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Keeping House

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She writes both fiction and poetry, and has won the Rhysling Award and the Elgin Award. Her credits include Analog, F&SF, Strange Horizons, and 119 haiku in Science. She has an antiquated website at marysoonlee.com and tweets at @MarySoonLee.
In a well-run household, such matters as laundry and dusting and the scouring of pots need not concern the mistress of the establishment. Discarded silk robes will discreetly wriggle their way to the washing tub. Each morning after breakfast, the soap will jump in, and the garments will scrub each other. If, on occasion, the younger ones splash over-vigorously, excited by the bubbles, their elders will calm them.
The cook prepares the meals, but neither lays the table nor cleans up afterward. The chopsticks and china proceed to their accustomed places beforehand, then move to the kitchen at the meal's conclusion. There they line up, pots to the rear. In our household, the oldest brush supervises. His bristles are frayed. His handle is worn. He no longer enters the sink. Yet even the rowdiest platters hush when he speaks. Hanging from his hook, he directs the entire operation, from the heating of the water to the polishing of the tea bowls.
It is veterans such as this who govern the household.
My great, great, great grandmother's bronze phoenix lamp is the undisputed matriarch of our home. During the day, she hurries from room to room. No speck of dust escapes her attention. No rug dares to rumple itself. At night, she positions herself by the pool in the inner courtyard, her reflection bobbing in the water beside the mirrored moon.
When I have difficulty sleeping, I join her by the pool. In spring, the sweet scent of azalea blossom is a counterpoint to her sharp wit. In autumn, the maple leaves twirl in the wind. In winter, I sip warmed wine while she recites a poem by Li Bai.
Household items serve from an innate sense of place, of duty. They never ask for payment, will not even ask for repairs on their own behalf--though they may mention if a colleague is chipped or torn. Do not take such service for granted. Bow your thanks for any task particularly well done.
Our housewares are partial to flowers, so I visit the market twice a month, returning with potted peonies or late autumn chrysanthemums.
On Tomb-Sweeping Day, I burn offerings for their ancestors as well as my own. Ghost money, paper flowers, in memory of chairs and cushions and vases long since gone.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, October 11th, 2018


One night the opening words of this story came to me, and the following morning I sat down and wrote it. I have a fondness for anthropomorphization, and liked the idea of items such as brushes and china plates willingly doing the housework. (Maybe this is because I don't like doing housework myself!) This story is short and slight, but I tried to give it a sweetness to honor the faithful household items.

- Mary Soon Lee

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