Fiction by Nicole Rosevear
Elisa’s dirty dishes are still waiting for her when she comes home from her telemarketing job Tuesday evening. All of them fit into a single dishwasher load except for one baking pan. The pan is made of blue glass, thick and heavy. It is nine inches by thirteen inches. Elisa has owned it for seventeen years. She has made casseroles and enchiladas in it, sweet potatoes and pork chops, brownies and birthday cakes, her grandmother’s lasagna.
There are dark stains on the smooth blue, crusted on and baked in after years of movement through the oven-dishwasher-cupboard cycle. The pan has not been truly clean, perfectly clean, in at least twelve years. She will need a new pan now, a smaller one, but the necessary steps are unimaginable to her, even after all these weeks. Elisa closes her eyes and thinks of potato salad, red plastic tablecloths, the crisp diagonal edges of freshly cut grass.
She puts a black rubber plug into the sink drain, turns on the hot water and squirts dish soap into the stream. The soap smells like warm lemons and chemical cleaners. When she reaches her hands into the water, her fingers turn red and tingly from the heat. The scrub pad she uses isn’t touching the real stains, the ones that have been there so long the glass seems to have absorbed them or grown a new layer of itself over the top of them. She scrubs from different angles, using just one finger to maneuver the sponge, then three, then pressing down and twisting with her palm. With her other hand, she tries bracing one long edge of the pan against the side of the sink closest to her, then holding it up diagonally by one short edge, then pressing it flat on the bottom of the sink. She tells herself that if the stains don’t come out, she will find sandpaper and start scrubbing with that. If the sandpaper doesn’t work, she will find a chisel.
Outside the window over the sink, she can see the couple next door standing in their kitchen, the man’s hands on the woman’s waist and her head leaned back against his shoulder, both of them looking out a different window than the one Elisa sees them through. They have been neighbors for months and she cannot remember their names. In the side yard between their houses, three children throw pinecones at each other. Somewhere farther away, a dog barks. The children are not Elisa’s children, and the dog is not her dog. She twists the blinds closed and stares into the soapy water until the bubbles are gone and the water is tepid.
It takes her over three hours to clean the pan, but she doesn’t have to use sandpaper and she doesn’t have to use a chisel. After the pan is truly and perfectly clean, she does not put it back in the cupboard. She places it on the counter next to the sink, propped up against the wall behind the stove. She has never seen a pan so clean. She moves it to the mantel, the picture window, the small table in the entryway that has stuck with her through every home she has lived in. When it is near a light source, it leaves shimmering blue rectangles on floors, tables, countertops. She carries the pan through every room in her house, hugging it to her chest.
In the bathroom, she holds it up to her face and watches her blue reflection in the blue mirror wave and ripple. When she tries to walk down the hallway like this, though, to see the rest of the house in this bluer, softer way, she gets dizzy and bumps into a wall.
In the bedroom, she sets the pan on her dresser, then her nightstand. She sits down on the bed and holds it flat in her lap. She puts her elbows in the bottom of the pan and holds her chin in her hands. From outside her window come the muffled sounds of car doors opening and closing, the lilt of unfamiliar voices on her neighbors’ front doorstep. She remembers that the neighbor man’s name is Daniel, or David. When the hardness of the glass starts to hurt her, Elisa sets the pan on the bed and lies down on her side next to it. Her legs curl up around the end and her arm fits in it just perfectly if she wedges her elbow into the corner and relaxes her hand into a soft fist. Dry, the soap smell is more like warm lemons and less like chemicals. She curves her upper body around the pan and lets her head drop onto the bed.