There is shit on the counter. We are planning a party tonight in our apartment. The floor has a striped veneer that makes it look like a wooden hard candy. This will be very-important-for-the-party, the guests will marvel at how shiny it is. The rest of the apartment must match. We have never managed to plan a party together before, so we must clean all day. I assume the shit has been there for hours, perhaps from the Pad Thai I cooked the night before, or the filthy dread pervading our apartment. My roommate is doing calisthenics in the living room. The other one has been gone for weeks, perhaps staying with her girlfriend in an apartment around the corner. I am eyeing the shit.
It will get cleaned up. My roommates and I are clean girls. We are clean because we are girls. It is the default setting. My one roommate, the calisthenic one, walks in. She glares at me, nonverbal eyes on eyes like a subway window to the tunnel wall. She acknowledges the shit with a snarl. On our kitchen TV, a little one for company, there is something about a missing girl with pale eyes. My third roommate, who is creative and rosy, the nice one, has constructed a bouquet-colored floor in our kitchen from aestheticized pieces of garbage. Stepping on it barefoot, one is stabbed by the gaps between the resin. The calisthenic roommate leaves and returns with a Lysol wipe container beneath her armpit like a basketball. I reach into the container, and the hole you’re supposed to pull the napkins through resists my tug, scraping my wrist. The commune of Lysol wipes wants the company of my hand. The napkin I retrieve is sopping and hunch-backed, emanating a lemon perfume. I throw it on the counter. I flatten it for greater coverage and start rubbing the marble tenderly in a circle.
I wanted to wipe the counter, she says playing the autocrat. She rips a huge chunk of skin from her thumb with her teeth. She doesn’t seem to notice as it lands between her toes, a mildly bloody crescent.
No, I wanted to do it. You know I prefer wiping surfaces.
You can go clean the bathroom or something, I’m doing this now, I say. We are having a party in the evening, after all. We have each invited our friends and acquaintances individually. None of them know each other. For this reason, it is imperative we have a clean apartment.
You’re not even doing it right. You’re just going to leave streaks. Go do the dishes, they’re piling up. There are many dishes in the sink. We have a dishwasher, but we often leave clean dishes to ruminate in there. Often, these dishes will run through three cycles of wash before we actually replace them with their dirtier counterparts.
I’ll get the dishes.
I don’t want to clean the bathroom, let me do the counter.
I’m already doing it! On the TV, more about the missing girl. We don’t look. We never look at the TV. We do not know why she was in the state in which she has gone missing–Wyoming. No more details are given except that she is missing. The news castors seem to operate on the preconception that we all know her name. I notice brown stains, like cancerous moles, on a frying pan in the sink.
Someone needs to Swiffer the living room.
I just did it.
It looks bad still.
Stop being a cunt about it, I finally break.
You can’t even say that to me when you never clean this apartment and leave all your shit in the common room all the time. Someone texts me about the party. I notice my roommate has purchased spools of paper and sparkling banners for the party.
Is my stuff getting in the way of your stupid pilates workouts? Laying on a mat and pointing your toes every two minutes to a Doja Cat song isn’t going to burn off two years of drunken empanadas. I am now peering into the sink, my stare dripping into the pipes, starting from the pit through which the chaos drains. I pick up the frying pan, holding it by the handle like a tennis racket. I start caressing it with a disgusting sponge.
That’s really mean. She steps forward, yelping. The animalistic squeak she emits makes me have fleeting sympathy for her. I have been cruel, she is nothing but a little insect I’ve been swatting at. Her reflex reveals a flipped-over bottle cap, one that has come loose from the mosaic. There is a bloody, jagged circle on the arch of her foot, augmenting the stigmata of our kitchen, of our home. I need a bandaid.
I get a first aid kit from under the sink. It is a “first” “aid” “kit” her ex-boyfriend once made for us. It’s pregnant with medical contraband: sanitized pads, tape, and medicated honey. He stole it all. The important part is keeping the wound moist, she often repeated, invoking him. Clean it first. It must be sterile in order to heal. He once instructed her to call him if any of us ever had a wound. Call me even if it’s embarrassing or really bad, he said. He begged. He gave no insight into the other wounds of life.
