Cleaning House

Fiction by Kim Steutermann Rogers

Across town, a large hole is being dug to contain your grief, the headline read. Come by at dawn, dump your troubles, start a new day.

The first day, Jen offloaded her ex’s favorite coffee mug, the stained one with a big blue “M,” the logo of his college alma mater, keeping the blue enamelware cup emblazoned with a cartoonish bird from her community college. The next day, she dumped his drawer of socks, drawer and all, and stopped grinding her teeth at night. Then, their wedding gifts from his family went—the china with tiny blue flowers his mother insisted every young bride needed, his dead grandmother’s precious collection of Hummel figurines. Her taste for vegetables—especially his hated asparagus—returned. When she got to the garage, she had to pay a neighbor boy to help with the used refrigerator her ex bought for his craft beer collection. She didn’t need an extra refrigerator. She knew what alcohol could do to a family. Her ex drove off in his 1969 restored red Mustang with his new TaylorMade golf set in the trunk, but she offloaded his old irons, forgotten like her and Rex the mutt they’d adopted on their third wedding anniversary.

For five months, Jen continued to show up every day at the gulf in the ground, now hurling the slights he’d directed at her. There’s never anything to eat in this house. Are you wearing that again? The most painful, Why can’t you get pregnant?

She stopped chewing the inside of her cheek. The numbness in her feet went away, and she stood her full five-feet-eight-inches. She grew out her mouse-brown hair, leaving the gray uncolored.

Once she’d cleared out his belongings and everything that whispered his presence in her life, the house nearly empty, she painted the walls a fresh coat of celadon green, because the color made her smile again. He would never have approved green because anything but neutral colors would hurt the resale value of the house. She no longer cared about resale values.

It took a full year, 365 days, before she was completely done with him, and she felt fully herself. On that day, she started menstruating again. The next day, she called a wrecking crew, watched as they hoisted the house on a trailer, and she and Rex led them across town.

<strong>Kim Steutermann Rogers</strong>
Kim Steutermann Rogers

Kim Steutermann Rogers spent a month in Alaska as a fellow at Storyknife Writers Retreat in 2016 and, again, in 2021. She was recognized for “Notable Travel Writing 2019” in Best American Travel Writing. Her science journalism has been published in National GeographicAudubon, and Smithsonian; and her prose in Atticus ReviewBending Genres, Hippocampus, and elsewhere. She lives with her husband and dog in Hawaii. Read more of her work at kimsrogers.com and follow her on social media at @kimsrogers.