By Sarah Pearson, 1998

We used to only go out every other night, but things have got worse and worse and now its every night. Every single night.

I used to wonder what I would end up doing once Matteo and Angelo were gone and married. The house is so small it used to takes only until siesta to clean. Now it seems never to be clean. The dust is taking over. Its as if we are creating more with our efforts. Dust in the streets, dust in our homes.

Marguerita first suggested we clean the streets, it must be 20 years ago now.

‘Are you crazy?’ I said at the time. ‘Haven’t you enough to do with your own house?’ Then I thought to myself that if she had had two boys like me, instead of that silly scrap of a girl Antonia, she wouldn’t even think about creating more work for herself. Boys are so much more hard work and at the time they were into everything. You couldn’t leave them for a second.

‘The dust, the dust,’ said Marguerita. ‘It gets everywhere. Haven’t you noticed? Doesn’t it bother you?’ Dust in the house bothered me. But in the street? Surely that was a fact of life. But she was my friend and I couldn’t let her do it alone.

So we bought new brooms from the general store. Big bristled brooms, wide as our front doorway. The man in the shop said he only kept them to supply the factories and offices – the brooms were too wide for people’s houses, he said. They would knock the furniture.

We went out to sweep as our husbands ate. That way we could leave our children indoors, hopefully out of trouble.

We would talk about our families, and sometimes about the past. Marguerita had married old. I remember my mother and I sitting at the kitchen table speculating about her. She was nearly 25 before she finally said yes. I had lost count of the men she had turned down before that – some handsome ones too. I suspected that my Osvaldo had asked her once – before asking me of course. But those were in the days when her hair was black and her skin smooth. Now her skin – and mine – is just a mask which hides our real selves. How did we earn such faces?

Marguerita went away with her husband just after their wedding. A honeymoon somewhere over the mountains. They were gone for a month and when they returned she said little about where they had been or what they had done. But she seemed different – more than a bride should be different, although we all know that changes come after the marriage. She was a little quieter maybe, a little sadder perhaps. And she didn’t dance as much when we went to dances. Her husband didn’t seem to mind, although before their wedding they would dance and dance.

As younger women, sweeping the dust, I never quite had the courage to ask what had happened on her journey to make her change. Perhaps, now that we are older, I should. Or maybe I should wait for the death of her husband.

I don’t know what made me think about this tonight. Maybe it’s the fact that Angelo, my oldest son, is shortly to wed. Maybe I fear that he may change, but that is ridiculous – things don’t change for a man. They just leave their mother for another and life goes on as it was. Show me a man for whom this isn’t so. It is the woman who makes the sacrifice, always the woman. The woman who has to change.

After all, you don’t see men sweeping up this endless dust, do you? They have better things to do.

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