Cleaning the House Before the Counselor Arrives

Fiction

by Clayton Krollman

We’re cleaning the house before the counselor arrives. I’m in charge of the kitchen and she cleans everything else. I am the vice president to her president, always. Am I resentful? Not of this. 

Two inches of coffee are still in the pot. I turn it on to get warm, just in case the counselor is interested. It’s important to be a good host, she and I agree.

The counselor’s name is Stuart, if his voicemail is to be believed. He is coming because she stuck one half of my belt in the top of the bathroom door and looped the other half around her neck. We’re cleaning because her mother is five hours into a ten-hour drive to come celebrate her sixtieth.

The kitchen is the most straightforward part of the house to clean, and, from there, I can keep her in sight the whole time. This is important when somebody tries to kill themself, so that you can stop them when they try again. The doctors cite the time directly after a suicide attempt as one to be watchful. I am being very watchful. Too watchful, according to her, when I made her keep the bathroom door open while she used the toilet.

She won’t speak to me because I tricked her into going to the doctor’s office and embarrassed her when I explained what happened. 

We’d only had four drinks, but alcohol mixes badly with antidepressants. Bad mixing has been her stance since I found her next to the bathtub. When she passed out, her weight slid the belt out from the top of the door and she hit the tub on the way down. The doctor called the bump on her head a “hematoma,” which seems very dramatic, however technically correct. The doctor also called her lucky.

Once you tell a doctor you’ve attempted suicide, the doctor has a legal obligation to call in a psych specialist. In our case, they let us go home to wait for the counselor, so long as we each promised the doctor that we would be there to answer the door. We didn’t promise to answer the door, but it was implied.

The dog has been troubled since the original crash of head-on-tub. After the first fight we came down to garbage strewn across the kitchen. The vacuum has been a point of contention. I am not looking forward to the barking once the counselor arrives. 

We have a reservation at a vegan place downtown for her mother’s birthday later today. She does not want to know how close she was to never being happy on her birthday again. If they take her to an inpatient facility, I will not be able to keep her mother from the bad news. 

A wife who loses her husband is called a widow, and a child who loses her parents is called an orphan. There is no name for a parent who loses a child. 

I leave it up to you to decide how guilty I should feel. I want it out of my hands. We’ve had four drinks before without event, but last night included a screaming match. Now, I did not instigate the fight, but I can be so cruel. There is no limit to how low I will stoop in order to win an argument, and boy did I stoop. Let me complicate things further by telling you about her chronic pain disease. No doctor has taken it seriously in the last five years. There is always something to be done. If I loved her as much as I say I do, wouldn’t I go to medical school and become a brilliant doctor and develop a cure?

Maybe we should all feel guilty all the time that we haven’t fixed the world already. Forgive me the sentimentalism; the woman I love tried to hang herself with my belt. What is there to do but feel responsible?

This whole time, I’ve been cleaning the same plate. In here, the story, time moves the way time moves inside a brain. Almost instantly. In the time it’s taken me to clean this plate, she’s finished dusting the blinds and has moved onto disinfecting the banister. If I didn’t know any better I would think she is trying to impress the counselor, whose name is Stuart if his voicemail is to be believed. 

Clayton Krollman is a graduate of University of Maryland, where he received the Jiménez-Porter Literary Prize for poetry. His most recent writing can be found in The Penn Review, Moon City Press, and The Matador Review, among others. He has had work nominated for both a Best of the Net Award and a Pushcart Prize. Currently, he lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina.

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