I wash dishes. I am 12, 27, 14, 19, 31. I am two in a yellow shirt and checked shorts and a bowl cut standing on a chair at the sink, hands clasped above the soapy water, grinning open-mouthed at the camera while my mother is in the hospital recovering from another Cesarean section. I am nearly 43. The age my grandmother died. There are bubbles. Lots of bubbles only my mother can make, her knuckles raw and red.
We use a dishcloth here, not a sponge. There are systems. Taxonomies unfathomable to the uninitiated. Flour is in the second cabinet on the bottom with pots. Cornmeal bought to make cornbread once is up with boxes of pasta and cake mixes and cans of tuna. Chocolate chips are underneath the silverware drawer with miscellaneous items like a hot water bottle, the cover to an electric skillet that no longer exists, and instruction manuals for decades’ worth of appliances. But when we were children their hiding place was higher, above the sink in a yellow ceramic mixing bowl with J.R. engraved in cursive on the bottom. My grandmother’s initials.
The bowl is still there. The dishes are the same. Same plates. Same flowers. Same chips. Same cracks glued back together.
Chia seeds are in with the paper plates and liquor bottles, Styrofoam coffee cups and cracked leather thermos for Scotch, in the bottom cabinet by the back hall door, where mom goes to smoke her cigarettes and take calls on the cordless phone. The Seagram’s purple felt bag protecting the Crown Royal is plusher, more regal, in my memory. But the paper stamp still seals the bottle with a cross, 1962. The chianti in a straw basket is empty but for dust. Ouzo is plentiful. When you are Greek, people give you ouzo. Bottles for anniversaries, Christmases, baptisms, celebrations. Or Metaxa, five star. Too good to drink. That goes in the back hall, up high, out of reach.
Turn on the radio when washing the dishes. Set the dial and travel to the ’80s or ’90s. Dishcloth. Bubbles. Light. Wash. Rinse. Dishcloth. Bubbles. Wipe. Dream.
Warm weather, Garfield Aries nightgown. Cold weather, blue Saint Joseph’s sweatshirt from oldest sister, first to go to college. Black and rainbow shell afghan crocheted by great-grandmother who died when I was two. She used to hold me, would take two buses across the city to come see us when I was a baby. I don’t remember being in her arms but my middle name is hers.
Unopened Clapper — As Seen On TV! — wrapped in plastic. Mr. Coffee, unused. My parents drink Maxwell House.
Chests and boxes and rooms and drawers and wallpaper and photographs. Cedar chest holding secrets. Family histories squirreled away where no one can find them. Family histories hiding in plain sight. Pencil lines on the kitchen doorway marking heights over the years. I haven’t grown since junior high.
There is always dessert when you are here, a brownie or ice cream, some sweet treat. It used to be Little Debbie’s snack cakes or chocolate pudding, sometimes a toaster strudel.
It is 2018, yet there’s a new X-Files on in my parents’ bedroom. Same room, same Mulder and Scully. The images flicker, dark and blurry on the screen, as pixel-poor and crappy as the first time around in the nineties. I sit on the edge of the bed and my mom brings me a toaster strudel on a napkin. The time warp runs deep.
I wash the dishes. Same plates. Same flowers. Same chips. Same cracks reglued. Still holding together.