Any moment can be the junction, the invitation to turn. The other night, in a taxi from some Australian airport to some nearby hotel, I listened to a man on the radio interview a woman who was an expert on cleaning. For twenty minutes they discussed all the ways that one substance can befoul another. Many of her solutions involved methylated spirits, glycerine, and assorted alcohols and hydrocarbons, but all applied in a low-tech way, a bit of this on a sponge, a bit of that on a cloth wrapped around a fork. Water seeping in around the base of your floors can be arrested by a row of chalk, which, when it’s absorbed the water, can be set out in the sun to dry. Red mulberry stains can be cleaned by applying green mulberries. Over and over, she gave us the formula for all our fantasies of erasure, parables of the undoing of sad accidents, ending with everything back as it was.
I tuned it out initially, wished I could turn the radio to strong male voices explaining how Australia was weathering the financial crisis, but then at some moment I had a rush of love for this woman on the radio, this priestess of erasure who knew how to undo all life’s calamities -- but of course, this being Australia, a priestess without mysteries, no hokum or humbug as Aussies would call it, just a small cabinet of solvents, essential oils, and chalk. It’s science, and only my credulity makes it seem like magic. She was that classic practical Aussie woman, in control, getting it done, pushing back death with her solvents and mop. I loved that she exists, and in that moment could have listened for days.