Skills in the Domestic Arts
Exclusive new fiction by Reneé Bibby
You are a mother at the threshold of your oldest daughter’s room. You’ve been afraid to look, left it unchecked, and you are astounded, maybe even somewhat impressed by the carnage. Her space is a fresco by a master, Explosion of Teenage Life in Modern Times: sports bras rimmed with lines of salt dangle off her door handles; jeans, underwear, and T-shirts crumple on the floor, drape themselves over the headboard and desk chair, dribble out of the closet; balled socks are everywhere daubs of white; Lip Smackers chap sticks (Ice Cream Cake, Mango, Cherry, Cotton Candy, Peppermint, Root Beer Float) intermingle with open, half-used Blistex tins; electric blue eyeshadow kits, Great Lash mascara tubes of every shade, Wet ‘N’ wild polish and cotton balls speckled with color (blue, metallic black, and more blue), half-used makeup sponges, and hairbrushes clogged with wily strands obscure the top of the vanity; and then, around the periphery of the room: cleats, shin guards, sweat-slicked uniforms, running shoes, a much-loved pair of Doc Martens, flats, sandals; silver flecks of bubblegum foil and Snickers snack-size candy wrappers, old mugs clung to by dried teabags, ring pops, half-eaten sandwiches, glasses rimmed with milk or juice; the carpet layered with crumpled notes, dented sheets of old homework, pen lids, uncapped markers, and a smattering of Post-it notes with hand-drawn emojis; the décor a mishmash of candle wax, seashells layered with dust, peeling stickers (a Lisa Frank Unicorn, Pacman, Blue Ghost, Pink Ghost) on the closet door, crystalline perfume bottles with candy-colored liquid, a ratty old stuffed teddy bear and a squirrel, a knocked-over dead fern spilling its dirt, a smattering of coins, a very old Little Mermaid comforter disgorging its innards, discarded dollar bills, a leaking plastic snow globe, Mardi Gras beads in green, purple, and yellow, sticky-tack daubing the walls, plus posters (Megan Rapinoe, Billie Eilish, BTS) and newspaper articles about her sporting victories yellowed and curling off the walls. And somewhere unseen but smellable, damp towels molding into an aqueous funk.
You hadn’t looked in for a while — you didn’t know it’d gotten this bad. When you were young, vacuuming your bedroom curtains under supervision, first thing on a Saturday, you vowed to not become your mother. You wouldn’t wake up your girls (before sons) to clean imagined dirt — clean away the idea of dirt. Your own children would have a space in the house wholly their own. A bedroom, a parcel of land inside the kingdom of the household, over which they would have dominion, to manage and secret away their childish lives from the inspection of adults.
Now, at the threshold of your oldest daughter’s room, the sign on the door, KEEP OUT, is a reminder that to annex her room back into the kingdom would be a betrayal to the younger version of yourself, the furiously vacuuming girl who hadn’t been allowed to choose if she’d clean curtains, much less dictate when they were vacuumed. It doesn’t matter that you’ve opened the door because the smell had assaulted you in the hall, a sour organic interplay of ripe food, molding, and synthetic flower fragrance: you can’t renege on your promise to them: you can keep your room any way you like.
So, you close the door and go back to our own room. They’re watching TV downstairs, your husband, oldest daughter, and the youngest daughter. Your own room isn’t perfect, not a study in meticulousness — you have some neatly piled clothes not put away; you can tolerate a few bottles on the vanity. Your own room is a Wyeth painting: clean lines, spare but warm-toned and calm. You can live with the oldest daughter’s room. Surely.
Almost out of sight, just on the periphery of your attention, you see movement. You’re not afraid of bugs. You’ll pluck a spider right from the wall with bare hands and carry it outside. You don’t scare easily.
You watch the cheap Sunny Health & Fitness rowing machine, unused for months and relegated to the corner of the room, move. It moves slow as a sloth, the long arm of the paddle swinging out first, the surprisingly prehensile seat and column undulating like an inch worm. You watch it creep towards the bed.
“Hey,” you say, “what’re you doing?”
It freezes mid-undulation.
The central bar, where the seat slides, arches like a cat.
“Well, come on then.”
It shimmies, tense in the pose, until it pushes the front feet forward, stretching and waving the paddle arms. It curls around itself, like a dog getting ready to sleep, but frenzied, and loops several circles until it hooks one of your slippers on its right arm. It holds up the slipper.
