We were cleaning a dead apartment. The only artifacts of the previous tenant that remained were shell shaped socket lights and stove hood grease. It was my first job and I felt glorified standing with my rag in the opulent, empty apartment, clean except for dust. The realtor told us to fill the blank check with whatever because the beneficiaries of the sale were filthy with their inheritance. I assumed Megs would cut herself a finders fee but, didn’t care because it was cold cash, under the table, for what was essentially a spit and shine job.
I started in the bathroom and dug into the grime that had accumulated in the base of the glass pane of the shower. I made the mirrors warp with perfection. The toilet bowl felt slick under my rag and I reveled in the polish. Attention to detail made me robust and we gossiped to spread the time. I moved to the master bathroom. I was drunk on confidence or rather, I was still drunk from the night before. I slipped while I was getting into the bathtub to clean the glass wall that separated the bath from the bed. I wondered, in that moment, if that was how she had died. I felt nothing and scrubbed. The grout was dusty and it peppered the tiles. I wiped clean the surface as I imagined the family had had someone do before.
The space was stale. I edged toward the balcony of the master and felt stiffness in my stomach as the 13th floor view drew me into the mountains. Queasy, I put rags under my feet and skated through the apartment, polishing the laminate flooring. The wallpaper screamed 90’s cartoon and I paused at a red buzzer embedded in the master wall. Curiosity did not induce action: instead, I imagined everything and filled the empty with assumed furnishings. Beside the buzzer, on the floor, was one framed image picturing an elderly couple in a Sears portrait studio setting; they looked hardened by life, their eyes were inexpressive, their pose reminiscent of postmortem portraits. I faced mortality and almost vomited. I was developing the necessary hang over. I skated.
The kitchen was lived in. I imagined it was not the center of death because the dishwasher had dirty dishes from 6 months ago. The calendar read November and the clock on the stove was set to daylight savings time. I turned to Megs with slitted eyes, widening now at the reality of the space.
“She must have died November,” I said.
“Why do you think that?” asked Megs, an aloofness in her tone.
“Because the calendar is unturned. Look, she had a hair appointment on the 13th. I wonder if she got a perm?”
Megs looked into my eyes as if she had been struck by lightening and let out a rising and falling ‘oh.’ Her voice was always lyrically balanced and I felt comfort in it. We both smiled the way you do when you feel tacky for finding pleasure in misfortune. I worked on the grease of the hood. It was stiff. We sang the Beatles and the balcony door locked on her when she was cleaning the sliders. I rescued and was subsequently trapped in the living room when the french doors locked. I felt sideways.
A preserve of some sort, most likely Marmite, had exploded in the pantry. I picked up the glass and scrubbed the tiles. Scrubbing old grout made sense. It was crumbling under the force so I had to delve into it delicately. I felt a metaphor rise and disregarded it. I felt nothing but hung.
The realtor had told us to clean the light fixtures. We left.
We ate lunch (Megs, chicken wings, Me, avocado). We cleaned a vegan house. The house was barren and clean. I liked making their bed and imagined they were squeamish with sex. The rooms were dark except the bathrooms. The house was clean. There was nothing to see. No mysterious drawers or closets. A light ring of soap scum circled the tub. Their cleaning supplies smelled like rose and bergamot.
I wanted to bathe. I smelled like cum and booze.
Everything was ordered in the vegan household. It was a live dead space. I felt overwhelmed with loneliness. Megan was finishing the kitchen when she shouted, “Oh shit! We forgot to clean the light fixtures.”
She stood for a moment with her hands at her hips, one clasped a rag. I admired her forgetfulness.
We chain smoked on the ride back to the apartment. The realtor was unimpressed. She was showing the space. We were greeted by her brother, Megs was frazzled and apologetic. I was hung over. The viewers were a short haired woman reaching the peak of menopause, her companion was an elderly invalid who spun about the apartment in a motorized wheel chair.
We got a chair and started cleaning the light fixtures. I held the chair. I didn’t want to vomit on the woman.
The woman asked about the wallpaper; “It’s going to cost alot of money to have it removed and painted and we’d have to have that finished before we moved in.”
“Oh, is this your father?” asked the Realtor.
“No,” replied the woman, a hint of incredulousness rising in her forthcoming response, “he’s my partner.”
I looked up at Megs. Our eyes strained open. The light was bright.
“Oh, well, you look so wonderful for your age,” said the Realtor, trying to save herself.
“I’m actually quite a bit younger than him.”
The woman walked away and the Realtor commiserated with us silently, using only facial expressions. We all understood.
The invalid wheeled closer to us and started touching the shell shaped socket lights.
“You like those?” asked the Realtor, as if he were a child. He giggled and started muttering to himself. I found him delightful. He did appreciate them with a child-like wonder. He tried to pry one out of the socket and the woman stopped him, shaking her hand at him.
“No, no, no.” The woman didn’t address him by name. She turned to us, her face flush with embarrassment. “He does this in every house we see. He stole a toy soldier from another house the other day.” She turned back to him, he had been giggling and rolling his head around in his chair. “Don’t do that. We have to go.”
The invalid argued and her tone became increasingly layered with condescension and reprimand. I felt uneasy.
They started out the apartment and the four of us bid them farewell as we exited the apartment as well. The Realtor locked the door behind and we all headed toward the elevator. It came and the two viewers entered it. They asked if we would like to join them. The Realtor declined and pretended she had to go back into the apartment, she rummaged for the keys which she had just placed in her purse. The door closed on the two and I could see the woman turn and look down at the invalid. I speculated what their exchange would be like. I think he stole the shell shaped socket light.
Immediately, the Realtor, the brother, Megs and I began speculating about their relationship, analyzing the faux pas which had come to pass. The analysis was muddled with laughter and fast talking. The door of the elevator opened to reveal the invalid, smiling, and the woman,shocked. The Realtor helped them close the door by pushing the main floor button, sending them on their way.
The door closed again and we waited to hear the elevator descend before we burst into laughter.
I indulged the scandal but, the only reason it was a scandal was because she was so mortified by his behavior. What a fucking cunt.
I had money in my hands.