Jen Schneider

Creative Nonfiction

Tomorrow I Will Clean the Closets

I don’t want to face the sweat-stained cloth. Should have taken the ticket to the dollar matinee. Or the basement couch. The ones with darkened pits & faded letters. Tweed-coated seats & fragrant cotton T’s. Numbers of years past, too. 98, 99, 02, 04, 06. All in single & double digits though time travels at warped speed. Cotton and Lycra blends sized children’s small through Triple X. Childhood innocence also boxed. Peeled plastic tracings & trappings. Tales told across time. Third at Regionals. Fifth at States. Penalty kicks and tie-breakers. Eggs over easy and waffles with gravy. Fuel up and fill up. Regular days of the rank & file—all ranked & ordered. Mickey Mouse alarms. Timex wristwatches. Cell trackers. Eye toppers, too. Plastic Ziplocs of crush-proof rimmed shells and wire-rimmed glass. Velcro headwraps and adjustable goggles. Lens packed in tiny cardboard boxes. Power etched in small fonts and on concave glass. Shatterproof yet not age-proof. Time & timers always ticking. I didn’t know it then—too busy cleaning, careening & clapping, though I do now. Closets always telling. 

I don’t want to face the evidence of days well spent—hand stamped tickets & hand pressed leaves—tea, turnips, and tagetes – and well documented spending—crumpled receipts for hot chocolate mornings & ham/cheese afternoons—processed/focused in overstuffed shelves of cotton & nylon Basketball tanks of army green & stoplight yellow. Should have followed the train to the downtown parade. Faded ink and inked photos. Soles on grass. Grass stains on knees. Soccer jerseys of construction orange & peony pink. Pose for the Kodak—say cheese. Shift and smile. Stock coded camera photos in shoeboxes of sizes 6, 8, and 10. Class of A, B, & C. Primary. Secondary. B.S. More. Fuzzy bathroom wraps rub shoulders with formal robes of hand-picked colors. I don’t want to sort the mismatched socks, either. The ones with threadbare heels & open toes. Peaks of violet, opal, & midnight blue polish. Purple & yellow striped crew socks. Plaid knee highs. Uniform blue tights. Always misplaced & mis-sized. Our math always manipulated. Never mainstream. Sets of cards. Decks on dock. Differential equations with variable results.

I don’t want to face the plastic-wrapped dresses. Should have joined the others for the thrift shop finds. Not the navy-blue gowns or the sequin bodices. Not the tulle and lace skirts—ankle dustings, thigh-high racers. Hemmed and hung. Signed & sealed. Sized in even increments of 2, 6, & 10. Monumental markers in equally undersized and under-worn seamed fabric. Both perfectly proportioned and perpetually disproportionate. Feasts for wide-eyes and parched throats. Should have gone to happy hour & sipped spiked Lemonade. Thirsts persist in the smallest of spaces. 

I don’t want to face the mugs of many moons. Of dates and dances. Ceramic capsules with open-air attics. Class of A, B, and C in enamel print and on red-stained lips. Predictable patterns coughed of unpredictable systems. Classy and classist. Bubbles grow large, then pop. Unsealed mail makes for towers that loom. I do not want to sort through letters. Returned to sender. Crayoned envelopes. Addressed to sandstorms in small town U.S.A. and tear storms in big city by the river. From ant-stained summer campgrounds and oil-stained gravel lots. Origin always known. Two by four plot of paradise in the front. Parking lot for big rigs and ten by four trailers in the back. Front porches of concrete and iron rails. All still there and forever not. Not Today. Not Yesterday. Perhaps Tomorrow. Probably Not.

I don’t want to face the function. Don’t care to function at all. Not the clean-out task. Not the clear-cut takes. Not the tie-dye scarves. Not the bunny ear slippers with the rubberized soles. Slip-proof yet still subject to slip and shift, as time and temptation often do. Positions shift and bones settle. Sometimes break. I do not want to read. I do not want to parse the next chapter. Fear plot twists, heroes, and heroines. Even so, the tower of books beckons. Curious GeorgeGeorge and Martha. Sheep in a Jeep. Always on the move. Magazines, too. Popular Mechanics. National Geographic. Time. Always on the move. Pages proffer unknown destinations and we—regular readers/regular feeders – ponder destiny. Mickey sneezes & coughs. Minnie melts under artificial light.

The bedroom door lock clicks. Left. The handle unlocks. Right. The clock’s minute hand hesitates then toggles. Time knocks. She—daughter/darling/daredevil/dynamite – stands in the doorway. A portrait of sun-kissed strands on top and sun-scorched skin beneath. Planted directly south of the plastic hoop and chin-up bar.  Her chin always up. Our/My/A North star. Shining bright. A small silver hoop kisses the cartilage of her right ear. A small gold hoop hugs her nose. I close the wicker weapons—the accordion doors that seal and protect – and trigger tears that toil and tango with time. The door’s squeaky hinges groan but will wait. They always do. Tomorrow I will clean the closets. She seeks life wisdom. Who/What/Where/Why/How. I do not want to tell her there are no answers. Only more questions. Today, I will only cherish Time. And Her. daughter/darling/daredevil/dynamite. In the smallest of spaces where dawn meets dusk, she/I dream.

Contributor Note

Food and its infinite permutations are an important influence in many aspects of my work, and to varying degrees depending upon time, place, piece, and context. Food is also an important part of my writing process — sometimes a source of inspiration, sometimes a source of distraction, always a source of reflection and recollection. As a prompt for recollections and multi-sensory collections of sometimes curious, sometimes mundane, sometimes unexpected reactions in both myself and others, food serves to both fuel and funnel the creative process. Not only does food nurture the writer, food also nurtures craft including (among other elements) character, setting, and plot.

Collections of items on pantry shelves are like confetti—a flurry of ideas linked to memories, experiences, and tastes. As a universal need and want, food is infinitely relatable and subject to ongoing experimentation. All individuals can appreciate and have simultaneously shared, and also utterly unique experiences associated with food, whether as a result of place, circumstance, origin, destination, or otherwise. The food preparation and consumption experience are universal and, as a result, a thread that both unites and distinguishes in memorable ways.

I’ve always believed that the best recipes and the best meals emerge from experimentation, and I approach writing from a similar perspective. Some favorite mixes: peanut butter and strawberry jam; milk chocolate and popcorn; sweet potatoes and honey mustard; whitefish salad and cucumbers; sweet corn and buttered noodles; carrots and cabbage; salmon cakes and mac ‘n cheese; cinnamon honey and apples; jalapeño peppers and mozzarella; meatloaf and ketchup; scrambled eggs and cubed melon.

Jen Schneider is an educator who lives, writes, and works in small spaces throughout Pennsylvania. She is a Best of the Net nominee, with stories, poems, and essays published in a wide variety of literary and scholarly journals. She is the author of A Collection of Recollections, Invisible InkOn Daily Puzzles: (Un)locking Invisibility and On Crossroads and Fill in the Blank Puzzles (forthcoming, Moonstone Press), and Blindfolds, Bruises, and Breakups.

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