn't that just fantastic?" My daughter again.

"Yes! It doesn't leave anything!"

"Hang on--get that bit of string there in the corner."

The vacuum cleaner roars on.

"Oh my God, it picked that right up!" Magdalena squeals.

"Having a vacuum cleaner like this really makes you want to clean, doesn't it?"

Are my ears actually hearing this correctly? Having a vacuum cleaner like that doesn't make me want to clean one single bit. Obviously, given the state of our carpets.

"Doesn't that look better?" my daughter marvels enthusiastically. "You can really see where we've vacuumed!"

Magdalena makes an equally enthusiastic reply. The two of them could be doing a parody of those over-zealous fifties housewives in cinched-waisted full skirts and high heels you used to see in magazine advertisements, gushing over their brand-new collections of tupperware or gleaming kitchen appliances. I turn over in bed, flushed with fever--and guilt. Magdalena had only been over for two days when I succumbed to the flu. We haven't been able to show her a very good time, and here she is now, amusing herself with my housework.

"Whenever I come back, I always hope Mom hasn't vacuumed," my daughter says.

Bless her: this is true, and she is seldom disappointed.

"With a vacuum cleaner like this, I can see why you want to do it," Magdalena says.

 "Yes," my daughter agrees. "The one we had before we got this one was awful. You could go over a spot a dozen times and not see any effect."

 Ah, I remember that last vacuum cleaner: using it was a long exercise in futility. You could work for hours with very little to show for it afterwards. This is a little like writing. You can slave and soul-search endlessly, to have the fruits of your labors cast aside in seconds, scorned, or worse still, not even noticed.  Maybe I should go back to doing regular vacuuming so that I too can delight in the satisfaction of a job well done. Of course, I abandon this idea as quickly as it comes.

The girls' voices grow more distant, along with the drone of the vacuum cleaner. I settle back on my pillows and marvel at my good luck in daughters and their friends.