She called in early December. I remember clearly that it was the eve of the lighting of the Merry Maple, the town holiday festival and how starkly her story contrasted with the cheer and lights around me.

She had fallen down the stairs she told me, fractured her neck and could not clean her house. She was already burdened by her husband who had Parkinson’s and was recently wheelchair bound. She was humbled to have to ask for help, but clearly had no choice. And so, I came.

The house was dark and chilly and long like a train car. I was hired to clean weekly and for a bit we had a strictly business-like relationship, but the dog liked me and by default, so did she.

One cold morning a few weeks after I had started she came up to me in the kitchen and admonished me to “never get married.” At the time I was already, and miserably so. We bonded over our challenging relationships as I scrubbed the old yellow linoleum floor.

They had been married for decades, raised two children, led successful careers, but their retirement was being robbed by the Parkinson’s. Her husband, once a successful professor could now no longer think clearly enough to finish the book he was writing. He could no longer read the books he owned and one day sold them all leaving me to clean the years of accumulated dust and thick spiderwebs off of his office shelves.

On the day of their anniversary I was cleaning the French doors to the dining room. A room no longer used for entertaining and having lost its function had become a “junk room”. As I scrubbed years of grime off of the paneled windows I watched them as he sat at the kitchen table in his wheelchair exchanging small tokens of love that she would later criticize him about. But in that moment as she stood behind him and bent down to tenderly kiss his head I could see through the smudged window that maybe, if only for that moment all of the dirt could be stripped away and they could still find each other through it all.

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