Cleaning Up

by andrea Goyan

Published on May 30, 2019 12:48 PM 
DG Mag Issue 1

             I remember the shame, the way it coated me like noxious slime seeping through my pores until I couldn’t breathe. All these years later, dressed in black, standing by your grave, I still feel the residue. It pisses me off.

             Over a hundred people attend your funeral, their dress shoes trampling the wet grass, their umbrellas poking holes in it. Most are women. I wonder how many of us slept with you? Do our nude paintings hang in private collections? Are any of those collectors among the mourners? Could they identify the flesh and blood models if they saw them here? I can. I recognize the blond with the dark roots. She hasn’t changed much in ten years, but she was probably all of seventeen the time I saw her with you.

             That long-ago night, I lost a bit of my soul. Flushed it down the toilet with the contents of my stomach as I blundered into womanhood.

             A party. An undulating sea of dancing bodies. You, across the room, looking through me as you slipped your arm over the shoulder of another girl, one younger than me, thinner, blond. You whispered in her ear, and the two of you headed toward the door. As you passed me, I heard you say to her, “What are you doing for the rest of your life.”

            I wanted to scream, “MY SKIN STILL SMELLS OF YOU.” Instead, I hunkered into a corner and drank myself sick while I replayed the previous night over and over in my mind.

 You’d finished your class to a standing ovation. I turned to leave. You approached.

“Want to get outta here?” you said. “I’ll take you to my bar.”

            You spoke with such proprietorship like you owned the place, though I knew you didn’t. I’d pored over your website. You were an artist who lived in a loft with your cat, and though only thirty-two, you’d shown your work at an impressive number of galleries. Nowhere did you mention you were in the liquor business.

            Inside your bar, the decor was white and silver. Mirrors festooned every wall, a giant candelabra hung from the low ceiling which you, being over six-feet tall, ducked to clear. We sat on a white leather banquet peppered—no, salted, with furry white pillows.

             The waitress called you by name and rested her hand on your shoulder where it lingered while she looked at me and smirked. You ordered us White Russians, even though I was underage.

“You’ll love it,” you said, twirling the onyx ring on your finger.

“I learned so much today,” I said.

“Really?” Your crooked smile lit up your face. I grinned back.

“You’re amazing." I said.

            “Can I confide in you? Truth is, I could barely concentrate because every time I looked up, there you were. You have to sit for me.” Feeling the heat in my face, I averted my eyes and focused on adjusting a pillow behind me. “Don’t hide,” you said. “Blushing is sexy.”

             You tapped your box of cigarettes against your palm before removing one. It was brown like a miniature cigar. You held the foil back for me. I took one. You flicked your lighter and lit mine, then yours. The tobacco tasted rich and exotic. I picked flecks of it off the tip of my tongue aware of your eyes ever on me.

             After a deep drag, you said, “You’re so beautiful.” Wisps of smoke curled out of your nose and from between your lips. “What are you doing for the rest of your life?”

             The waitress snorted as she set the drinks on the table. She looked at me and rolled her eyes.

             I felt right at home when we arrived at your loft. It smelled of turpentine and oil paints. You led me to a red velvet settee, and as you undressed me, your black cat rubbed against my ankles purring. I leaned in to kiss you, but you pulled away.

 “We wait." Part of your seduction.

            I sat naked and cold while you painted. When my teeth started chattering, you left your easel and wrapped your arms around me. You brushed the bristles of a clean brush across my breasts lingering over my nipples.

“Now?” I whispered. You nodded.

            The next morning, I snuck a look at what you’d painted. Two-toned, a quick study. I didn’t like it. It looked nothing like the works you were renowned for.

“Should I come later? Sit again?” I asked. You shook your head.

            “I got what I needed.” Slipping on a button-down shirt, you escorted me to the front door. I tried to kiss goodbye, but you turned your cheek.

“See you around,” you said.

             There’s a break in the clouds as the mourners gather graveside. You were barely a scratch on my surface, but you were my first blemish. You tarnished me. For that reason, I’m here today.

             “I remember you,” I say to the blond woman as we wait our turn. She looks at me and wrinkles her forehead. 

             “Have we met?”

             “You followed me. You were his…” I gesture to you, “…next…”

             “Oh,” she says, cringing. “How long between?” I shrug. 

             “Let’s just say, I hope he changed the sheets.” 

             “I wonder who was his last?” She scans the crowd.

             “Probably her.” I point to the youngest woman I see. The blond raises her eyebrows and laughs, squeezing my arm like we’re old friends. I guess we are in a way, friendships being shaped out of shared experiences.

              I laugh too. The line advances. We’re next, she and I. We stand over the hole in the ground, look at each other, and without a word, drop to our knees and begin heaving handfuls of wet dirt onto your casket, cackling.

             We high five each other with muddy palms, and though covered with dirt, I feel cleaner than I have in years. ♦

Andrea Goyan is a writer, actress, and Master Pilates Teacher. Her short stories have appeared in several anthologies and online magazines (Newfound Journal October 2018). She’s a playwright with over a dozen works produced. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, a dog, and two cats. You can find her at andreagoyan.com and on Twitter @AndreaGoyan

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