I don’t want that, she snaps. Nevermind. I don’t want it.
You’re bleeding. I wish I could give you Neosporin or something, it’s not in here. I say this because I’m unsure what else to say. It’s the habit of nice girls to offer things when they aren’t sure what to say, offering things that aren’t even there.
It’ll stop, it’s just like I cut myself shaving or something. It’s not like I’m going to bleed out until I run out of blood. Put it away, I don’t wanna see it.
I shove it in front of her face. It’s going to get infected.
A broom materializes in her hands and she’s sweeping. As she moves the bristles across the ground, detritus lodges itself between the trash. As much as she hits the spaces in between, the dirt remains. Your hair is everywhere, she scolds. I get mad each time I see a new strand of your hair.
When the ex-boyfriend was still a boyfriend, we all spent a lot of time hanging out.
Your weird ethnic food is making the fridge smell like an asshole, too, by the way.
It was time I would’ve else spent rotting in my room, smacking postcards to the wall, ripping them off, and with them, chunks of drywall. Sometimes I threw the chunks on the ground and swept them into my roommates’ rooms. When the ex-boyfriend was still a boyfriend, we would watch MTV throwbacks and make pilgrimages to the deli. Our joint shadow resembled a camel.
Seriously, you need to clean out the fridge. She is leaving a trail of blood, one that becomes like a thin wedding veil in her wake. When the ex-boyfriend was still a boyfriend, he gave her a ceramic bunny. She kept it in our living room. Four months into their relationship she dyed her hair blonde. Suddenly, she and the ex-boyfriend-then-boyfriend looked like siblings.
It’s funny how much rotting food there is in there, considering how much of my food you keep eating.
Give me a break, Jesus. The TV utters more about the missing girl. Her parents have just learned she quit her job, and her girlfriend hasn’t heard from her. I’ll throw it out.
At least replace my eggs, which you keep eating.
You’re still bleeding, idiot.
I don’t want my friend Natasha to see my skinny roommate at the party. It sets a bad example. She has an eating disorder; you’re going to trigger her.
Then lock me in a cage or something, make an example of me.
I eat in front of other people, at least. I don’t go hide somewhere like an ashamed toddler gorging on Halloween candy. I’m just saying. You can talk to me if you’re not okay. I wish you’d eat with me at the very least. You’re always going to eat in places where there aren’t other people. Like you’re hiding or something.
You don’t seem it. Anyway, this has nothing to do with me.
Once, the ex-boyfriend spilled boiling water on the nice one’s foot. We think it was an accident, we hope: an innocent scalding. She had to wrap her toe in bandages for three weeks. The next month, he kept leaving his scrubs. Then, the next month, my roommate had an abortion.
You’re not getting any of the crumbs. They’re all getting stuck in the cracks.
I know, I know, you can see it–I just wanted to remind you. I keep wanting to call her by the wrong name. Mandy, Maria, Lilly, Jane. I open the fridge and take out a bottle of orange juice. It smells like it’s fermenting.
Stop yelling at me for no reason. People are coming in two hours and our apartment looks horrible. We pay so much money to live here and you treat it like garbage. I’m just gonna hire a cleaning person and Venmo request you for it.
The person who texted me about the party has asked if he could bring his friend, a professional tennis player who fluxes with the promise of coke.
This is so rich. I’m not the only one who lives here. There’s dust on literally every single surface and don’t even get me started on your room. Thank god you close your door all the time because when I do see it, it makes me so sad. It just makes me so sad! And, dare I ask you where all our mugs went?
Your phone is ringing. She says this with a lassitude that makes me feel absurdly and uncharacteristically guilty. It’s an unlisted number that I decide to ignore, turning the phone face down once again.
Hey, you’re getting blood all over the floor.
She looks down. I have this same image of her looking down when her ex-boyfriend would not drive her to the clinic. This same image wept sanctimoniously before the ex-boyfriend when he wanted her to try anal. Walking out of the clinic, as I waited for her in the Rav4, she looked down the whole time.
You need to shave your armpits. You know, feminists don’t let men peg them.
Do you know how hard it’s been for me this month?
Stop pitying yourself. I have shit too.
Yeah, I’m so sorry your boyfriend dumped you because butt stuff was a non-negotiable.
