When my mother polished, Claire and I hid upstairs.
It only happened sometimes, in time for visitors – she wasn’t house-proud. But the polishing, when it happened, was something else. We’d hear her march down the hall, after a morning of, ‘I’m sick of this place – living in filth.’ Then she’d go on, ‘If your father thinks this’ or ‘If your father thinks that.’ You knew what was coming when she made her hands into fists.
If we dared to sit on the stairs and watch her, we’d witness her rags in one hand, her spray can in the other, and her sleeves rolled up ready to work. She’d put on a scarf over her hair.
Our gran would throw up her eyes and mutter, ‘You’d think it was a fumigation, all that bother.’
Then you heard the blasts. I thought of my comic books – of matter being vaporised. Then the smell came. It was meant to be lemons, and my mother would go on sometimes about the scent of the Mediterranean, but to me it was a heady smell like turpentine or something kids sniffed on the back of the bus.
Next, she came upstairs, victorious in the wake of her scent. We raced ahead of her and loitered at door jambs, pretending boredom. She pottered about on the landing, wiping the cabinet with huge swoops of her arms until the dark wood gleamed.
Soon, caught up in her energy, we’d follow at her heels. We watched her progress as she transformed everything into something untouched by greasy hands.
And it didn’t matter then that everything else was falling to ruin – the scrapyard back garden, the piles of washing, the dinners never made, the rows with dad. When we caught that scent and saw that gleam we believed everything she believed and knew she had been right all along.
‘There now,’ she’d say, smiling, satisfied. ‘That’s the sort of house we want to live in.’
David Mohan is a poet and short story writer based in Dublin, Ireland. He came second in the 2009 Sean O’Faolain International Short Story Award and won the 2008 Hennessy/Sunday Tribune New Irish Writer Award. He has had stories published in Southword, The Stinging Fly 2010 anthology, Contrary and the 2010 Binnacle anthology.