Nick and Amy have been married for seventeen years and for all those years, except the first year when they were so in love they ignored all the annoying quirks about one another, they have been arguing about household chores: who should do them, how often they should be done, how they should be done, and so on. Amy is a firm believer in starting on the highest floor of any house and methodically working your way down to the lowest levels to ensure you continue cleaning all the way down to the main floor that visitors will see, instead of giving up somewhere on the second floor because you’re sick and tired of cleaning. Her husband, however, is the of the opinion that one should start in the rooms first seen by said visitors, so when you inevitably become bored or sidetracked by something shiny and quit cleaning, at least the main rooms are done. This train of thought makes Amy want to bang her own head with the handle of her best mop, but she is relieved she has a husband who scrubs his fair share of toilets and floors, so there’s that.
“Mom, why do we have to do this every Saturday?” wails Amy’s ten-year-old daughter Sophie. This miniature version of Amy is still in pajamas, curly hair matted from sleep on one side, and complaining about the weekly task of cleaning the house.
“Because Soph, we all live in this house and we all help to clean it so we don’t live like animals in our own filth,” Amy answers sweetly through gritted teeth the same response she’s been giving to all her children since they were old enough to hold a dust rag. “But also because I’m the boss of everyone in this house and I say so.”
“But Sara’s family has a housekeeper,” Sophie pouts and slumps back into the couch where she’s been watching cartoons. “Why can’t we just get a housekeeper?”
“Because why in the world would we pay for something we can do ourselves?” Nick sings on his way down the stairs, carrying an assortment of cleaners in his arms. “Right family?”
“Dad, you’re so weird.” Peter, their gangly thirteen-year-old rolls his eyes.
“We should get a housekeeper!” their oldest daughter Stella chimes in. “Mom, think how nice that would be for you. When you came home from work, the house would be so clean and you wouldn’t have to stress and worry about arguing with us to clean.”
“Thanks for your concern about my stress and well-being, Stella. We’re not getting a housekeeper,” Amy snaps at her daughter, tearing the sheet of paper she’s holding into four equal parts. “Here are your jobs. No fighting. No complaining. If you don’t do it well the first time, you’ll do it again.”
“No way! I took out all the recycles last time and you promised I wouldn’t have to do it this week!” Peter whines.
“And I hate dumping the garbage cans!” Sophie stomps her feet. “It makes me gag!”
“Hey, babe?” Nick nuzzles Amy’s neck, jabbing her in the back with the all the plastic bottles he’s carrying, or at least she hopes that’s what it is. “Maybe after we finish cleaning the house we could all go for a family bike ride. Doesn’t that sound fun?”
“Maybe,” she responds doubtfully, “but we don’t usually get through Saturday morning cleaning without wanting to hurt each other a little bit. Can you just go clean the bathrooms while I get started on the main floor?”
“About that,” Nick begins looking at his own list he’s been handed, “I see you have the bathrooms on my list, but I was thinking maybe I should clean out the garage today instead?”
“Nick, the last time you started cleaning out the garage, the driveway was filled with shit for three weeks while you contemplated shelves. Then you decided you wanted to build the shelves yourself and then it snowed and we moved all the shit back in where it was. Can we just clean the inside of this house before we tackle that project?”
Nick’s loud laugh rings out as he makes his way upstairs to the first bathroom. “I don’t remember it that way, but fine, I’ll do the bathrooms. Hey babe, where are the cleaning rags?”
“In the hall closet where they always are, babe,” Amy grits her teeth again, grabs the dust rag and heads for the living room.
“Mom, please can I switch jobs? I don’t think it’s fair that I have recycling AND cleaning up the playroom on my list. I basically have the worst jobs on the list and it feels like you hate me.”
“Peter,” Amy begins, taking a deep breath to keep her from Hulking out on her thirteen-year-old son, “you want my list? Scrub the kitchen, dust the entire house, mop all the floors, clean the windows, clean out the fridge, start the laundry, wash the bedding. You want me to go on?”
“Fine! Just never mind! I have to do everything around here!” Peter shouts as he stomps away to sort the dreaded recycling bins and Amy continues into the living room.
On the floor above her, Amy can hear the voices her two daughters rising to levels shrill enough to curl her toes, arguing over who should leave their shared bedroom right this very minute so they can begin cleaning the rathole. With a click of a remote-control button, Amy makes the living fill with music to drown out the brawl brewing upstairs and shakes her hips to the beat of the music as she runs the dust rag over the furniture and bookshelves. Humming along with Stevie Nicks, Amy sashays with the vacuum over the rugs, sucking up dust bunnies and cracker crumbs and a few tiny Lego bricks she’s already given the kids enough warnings about leaving behind, belting out the lyrics she knows, making up the ones she doesn’t.