Well, I’m sorry you don’t care what men do to you.
It’s been so difficult to live with you.
I could say the same about you! You spend three weeks locked in your room without a word and then come out just to clean the counter when you know, above all, I like doing the counters. I glance at the shit that is still there. We have both neglected it in our fury.
Stop fixating on the counter. Is your OCD flaring up again? This is just like the time you broke the oven because you bleached the entire inside. You could’ve killed us!
You don’t even know what OCD is. And I didn’t do that. I was just cleaning the oven so the apartment would stop filling with dirty smoke every time we baked something. You’re discrediting and manipulating me.
Haha! It’s so easy to bring out the word “manipulation” when you don’t like what someone is saying to you.
Well, you’d know about that. You’re so easy to control you’re like clay. You know, I never told you this but Trevor (this is the ex-boyfriend, and the only time I will mention his name) saw you on that BDSM website.
Why would he have seen me on there?
She becomes silent. My phone rings. My closest friends from college have been snowed in and cannot make the party. I did not realize it was snowing. I see I have two missed calls from an unlisted number.
I don’t want to live with you anymore.
Stop pointing out obvious things. What, are you just going to end the lease in the middle?
The TV once again relays something about the missing girl’s pale features, but this time it is mentioned that she had pink ribbons tied around her wrists. The broadcaster mentions she volunteers at the local women’s shelter and is an artist from Williamsburg, our neighborhood.
Find a subletter. I don’t care.
Why didn’t you want to watch ‘Cheers’ with me last week? I’ve been waiting to watch the next episode. I never watch it without you.
I was busy, sorry. I have things to do. I guess you don’t since you can’t find a job despite your billion-dollar degree.
It was the anniversary, wasn’t it?
For the first time in this conversation, it no longer feels like a game. I think about how I haven’t seen our other roommate in days, and how her things–a jacket, a waning spool of pink ribbon, and a half-painted, drying canvas–are all sprawled out in the living room. The less-kind roommate is now looking inside the oven I accused her of tarnishing as if trying to change the subject. When she turns around, her face is nearly silver, drained at once of all its pink and orange. More people text me about the snow. One by one we are being depleted of party guests. I look down and it occurs to me that I have been wearing shoes this whole time. Maybe I’m some kind of philistine who forgoes collective cleanliness for my convenience.
I need to shower and start getting ready.
Hey, can I ask you something?
Why did you ask her–I gesture to our other roommate, the nice one’s, room, which is locked–to have a threesome with you guys, but not me? Do you think I’m ugly?
Why? That was so unkind. It might be the most unkind thing you’ve ever done to me.
I didn’t realize you knew.
How could I not?
I didn’t think it would be good for you, you know, your self-esteem. I’m sorry. I didn’t know. I’m sorry. I wasn’t sure.
Go fuck yourself.
It doesn’t matter anymore, we broke up, anyway.
Is it because she’s a lesbian? Do you have some kind of affinity for her that you don’t have for me?
It was his idea. I didn’t want to, okay? Did you know it broke my heart?
I stare at the shit, still on the counter. About a month ago, the nice one started making kombucha in the corner, and I only now recognize how porous the air is, how the kombucha has been penetrating it this entire time. My phone sings the hymn of canceling party-goers. On the screen, they show an image of the missing girl again, incessantly. This entire time I have been evading her, as though she’s always been there, in our kitchen, on the screen. She’s just as much a ghost of our apartment as the fermenting smell. Staring at my roommate, I watch her look up, her eyes widening in recognition. For the first time, I notice the vestiges of gloom she has worked all her life to exorcise and I think that maybe she’ll even cry. She appears to me like a sick forest animal, one that self-flagellates in shame.
Fine, whatever, let’s just finish cleaning.
I have to go shower.
Okay, can you at least clean the counter first? Please. You wanted to. It’s your favorite thing to do. Really. There’s so much shit on it. There’s so much shit on the counter.
Lisa Cochran is an MFA candidate at Columbia University. She grew up in Ames, Iowa to a Russian mother and an American father, making her sympathetic to both sides of the cold war. Her work appears in On The Run Fiction, BlazeVOX, Anti-heroin Chic, and LEON Literary Review.