Winter Cleaning by Eli Barrett

This story includes the loss of a child

Winter Cleaning

Cleaning the house would be a healthy step for her. A small step, the kind they said was good. Then there would be another step and another. Soon her wounds would be healing without her having to think too much about them. Susan’s right arm ached by the time the dining room and kitchen were finished. As she reached over the foot of her bed, she observed the scars that puckered her arm. Still, her arm was the only part of her body to still hurt from the accident. She opened the curtains and looked out on the winter morning. The camellias were in bloom, but the grass was brown and dormant. After she sprayed a paper towel with window cleaner, the shapes on the glass stopped her.

Susan’s window faced east under the long shadow of an oak. Its inner surface was beaded with condensation. In the hand-shaped smudges that covered the glass, the beads were bigger and more widely spaced. There were about a dozen crescents, some with five small fingers, some with less. “When was Justin here last?” she thought. Her son had liked to play on her bed, looking out the window and pushing his toys along the sill. Miraculously, the oil from his hands had remained on the window for months.

Susan set down the cleaning supplies beside her on the bedspread. While she watched, the top of the sun cleared the oak. A bead of water quivered and rolled downward, leaving a dark trail. The next drop rolled from the tip of Justin’s thumb.

They might say to clean the window. Hadn’t Susan brought in her favorite clothes of his, shown them to the group, and then folded them carefully in a box to be donated to charity? Like that time and like the evening they drove her – some whispering affirmations and holding her hands – past the scene of the accident, might they say this morning held an opportunity for a step forward? Next meeting, Susan would tell them about the window. She pushed her cleaning supplies aside. When most of the moisture gathered at the bottom of the frame, she blew on the window and watched his fingers bloom.


Winter Cleaning


Eli Barrett lives in Charleston, South Carolina, where he works as a librarian at an elementary school for the creative arts. His fiction won a 2019 Pushcart Prize and has appeared in Pleiades.


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Image (modified) Olof Werngren CC2.0