Today, Kathryn Mockler is taking us behind “I Won’t Clean the Tub,” a story from Anecdotes!
The second section of Anecdotes is a series of linked autofictional coming-of-age stories.
When the #MeToo Movement went viral in 2017, some survivors of abuse and sexual assault were sharing lists about all the times they had been harassed, assaulted, or felt threatened. I started a private list of my experiences and was astonished by its length and by how many things I had completely put out of my mind over the years. Soon after I began writing flash fiction and nonfiction using my list as a prompt. Several of the stories in this section of Anecdotes came out of that process.
Many of the items on my list were things that happened that I brushed aside, mostly out of shame and self-blame.
“I Won’t Clean the Tub,” one of the first stories I wrote for this section, is set in a small hotel in Montreal where I worked as a cleaner in my 20s. It was originally published in Geist Magazine in 2018.
The story explores the experience of a young woman minding her own business, trying to do her job, and the next thing she knows she’s in a potentially dangerous situation.
At the outset of the story, the narrator muses about working at the hotel—what she likes and hates and about her boss who thinks she’s an incompetent maker of beds and that she doesn’t work fast enough.
Over the course of her day, the narrator disregards the rule of not cleaning an occupied room which she doesn’t realize is for her own safety and finds herself going from very bored and discontent to suddenly being in an “oh, shit” moment with a man in a hotel room far away from where anyone can hear her call for help.
Autofiction appeals to me as a genre because I’m able to write more freely about difficult and personal subject matter when I give myself permission to fictional certain aspects of it.
This is one of the stories that leans more on the auto side of autofiction. It’s a tense story that I wrote quickly in a single sitting, which is unusual for me. Although reliving this experience was unpleasant, I needed to get this story out. The click of hotel door still sends shivers up and down my spine when I think about it.
Recently I attended a bystander intervention workshop and many other incidents that I didn’t include in the book came rushing to my mind. There may be an Anecdotes 2 in my future. These types of stories are endless, which is why I feel it’s important to share them to help lessen feelings of shame and stigmatization and to let those who have experienced sexual violence and harassment know they are not alone.
Kathryn Mockler is the author of five books of poetry. She co-edited the print anthology Watch Your Head: Writers and Artists Respond to the Climate Crisis (2020) and is the publisher of the Watch Your Head website. She runs Send My Love to Anyone, a literary newsletter, and is an Assistant Professor at the University of Victoria where she teaches screenwriting and fiction.