Thursday, June 22, 2006

She Cleans He Cleans

Marissa said that she would clean the apartment herself. Her husband had his work cut out for him, but the income wasn’t enough to hire a housekeeper. So Marissa cleans on Wednesdays. She sweeps, scrubs, and tidies two bathrooms, the parlor, the kitchen, and two bedrooms. She purifies the air with essential oils. She paces the long hallway chanting about her personal bliss and silently wishing her dearest Ones good fortune. She never needs to bend and scrub in her writing studio. She adores that space and keeps it ever tidy. On the radio, Marianne Faithful was singing a feminist anthem called “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” about a housewife who is so bored she jumps off the roof. Marissa gets bored with the burden of house chores, but she’d never despair over it the way Lucy did. Indulging a sad mood when the song ends, Marissa recalls a sad story she read the day before, a story called “Immortality” by Yiyun Li. Marissa silently repeats this line from that story, “Trust us, it breaks our hearts when he cleans himself by his mother’s tomb.” In Li’s story’s context, the word “cleans” refers to castration. Marissa thinks of the fictional Chinese man, who was prized for his face’s resemblance to the dictator’s face, who lives over forty years and remains a virgin, who is publicly humiliated when he attempts to be with a prostitute, and who castrates himself in the tradition of an imperial eunuch during a time when no one could possibly appreciate the gesture but only dread and fear it. Marissa grins. Her husband has been told that his face looks like that of the second baseman for the Chicago White Sox. Tadahito Iguchi! Even though her husband is Chinese by birth, she won’t have to worry about him castrating himself anytime soon. He’d better not! Not while she is trying to convince him it is about time they try to make a baby!

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