Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Good Clean, A Harsh Clean: Part V

"I'll be damned."

The old man stopped, scanned the room. I waited to hear what he'd say next, made sure not to give up my position, my angle. Finally he said, "He actually cleaned."

That's the problem with erasing, a place has to be pristine to let you get away with spot-cleaning. Otherwise you have to keep going as far as it makes sense, until you leave no line where it's clean on one side and dirty on the other. Some places, with all the work I put into them, I've had half a mind to send the landlord a bill. That's why most guys will tell you to bring the whole mess to a second spot, something you can control, something unrelated, outside a cop's eye. You hear it a lot in prison, which in my eyes makes it worthles advice. Myself, I make house calls. Find them where they sleep.

The old man wheeled into the living room. He strained against the carpet, going around the craters, the ones that showed where every piece of furniture had sat in the place going back a decade. I glanced around like it was all new to me. The art posters, so proud of being up their own asses, the used appliances I was sure some fashionable store had labeled vintage to jack up the price by forty bucks. Somehow these things came together to make a man she chose over me. His touch, his everything. I didn't understand the math.

"Anything to drink in this place," I asked.

"Jesus, you're still thirsty?" He was parked three feet from the TV screen, banging the remote against his thigh bone. "There's usually a beer in the fridge. Grab me the closest thing to seltzer you find."

I took the green dish towel that hung from the oven handle and used it to open the fridge, then did the same to grab the one can of seltzer in the middle of Malcolm's pussy beer. I didn't want a drink anyway just the chance to offer the old man one. I popped the tab on the way over, before he saw.

"Get out of the way, would you? Trying to watch the race." He craned left, right, left again to see around me. All it did was make him look like a bird, maybe a chicken, something they keep in a cage until its time. I held out the can and he reached for it, then I pulled it away.

"You didn't answer me," I said. He settled back down.

"What would he do, join the circus?"

I said nothing.

"Look I'd be as screwed as screwed can be. Is that what you want to hear? Shit, you're the only other guy helping me out and I just met you an hour ago. If that's not the saddest thing I can think of, then, well, I don't know what sadness is."

I handed him the seltzer, promised I'd help the best I could. Then I sat on the couch and watched him drink it. His eyes were intense as they traced the race cars in their screaming paths. Every so often he took another sip and it would ripple down his neck.

"The wife used to drink this," he said without breaking his stare. "Me, I could never stand the stuff. I don't know why I keep drinking it, guess I got accustomed." He seemed weighed down, his eyes having trouble following the action on-screen. "Does it seem purple in here to you," he asked after a while. His words ran together, mixing like cold cubes in a warm glass.

"I think so."

"Damn kid keeps the purple too high. Waste of money if you ask me." He'd barely finished the sentence when his head slumped down and his fingers let go of the can. It fell to the carpet and glug-glug-glugged into it until I bent down and grabbed it up, put it to the side, most of the seltzer still inside along with the pill. I'd have to remember to bring it with me.

I pushed my fingers to the loose skin of his neck and felt the weak pulse, felt it go slower. And slower. And slower until I felt nothing at all anymore. When it was done I wheeled him to the bathroom, put him in the tub and took him apart.

Some guys throw up at this part. Others cry. It doesn't really matter what you do, the bleach takes care of it.

Picture a man finds a poem. It's about love, about a woman, about a love for a woman stronger than acid, older than the mountains, all that shit. The kind that can't be waved off. The woman is supposed to read the poem, but the woman doesn't read it her man does. Picture what happens to the poet when the man who reads it isn't a good man. Is paid to be who he is by men worse than him but without the gut for it.

Picture what a man like that would do for free.

I ducked out the back. The bag was easy to carry, couldn't be more than seventy pounds. As I felt the weight of it going up and into the back of the pickup, I realized it was the nicest thing I'd ever done for someone. No matter. I went to the ocean, then I left town.

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