Megan M. Erwin is a graduate of the North East Ohio Master of Fine Arts program and the former editor of Whiskey Island. A 2009 Bisbee fellow, she is a recipient the Leonard Trewick Creative Writing Award, an Academy of American Poet’s Prize, and a scholarship to the Juniper Summer Writing Institute at the University of Massachusetts. Her work can be found at Everyday Genius and the Valparaiso Fiction Review.
She stood in front of the shed, already sweating, head empty and perfect. The air smelled like worms and water. A sudden rise in temperature had thawed the ridges of mud in the driveway and the dead grass was soft again. The essence of dirt, rich and warm, rose up like the earth’s own exhalation. This meant Spring Cleaning.
Wind chimes fringing their trailer made noise. She cleared her throat and looked back at it, aware of the grinding, slow and constant, that signaled the slide off the blocks. Pretty soon they’d be down in the mud. A fly buzzed near her mouth, and she spat, jerked open the door.
Smell rolled out, thick. She coughed, tied a dishtowel over her mouth and nose. This weather brings ailing, she thought. Sickness creeps in. The air inside was heavy, almost sweet, and dust hung still in the few shafts of light. Sand crunched underfoot on the poured concrete. The white bags, heavy and round as melons, hung against the side wall. The bins were there too, each parked beneath its bag, cocooned in duct tape. The Important Pieces remained in place. She could follow the Rules now. Pulling the broom from the corner, she went to the back.
When you are nineteen and at work and he buys you a beer, you take it. When you get off your shift, see him leaned on your car, you are friendly. Don’t ask about family or why he lives so far out. Don’t ask about trucking or if he’s a hunter. Mind your business, let him do something nice, for God’s sake. What else have you got? Let him take you fishing, camping, to dinner, let him pay your rent and refuse to meet your sister. Because he wants to treat you right, he wants to bring you on in. You are Being Courted. You get Married. He makes you learn the Rules.
While you learn, you must put other things out of your mind, make space. You must keep yourself busy now, homemaking, you must mind your business. You’ll know when to follow the Rules. And what do you know anyways, and do you really believe it? You waited too long, have you heard the word “Assistant”? So go in the back room, turn the radio up, drink your ice water and lay yourself down. Shut your eyes. Listen to the creak and groan and the grind, the grind.
She faced the hanging bags while she cleaned. They were wet, from condensation or a leak in the roof. She thought about liquids freezing and thawing and expanding, about how carved pumpkins collapse into themselves until they’re gone. Dust bloomed out the door. The phone rang in the trailer, then stopped, and that meant he’d be home. She moved faster.
The floor was swept soon, and she could see how much the splatters had faded, how they may not have been there at all. The broom went back in the corner, against the long shelf that held the Implements. She untied the dishtowel. At the end of the row of hooks, an empty plastic bag moved in the stirred air. Below it was a new garbage can, price tag still stuck to the lid. She cracked it open and bent from the waist and put her head in. It was quiet, smelled new, like chemicals and canned air, not unpleasant at all. In the trailer, the phone started ringing again.