I was clean before college. Home meant soap on the dish, laundry that did itself, and my parents laughing as they scrubbed linoleum. Sometimes I’d join and the cleaning effort would turn into a splashy bleach fight; we never got it in our eyes or mouths, only everywhere else, and after, when everything shone and smelled as badly good as gasoline, was my favorite way to remember where I’d come from.
There was no room for the shenanigans of my past in my studio apartment: the twin bed, paper-covered desk, and industrial strength lamp took up all the space that my green area rug didn’t. Once, after getting a shower, I’d draped the damp towel atop the light, thinking it would expedite the drying; the smoke alarm went off before the elastic of my underwear slapped around my waist. I’d handled the situation before there was flame, but the white fabric was forever scorched black, and a wave of light-gray residue remained sketched on the cinderblocks of my ceiling.
My parents had cleaned the place for me when I’d moved in, made the space immaculate, and I’d done my best to maintain but hadn’t mastered the art of living without showing; I was glad I visited them every weekend instead of they, me.
I always meant to return stocked with my family’s cleaning supplies but couldn’t escape the distractions of a last-minute hug, or a demand that I get going, home before dark; I never realized myself empty-handed until arrival, by which time I could only strip-off my clothes, kick my shoes into the corner on my way to collapse in bed.
Every morning, day and night was me, alone, on a rickety craft that could never keep out the sea of entropy which, as I drowned in I also became the tide. Pissing was the only option I had to chip off the inner-gunk of my toilet bowl, I drank of lot of water but that just left dishes in the sink, cleaning those left a film on my hand that required a shower to get rid of; in that third step is where I was, finished with classes for the day, free time wasted, preparing to do it all again.
I turned the flow on, heard the building’s guts complain, then sighed as the initial burst of water, backed by a pitiful amount of pressure, landed on the arm of my sweater. I stripped, moved in front of the mirror superglued to the back of my door, doing my best to avoid seeing my face. I pick at myself. A lot. If seen, I wouldn’t be able to resist popping the zit on the tip of my nose, and it wasn’t ready yet, though it would be soon. I’d been saving it.
I focused on my bony-V torso in a search for sprouted dissidents. The only body hair I allowed belonged to my happy trail, I’d long ago lost that battle, but I had an electric shaver that did a good-enough job of trimming around my nipples, and the one or two strands that popped through my sternum.
My chest immaculate, I looked to my legs; each of the contained yet jiggly thighs were covered by thickets of hair, two forests atop permanent fault zones dotted with the occasional red geyser that I could never get to burst on my own. I made all attempts to avoid the lower, uh, thickets of my body; my picking really didn’t help down there.
The mirror fogged up with the shower’s steam; I inhaled two nostrils full of hot air, plodded into the bathroom, brushed debris from between the bottom wrinkles of my feet, clicked open the frosted plastic divider to my shower, stepped in, shut it behind me.
The shower head had no tensile strength, hung limp at an inconvenient angle from the wall, and less than half of its holes produced water.
But temperature was never an issue; no matter the angle of the gauge, the building produced scalding hot water. The heat brought blood to a boil beneath my skin, a painfully pleasant tingle that every inch of my body craved. If the shower wasn’t so small I’d try to wash myself more, but I’m reminded why I don’t when my elbow hits the only bottle of soap to the floor.
I picked it up, squeezed a dime of blue onto my palm then slathered it over my short hair, then poured more, covered everything below my collarbone though it was impossible, due to lack of space and the showerhead not being able to maintain any adjustment made to it, to let the clean soak into my skin. I avoided scrubbing my face, didn’t want to mitigate any of the filth with the payoff coming so soon.
I ducked under the water so that blue ran from the red of my hair, hands pressed in a double salute against my brow so that the liquid would run to the side, then moved and gave the rest of my body a quick, handsy run over, and shut off the flow.
I took a lungful of warm to brace myself, clicked open the shower, jumped out, scooped my towel from atop the toilet seat and quickly wrapped myself in its still damp from days ago length. After drying the way my dad had taught me, rolling the towel into a cylinder, I hung the cloth over the bathroom door, dried my hands a final time, then returned to in front of the mirror.
The surface still fogged, I wipe a circle out to reveal my face, and all three of my nostrils; the heat had expanded the zit on top of my nose enough for it to be included. Acne’s nature, though subversive, is not cunning; its goal is to grow, deepen its dirt-pocket home, and though they started out hidden under skin it is impossible for them to stay that way forever.
I squeezed the sides of my nose, there was a pop; I felt the dirt shift under my skin but nothing came out.
I shut my eyes, took a breath, looked again; the zit had grown past my flesh, was now the size and color of a poached egg. I poked the abscess and liquid burst out, a gush of brown pus that collected through the air before slapping onto the floor.
Eventually, the flow stopped – in front of me stood an anatomically correct pus sculpture, accurate up to my family’s hereditary red hair –
it winked at me.