It was July and all us kids were home or at least near home when the cleaning started. I was in the back yard playing Hot Wheels with Jeffery and the girls were in the attic snooping through the trunks up there from who ever knew how long ago.
Mom started in the kitchen with all the pots and pans and plates and glasses left over from the night before. We could hear her banging things around and opening and shutting the cabinet drawers.
Next, she started vacuuming and over the next hour or so we could hear her hoovering the carpets and the wood floors from one end of the house to another.
Then the washing machine started and, after a while, the dryer.
“Blam,” Jeffery said when he sent one of his Hot Wheels into mine.
Jeffery was only four so I let him smash into me all the time.
The washer and the dryer were basically going the whole time.
The girls wandered down from the attic; they all were dusty and smudged.
“What’s Mom doing?” they asked.
“Cleaning?” I asked them
“That’s what it looks like,” they answered. “Sort of.”
We could see Mom struggling to get the curtains off the rods in each of the rooms facing the backyard. One at a time, she pulled them down and the washer sounded strained and forced as we supposed she fed them into it.
“She’s cleaning everything,” I proposed.
“Everything,” the girls agreed.
After about three or four or five hours, after about the time it would take to wash every single curtain, sheet, and towel in the house, to dry each item, and to fold them all or hang them all back up, things inside the house quited down. In many ways, it appeared ominous.
The girls made themselves apparent without interfering with the Hot Wheels in the dirt.
“Blam,” Jeffery said. “Blam blam blam.”
Sooner than we expected, Mom was at the back door.
“All you kids get inside right now,” she told us.
We got inside.
“Everybody go to their rooms right now,” she told us.
We went to our rooms.
One by one, she came to each of us.
“Take off your clothes. All of them. Right now,” she said.
It must have been about four o’clock in the afternoon by that time. Our beds were bare, nothing but mattress ticking showing. We had curtains, but they were clean and ironed and smelled like bleach or something.
We shucked our clothes, t-shirts, pants, shorts, socks, underwear, everything, into the big hamper Mom held in her hands and sat on our naked beds naked. We could hear the washing machine and the dryer growling away from the other side of the house.
“For once,” we could hear Mom say, “For once in my life, everything in this house is going to be clean.”
It made a kind of sense and, since it was summer and we weren’t cold or anything, it seemed like a good time to do it.
We sat there in our rooms naked on our naked beds and waited until Mom came back and gave us clean clothes and told us to get dressed or something.
We sat there a long time.
It must have been about five thirty when we heard the front door open and Dad came home from work.
We could hear Mom meet him at the door.
“Take your clothes off,” she told him. “Take them off right now.”
We could hear Dad make some noises, sort of confused and blustering.
“Where are the kids?” he asked.
“Never mind the kids. Forget the kids. I’m serious,” Mom said. “Take all your clothes off right now.”
The noises Dad made changed tone.
“It’s not what you think,” one of the girls yelled from their room.