The Unfinished Chore

My chore on on Sundays, before church, is to take out the compost and burn the burnables. The compost is all next to the kitchen sink in a soup pot that my mom left on the burner for too long once so the bottom is all burnt and crusty to begin with. Then it gets covered with a bunch of coffee grounds and eggshells and carrot and cucumber skins and banana peels and grapefruit rinds with little empty triangles where my father has carved out the pulp with his special pointed spoon.

Even when the soup pot is full, my mom keeps putting more stuff in it and the mismatched lid with two holes at the top where a knob used to be can't contain everything and it sits tilted on top like a little hat.

The burnables are all in paper bags stacked piled up underneath the kitchen table. Newspapers, cereal, cracker, and shipping boxes. The old Yellow Pages.

Compost first. I grab gloves and a hat and make my little sister open the door for me. She pinches her nostrils closed with two fingers. It's snowing and there's already a few inches on the ground from last night but I don't bother with a jacket. I like to wear my Dad's boots--they slip on easy but are hard to walk in. It takes awhile to shuffle down the hill, past the butternut tree, to the back of the garden where the compost heap awaits. The lid tilts and slides off into the snow. It smells like the worst breakfast in the world, ever.

The heap is contained in a circle of chicken wire. The bottom spreads out where everything is broken down and the snow there is melted in spots of intense heat-causing decomposition. I dump the compost on the top and shake the pot so putrid liquid at the bottom splatters the snow and wire.

I scoop a bunch of snow in and rub it around in the pot to clean it. On the way back I pick up the lid and do the same. Everything clatters together. I cradle it all under one arm, open the door with my other hand, run it back into the kitchen, and place it by the sink. In the cupboard above there are matches, big long kitchen ones in a box that slides open. I take them down and put them in one of the bags of burnables. Only two this week, one trip. My sister opens the door again.

Back at the bin I throw the bags into the circle of spattered chicken wire. Then I remember the matches. The chicken wire comes up to my chin. I try to hoist myself over, cave in half of it, and get coffee grounds on my sweater. I'm about to swear when I see my Dad clomping down past the butternut tree and I remember I'm wearing his boots but I can't see if he's mad. It's hard to tell sometimes.