“Is the slipper going to come to life, too?”
The rowing machine creeps its way purposefully to the closet, shoves the door open with a brisk swish of its left paddle, and places your slipper next to the row of other shoes.
It snaps its right rowing arm back towards the seat in a sort of salute.
“But you forgot one.” You point to the left slipper on the floor.
It hops, popping just a few inches off the floor in Tiggeresque exuberance. It moves like a poorly-constructed mechanical caterpillar, arching so the back feet slide up as it stretches the front feet forward. It seems to get better at sorting out its own limbs, moving across the bedroom to grab the second slipper and sweep it into the closet.
You see a compromise, a way into oldest daughter’s room. You tell it, “You’re hired.”
Oldest daughter doesn’t agree.
In the master bedroom, you encourage her: “Let it clean your room.”
Oldest daughter leans down to talk directly to the rowing machine. The feet pedals cock in a way that gives an impression of listening. “Buddy, get out of here while you can; all she cares about is cleaning.”
Youngest daughter drops to her knees to wrap her arms around the rowing machine’s seat: “Don’t listen to her! We’re a fun family!”
Oldest daughter leans over youngest daughter and says, “Only so much fun we can have living in a museum.”
You want to shake oldest daughter, maybe bruise her arms in your ardency and say, I didn’t make you bend over the edge of the bathtub to brush it with bleach; I didn’t put you on hands and knees on hard tiles to scrub the floors with lye; I didn’t send you up on the ladders to wash the outside windows every week, quiet so as not to wake your brothers. I let you sleep in, I let you loose in a day, I let you choose the world — and while you were in your classrooms and your soccer games and parties I did the cleaning alone.
Well, not anymore. You say, “Hey, rowing machine, go to her room and if there’s anything on the floor throw it in the trash.”
The rowing machine darts for her door.
“No,” oldest daughter shrieks and bolts, bounding over the machine to get down the hall and block access to her den.
You follow, youngest daughter at your elbow, and pause, all three barred from oldest daughter’s room. The rowing machine vibrates with unspent energy. Finally, you relent and point to youngest daughter. “Okay. Go clean her room instead.”
The rowing machine swivels to youngest daughter’s door. Youngest daughter double pumps both fists: “YES! I’m never cleaning my own room, ever again.”
“That’s not what that means,” you laugh.
“Why else did you make him, then?” Youngest daughter sprints to her room, whooping.
“Mom made that rowing machine to police us even when she’s not here,” oldest daughter insists at dinner.
But how could that be true? It’s afraid to come downstairs. At the top of the stairway it will stop, shaking like a frightened dog, and won’t descend even with youngest daughter’s coos of encouragement. For weeks, it has spent the evenings upstairs, trundling from room to room, sorting, folding laundry, placing stacks of clothes on beds, throwing away any little bit of trash, organizing and reorganizing closets, and as long as you leave the vacuum plugged in it will ineptly push the upright over patches of carpet. At dinner you all listen to it clomp around.
“Mom, seriously, only you would make a fantastical beast to do laundry.”
“Right,” you say, “better to have made a war machine, some weapon of mass destruction and chaos.”
Oldest daughter makes a ha-ha-not-funny face.
“Marcel could be a killer,” youngest daughter says.
“Who’re you talking about now?” Husband looks up from his plate.
Husband looks at you, adrift in the sea of conversation, “The mime?”
“The rowing machine, dad. He’s named Marcel. Get it? Because he can’t talk.”
“Where do you even get this stuff?” oldest daughter asks.
Husband, still trying to get oriented: “You’re talking about mom’s rowing machine?”
“Do not name it or it will never leave.”
Youngest daughter gets up, hooks an arm around oldest daughter’s neck, smacks her sister on the cheek with a noisy kiss, and tops off the whole performance with an old-timey announcement: “Ladies, ladies! Step right up, don’t be scared! It can’t hurt you.”
Oldest daughter extricates herself and carries her dishes to the sink where she places them very pointedly on the counter and not in the dishwasher. “Your day to do dishes, sis.”
“Aw, butternut squash!” Youngest daughter sticks with the old-timey voice.
As if it heard that cleaning needed to be done, the rowing machine starts down the stairs. You all hear it clank against the narrow halls; you turn to watch the aperture of the hallway. It edges its pedals forward first, then maneuvers a gangly rowing arm to leverage itself down the last step into the kitchen. It does a little hop before settling by your feet.
