1 comment

African American Coming of Age Creative Nonfiction

Restitution Chores

In our house, we knew that a large request or big mistake started with a big chore. Mama's verdict over both ends of the spectrum often hovered with whatever restitution chore we chose to complete. We all harbored a specialty; I cleaned the fridge or ironed my parents' work clothes while Vaun steam cleaned the stairs, couches, and other upholstery. Youngest brother though, mainly just stayed out of the way. He found himself in a revolving door of mischief that chores couldn't save so he just waited to be forgiven or forgotten until his next episode.

Restitution chores were our way of showing our parents that we

knew what needed to be done within our household and taking responsibility of the things no one wanted to do or had time for made us uniquely irreplaceable. Restitution Chores also gave us an opportunity to live active lives while my parents' house

stayed clean enough and their Silvertab jeans starched so they stood on their own. If I wanted extra cash to go skating Friday night, Shannon's Popup Dry Cleaning service opens for business. When Vaun misses curfew by two hours and sneaks in smelling

like weed and CK One, the sound of the carpet cleaner whirrs first thing Sunday morning while the coffee maker drips for Mama, because we knew she needed her coffee first thing in the morning delivered to her while she caught up on “All My Children” in bed.

The beauty of our Restitution Chores are the infinite opportunities for improvement. Something can always be cleaned better, as 2/3s of our trio is guaranteed unconsciously to contribute a worse mess within days, some occasions, hours. Once I saw my mom cry after someone spilled or dripped on the clean floor and damned if I don’t feel that as a mother.

These chores remained valuable due to our fourth sibling, named Not Me. They are a figment of calamity who never receives blame for good deeds. While Not Me may have broken the crystal brought back from Germany, Shannon, Vaun, or Googie dealt with the aftermath of their unplanned visits.

Not Me spilled Kool-Aid in the fridge and put the empty pitcher back instead of the sink. They opened the foil leftovers without closing them back. They left empty cans of root beer under my bed and left spills on the countertop. Not Me is responsible for the fries left in the backseat of the car and absolutely ALL clogged toilets and gum found stuck where it shouldn’t be stuck. I learned that as a generational curse, Not Me is born right around the time you think you’re done having kids and think shit’s starting to come together. There’s a little bit of Not Me in all of us, and they’re a reminder that it doesn’t matter who did it, somebody still gotta clean it up.

In the case of my chore, $20 instead of $10 required that I removed everything from the fridge, food, shelving, crisper drawers and wiped it down completely. From there, I’d wipe down the jars of grape jelly, mustard, and anything else victim to messy teenagers. I’d tip back the aerosol whipped cream can meant for Daddy’s ice cream sundaes and instead of a shot of sweet creamy goodness I think to myself, “Fuckin Googie,” as the can dripped white sugar soup onto my face, my younger brother already came through and sucked the gas out like a whippet. While making a mental note to tell on him later, I’d throw out all the leftovers stored in old margarine containers or wrapped in tin foil, then meticulously place each item back inside in a neat order that said, “please forgive me,” or “please let me.” I wasn’t getting caught as much as the boys, so I leaned often towards “please let me.” Somehow, whether they could afford to or not, I ran out of the house with a $20 in hand.

Vaun started his restitution chore by removing the African Violet and Ivy plants from the tiny square landing halfway between our fourteen stairs. They basked in the glow of a sky light but due to their placement, sharp turns and sprinting the steps sent Not Me flying into the poor plants regularly. Half-assed cleaning also done by Not Me left an ever-present pile of dirt on the carpet that sneakers or bare feet ground into like Rick James at an afterparty. On any given day Tracy Joevaun McGill moonwalked to the busiest space of our house wearing his “Captain Save a Step” cape to seek a grand favor or graceful forgiveness from the Queen of Kingston Avenue. He knew his audience and rarely disappointed. Everyone in the house knew that he would always be forgiven, as he saw him worth forgiving.

He chose to sweep with a broom instead of using the attachments on our new Hoover. He said it was because vacuums never always got everything, plus it made the carpet look neat. I remember how excited we were to get the new vacuum, because it wasn’t just for Mama, it was for us. I still get excited for a new vacuum, even though I don’t use it nearly as much as I should. Our family scientist created his own carpet cleaner from the arsenal of household supplies kept under the sink and above the washing machine. Mama's favorite smell was apples and cinnamon, so he made sure to pour only a tiny bit of the oil in the mix; too much would stain the carpet. His specialty was sparking forgiveness through acts of kindness and service, which upon his completion, we’d gather around as Mama melted into a puddle the moment she laid eyes on his work. Vaun is forgiven, harmony returns to the castle, and the three of us spend the calm trying to dodge our invisible sibling's petty attacks towards our character.

The summer before my senior year I’d come home from working at

the movie theater. Daddy called us to sit at the bottom of the stairs to tell us that someone murdered Vaun’s girlfriend and to be nice because he was coming home to stay with us. Be nice. He looked at me because I wasn’t always nice. I remember hoping he wasn’t involved and spiraled into my daydream of what to do

if something bad happens.

He came home subdued and because I didn’t know how to handle a sad older brother, I stayed out his way. I cocked my head in confusion watching him play Macy Gray and drink from a bottle of gin with red rimmed eyes. When he disappeared into my parents’ bedroom across the hall the urge to sit outside the door and listen as I’d done before never presented itself. For the first time in my seventeen years, the household investigative journalist minded her own business. I stayed in my bedroom and let my daydreams terrify me to a dreamless sleep.

I woke up the next morning to the familiar whirr of the carpet cleaner. The broom stood in the corner of the landing and I bounded past Vaun who kneeled on all fours, scrubbing the square landing of the stairs. The African Violets and Ivy pots sat on the dining room table, temporarily safe from our fourth sibling and neither of us acknowledged each other as he scrubbed furiously at the carpet, a concoction of cleaner and Mama’s favorite smell of apples and cinnamon overpowering the secret in the air between us, screaming for help and forgiveness.

I left him to his Restitution Chore hoping it was enough and not knowing until I returned home hours later that he'd cleaned our stairs for the last time.

July 04, 2021 16:14

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

1 comment

Pamela Berglund
04:31 Jul 15, 2021

There is a potential for a good story there however you need to read what you have written before you submit it there are a lot of grammatical issues like paragraph and sentence structure not flowing evenly throughout the story.


Show 0 replies

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.