Excerpts from Chlora’s Book of the Month Club: September and March
Draft 1, copyright 2011 Ginger Henry Geyer
...this begins in September when Chlora spends Sunday afternoon at her Grandmother’s house....
Good thing Chlora felt puny.
As the afternoon wore on,
Grandmother would probably put her to work.
Thankfully the rain prevented window washing.
The familiar hum of the vacuum cleaner was a comfort.
If Grandmother was fussing over the carpets,
she wasn’t fussing over Chlora.
But what was she doing vacuuming on the Sabbath?
Didn’t she know about blue laws?
Grandmother called it hoovering, even though she used a Kirby.
She never used it on the nice oriental rug in the smoking room,
so Chlora knew she was safe in there.
It was a fine Turkish carpet, and it extended across the floor
and under Granddaddy’s desk. Chlora liked to get under there
and count the knots per square inch until she got dizzy.
She imagined the poor little girls who had to sit there
tying double knots by the hour for these tourist rugs.
She’d seen pictures of this in National Geographic
so she knew it was true.
The better rugs would be piled up in mosques.
Or to be more modern, the mosque would install
wall-to-walling carpeting like those in hotel lobbies.
National Geographic showed rows and rows of barefoot men
bent over, breathing their prayers into an enormous carpet
so patterned that it dissolved the vast space
of the mosque into a shimmering mirage.
The worshipers had to wash up, even their feet,
before they went inside but you knew it had to smell
like a locker room in there,with hundreds of shoes and socks
scattered just outside the door.
They could probably benefit from one of those Jesus air fresheners
that Granddaddy hung on the rear view mirror in his truck.
But at least they confessed something instead of sweeping
it all under a rug. No wonder they had to invent industrial sized
vacuum cleaners. She thought it was a rather delightful blend
of the sacred and secular to consider those carpets,
their wool fibers permeated with coffee and garlic, hopes and fears,
then mowed over by a machine that sucked up the residual of prayer.
Chlora was impressed with ritual and devotion.
The Muslim clean up wasn’t quite like baptism,
but maybe a reminder of it, as it starts something to
get your very self purified before you approach the Lord
in humility. And Muslims do it five times a day.
No Christians she knew would do that.
Chlora yearned for a prayer rug and she had made her bathmat
into one by painting on it the same gates of paradise design
that was here on Granddaddy’s Turkish rug.
A prayer rug was supposed to point east to Mecca,
but without a handy compass or a sunset,
it was hard to gauge directions.
In awe, Chlora would fall on her face like a devout Muslim,
but she didn’t know the words to use, and the bathmat made her sneeze,
and she was a bit nervous that girls weren’t supposed to do that.
The magazine said they had a room of their own
which was good because if they prayed in the same posture
as the men, nobody would ever get holy
because who could concentrate with all those rear ends up in the air?
Grandmother’s hoovering was getting louder.
She was getting after all the crumbs on the floor from Sunday dinner.
Howard the dog had done his best to help out,
and Chlora had slipped him some fried chicken under the table.
That vacuum had a big, all metal motor.
Chlora had admired Islamic metalwork in a big art book
from the Louvre Museum in Paris. The book was here in the
smoking room. In the back she found that famous
silver and gold basin made long ago by some artist
with a long Islamic name. It was deeply
etched with fanciful animals and warriors and horses going to war.
One day the basin got looted out of its homeland and wound up
in Versailles, where those foolish French royalty
used it for a baptismal font.
Surely they saw the irony in that,
baptizing innocent little babies in a war vessel.
Maybe that was to get them ready for the next round of Crusades.
That basin was probably used for washing up originally,
maybe in one of those Turkish bathhouses full of naked ladies
playing the lute and sipping strong hot tea.
This was one of the most curious paintings in the Louvre book.
Chlora wasn’t sure if this bathing ritual was part of their religion or not;
the ladies in that big round painting looked rather comfortable
with the whole thing and they weren’t showing off
like the ones Picasso did after seeing them,
leaving no doubt behind that these gals were loose,
as Grandmother would say.
But then, Picasso was in another book, another museum, another world.
Granddaddy said the ladies in the Middle East wore lovely
silk scarves all the time to cover up their hair.
Chlora asked if they all had bad hair, and he said,
no just the opposite, they are required to hide their beauty.
He bought a scarf for each female in the family
when he went on a business trip there.
He went in one of those jammed bazaars and
found scarves by the millions.
He said he got pattern exhaustion in that place.
While he was at it, he also bargained for the rug
and had it shipped home. It smelled wooly and spicy
for a long time, until the cigar smoke of the smoking room took it over.
Chlora liked the colorful design on her scarf,
but it was uncomfortable to wear
and there was no need to cover her hair since it was frizzy
and not about to get some man hot and bothered.
With all that clothing head to toe,
it was the poor women who got hot and bothered.
Did God want them to be miserable on warm days?
burn up now or burn in hell?
It seemed there was a conspiracy of textile manufacturers over there…
floors were covered and so were women, from head to toe.
It was enough to make Chlora dread growing up.
Once she left her pretty scarf on the coffee table in the den
and it slinked off onto the floor.
Grandmother was watching TV
while she vacuumed, and didn’t notice it there.
Boy did it snarl up the works.