“Cheese and rice,” youngest daughter yells, “that’s awesome!”
Oldest daughter says, “Great, now you really can be policed anywhere in the house.”
You feel the sting of that. Swallow hard against the choke of rising feelings. Marcel’s rowing hand taps yours under the table, twice, the briefest of touches, a reminder that somebody here is on your side.
You gnash your teeth at night. Husband turns over in bed, exclaims, “I can’t sleep with all that racket.”
“Then go to the guestroom,” you suggest.
He huffs and pulls a pillow over his face. He pushes the pillow off again and asks, “Why can’t you just let her be? Your new friend helps you clean every other room in the house. You’ve been so happy since he came along. Why does that one room bother you so much?”
You want to roll onto your side, regard the soft outline of his face and explain. Because our efforts are invisible to her but she always benefits from them. Oldest daughter fancies herself the type of girl who could live in the wilds, sleep in a thicket of straw, walk over forest floors, live covered only in burlap, but I know, if this house were permeable to the outside and its elements, if it had a floor of dust and dirt, bracken of dishes, hair and detritus writhing around like weeds in woodland — I know that oldest daughter would dream of our order. Many things you want to explain to husband, but he’s one of the boys who slept in on Saturday while you cleaned windows, a boy who wakes up and never wonders why the sun can shine so brightly through the panes.
The only one who truly knows what it all takes is Marcel. He’s with you, always. You build a basket for his seat, which you tie onto him first thing in the morning, so he looks like a turtle the whole work day. Special adaptations to the vacuum, the mop, the broom, the dusters (a long duster and a short one) make your cleaning equipment accessible.
Etta James on the stereo, Marcel chugging away in the kitchen, sweeping up the flour you spilled while baking a pie, you start a load of wash and pull a warm pile out of the dryer. Clothes folded, Marcel is ready to ferry the little family piles to the right rooms. Laundry done, and the floor dry, you tackle the dishes while Marcel vacuums the living room. Paul Simon on, you’re dusting the high spots, including the fans, while Marcel takes all the low places, including baseboards. It’s bliss.
Now you sense Marcel shift, by the side of bed, and tap tap, he touches your foot sticking out from the covers to let you know he’s there. So you turn to husband and smooth his brow with your hand, unworry him, and command: sleep. He does.
You openly fight with oldest daughter often, but secretly you know it wasn’t anything she said that summoned Marcel. Oldest daughter has always been your toughest and harshest critic, wily, demanding for things to be just so and oblivious to what it takes to make that happen, but your long, low, post-fight heartache wasn’t enough: it was youngest daughter, the pain she inflicted unwittingly. He came to life just a few weeks after you peeked into the dining room, where youngest daughter labored with stacks of paper, pizza boxes, popsicle sticks, marzipan figurines, glitter, and scissors for her genre-busting epic writing/art/history project, and asked, “Need help with anything, pumpkin?”
Youngest daughter looked up, hair tugged loose from pigtails, her eyes bruised dark with stress, and glue stick gumming every finger, “Gah, mom! No, you can’t help! This isn’t a stupid torn sock!”
You hadn’t expected that faint note of derision from her. She’d merrily joined you in special house projects, crocheting the rugs, repainting the wood furniture white, detailing birds on the blue ceiling, cleaning all the china. She did her chores without complaint. You hadn’t expected her to become your pupil in the domestic arts, but she was supposed to be the one who would join in a project to spend time with you; the one who wouldn’t just dismiss you. Her betrayal felt like arctic ice sliding between your ribs.
Then here comes the rowing machine, Marcel, and youngest daughter sidles up to you in the kitchen, mid-sauté, following you from pan to stove, to garlic, to stove, hovering at your elbow but keeping an eye on every brisk gesture and efficient chop.
Finally, you let her know, “It’s Provençal chicken and potato stew.”
As a pseudo-vegetarian, youngest daughter usually files an official complaint every meal about the use of animal in dinner. But this time she says nothing, just bobs her head in acknowledgement.
“Chicken was on sale. The Swiss chard in the garden was ready.”
Marcel, curled up on the kitchen rug, has to clatter out of the way as youngest daughter follows you to the sink to rinse the Santoku knife.
“Did you already set the table?” you ask.
“Mom,” youngest daughter searches your face, “what other magic can you do?”
