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Saturday, March 29, 2014

Keep in touch. By John von Daler

                Karl Kvist looked at his hands one last time. He was as black as Manet would have painted him.  
                The cloth was in place right where he had left it by the sink. Clean, he thought, one last clean up.

                After work he always came home the same way: opened the front door with his left hand and left a smudge there. Then he walked on the newspapers to the bathroom. Took off his boots, socks and overalls and put the boots on the newspaper by the tub. The overalls and socks he put in the clothes bin. Then he turned on the hot water with his left hand and washed first his hands and then his face and arms.
                Just in his underwear with the cloth in hand he walked on the floor beside the newspapers down the hall to the front door and opened it. With the cloth he cleaned the outside knob. Then he closed and locked the door and picking up the newspapers one at a time retraced his steps to the bathroom. He put the newspapers in a bin beside the sink.
                He threw the dirty cloth in the clothes bin and washed off the sink with running water. He turned on the shower, took off his underwear and walked under the hot water. Lathering up a good piece of glycerin soap, he washed himself from heel to cowlick. The water gradually cleared from dark gray to translucent.
                He turned off the water and dried himself on the towel that hung between the sink and the shower. Without knowing why, he sank to the floor of the bathroom and sat down crosslegged and naked. He raised his hands as in supplication, hesitantly, as if he never had seen them before.
                Karl Kvist, he thought, Karl Kvist, chimneysweep. He was used to conversing with himself. Not that people did not contact him, but he always had said no to the cup of coffee or the beer or the tea and cookies. After all, where was he to sit and how? Complete strangers were often kind enough to put newspapers on their best chairs just to offer him a moment's companionship, but he did not like the thought of sullying their homes with his chimney dust. Better to say no and keep things clean. So he made do with talking to himself.
                But today had brought a new turn to his life. Karl Kvist, he thought and saw the words as in a newspaper headline, though he knew no such publicity would be given to his last day of work: Karl Kvist, Denmark's very last chimneysweep, cleaned out his very last chimney today as the new heating law took effect in Copenhagen. On being asked if he would miss the job, Kvist answered that, well life must go on, and it was a better way of preventing pollution. The city would be a lot cleaner now without all that dust and smoke.
                Karl sat naked on the bathroom floor looking at his hands. Now I can touch things, he thought. Now I am free to use my hands. I can say yes to coffee and beer and tea. But then again from today on he was no longer a chimneysweep.
                Maybe I should buy a dog? He remembered his pet dachshund, Folly. Folly used to strain at the leash and bark hysterically at anyone and everyone. He had had trouble holding the dog in place. One day the leash had snapped from the years of pressure. Folly had leaped two steps forward and then had got scared and had run around behind Karl to bark from there. The dog would have fit nicely into his schedule now.
                Now I can shake hands with the world, he thought. Touch anything, anywhere, anytime. Got all the time in the world. His hands seem to gain some life of their own. They rose from his knees and took a hold of the edge of the sink. Get up, they seemed to say, Get up and meet the world.
                Think I'll just sit here a while first, thought Karl. The former chimneysweep sat naked on the bathroom floor. His skin was as clean and light as a new day dawning.

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