She had rubbed off on him. Her routines, her schedules.
The new apartment was much easier to clean than the two bedroom, one and a half bath condo they’d shared until a month ago. Gone were the long, narrow windows that required fastidious attention and a specific kind of paper towel (Bounty, for those curious sorts) to be left streak-free and to her liking. Gone were the high slanted ceilings and the ceiling fans that required him, at her request, to purchase an eight-foot ladder so that he could dust each blade and treat it with lemon oil. Gone were the sliding glass doors that exited onto the spacious patio where the ladder was stored when not in use. Gone were the strict HOA policies concerning what may or may not be on a resident’s patio – policies that required him to wrangle and bend at awkward angles to tuck the eight-foot ladder just so against the railing when not in use.
The apartment was far more lenient. Its entrance tucked away on a side street that he didn’t know existed before finding a three word classified ad in the paper: “STUDIO FOR RENT”. When he went to see the place, a short, slumped, and weathered old man with a prominently sloped nose stood at the barn red door, waved him inside and said, in a husky Eastern European accent he couldn’t place, “$650 a month, plus utility. Please no cat and no loud.”
She hadn’t complained about the HOA and said they were lucky to get a place in such an exclusive neighborhood. He had found their policies to be inane, bordering on insane, quite honestly.
“No cat and no loud” suited him just fine.
He was not a cleaner by nature, though he was not sloppy, either. A happy medium, he liked to think. That changed when they moved into the condo together- her honey do’s came as soon as they moved the last bit of furniture in and he collapsed on the couch, folded his hands behind his head and declared himself ready for a nap.
“Oh no you don’t, mister,” she pointed a finger, grinning playfully and beckoning him with it. “Now the real work begins.”
“The real work?”
She rifled through a nearby box and pulled out yellow rubber gloves, Windex and an industrial grade surface disinfectant.
“Yep,” she tossed them in his lap, pulled her hair back, swirling it swiftly into a messy bun, stretching the hair tie and releasing it with a pop.
“Really,” she rubbed her hands together in anticipation.
They quickly achieved a happy domestic dynamic that became the envy of all of her friends. The bun was tied and she became the boss- doling out jobs, inspecting work and giving on-the-job training as she saw fit. Forward AND back when vacuuming the floor, thank you, and use the attachment to vacuum the couch cushions while you’re at it. Small concentric circles on windows, the water ought to be scalding to properly wash dishes- oh, and get your hand all the way in the glass and scrub the bottom. He became the laborer and accepted this all in stride, though he never missed an opportunity to give a sarcastic- but playful- remark.
“God, it’s immaculate!” Girlfriends would praise her upon entering the condo for one of the many social gatherings they always seemed to be hosting. “It absolutely sparkles! You don’t do this all yourself, do you?”
“Oh no, I have help,” she would smile wide and adoringly at him. Her hair would flow around her slender shoulders, shining and radiant, and she would sway with pride.
“You don’t have help, babe. You have indentured servitude,” everyone would laugh. She would reach for his waist and pull him close as the girlfriend elbowed her own companion.
They would spend Saturday mornings cleaning. She would rouse him early by tickling him with a light touch to his sternum.
“Come to, sweets,” she would whisper close in his ear.
“Only if it’s not Saturday,” he would mumble, half-asleep, groggy and frog-voiced and she would laugh. She’d lean over him as he lie there with his eyes still willfully shut, her hair would spill slowly from behind her ear and onto his face.
“Easy tiger,” she would say from her back, having shrieked with surprise when he, in one motion, flipped her. They would stay like that for a moment. He, leaning over her, his arm still underneath her back and she, looking up, slightly pink in the cheeks and smiling. Sometimes he wished they could lie there forever. She always broke the silence, though. “You know the drill.”
And he did.
Saturday mornings were spent in enviable domestic bliss. Saturday afternoons were spent in enviable private bliss.
Some of her techniques had carried over. He still used concentric circles on the windows and the mirror in the bathroom. The water he was currently using to wash the dishes was skin-peeling hot. Some of her techniques, however, had not. The studio was wall-to-wall hardwood floors and, with apologies to the small couch and its cushions, vacuuming them was not on his list of priorities. No ceiling fans, no ladder, no polish, no yellow rubber gloves. Things were streamlined to the basics now. Sweeping, straightening, dusting.
He had a few of their dishes. She had packed them, as well as his clothes and records into a few boxes. She had known what he would need better than he did. A few bowls, a few plates, place settings enough for two or three, pots and pans of varying sizes, mugs for coffee, the Aeropress and glasses.
He had always liked these glasses, though he couldn’t say why.
“The weight?” she had asked once toward the end, standing next to him as he did the dishes and they talked about what was going wrong.
I’m not sure, he said.
“The shape?” she had asked.
I’m not sure, he said.
“You’re impossible,” she groaned and sighed and laid her head in the cradle of his neck. She was so small and so light and she laid the entirety of herself upon him. He wished they could stand there forever. Her hair spilt from behind her ear and came tumbling over his shoulder. Her heart beat through his chest.
They sighed in unison.
A glass slipped from his grip and shattered in the sink. Reaching for it was reflexive. He didn’t want her to clean it up.
A long moment passed and everything was quiet.
Probably, he said. Fresh blood ran from his finger and down the drain.
He played records now as he cleaned, something she had expressly forbidden. He sang along quietly to songs that lilted throughout the studio as he went about his work.
“Why don’t you ever sing? Or even whistle?” he had asked once from atop the ladder, lightly spraying lemon oil. “Isn’t that something? Some movie? ‘Whistle while you work?’”
“You’re a dork,” she laughed from below, holding the ladder.
“Says the girl who can tell the difference between dish soaps by the suds!”
“Shut up,” she slapped the ladder with an open palm.
“Hey, if I fall, that’s Workman’s Comp.”
He still bought the dish soap she preferred and swore by, though he couldn’t really say why.
“It sparkles,” she explained, holding the glass up.
“Your mom sparkles,” he laughed, never looking up from the task at hand.
“Okay,” she drew out the vowels, feigning insult. “No, look. It really does. It sparkles. Look!”
“Stop trying to distract me, temptress! I’ve got to get the dishes done before the boss sees,” he kept his eyes down.
She set the glass in the dish rack, grabbed his jaw and turned him toward her gently. They looked at each other for a moment and she stroked his stubble with a finger.
She kissed him softly.
The scalding water shook him from his daydream. He went back to singing quietly and scrubbing glasses. Get your hand all the way in and scrub the bottom. He rinsed it off and held it up.
It did sparkle a little.
He turned his wrist and watched the rim of the glass glisten. His hands were still slick from the soap and the water. The glass slipped from his grip and shattered in the sink. He reached for it reflexively and fresh blood ran from his finger down the drain.
A long moment passed and everything was quiet.