“Well, you brought Marcel to life. What other magic can you do?” Youngest daughter crowds in close as if the only impediment to disclosing the information is how quietly you might want to reveal it.
You turn down the boil to a simmer on the stove. “What sort of magic are you talking about?”
“I don’t know, you tell me! I mean, do you wiggle your nose and dust everything in the house?”
Marcel has one again provided an opportunity, a way to get into youngest daughter’s good graces. If Marcel is a way to retroactively imbue with magic every custard, every late-night laundry load, every broken zipper fixed — all of your skills in the domestic arts — then you’ll take it. You lift a shoulder in a gesture that could be read as maybe I do as easily as maybe I don’t.
Youngest daughter’s eyes get big. “How big does this get? Come on, you can tell me, mom, I’m your biggest fan. Are you like Mrs. Weasley? Could you Reducto someone who made you mad?”
You don’t know what you are, but you know you’re no modern witch. You’re nothing from youngest daughter’s fantastical book-worlds. You’re rooted in something much older. You’re dirt-floor rooms and deep-drawn dark wells in the woods. You’re the solitary cabin in parched plains harrowed by howling winds, the cave floors softened by the bracken of leaves. You are any place humans have sought refuge from thunder, a shelter for fire, somewhere safe to sleep, anywhere anyone could call home. But youngest daughter doesn’t want your abreaction. There’s no need of magic if the suggestion of it will do. “Honey, I’ve got to make the aioli, so either help with that or get out of the kitchen. Please.”
Youngest daughter taps the side of her nose, nods, like you asked her to leave you alone for spellcasting, and backs out slowly to the dining room. Just like that she’s on your side again.
You hear their distant laughter. You descend the stairs to the landing and peek outside. The girls are in the backyard with Marcel. Oldest daughter wings a stick across the yard and Marcel gallops after it. He fumbles to pick it up and the girls run after him to grab it again, laughing so hard that youngest daughter fumbles her next throw; the stick lands a few feet away, well within reach of Marcel. Something oldest daughter says offends youngest so delightfully she tackles her sister. Marcel circles them with excited butt-wags.
The girls pause long enough to wind down and breathe. Marcel balances the stick on one of his rowing arms and as they watch him, curious, he slowly places it on oldest daughter’s head. Oldest daughter’s chest heaves with laughter, but she maintains the balance of the stick; youngest spins herself in circles on the ground, clutching her stomach in hilarity so intense it seems to hurt.
They are grass-stained, disheveled, sweaty. When they come back in, they will expect you to cluck over them about their disarray and dampened clothing. You don’t want to be that mother today, the bones of your own mother pressing up through the thin skin of you until you’re almost unrecognizable to yourself. So you go back up to the bathroom and pretend you didn’t see.
You have a field day when oldest daughter leaves for college. Marcel moves much more slowly now. The seam of his seat is unraveling, his pedals are chipped all the way off at the bottom, his paint has long since been rubbed to nothingness, and the foam of his rowing handles has flaked away. Even so, he rallies for a week of cleaning, sorting, scrubbing oldest daughter’s room. You paint the walls bright white, replace the carpet, and leave the space empty. A big bright room, spacious and airy. No amount of arguing for a games room from youngest or a workout room for husband will sway you. You need a hundred years of empty, clean space to rebalance the house.
Marcel is a different story. The energy of Oldest Daughter’s Room Cleaning ebbs in the following weeks, until you no longer whistle for Marcel in the morning. You check on him at first waking and command him to stay, or else he’ll heave himself up and creak around behind you all day. You put new dog beds all over the house, so he has a soft spot to land no matter where he might need to gather his strength.
You’re alone in the house the day Marcel falls. He doesn’t make it downstairs anymore. You crept from the room early and let him rest. You’re alone in the living room, sorting the girls’ clothes to donate the ones that don’t fit anymore, when the clatter and thump of Marcel tumbling down the staircase stops your heart. He hits the linoleum of the kitchen with a bang.
You run to him. He is tangled, in pieces. His rowing arms bobble feebly.
You fly to the garage, dump Christmas decorations out of a sturdy plastic bin, and race back to Marcel. You carefully — carefully, tenderly — place all of Marcel’s parts in the bin and carry him to the car. You flee the house without direction. Where should you take him? A car mechanic? A gym? You can’t think clearly.
