Filthy

A fragment of black string floats before my face, drifting down from nowhere. I try to grab it; it floats away. It’s buglike in its movements, avoiding my grasp, so sensitive to the changes in air pressure as my palm moves towards it. It floats down; I reach for it, it flies up; I reach for it, it spirals in a buggy helix, the movements of life erratic enough to be impossible to follow or predict; I give up reaching for it. 

I know it’s just a piece of string but I can’t help but worry it’s a fly or some insect I can’t identify. These days, everything imperfect in my apartment makes me worry. I’m noticing every coffee rim on the coffee table, the dust on my computer monitor, the white streak of something on the bookshelf. We clean the apartment regularly, not religiously, but enough. Or so I thought. We sweep, we mop, we dust, we wipe. But no matter how much we try, there is more. 

I’m contributing to the karmic universe of cat sitting this weekend. Two apartments, two cats. Cat sitting involves going into a stranger’s home and sitting near their cats, making sure they stay alive. One of the apartments is beautiful. Clean, pristine, despite a dander-filled, hairy big cat. One of the apartments… 

It is tiny and bursting with filth. It feels wrong to say anything more of it. Except: The bathtub is filled with clothes. So where… does… the bathing happen? 

I went back to my apartment, took a deep breath of cobweb-free air, and cleaned. Wiped every inch of the bathroom. Wiped every table, every bookshelf. Emptied and wiped down the garbage bin. Who cleans a garbage bin? Me. Swept, vacuumed, mopped. The more I cleaned the more I saw there was to clean. Grease underneath my keyboard cover. Brown coffee remnants on the desk. And always more to sweep. There is the dust that avoids the broom at all cost. The little battle line of detritus that holds strong before the dustpan. There is the loose wad of Ellie’s fur that will never be captured. The section in between the oven and the stove that spurns mops, vacuums, washcloths. How did the monitor get so dusty? What happened to the windows that splattered them so? Like rain went wrong and became sugar. What about the degrading corners of the wooden floor that become colorful with rainbow filth? The more I look the more there is. The darkness in my cat’s backwards fur, could that be dirt or mold? No, it’s just a shadow. 

Cats clean themselves. Can they lick an apartment clean? I recently let my cat lick my forehead as an experiment. It hurt. I don’t recommend it. Those tongues are sharp and barbed with scour pads. He licked it raw and red. They also lick apart their toys until they disintegrate into an ambient pile of feathers, stuffing, and dust. Their go-to game is destruction. Is that not the way of the world? Destroying things slowly then putting them back together? 

And what is the alternative? I could have no cats and no cat-sitting duties. I could live in a pristine white box of formica and plastic and nothing would break down. What would I write about? What would I think about? What would I do when my brain gets tired? I own three plants. One is a cactus and nothing ever changes. Two have color, flowers; and then the pink poinsettia leaves fall, and the cats eat the violets, but new ones grow in their place. 

The cats tend to follow me from room to room, destroying things. They create mini earthquakes underneath their tiny paws. They breathe their cat breath into the air. I breathe my human breath into the air. Our breath mingles and transforms into radiation. This is how it seems sometimes. 

I clean out a bathroom shelf, drop a pair of tweezers. The cats come running. This is a new noise signifying a new object to examine and destroy. They sniff it and jump back. They are amazed by its metal solidness. How it stays put when they bat it with their paws. They lie on their backs in an act of deference. The tweezers cannot be destroyed. The tweezers do the destroying. 

Would an empty formica apartment destroy me, or would a filthy apartment do it first? The answer is yes. The answer is balance, learning when to clean and when to turn your eyes away. I never found that black string fragment. I never cleaned it up. Because if I were to remove all the dust from this apartment, I’d have no time to live. 

-Denise


PS: Earth destroyers:

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