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 to college 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: I’d been ignoring my face all day, woken with a zit on the tip of my nose that I felt would be ready to burst once a hot shower opened my pores, and so instead focused on my bony-V torso in a search for sprouted hairs. The only body hair I allowed belonged to the ‘happy trail’ that ran from my navel, 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 the divot of my sternum.
My chest was spotless, then I looked at my legs; each of my contained yet jiggly thighs were covered by thickets of hair, two forests atop permanent fault zones. Also on my flesh were geysers, hair not yet long enough to break through the skin, red with the promise of future, topped with a hardened white foam that seemed manipulatable but was impossible for a human to force an eruption from. I made all attempts to avoid the lower, uh, thickets of my body; they produced nothing but mess.
The mirror had 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 limply from the rod that protruded from the plastic wall. To a less experienced with the rigors of university apartment life eye than mine, the stream would’ve appeared to have not strengthened in the slightest; less than half of the holes in the metal drained water.
Temperature control, thankfully, was something I had down; repeated attempts had conditioned my arm to automatically leave the shower knob at an almost-scalding angle. The heat brought blood to a boil beneath my skin, reddened both, left a painfully pleasant tingle in my dermis so I spun and spread the spectacular displeasure equally over my anatomy. I wasn’t keeping tabs on my elbow, it knocked the only bottle of soap on the corner shelf to my feet.
I picked it up, squeezed a dime of blue onto my palm then slathered it over my short hair, then I 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, the payoff soon to come my way; cleaning was in my genes, an affinity for popping zits occupied half of my chromosomes.
I ducked under the water so that blue ran from the red of my hair, hands pressed straight in a double salute against my brow so the water would run to the side, gave the rest of my body a quick, handsy, run over then 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 the day before length. After drying the way my dad had taught me, rolled the towel into a cylinder then run it like a sponge on and between where it’s needed, I hung the cloth over the bathroom door, dried my hands a final time then stood where I’d been before the shower.
I wiped a circle in the mirror’s fog, my face appeared along with 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, but past that no result. I shut my eyes, breathed, reopened and found 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; the gush was thicker than me, first a brown pus that coiled through the air before slapping onto the floor, I crossed my eyes and saw the color change to the red of blood newly exposed to oxygen, still heard it piling up.
The flow stopped, standing in front of me was an anatomically correct pus sculpture of myself, accurate up to my family’s hereditary red hair; it winked at me.