Writer in Residence · 09/09/2010

Artifact 5: The Invention of Housekeeping

This was after the invention of houses. We stacked stones for days to create a wall. This was after the invention of walls, after we decided the hearth should be the center of the house. This was recently after the invention of housekeeping.

We began our days with separation, and you returned at night. I was learning the importance of distance. They told me this anticipation would make the day have meaning. This was before the invention of kissing, but we had our version.

There were multiple meanings for words now. Hearth meant food, warmth, a tool. It made the house feel like a nest at night. This was after the invention of mantles. This was after the invention of pots and cups.

They taught me how to keep plants from dying, how to choose where they grew. They taught me how to keep the fire from dying, and children, should I have them. They taught me to mold wet clay and to throw it in the fire to create a kind of permanence. This was another way to keep my days shorter.

We displayed objects on the mantle. The carved stones you collected. Jewelry. Status symbols. You came home tired.

With sticks pushed into mud, they taught me the symbols for bull, for water. They held out cups and pots and told me the importance of containers, of holding a substance and keeping it safe. From wet clay, they molded a woman, asked me to add more clay to the belly. They could not believe I didn’t know the real importance of the word woman. I never had a mother.

After she was fired, we put the clay woman on the mantle, and you wished it were the center of the house. She didn’t stand on her own, and we often laid her on her side.

You held my face by the fire, told me about the trade outside of the wall, the fishing. You said you wanted me to see, that you’d take me. You said you were trying not to be worried, but all this change was hard. We invented new kinds of touching. I tried not to seem tired.

This was before the invention of tables. They showed me animal mothers on all fours, their children on their backs. They pointed to the multiple children. On my own, I’d learned the word mother also meant danger, but I paid attention to the importance of containing and holding.

The clay woman seemed strange next to our other objects. During the day, I held her in my hand.

Beds were recently invented, mine smaller than the childhood bed I shared, but finally mine. You were tired, but you were also important, and you also held my waist when you came home, after they left. This was before the invention of shared adult beds, but we had our version.

I thought about animals and legs. I thought about something to carry the clay woman, to contain her and elevate her. I was learning.

This was before we invented lists, and I didn’t make enough clay to mold four legs. But my creation could still stand with three. All by itself. Better, after I fired it. I tampered with the symbol for water until I thought it was beautiful, spiraled, with square edges. This was after the invention of beauty.

You came home tired but with interest. You didn’t notice the missing leg. You said it was perfect.

But you turned it on its empty belly. You placed it next to the clay woman on the mantle. You said it was a new symbol for three, parents and child, a new meaning, and beautiful. You said I was learning.

You wished more than ever that the mantle could stand on its own in the center of the house, but you were grateful that the hearth lit our new objects just right.

Christy Crutchfield writes and teaches in Western Massachusetts. Her works have appeared or are forthcoming in Mississippi Review, elimae, Juked, PANK, and others. She is an Associate Editor for Keyhole Magazine.

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posted by Amber Sparks