Clean Up Time
Clean Up Time by Barbara Holm
The apartment was mostly empty, void of furniture, art, food, and everything that could potentially elicit an emotional sensation. The two boys sat on the grey couch. Al flipped channels rapidly on the tv. Steven fidgeted, rubbing his hands over each other drying out his skin, and shuffling his feet against the floor. Dust lay over the arm of the couch smiling in the dull light as dirt accumulated around the corners of the door.
“So what are we doing in Jennifer’s apartment?” Steven asked.
“Watching tv,” Al said.
“But… why not watch tv next door at our place?”
“We’re making new friends,” Al said.
“So where’s Jennifer?”
“When’s she coming home?” Steven asked.
“You’re so inquisitive. She said to wait for her here.”
“How badly do you want to sleep with her?” Steven asked.
“This is boring.”
“I kinda want to… clean her apartment,” Steven said.
“Why?” Al asked.
“Is that okay? I just… need to do it.”
Steven got up and began opening closets. Al surfed programs while staring at his knees. Steven let himself into the kitchen and started cleaning with mismatched rags. A wave of relaxation washed over him. Humming, he did the dishes and allowed himself to slip into a trance like state. Steven unconsciously let himself into the bedroom and gasped.
The bedroom reeked of old socks. Piles of clothes and garbage heaved over each other so much that Steven couldn’t see the floor. A rat scrambled across Steven’s sneaker. The bed was filled with bits of cheese and sauce and other food remnants. Jars of pee lined the wall, glowing unhealthily.
“Oh, god,” Steven mumbled, trembling in terror, sweat percolating on his forehead and cultivating in his arm pits.
A huge burrito about five feet long and three feet wide lay in the bed. It was dripping with cheese and red sauce oozing onto the bed. Steven clutched his heart as the burrito twitched in the darkness.
“What?” said the burrito.
“Oh my god the disgusting mess is making me hallucinate,” Steven said.
“I object to being called a mess. Why are you in here, Steven?” the burrito said.
“How do you know my name? I don’t even like processed dairy. Artificial growth hormones frighten me.”
“You’re an idiot.” Jennifer pushed back the tortilla of the burrito and sat up in bed, bits of salsa in her hair, guacamole down her chin.
“Jennifer? Is that really you?”
“Little early in the morning for existential ponderings.”
“Morning? It’s 4:00. Were-were-were you sleeping in a burrito?” Steven asked.
Steven scratched his arm uncomfortably. Drapes covering the window kept the room in darkness. Arm pit juice and body odor seeped into his pores and he coughed uncomfortably. His breath caught with a caustic burn inside his lungs.
“Yes, I guess.” Jennifer said. “I was eating it for dinner last night in bed and I just crawled and inside and snuggled the fuck outta the rice and beans.”
“Me and Al are watching t.v,” Steven said.
“Oh god, why… why… are you… people here people people humans.”
“Jennifer?” he asked, shaking.
“I want to go back to sleep in my burrito,” she said.
“Want a corner of tortilla?” she said.
“Al really likes you.”
“Oh,” she muttered deadpan and sarcastically. “Great. A human being who likes me. Just what everyone always wants. Social interaction with others. It’s a dream come true.”
Jennifer climbed out, dripping with burrito juice off of her sweat stained pee covered pajamas. She approached Steven and stood confidently in front of him, arms crossed. He tried not to recoil.
“Does Al know… you are ill?” Steven asked.
“We had a date scheduled last month. I told him to wait for me in the living room and I’d take a quick shower,” she said. “But, in my room, watching and listening to him from behind the door, I just couldn’t leave the safety.”
“The safety of being a disgusting sloppy mess?”
“Right. After I stood him up that date, I guess he just assumed that I got the date wrong, because he’s been back here every night since then, waiting.”
“Come out and talk to him,” he said.
“I don’t want to. I don’t want to talk to anyone. Ever.”
Jennifer looked towards the door and took a step towards the threshold. Steven’s heart beat a little quicker. She looked at the sliver of light peeking through the door from the living room. She listened to the cackling sounds of television. She breathed out of her mouth, closed her eyes and walked back towards her bed.
Steven watched, frozen silently as Jennifer slowly took off each item of her pajamas until she was naked, hairy, overweight, pimply, and utterly vulnerable and alone. Her eyes looked past him and everything and nothing, empty and void of any feeling, desire, hope and optimism. Her lips slightly parted, not out of sexiness, but out of apathy and too much laziness to muster up the effort to close them. Naked, she breathed deeply, looked at Steven, and nodded with her head slightly cock to the side.
Steven quietly removed his shirt, his sneakers, his jeans, as if in a trance, as if out of obligation and boredom, until he was completely undressed. Jennifer looked at his eyes sadly, then dropped her gaze down and gave his body a once over. She seemed thoughtful for a moment and gave a short, curt nod and then climbed back into her burrito sleeping bag. She covered her face, hair, and head and Steven could hear the sound of nibbling and swallowing from inside.
He redressed promptly and neatly and left the bedroom and walked slowly into the living room. Steven stood behind the back of the couch, watching Al’s head. Shadows of a Friends rerun flickered across Al’s face. Steven silently headed towards the front door to leave. Without acknowledging his friend and roommate leaving, Al allowed the tears to freely flow from his stoic unmoving eyes as Steven let himself out the front door.