Keeping Clean

by Rosie Ninesling

Your father has leukemia and is so sad that he is painting everything in the house blue. For bigger things, like walls and rugs, he uses a cylinder roller. For smaller things, like silverware and light switches, he uses brushes. He is too weak to leave the house, but painting makes him feel better, he says. Your mother brings home the cans of paint from Home Depot weekly. You watch him eagerly pry open each lid. You watch him dip his swollen fingers into every shade.

Flecks of indigo float in your cereal milk, you throw out all your food. When you draw a bath, the water turns opaque. Streaks of blue travel down your mother’s legs when she rolls down her tights after work. The smell is very strong. The smell is making your mother sick but she wants your father to die loving her so she doesn’t say anything. “Our family is hanging in there,” she tells her friends at Wednesday Night Bible Study. “We take one day at a time.” She keeps baby wipes in her glove box to clean herself before church. You watch her try to scrub off the cerulean stains under her eyes.

You also have found ways to keep yourself clean. You have placed locks on your bedroom door to keep your father away from your belongings. You are careful to wipe your feet before going out. You begin to spend all of your time at your boyfriend’s house, where the hardwood floors are mopped weekly and his parents still cook dinner on weeknights. You stay there for as long as possible, then sneak back into your house after your father has gone to bed.

One night, however, you open the front door and find him still awake. He is staring at the TV, the screen painted over. “Everything in this house is broken,” he says. He does not look at you. This is the last thing he will ever say.  

After your father dies, the paint stays wet. This is something nobody warned you about. Nobody warned you that the paint never dries. Nobody warned you about the way it gets tracked from room to room. Nobody warned you about the way you’ll look for your father’s blue footprints in the hallway, how you’ll have walked over them too many times to tell the difference.

Rosie Ninesling works for a magazine in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter at @rosieninesling


Photography by: Pawel Czerwinski