In the box Marcel slips around a bit and taps against the plastic sides. Little parts of him jerk and heave. You quiet him with a hand on his rowing arm.
You squeal into a disabled parking spot at the Sports Authority and leave the door hanging open as you rush inside. You struggle to explain yourself to the kid at the counter. He calls the manager who calls a guy from the stock room who agrees to come outside to assess the damage. This guy, in an oil-stained polo, seems like the type who can fix things. Your heart catches, soars with the possibility. He peers into the bin.
“Careful,” you say, admonishing him when he picks up parts of Marcel.
After a real thorough looking through he says, “There’s no way, man. I mean, this is — these parts have snapped. You’d have to get somebody to weld it, and even then it might not work right. I’ve never seen one this old. Where did—”
Your knees give out; you catch yourself against the car. The guy grabs your upper arm, alarmed. Marcel rustles in the bin.
“Leave us,” you shout as you pull yourself free. The guy bows out and soon you’re alone with Marcel in the car.
You lean close and talk to Marcel, telling him all the things you haven’t ever said. Marcel lifts an arm and taps your hand where you clutch the bin. Tap tap. Goodbye. You tap back, twice. Goodbye.
Marcel never moves again.
Your husband thinks you can’t hear him urging the girls to come home to commemorate Marcel, the family’s only pet. You mean mom’s indentured servant? oldest daughter asks wryly. That said, she still obliges and makes her way home, returning without her fiancé but fiddling so much with the diamond on her finger that he feels like he’s in the room anyway. Youngest daughter comes back early from camp with a load of laundry she hauls downstairs to wash. To his credit, husband has spent the week making a sturdy wooden box out of plywood and a glue gun. You bury Marcel in the backyard, beneath the apricot trees.
At the edge of his grave oldest daughter whispers, “Why are you burying him? It’s not like he can decompose.”
Youngest daughter argues back. “You don’t know what will become of him.”
Husband redirects to you: “You want to say a few words, love?”
“No,” you say. You’ve said what you needed to say to Marcel and anything else would be mocked by oldest daughter as sentimental fanfare.
You smoke a secret cigarette next to his grave while inside youngest daughter makes Black Forest ham and cheese sandwiches with a side of green olive tapenade. You join them in the living room where they sit with plates balanced on their knees and accept a dish from youngest. Oldest can’t help but poke and needle you, and murmurs, “So this is what it takes to get to eat in the living room.”
Youngest daughter sucks in a quick breath. “Jesus Christ, leave it be.”
“So, mama,” oldest daughter says with a glance at you, “what’re you going to do now?”
You don’t feel up for the fight — you’re too tired to intuit where the fight might go. You’re at loose ends and you realize it wasn’t a good idea to invite the pugilist aching for a dust-up when you have no defenses. You chew your cheese sandwich; the youngest isn’t bad with the quick meals.
“Maybe you should get a dog.”
“That’d be nice,” husband agrees.
Oldest daughter looks across the room to your ironing station, to the bright white business shirts hangered and lined up along the specially installed ironing bar. “Jesus, mama, are you still starching dad’s shirts?”
“Your mom does it every weekend.” Husband walks right into the trap.
“Seriously? What century is this?”
Husband, who always expects a kind word over an unkind one, is officially out of his depth. He looks to you.
“If mom wants to do dad’s shirts,” says youngest, “let her.” She’s not as good at interceding as she used to be.
“Mom,” says oldest. “Try living a little. Now that you don’t have to worry about Marcel, you can do, y’know, anything.”
That’s not entirely true. She can do anything, because of you. You could tenderly hold her face between your hands: I was tethered, leashed by my own mother to kitchens and rooms, stretching hard as I could against my chains, yanked short at the edge of my own yards where I could see the shimmer of anything, the glimmer of some bright world that would not be mine. I sent you to conquer those lands.
For if you are a witch, then so is she. Channeling her power from sources beyond your ken, she is metallurgy and wires, electricity rivers, quicksilver blasts of digital data; she understands the clockwork grinding of machines, sees though the strata of meanings to vulnerable, tender centers, and with impunity uses her words to break men, to split them open. Fueled by modern times, by her endless allowances, her power is an ascension, flexes against your old-world sorcery. It was the risk you took, with both of your daughters, when you set them free, that they’d grow to be more powerful than you. You’ve done this to yourself.
