One of the first days of clear autumn sky happened suddenly, the way it always does, as if abruptly the world jolted into the appropriate season, as abruptly as the jarring click of the clock’s minute hand as it moved suddenly from one minute to the next. You’d think I’d come to expect something like that. But no.
So this particular morning, I’m home cleaning house. Spring cleaning never made enough sense to me – why clean house before summer? who spends time indoors in summer? No, fall cleaning. That’s what makes sense. Putting things in order; setting things right. I’ve got the window fans out and ready to carry up to the attic; the comforter is airing out on the line; I’ve shook out the carpets and swept the bare floor until the air is thick with dust, and I’m filling up the mop bucket in the sink when they knocked on the door. It’s just another version of a dog peeing on things, marking them as his own. Mine just comes from a bottle of Murphy’s oil soap. It’s Saturday, not even noon yet, and the outlines of an orderly life are already in sight.
So the women were at the front door before I’d even noticed that the dogs were barking. Or were they barking? Buddy’s deaf as a post now, and Bird had gone runabout. So maybe they weren’t barking. Dressed in their Sunday best, the ladies’ faces were composed to reflect the purity of their purpose. They wanted to know if they could talk to me for a minute.
I stepped out onto the porch. “Yes, ma’am.” I said. I’m always a little tickled to talk to folks who come to my house to tell me what they think about things. The same does not hold true for pre-recorded telephone calls, but I’m always pleased to talk to actual people. People who have taken this beautiful first day to drive around in a car and knock on doors of folks they don’t even know. I don’t have to agree with them to admire that kind of dedication. Also, they’re trespassing. I like it.
The one lady who was standing a little in front started talking, warming up by referring me to think in a very general way about the sorry state of the world today, a world in which there was suffering and injustice, though she was careful not to bring up any specifics. Did I think that this was God’s will? she asked me.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said. “Yes, I guess I do.”
She stared at me. I got the feeling that she wasn’t often at a loss for words. “You do?” she stalled.
“What about global warming?” she asked, cautiously, as if she hadn’t quite intended to bring that up.
“Well, I guess I would say that I don’t exactly feel qualified to say what God’s will might be. Trust god, clean house, that’s what works for me.” I wave my Murphy’s oil-soaked cloth over the table on the porch, the one to put on Craigslist later today. “Isn’t it a gorgeous day?”
They both nodded, gratefully, looking around. “That sure is a pretty table,” said the woman who hadn’t talked yet. She was carrying her purse and a couple of shiny mass-produced books titled with a question: What Does The Bible Really Teach? And by the time we got the table loaded into the back of their car, with the help of the man-with-the-very-wide-tie who’d been smoking in the car, it was time for them to go.
“How many houses is back this way?” they asked me, looking dubiously at the gravel road cut between yellow wingstem and ironweed.
“Only one more, and I heard them drive out about an hour ago,” I told them. Which might have been true. They looked grateful, and I waved my new little paperback at them as they drove away, promising to be back. “I’ll be here,” I tell them.
The house was suddenly awful quiet, once they were gone. Buddy snoring on the couch only emphasized the emptiness somehow. Through the back window, the black pine grown through its pot last summer nodded gently over the morning glories that wound up the tall grass I’d not yet cut.