“Just like a white winged dove sings a song sounds like she’s singing, ooh baby, AHH!” Her eyes shoot wide open as two hands grab her backside as she bends over the vacuum to release the bagless canister to dump. “Dammit, Nick! You about gave me a heart attack!”
“Hey sexy lady,” he whispers in her ear.
“Oh yeah, this is sexy, huh,” Amy laughs, releasing the clear cannister chock full of dirt, hair and other disgusting leftovers from the vacuum and dangling it in front of her husband’s face.
“Don’t show me that!” Nick pushes it away, but not before he’s gagging loudly behind hands. “You know I can’t do gross things.”
“Are you done with the bathrooms already?” Amy asks skeptically.
“No, but I was upstairs getting ready to clean the toilets when I noticed there was a screw missing from the base of the toilet and I know I have one that will fit down in the basement.”
“Honey, that screw has been missing since we bought this house ten years ago. Can you worry about it later and just clean the toilet?”
“I know I have one downstairs that will fit. Just give me five minutes. Ten tops.” With a sigh and a roll of her eyeballs, Amy heads into the kitchen to clean while Nick trots down the basement stairs in search of a particular screw.
“Found one!” Nick’s triumphant call comes from the basement fifteen minutes later as Amy is wiping stray cereal bits and spilled milk from the counters into her palm.
“Great,” she sings back in a slightly condescending tone as he trudges back up the basement stairs, kisses her on the cheek, and makes his way back upstairs to the bathroom.
Containers of food are on the counter and Amy’s windexing the glass shelves in the refrigerator when Nick shuffles down the stairs again. “That one didn’t fit, but don’t worry. I know just where one is that will work.”
Twenty minutes later as Amy loads the food back into the sparkling fridge, her husband appears in the stairwell with no screws in his hands, but a caulk gun instead.
“Now I know what you’re thinking,” he begins, thinking he can head Amy off from a full-blown argument. “I could not find the screws that I know I have somewhere, but I did find the caulk and I was noticing the other day that we should really put some re-caulk around the bathtub. I’ll just bring this up now so I don’t forget and when I’m done cleaning, I’ll do this quickly.”
“How long does it take to caulk a bathtub?” Amy asks, already knowing what Nick will probably say. I swear to God if he says ‘ten minutes tops’ I’m going to put that caulk gun somewhere unpleasant, she thinks to herself.
“Not long at all babe, ten minutes tops,” and he scoots quickly past her because even he knows the look on her face means she wants to kill him dead.
“Just clean the bathrooms first, please,” Amy sighs. “And tell the girls to quit fighting.”
“Sure thing, hot stuff,” he promises and disappears around the corner, his feet heavy on the stairs. “Girls! Quit fighting!”
But the girls’ fighting continues, so Amy sings louder to the music playing in the other room as she sweeps and mops and sorts the laundry. Sweaty and determined to finish cleaning the entire house by lunchtime, she carries the first basket of clean laundry upstairs to fold on her bed. The bathroom door is wide open, her husband bent over the bathtub and she smiles and wanders in to pinch his backside while he’s scrubbing.
Only he’s not scrubbing, she realizes as she leans in. He’s caulking.
Swinging her head from toilet to sink to tub, Amy realizes quickly Nick hasn’t cleaned a thing in the kids’ bathroom and yet here he is, ass in the air, caulking the damn tub.
“Nick! What are you doing?”
Jumping a foot and cracking his head on the faucet, Nick rocks back on his heels and has the audacity to look sheepish.
“I’m caulking the tub?” he stammers, rubbing the sore spot on the back of his head.
“But the cleaning?” Amy demands, gesturing at the rim of the toilet seat that her son can’t seem to not pee on and the sink full of crusty toothpaste. “Nick, you’ve been up here for almost two hours!”
“I know.” He hangs his head. “I admit this took longer than I thought it would. And I now realize I can’t clean the bathtubs for two days because the caulk needs to dry for at least twenty-four hours. Also, some of the old dried caulk fell down the drain and clogged it, and when I tried to get it out with my screwdriver, I broke the drain so now I’m going to have to replace that too. I called the hardware store and they have the part I need, so I’ll just pop over after lunch and pick it up.”
“And while I’m there I can pick up the screws to fix this toilet!” His eyes are shiny with excitement as he thinks of yet another thing he can do while he’s at the hardware store. “And, I should probably look at shelving units while I’m there for when I organize the garage because I noticed they’re having a sale today only.”
“Nick. Toilets.” Amy can only speak in one syllable words because she if she doesn’t keep it short and to the point, the string of obscenities that might come pouring from her mouth will certainly ensure her children will require many hours of therapy as adults.
“I know, I know and I’m sorry. I promise, as soon as I’m done with this, I’m totally going to clean the toilets.” Nick stands and wraps his arms around his wife, completely oblivious to her vibrating rage.
“How much longer will this take?” Amy asks, regretting it the second it comes out of her mouth because she knows what his answer will be.
“Ten minutes tops.”