I remember singing a jingle I made up for whatever cleaning product I was using, something about hard water being no match for me. Hard water, hard water, hard water, was the refrain. I don't recall the rest. I was eleven, the same age one of my boys is now. It seemed old at the time. Maybe in the 80's we were more mature than kids are today. I scrubbed my father's bathroom till it sparkled.
It was the first time he had invited us over since the divorce. My mom dropped my two sisters and me off without breaking the new barrier of the front door. That must have been weird since she used to live there. I am divorced myself and setting up boundaries was no easy task. My ex would come over to visit the boys and walk back to the bathroom, or open the refrigerator like he owned the place and it would always make me feel uneasy. I never did figure out a good way to tell him he should ask first.
Dad asked me what we wanted to clean and I think bathroom was my first choice, but I don't remember for sure. I may have just as easily said vacuum or kitchen floor. Thinking back, I can't come up with a reason I would want to clean his toilet. I was still working on that rust-colored streak from the tub when Dad asked did I want something to drink.
"Yeah, I'll have a beer," I said. I didn't think he'd say yes, so when he did I had no choice but to feign indifference, which at eleven isn't easy to do. I worked on the beer while I touched up the fixtures, watching myself drink it in the mirror, considering what kind of commercial I could make for drinking and cleaning before I started on the linoleum. Dad said he had to go meet his new girlfriend. He said he wouldn't leave if she didn't have such a sweet ass. She was nineteen and had gotten him a kitten so I imagined he felt indebted. He said we could have one more beer before Mom cane to pick us up. When implicated, he later said he meant one more total, to split between the three of us, but I'm pretty sure he would have known that would never work out.
We were totally shitfaced at 5 p.m. when Mom arrived to take us to grandma's for Christmas Eve dinner. Just before dinner she noticed we were not acting stupid in our usual way, but on a whole new level of stupid. "You're drunk!" she said, more revelation than accusation.
I lifted my grandma's burning cigarette from its resting place in the ashtray, tapped off the long, lacy ash and put it to my lips. "We were cleaning for Dad and he said we could have a beer," I said with my newfound maturity. "No biggie."
My mom called my father. I don't remember what happened beyond that. I may have passed out or thrown up. Or both. But since that Christmas, I have never cleaned my bathroom without cracking open a cold one and singing a hard water jingle to pass the time.
April Salzano teaches college writing in Pennsylvania where she lives with her husband and two sons. She is currently working on a memoir on raising a child with autism and several collections of poetry. Her work has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in journals such as Convergence, Ascent Aspirations, The Camel Saloon, Centrifugal Eye, DeadSnakes, Visceral Uterus, Salome, Poetry Quarterly, Writing Tomorrow and Rattle. Her first chapbook, The Girl of My Dreams, is forthcoming in spring, 2015 from Dancing Girl Press. The author serves as co-editor of Kind of a Hurricane Press (www.kindofahurricanepress.com).