That was the end of Chlora’s scarf.
She prayed that Muslim women could be so lucky.
From MARCH, when Chlora is required to help clean the house...
Mom said since it is March we have to do our spring cleaning
and a party is a good excuse.
Time to tidy up reality. Go get the vacuum cleaner.
Chlora would invent a robot to do this in the future.
Cleaning was a total time-suck.
But nobody’s coming in the house…
well, vacuum it anyway just in case nobody does.
Those kids from the birthday party would be tracking in sand,
so how bout I do it afterwards? Sure, Mom said, you can vacuum
after the party too. Chlora rolled her eyes.
Isnt’ this nepotism, giving all the family members jobs?
Her mother would spring-clean the whole world.
She had heard of the Arab spring. It was some sort of clean up.
And then there was that Rite of Spring ballet
full of fertility rites, enough to start a riot in France.
Or those pagan rituals of virgin sacrifice to god of spring
somewhere in the dark rain forests of South America.
A sweeter sort of spring could be found in Italy, with its primavera,
Flora and Chloris showing that love triumphs over brutality
floating there in their fragrant orange grove,
gathering blossoms and strawberries on a lawn of flowers,
like a carpet page in a medieval illuminated manuscript,
all windblown by the handsome gods,
with three graces nearby doing ring around the rosey.
Envisioning this would help Chlora get through the task at hand.
She went to the hall closet where the vacuum cleaner lived.
Its family of attachments took up half the space.
The hose, the brush for draperies, some long tubes,
the whatever, whatever,
all too complicated to even get out of the box.
Some salesman got the best of mom and she bought that monster
after he demonstrated how well it worked not only on the carpet
but the sofa, and then, the mattresses. Who vacuums beds?
Mom told her to start with the small nozzle and go after the sofa,
and then just take off the whole hose and sweep through the living room.
At least she didn’t have to use the suction hose and snarf up the drapes.
Clanking and banging around in there like Stravinsky
and she finally came out triumphant as a carpet bagger
with the correct hose and nozzle. Eureka!
Now, wall to wall carpet is a western thing,
but she heard it had caught on in big mosques too.
It defined living rooms and bedrooms here in small American towns,
offering wall-to-wall coverage, like insurance for art,
for those who didn’t care to take nasty floor rugs outside
to beat them with a broom. That could stir up allergies
for the entire neighborhood.
Vacuuming was done in the comfort of your own air-conditioning.
You need to use the small nozzle to get in between the sofa cushions.
This task, she knew, would be like the harrowing of hell.
You don’t use a mere dust buster for this;
you needed a dirt devil, for sucking
sinners right out of the underworld, along with all
the muck they dropped into the dark crevices,
including French fries, gum wrappers, remote controls,
dog bisquits, hair barrettes, crayons and coins....
this was the only reward, and it would be
finders keepers. So Chlora got with it and made
a giant sucking sound way down south
on the sofa. She wedged apart the cushions
and first looked for valuables to extract.
She scored 57 cents, quite a haul.
this made the horror vacuui job quite worthwhile.
She valiantly wielded the vacuum hose, which had a mind of its own,
to suck up the rest of the trash, pocketing one nice fountain pen
before it clattered up the chute. She did not want to retrieve it
from the dirt bag.
Galileo said empty space sucks gas or liquid,
and those Rococo artists with their abhorrence of empty spaces,
took him seriously, even though the Vatican didn’t,
and they filled up every available space with decor.
Chlora thrust the nozzle into the loveseat
and retrieved two more dimes. She was doing better than
most bag ladies today. She would give them a tithe of her earnings,
as she always felt sorry for them and one had died downtown recently.
God, like a big Hoover in the sky, had just sucked her up.
God might create out of a vacuum but nobody else did.
Now that the furniture had been sucked dry, Chlora yanked off
the red hose and began sucking up all the oxygen in the room.
Nature abhors a vacuum but not as much as cats do.
That humongous vacuum cleaner didn’t just spring to life,
it roared into the space like an ancestral lion
advancing and retreating, suctioning up pet hair
and dust to dust as if the floor itself was territory to be captured.
Iodine the cat crept under the couch and wouldn’t come out for hours.
The dog, however, had a different tactic.
He barked as loud as the vacuum and with great bravado
nipped at the motor, leaving toothy marks on the rubber bumper,
chasing it as it moved six steps forward and three steps backward.
It was sort of like ballroom dancing, and Chlora made a game out of it.
She pretended to be one of those happy housewives in the magazine ads,
wearing her high heels and pearls and lipstick
and dancing away, as if her partner were Fred Astaire instead of Kirby.
She tried to twirl like the hippos in Fantasia,
but the machine did not turn on a dime like those dancers did
so when it sucked up something it shouldn’t have,
probably a lost Lego, it protested mightily
and Chlora found the OFF switch.
The carpet had wide swaths of nap going one way or the other
to prove that she had done her job.
She unplugged and parked the heaving vacuum cleaner back in its closet.
Living in a vacuum sucks, this she knew well as an introvert.
We all have the same internal void, an empty spot that is shaped like God,
there in the midst of all the clutter of the world,
and nothing else can fill it up, not even a moral vacuum.
Some secrets suck up energy, but that was one that should be told.