Illustration by Matt Weismantel
Clean | Jordan Rochfort
“An artefact cannot assume a physical existence without, ultimately, commands from a human actor.” – Anthony Harding
I’ve always considered myself a clean man. My earliest memories are of my mother tending to her possessions with extreme determination and precision. She employed a militant regime of keeping everything she owned tidy, organised and fragrant, including her children. She would tell me I was to be proud of cleanliness and the ideals it presented when in public; proud of the peace of mind that clean living fostered within. I admired her diligence and believed her when she told me these things. My father, an assembly line worker, was regarded as a model father, husband, and gentleman within the community. I adored his shining shoes, his smooth face and hair and his uniform, the colour of winter and just as crisp. Both my parents worked very hard to keep their appearance classy and clean. It was their life’s work.
To be seen as an upstanding member of the world it seemed to me that one must be neat and tidy. It may well have been these ideals that took my mother’s life, for she died crippled by her pride and expectation as a woman in 1910. All those years of arduous work, hauling water to wash clothes and bed sheets, had hardened her shoulders, arms, and wrists, while the harsh lime solutions deadened her senses. The very same year the Thor Electric Washing Machine was mass marketed as the first of its kind across The United States.
I grew up to follow in my father’s footsteps by working alongside him in the factory. I wore my uniform as he did, straight and sharp. After Thor’s introduction to the world, the idea of electric and automatic washing didn’t take long to spread, and innovation moved quickly. The factory where my father and I worked took on new business; hoses and attachments began coming down the conveyor towards us. Much to my delight these foreign objects were in fact destined for washing machines in homes around the globe. I dreamed of the day I would have a machine of my own. My mother’s satisfaction and aptitude for cleanliness seemed to resonate inside me. I missed her very much. Every time I assembled a part on the line, I would think of her.
New machines hit the market at an exciting pace. Washing machines with the most fantastic names and mechanisms began to surface like The Sloshing Tub, Locomotive, Tilt-a-whirl or The Little Giant. All the pulsing, sloshing, and percolating they produced seemed to consume me. I would collect advertisements from catalogues and magazines and place them in a scrap book. I delivered the books to my mother’s grave every time one was full. I knew she would have appreciated it. By 1920 more than 1300 companies and countless more factories like mine were producing washing machines.
In 1937 the first automatic washing machine was introduced by Bendix Home Appliances. My life was never the same. With what money I had saved I started to buy new machines. It was beautiful. Sitting on the ground in front of each machine for hours on end, I cried just listening to their unique, steady, irresistible purr. I spent less time outside and I visited the factory infrequently. All I could focus on was my Bendix, my Whirlpool, and my new General Electric. I would rush into town and collect any news I could from magazines and newspapers on further developments of technology. While looking over pictures of shiny women in aprons triumphantly holding beautiful white sheets, on display to their adoring families, I dreamed of my mother and how proud she would be of me.
Soon, I didn’t go into the factory at all. There seemed to be no time. I maintained a strict routine rummaging through garbage for a rag or a sheet, anything that I could run through my machines and delight in the results. Early one morning, I felt a tugging on the end of my trouser leg, which protruded high in the air out of the large bin I was busy within. I pulled my legs inside and, once upright, stuck my eyes and nose over the lip and saw a familiar looking woman. I recognised her uniform from the factory, but it is was a markedly different colour to the one that I wore. I waited for her to speak.
“Young man, there’s been an accident at the factory. Last night, actually.”
I could hear her voice but all I could see was a large crinkle in her shirt. Stretching from her lapel to her shoulder.
“I’m afraid your father has been killed. Machine malfunction. I’m very sorry, my boy.”
The canyons and crevasses seemed to stretch out of her fabric and into my imagination.
“People have been looking for you all night, you know. Come with me, won’t you?”
It all became too much. I reached over the edge of the bin and grasped for her shirt as she staggered away, shocked. Leaning out, bent at the waist, I forcefully grabbed at her collar, pleading that I would have them looking great in just a few hours if I could just get rid of those imperfections.
She turned to run away as I toppled to the ground next to the garbage bin. Thankfully all was not lost. In her flight she dropped a handkerchief that looked like it would come up a treat. I propped myself up and smoothed the lavender cotton between my fingertips.
After my father died the foreman decided it was best I was let go. I agreed politely and assured him that if he needed anything washed, I would be more than happy to do so. I visited my mother a lot now. It was nice that she had my father for company. I was so happy that we could all be together that I started collecting gifts for them. As honed as my domestic skills were, discarded rags didn’t seem fit for them, so at night I walked from house to house retrieving women’s dresses and delicate underwear for my mother. For my father, if I spied a vacant house I entered through the back in search of suits and shirts and socks. Then, after washing, cleaning, pressing, and rolling my prizes to a wonderful standard I would lay them out side by side, sleeves touching. The dewy grass and fresh smell of linen often seduced me. So unbridled was my happiness that we would talk for hours, always about advancements in washing and drying technology. They were so proud of me.
Eventually the grass around my mother and father was covered in clothes; some of the delicate items were reclaimed by the earth. My house had become so cluttered with washing machines and driers that I spent most of my time in the cemetery. I slept up there nestled amongst the garments and the weeds. One morning, I woke to the sound of voices. Around me stood some policemen from town and a group of ten or so ladies looking very upset. The policemen told me they had found a new place for me to live, assuring me that I would enjoy it very much. They gave me a true prize to study on the ride over. A fresh police shirt. I held it to the window, squinting happily until the edge of the fabric and the passing sky became one.
I live in a house now that is very clean. The rooms and the hallways are shiny and have a beautiful squeak and citrus aroma. All the servants that live here have lovely white uniforms and are always friendly and smiling. It is very clean indeed.
Jordan Rochfort is a Southern Cross University student undertaking a Bachelor of Arts with a major in English and Creative Writing.