You tear the thick crust of the bread off and squish it into cubes. You stuff chunks of compact dough into our mouth to chew, to keep your tongue quiet.
“Dad doesn’t need his shirts starched, does he? Do you, dad?”
Not sure what he’s getting into, husband agrees, “Yeah, if you want to stop doing my shirts, that’s okay. Nobody at the office wears button-down shirts anymore. Those millennials, they just love a nice T-shirt.”
“You want to go into work with a T-shirt?” you ask husband, knowing he’s missing the point.
“No, I just—”
“Mama, do dad’s shirts, I don’t care. Just. Maybe it’s time to open up and try new things, new hobbies. You know? Haven’t you ever wanted to do something like take a mechanics class? Art history? Music lessons? Something different.”
Youngest daughter, a witch of an entirely different sort, tries to restrain her sister. “Jesus, stop being the prince on the white horse trying to break mom free from a castle.”
Oldest daughter rounds on youngest on the couch. “Hey, grow up! I know you think mom is wizard, but cleaning a house is work. It’s hard work. Look at mom’s hands. It takes its toll.”
“Mom is really good at what she does,” youngest daughter says.
Oldest daughter is flushed and teary-eyed. “My cleaning lady is really good at it, too, but at least she gets paid.”
In the stunned silence, husband finally ekes out, “I have never, never kept money from your mom. She’s never wanted for anything—”
“I know, dad, I know. Sorry, I didn’t mean you were… I just want…” Oldest daughter puts her hands together and pleads with her father.
You have borne much, and you will again, but you find yourself standing, unsure and disoriented. You can feel all the mothers, other mothers like you in the world, balanced at the threshold of some new insight, some turning, but you grasp frantically, and it’s gone, wisps lingering then vanished like smoke.
“Everywhere in the world there’s dirt,” you say. “And everywhere, a woman is cleaning it up. Why can’t it be me?”
You touch the crown of oldest daughter’s head. A benediction. An imperative: You have twice my rage and all the power — go forth and build the world anew. But somebody has to stay behind and start cleaning up the place. Then you head upstairs, change into your pajamas, get into bed, and sleep.
Noonish, you hear husband home for lunch. He must not realize you can hear him so well on the phone, because he’s giving oldest daughter an update on your condition. Your attention pricks at the shift of his tone and you tune in closely over the hum of the microwave. “Okay, okay, I agree, she needs rest. No, I’m not bothering her; I’m letting her have her space. No, she’s still taking food, but she’s sleeping a lot. No, I can wake her up — she’s not in a coma for Christ’s sake. She doesn’t want to leave the bed. I think she’s sad about Marcel. No, no, I don’t think she’s upset about what you said. Yes, I’m doing the dishes. Yes, I’m doing my own shirts. Yes, the house is fine. I’m fine. She’ll be back at it in no time. Okay, fine, I’ll take your woman’s number. Is she good? No, I won’t have her iron my shirts. I can iron my own shirts. Yes, yes, just vacuuming and bathrooms. I’m not going to work your cleaning lady too hard. Come on. Give me a break.”
The microwave dings, the phone call ends. Husband eats and then leaves the house with a hollered “Bye, love” up the hallway stairs.
A cleaning woman paid to come into your house. She would be good at it, too. She’d dust your end tables, swab up the curls of hair from the sink, shine the shower curtains, clear toothpaste spatter, dust baseboards. Fondle all the doilies and silverware, in your house. While you do what? Watch TV? Take up tennis at the club? No. You throw off the covers.
Your power wanes in the world, making room for the wave of oldest daughters and youngest daughters across the entire planet. You’re a woman who has no need of things you know to be outside your reach — not the way your daughters do. But you’re not wholly powerless either, not yet, and oldest daughter was right, it’s time to change.
A rumble starts down in the basement, a groaning of wood like a great ship, a keening of concrete, a tinkling and pattering of delicate objects sliding as the house tilts, shifting and knocking the furniture about. Branches crack overhead and as your view through the window shifts, lurches, you see clouds and leaves swirl through the sky. You’ve trained every item in the house to obey you — bed posts, mattresses, dressers, vanity mirror, ottoman and chairs, dishes and dishwashers, shoes and spoons and window shades — and now, as one, they rouse themselves, creaking, stretching, squirming, awake. You stand. With one final astounding clap the house breaks free of its foundation. You are free as well, at last. You can do anything you want.