Wendy BooydeGraaff

Soap and Water

Start with the glasses, the thinnest ones first: crystal liqueur glasses etched with flowers, even if they’ve been used after dinner, are most delicate so they go in first; the long-stemmed wine glasses, the thin-walled water goblets, follow. One by one, never two in the suds at the same time. One small clink could result in a shatter, which results in docked pay as well as my blood, pinking the water. No, one by one. Methodical. Wash away the rings of wine grit, the shiny lip prints, the flecks of food transferred to the rims. Let them drain. Dry by hand with European linens, set aside, and continue.

Knives next, the sharp ones. Never soak the wood handles. In and out of the water. Blade swiped shiny. Then plates, the small dessert ones, the fancy glass ones (should’ve been done after the stemware, but they hide in that stack, they hide), small piles of flan and flambéed peaches congealing around the edges. Dishes are a long job, it’s why there’s a window above the sink; during the plates, you can look out of it. Not before.

Plates—stick the whole stack in. Lift the top one off, swirl the brush from edge to center, then counterclockwise, flip to the back of the plate, repeat. Lift it out, check it over, then plunge again to rinse. Plate two, same treatment. If you’re lucky, the sun is setting. The white plates—these places always have white plates—reflecting pink, orange, clouds of muted purple.

Mindfulness, I’ve heard them say, meditation, transcendence. These words they have paid for and talk about while sitting over white plates artfully arranged with colourful food. The menu is explicitly detailed: It’s not fried okra, it’s buttermilk panko-crusted okra drizzled with oregano oil and served alongside a smoked gouda rémoulade. Local corn grilled over chicory, dipped in melted sundried tomato butter and sprinkled with flat-leaf parsley. It’s important that the parsley is flat-leafed, not curly-leafed. These are the minute details of the wealthy, memorized by the servers, which is another role I play, though this one, of dishwasher, at the end of the night, is where I find my mind, place it gently back in order, so I can go home, sleep, and wake to another day in another over-large house executing another feast procured by a homeowner with the requisite concert-sized collection of dinnerware.

Two automatic dishwashers with stainless steel interiors and specialized cutlery trays hum under the counter, full of dinner-sized, plates, salad bowls, highballs and lowballs. There are too many dishes. I grew up in a place where dishes were done by hand. Everything’s cleaner that way. No bits of cheese, sanitized and crusted on by the industrial heat of the automatic dishwashers. These people who work with their finances are amazed at the shine and clarity I bring to their dishes, how I spend so much time in hand-to-hand combat with their grime.

Serving platters with charred crumbs of cauliflower, pans with baked-on blackened bits of salmon, a lone tube of pasta lining the hand-thrown pottery bowl, drizzles of salad dressing pooling in separated factions of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in the Acacia wood bowl that gets wiped, not submerged, then rubbed with mineral oil. Everything baptized in the sink.

They are afraid of dirt, of how it accumulates under the fingernails, in the cracks of work-worn skin, in the layers of foot calluses, in the whorls of belly buttons and nostrils. They spend working hours with their hair treatments and their collagen massages and their brain contortions and their money games. They disapprove of the dishes, of the soaking time, of hands in suds sans gloves. This is evident in the way they exclaim over the texture of the clean plates I have stacked in their cupboards, how they kindly set one more glass on the counter after the pans have already left behind their oily bubbles. Their hungry eyes see my repetitious life and they talk to me, stream their words into my Zen, calculating how—without putting a finger into my dishwater—they can buy this, too, from me.

Wendy BooydeGraaff’s short fiction, poems, and essays have been included in X-R-A-Y, Brink, Chapter House Journal, Blue Earth Review, and elsewhere. Born and raised in Ontario, Canada, she now lives in Michigan, United States.