– Consider the sink

You spend a lot of time in front of it, so you think sometimes that the television or pc is the most important object in the house. And you wish it wasn’t.

Take comfort: You spend a lot of time, too, at the kitchen sink. It is more essential than the screen, and perhaps you even enjoy, like I do, your time in front of it.

Beyond its usefulness as a trough in which to wash potatoes and dishes, the sink is a player in parts of your life that have nothing to do with food. If, for example, you are an indoor gardener like Jimmy, you give your bonsai their weekly soak in a sink.

Bonsai in sink on snowy day

Paintbrushes get clean there. Women bend themselves over the sink and wash their hair under the kitchen faucet; it’s something we start doing as teenagers and then keep returning to. During the morning rush, teeth get brushed and the last going-out-the-door glass of water gets drunk there.

Because you’re standing there so often, sometimes you kiss at the sink.

Babies have their first baths in stainless steel or white enamel tubs set into the waist-high countertop. Perhaps puppies do, too. When children are toddlers, and after they play in the backyard dirt with the hose, they get carried shoeless into the kitchen, plunked down at the sink, and have their feet and calves and shins washed of mud with the sprayer and by their mother’s soapy, slippery hands.

When children are older still and bring home head lice, they lay their long, sturdy bodies down on the counter and hang their head into the sink for what I call “the treatment.” Here’s an excerpt from an essay I wrote about the experience of nit-picking:

A prehistoric creature with a tough carapace and immense evolutionary stamina, the lice resist the drugstore poison that I massage through my son’s hair, and the next day through my daughters’ hair. Working in the kitchen, I bend their necks over the edge of the sink and rinse the white cream that smells like deodorant – both fresh and chemical – from their hair and their heads, holding the sprayer in one hand and supporting their skulls in the other. Trying to see, I lean over them and into them. My arm or breast through my t-shirt frequently brushes a shoulder, cheek, or, in the case of my son who is standing and not lying on the counter like the girls, a back. The gentle pressure makes us close and I wonder if they are aware of my body and the part that is touching them, as I am aware all the time when I am with them of their bodies and what their parts feel and smell like, how they have grown and lengthened. Their hair straightens and darkens in the stream from the faucet. The children are hypnotized. I wish the running water alone could rid them of parasites.

The window over the sink has, in many houses, the best view. If you’re tall enough to look out, you stand there often, for long periods of time, and stare at the steady trees and grass. You spot the neighbor’s gray cat, which is the exact color of a shadow but for its white feet and snout, and sometimes you see a rabbit shading itself under hosta leaves. And the squirrels, always the damn squirrels. In the winter, you watch a snowman’s creation, a snowball fight, the snow angel parade. There is no “world” out the kitchen window, and so the trance you find yourself in, standing in front of the sink, is local. At night, you try to look out and see only yourself reflected.

Tomatoes on window sillOn the sill, you keep the shampoo at hand. Someone emptied her pocket of a few rocks and pebbles, and now they belong. In late summer, the green tomatoes soak up the slant of sun. A wedding ring or watch visits occasionally. When the power goes out, you light a candle and place it on the ledge in front of the window and above the sink, for safety and a bit of illumination.


Bonsai picture by me. Tomatoes on sill by Eli.

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