The tremendous ball of gas in the sky felt great as it lightly toasted my face through my bedroom window. With my eyes shut I saw a fiery orange and melting black, a bubbling lava. Orange. Orange is a cognate. Schwartz. The comforting feel of the heat reminded me of incubators and day old burgers from Roy Rogers.
I remembered being in kindergarten, and feeling equally as anxious then. Specifically I recalled the two chicks, Philip and Gary, that hatched from their eggs inside the murky glass walls of an old fish tank. When would my metaphorical shell crack apart? I distinctly remembered a classmate, a petite girl, who said that was how we were born. She didn’t know shit but at the time it seemed plausible. I thought it was fascinating. I looked at eggs differently until my mother corrected that bit of misinformation when she became pregnant with Catherine.
Hattie explained to me that I had a little sister growing in her belly. There was no egg. No hatching to be had. I said, it might. Pas auf. Be careful with that. She reiterated there was an amniotic sack that housed my sibling. I never heard that word before. Amniotic. That sounded way cooler than some bullshit egg. It sounded like it had something to do with robots. I told everyone my sister was in an amniotic sack inside my mom’s tummy. Proud as fuck.
I woke up some time later, gnashing something foul and crunchy in my mouth. I was lying flat on my stomach, which was empty and rumbling. My head pinned beneath the pillows. I pulled my head out of its burrow to glimpse all these granules of grayish white pebbles all around me. Grau. Weiss.
I said, well, that is just fucking great. Am I chewing on kitty litter? Pangur. What the fuck. Toxoplasmosis.
How long did I knock back out for? Long enough for my cat to try to bury me alive I guess. She had apparently mistaken me for a giant piece of shit. How appropriate, how fitting. I am excrement and I’ve always been. How many people thought I was a piece of shit? Hattie told me on numerous occasions I was. Her boyfriend would second that motion. Did Edith say that last night? I don’t believe she did. I’m positive I’ve entertained that notion a handful of times in my life. Dick moves. Vandalism and various criminalities. Anyone who thinks that I am a piece of shit doesn’t really know me all that well, or is it they know me too well? Who gives a fuck? I guess I did if I had thought about it.
It was a conscious decision not to be wasteful, after all there were unfortunate people starving all around the world, so I sucked it up. I ignored the risk. I chewed on, levigating the kitty litter into a paste and swallowing it. I searched the inside of my mouth for more, licking the front and back of my crooked teeth. I found the situation to be mildly entertaining, so I let her finish. A perfect way to start the day, I thought. I was in desperate need of a drink, dehydrated from the alcohol, but I could wait.
Catherine, my younger more responsible sister, was cleaning the apartment. The vacuum roared along the dark green carpet in the tiny living room. Gren. The vacuum was re-gifted to us as a housewarming present. It was too loud for our friend, but not for us or our Korean neighbors downstairs. They were sweet, and hit us off with leftovers all the time. I put kimchi on cold cut sandwiches. They never complained about loud noises, not the vacuum nor the stereo. That day the vacuum provoked my headache. I wouldn’t complain about it. How many times have I been a nuisance to my sister? There were a plethora of moments where Catherine was trying to sleep or relax and I stumbled in obnoxiously drunk or had Storm Of The Light’s Bane or Only Built 4 Cuban Linx on way too loud, way too late.
The irony of all the dysfunction we were raised in was that we turned out to be neat freaks to a lesser degree. The apartment was small, smaller than preferred, but cost effective. It takes much less to make a small apartment messy and cluttered. I enjoyed chores. Doing laundry. Washing dishes. Tidying up. I liked all of it. I liked the patterns that the vacuum made in the carpet. There was a childish joy that arose watching the vacuum suck up a dust bunny, watching shit disappear into the ferocious hurricane of bristles. It sounded like Catherine made her way to the hall.
The hallway had some shitty art I made adorning its walls. Framed portraits of Catherine, Pangur and Myself, some I had done free hand, some were photographs I had blown up, all with beards. Anytime Catherine cut my hair, I would pick up tufts of hair and glue it onto the pictures. There were old drawings I did hanging up, drawn on documents that belonged to Hattie. Eviction notices. Turn off notices. There was no such thing as a clean slate. I hated the sight of a perfectly clean, unsoiled, blank page. Everything in this world has been defiled, so art should not be without imperfection. My mother’s hot pink Bandolinos were fixed into the wall, eye level, spaced two inches apart, with an ornate wood frame around it that I painted hot pink to match.
