Town looked different, but at the same time like home. By that point, Natie was limping, but she refused to stop walking yet. She had to keep moving, to find if her house was still there.
It was. Even from the outside, it didn’t look the same. It was the same building, Natie knew, but when Mom had said “clean” she had meant “clean”. Cleaner than anything they could have ever done.
Her mother came out of that clean house, rushing to her and gathering Natie up in her arms. Natie clung to her with the remnants of her energy. Not very much.
“Mom, it’s just a person. Just a big person. We live in a glass box and the sun has a cord attached to it.”
She rambled on like that, not certain how much Mom could understand. Not with her mouth muffled into Mom’s shoulder. After another moment, she could feel Dad’s hand smoothing down her hair, the steady influence trembling on her head.
She asked Mom about it, because bringing it up to Dad was something she did not want to do. He expected so much of her and she still had no idea what she really wanted.
“Patty becoming a vet is nice and all,” Mom said, “but I would choose something that would be useful. Like my being a seamstress. I no longer work fully as a seamstress, but having done so before having you has certainly helped with our family, hasn’t it?”
Natie nodded. “I guess.”
“Then how about becoming a cook? You can help me more with the meals. See if you enjoy it.”
Natie did that, because spending time with Mom was fun. And while they were doing that, Mom spoke more about cooking than she did about the upcoming Cleaning. If she focused on that, really tried hard, then she was very tired by bedtime and all Dad would do was take her book from her bag and read her whichever story she asked him too.
“Dad? Patty said I’m too old for bedtime stories now.”
“Don’t be silly. You will never too old to have a story.”
Natie wondered if cooking would be anything like a bedtime story. Putting in the ingredients. Letting the fire change it. But in the end she would rather climb a tree and press flowers. That was where she was when the Cleaning commenced.
It was the year of the Cleaning.
It was all anyone talked about. Their faces bright, yet at the same time a little pale. Cheerfully discussing what might change. Bemoaning what might leave forever, but excited to see what would replace it.
Natie’s mother had made her a backpack. As well as one for herself and for Natie’s father. “We can’t keep anything we can’t hold, but if there is anything you don’t want to lose, you will keep it with you.”
“I don’t see what is so dirty right now,” Natie complained. “We clean every day.”
“We clean what we can,” Mom agreed. “But God will make everything fresh for us. You will see. There will be new things to explore and the freshest of water and trees that provide something entirely new!”
Natie knew that. She had been told that before. But the last cleaning had happened right after she was born. She had no memory of it. Now she was ten and would see it for, technically, the first time. She went to her room, wondering how anything in here couldn’t be safe. Mom was always right though, so Natie went through her things to take what she couldn’t be without. The baby blanket she still put on top of her covers. Her teddy bear who had a bandaged arm from when she and Patty had fought over who would play as him during their tea party when they were seven. Her favourite bedtime book that Dad read to her from every night.
Which immediately made her backpack really heavy. So Natie added her pressed flowers in the pages of that book and called it a day. Or a week. Or a month.