There is an old maxim about being sure to pay attention to the fine print, which is just another way of saying that you should be aware of what you are getting into before you inadvertently step off into a minefield. A lot of people don’t realize it, but there doesn’t even have to be an actual document involved for there to be fine print.

Assumptions can also have it, invisible fine print, so to speak, and if you are not aware, you will be held accountable for words that don’t even exist in tangible form. Take spring cleaning as an example. I foolishly volunteered to undertake that task this year at our house, but if I had realized all of the unwritten expectations that went with the job, I would not have been so hasty to toss myself off the cliff.

My idea of the project was that I would vacuum upstairs, too, for a change, or at least the worst of it, and that I would figure out some way to get rid of whatever was lurking in the refrigerator crisper, hopefully without any undue loss of life or property. Then, if I was feeling particularly frisky, I might even wash the dog, or at least wipe her down with Lemon Pledge so she would smell fresh. Finally, to keep the house at this high state of readiness, I would take my wife to the Sonic the rest of the week for supper.

There you have it. Spring cleaning as I understood it, a well-defined and very doable job with a beginning, a middle, and most importantly, an end. What was I thinking?

On the day I tackled the spring cleaning, I called my wife to brag. It was about 11:00 a.m., and she had been gone to work for three hours. I had actually wound the housekeeping up around ten-ish, but I didn’t want it to seem like I had done a sketchy job, so I had a light breakfast and read the paper before I dialed her number.

“I’m finished,” I told her. “Do you want anything special from the video store?”

“Hah! Good one,” she replied.

“No, really,” I said.

“Spring cleaning usually takes longer,” she said dubiously. “Did you dust the bedroom?”

“What do you mean by dust?” I asked.

“Remove the dust,” she replied. As it turned out, I had not dusted the bedroom, per se, so I hung up and went to do it.

I need to explain to you about my bedroom. A little over fifteen thousand light years from here is a galaxy that is comprised of a pulsating black hole surrounded by intergalactic dust and debris. Astronomers and physicists are unclear about whether it is a new galaxy forming or an old one dying, but they all agree that the singularity sucks up dust at a phenomenal rate. What they don’t realize is that this black hole exits into my bedroom, over near my closet, which is why I hadn’t dusted in the first place.

Well, that’s my story, anyway, and I am sticking to it. Seriously, I could dust that room ten times a day, and come bedtime, it would look like it had never been touched. But a deal is a deal, and I had said I would take care of spring cleaning. So I got out my long orange extension cords and my leaf blower, and I made short work of that job. After a long lunch and a short nap, I called my wife back about 2:00 pm.

“Now I’m finished,” I told her. “Do you want anything special from the video store?”

“Hah! Good one,” she replied.

“No, really,” I protested, with a strong feeling of déjà vu.

“It still usually takes longer,” she noted. “Did you dust the butler’s pantry?”

“What do you mean by dust?” I asked.

“Remove the dust,” she said.

“Hey, wait a minute. We have a butler’s pantry?” Here was some news.

“The little closet in the dining room with the dishes and glasses in it is the butler’s pantry,” she replied.

“Do we have a butler?” If we did, I thought maybe he could dust the butler’s pantry himself. If he was an agreeable sort, I would be willing to name other rooms after him.

As it turned out, I had not dusted the butler’s pantry, per se, and we didn’t have a butler, either, which was kind of a disappointment. For the rest of the day I threw myself into my work and spring-cleaned like a mad man. I tried to get out in front of the fine print and ahead of the curve. I did inconceivable and crazy things like moving furniture and vacuuming behind it, wiping cabinets, dusting knick-knacks, and washing windows.

Around six o’clock I met my wife at her workplace, and after a tasty meal at the Sonic, we went home to inspect my handiwork. She nodded and made encouraging noises as I showed her room after room. Finally she turned to me and smiled.

“You did a really good job. If you keep going at this pace, I think you might finish in two or three more days!”

Next year, I’m getting it all in writing.

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Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins

Raymond L. Atkins resides in Rome, Georgia. His stories have been published in Christmas Stories from Georgia, The Lavender Mountain Anthology, The Blood and Fire Review, The Old Red Kimono, Long Island Woman, and Savannah Magazine. His humorous column —"South of the Etowah" — appears in The Rome News-Tribune. His industrial maintenance column — "The Fundamentals" — appears in Maintenance Technology Magazine. His humorous column — "And So It Goes" — appears in Memphis Downtowner Magazine. His first novel, "The Front Porch Prophet," was published by Medallion Press in June of 2008 to critical acclaim and earned the 2009 Georgia Author of the Year Award for First Novel. His second novel, "Sorrow Wood," was released in June 2009 by Medallion Press and has been nominated for the 2010 Georgia Author of the Year Award for Fiction. Both are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and other fine booksellers. His third novel, "Camp Redemption," will be released in August, 2011.