I yawned my way into the living room, covering my mouth and waving to Catherine.
Guten morgen, I said over the whirr of the vacuum.
Catherine turned the vacuum off. “Did I wake you?
I said, no.
“The carpet was really dirty. I couldn’t wait any longer.”
“I picked up your suit from the dry cleaners. It’s over there. That smelly old tailor said that if the alterations don’t meet your standards just bring them back. Free of charge. I think he likes you.”
“Like me how?” Catherine noticed my eye and grew cold. “Your hair looks nice.”
“Don’t. What happened to your face?”
“Nothing. It’s not what you think? Can you vacuum my room? Pangur did the cutest thing.” Pangur came out from the room. “Here she is. Tell her what you did? Stop looking at me like that. I’m serious, it’s not a big deal.”
“You look so much like mom right now,” said Catherine. “So you broke another pair of your glasses? Just throwing away your money. Throwing it.” Catherine repeatedly swiped her right hand over her left palm.
“No, my glasses are intact,” I said, while trying to catch the imaginary money she was tossing.
“So you took them off before. You knew you were going to fight? Was it premeditated? When are you going to grow the fuck up?”
“Relax, Benson. Premeditated. That’s good. I like that you thought of that. You’re a detective now. Do me a favor and cease and desist from binge watching Law and Order SVU or any of those other bullshit prime time cop dramas immediately. Just stop.”
“Where were you last night?”
“Where was the fight? At the bar?”
“You’re being a crazy person right now.”
“Sonny called me earlier in the week. Did you know that?”
“How would I know that? Cool. what did he say?”
“He asked me how you were doing? He said you haven’t spoken to him or anyone else in quite a while. I didn’t know I wasn’t the only one you’ve been ignoring lately. He asked me If something happened, if I knew why you’ve been distant. I said I have no idea what is going on with my brother because he doesn’t talk to me either. What’s going on with you, man? I’m worried about you. I think we all are.”
“Nothing is wrong. And I talk to you. I’m fucking talking to you right now.”
“Everything is a joke. You isolate yourself from the world and then you come home looking like that and don’t expect me to inquire, are you serious?
Please calm down.
“Whatever. I bought some groceries. There are cold cuts on the counter. Make a sandwich. Do whatever the fuck you want. You always do.”
I let out a deep breath and went to the fridge, took out the milk, there was a mouthful left in the gallon container. Catherine gave me a discerning look as she wrapped up the vacuum cord. I shrugged and finished the milk.
“Ugh,” she said. “That milk has gone bad. There is a fresh gallon on the counter.”
“Doesn’t it taste bad?”
“I can’t fucking tell.” I read the expiration date. It expired four days ago. Why would you start vacuuming the apartment if you hadn’t put the provisions away. Come on, dude.”
“Provisions? Stop watching Downton Abbey or whatever the fuck show you learned that shit from. I get side tracked.”
“Then you watch me drink it. You don’t say anything. ‘Hey, don’t drink that. It’s gone bad.’ nothing. Kitty litter and rotten milk. Marvelous combination.” I spat into the sink.
“The best part of waking up.”
“I never drink the bottom. It grosses me out.”
I wiped my mouth in disgust, grabbed a pint of Haagen Dazs chocolate chocolate chip and a box of bagel bites out of a plastic bag and placed them into the freezer. I opened the bagel bites and took one out and balanced it on my eye.
“Look, I have a monocle.”
Catherine was not amused.
“Ok. I’m going to take a shower after I vomit profusely. Do you need to use the bathroom? I might be a while.”
I used the rusty wrench we kept on the sink to turn on the shower. Catherine always complained about not having a proper shower handle. I didn’t mind, nor did I care how it looked, and I never seemed to remember to pick up a new one. I definitely would not complain to the landlord about it. That sort of interaction is uncomfortable for me. I knew the precise angles for achieving the preferred temperatures. A forty five degree angle meant a trip to the hospital, Booth Memorial or Flushing, with third degree burns. The shower had great pressure, the kind you lose track of time under, when you’re hungover or too deep inside your own thoughts. I’m grateful for modern plumbing. There is not much I’m grateful about.
Did showers make everyone better singers or just me? I lathered up and channeled Spencer Moody, singing the words of The Murder City Devils, “Every face in this town reminds me of something I’d rather forget. Every face in this town reminds me of falling down.” It was almost pure truth.
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