It was all she could do, wait.
What else was there, after all?
Twelve minutes in the lunch line at the grocery store, thirty-seven at the DMV, exactly eighteen at the pizza place on a Friday before he got home (and she had to give them credit; not once had they breached the twenty-minute guarantee that would’ve made the pizza free).
But this was Tuesday morning, and Tuesday was her cleaning day. Monday nights meant poor sleep, which meant she was up ungodly early. Not that she ever truly went to sleep. They would go to bed together, but slept apart. He’d curl up with his back to her, snoring quickly and easily while she laid on her back and stared up at the ceiling, her mind racing at the morning’s possibility, anxious to get cleaning right then and there (if only he had been a heavy sleeper).
She struggled all night with herself, fighting the urge to get up and pace the anxiety away, wear herself out so she could fall into easy slumber the way he did. Her body thrummed; she had to force her body to remain still in the midnight, nearly forgetting to breathe in the process. This was her Monday night, alone and awake in the dark for hours. Fidgeting in silence. Fighting to keep her composure as he took his time waking, arriving into the sunlit world slowly.
She would get out of bed before him under the guise of needing breakfast, but finally (finally!) she had something to do to murder a little time before she could really begin her day.
He would wake as she padded across the bedroom floor and opened the bedroom door, hallway light spilling in and across his weary face. He’d yawn and clear his throat, a sound that ripped the house apart several times before he chose his outfit for the day, showered, dressed, and kissed her on his way out the door.
But today? He’d ‘felt peckish. Some toast, maybe. An egg.’
And while she toasted the bread and heated up the egg – a little extra salt, maybe; if he finished, great, but if he didn’t, even better – her insides drew taut, the thinnest of rubber bands stretched to their outermost limits, ready to snap. It was like the way foreplay built up between future lovers; slow. Agonizing. Delicious.
The egg sizzled. The heat of the toaster filled the small kitchen as she leaned across the kitchen island and stared, nearly salivating.
Not at him, no. And not at the smell of breakfast, though you’d be forgiven for thinking so; at the counters and the ledges and the bookcases beyond in the living room. At the thin film of dust that coated the lives they barely touched.
She could feel her body tense up further, electrify. Her skin tingled from the inside out, her blood simmered beneath the surface, flushing her skin from calf to cranium. Amazing that he never saw this, or if he did, that he never said anything, never made a move to take advantage of the moment the way he used to.
Perhaps that was a proper allegory.
The toaster dinged, the egg continued to sizzle. She plated the toast, buttered it, placed it on the island between them. Soon after, the egg followed in the same silence.
While he ate, she stood.
When he was done eating, he slid the dishes back across the island, came around to her side, kissed her cheek, and left through the garage without a word of thanks.
This was the worst waiting, the ten minutes after his car pulled out of the driveway and sped off to his cubicle farm on the other side of the city. She couldn’t stand the agony of waiting 15 minutes, but 10 minutes was half his normal drive time, so he’d return in that time if needed. She’d almost been caught early on when she had less patience (less than five minutes) and he’d returned home because he’d forgotten his work badge.
She had fallen to her knees and opened her mouth right as the garage door opened. He rushed into the house, mumbled an apology, grabbed his security badge off the counter, and left again. Had he seen her there by the living room bookshelves and wondered what she was doing? If so, he never brought it up. Perhaps he had been too in his own head to notice. Perhaps he had noticed, but never thought twice about it, knowing that the house gleamed and sparkled when he returned home every Tuesday night.
Three minutes passed. Over the next seven she would climb up the staircase to their bedroom, change into her cleaning clothes (old medical scrubs), and return to the living room. So many surfaces to clean, so many areas in need of her touch before his work day ended. She relished the challenge.
One might wonder what had elicited this kind of behavior in Elle, if they ever saw her engaged in it. But no one ever had, at least not that she knew. She kept the blinds drawn and the shades shut on Tuesdays so that her cleaning day was all hers, a thing for only her to enjoy without the interruption of a wandering salesman or proselytizer (both of whom appeared often on her doorstep despite the sticker on the storm door unkindly begging both of them off).
From bedtime to cleaning time, the feeling that grew inside her was like the simmering of a volcano moments away from erupting, a shaking of her earth with tremors that lasted well into the evening after she was done.
Was this what it was like for songwriters? Poets? Artists of any shape or size or medium? She had to assume it was. This feeling of something bigger than her was overpowering and intoxicating, like wearing a costume that fundamentally changed her personality into something absolutely no one would recognize or fully understand. This made her feel powerful in a strange way. That she had not blocked out more than one cleaning day a week was a testament to three truths:
One. She wanted to keep it special, holy. Like church on Sunday for those that believed.
Two. She secretly loved the anticipation, the waiting.
Three. She didn’t want to get caught. Despite the power she felt it gave her, she also understood that deep shame could be the result from witnesses that wouldn’t understand and multiple cleaning days a week would up the chances of that happening.
Elle could remember the precise moment that stirred up her inner workings. She could remember how she was relenting and bored in one moment and then completely energized, thrilled, the next.
Their lovemaking had declined, both in quality and frequency, four months into living in the new house. To be clear, there was no love lost between them; it still held firm and in place as near as she could tell. They were both just…exhausted. The planning of the wedding, the wedding itself, the honeymoon, and then moving into the new house all in the span of half a year? Who wouldn’t be exhausted?
It took them a few weeks to fully unpack and decorate the house. Sure, there were a few boxes of things left, but they were the unimportant things that hadn’t had their own place in the apartment either, so…into the closets they went. Art was hung, books were placed, the entertainment center provided their nightly relaxation on the living room couch. Soon her sexual appetites reawakened.
His did not.
While on the couch she would nuzzle a little closer. She would playfully bite his arm as they lay intertwined in each other. She would place a hand on his stomach or on his thigh, rub the fabric slowly, hoping to get a rise out of him.
She would slide her hand beneath his shirt, tousle his chest hair, lightly pinch a nipple. To each and all of these, he was unresponsive at best and temperamental at worst, sometimes expressing his annoyance at her disturbing his relaxation. All she wanted to do was have him naked beneath her in every room sooner than later.
But she stopped her advances and kept her physical distance, believing that maybe if he soon realized that he forgot what she felt like, what she tasted like, that he’d start to want to remember on his own and surprise her. And one day for whatever reason, he finally had.
She’d just started preparing a dinner of lamb and garlic potatoes when she heard the garage door open behind her. He never told her and she never asked, but she wondered what it was that had put him in such a mood when he stepped through the door. Was it her outfit? The way she was standing? Did her skin seem to have a particular glow that made him salivate and desperately need her in that moment?
He said nothing as he entered. Soon, his hands were on her waist, his body pressed tight up against her backside and his mouth exploring her neck as if it were an undiscovered paradise. Her left hand slid down, covered his on her waist, while the right moved up to reach behind his head, fingers grabbing him by the hair and pulling him deeper into her neck.
His pants were soon around his ankles, the belt clinking dully on the hardwood floor. Her skirt had been hiked up, her hands clamped on the counter’s edge as he pressed her face down flat on the countertop. This was new for him, a dominance thing he never would’ve tried before, him making her submit, but here they were, both caught up in something guttural and necessary, wordless save for the phrases that came in the moments where pain and pleasure met briefly, explosively, dissipated into sweat and motion.
In her field of vision sat the microwave, specifically the digital clock in bright green numbers. During, she caught sight of the numbers over and over again, weirdly burning themselves into her brain. For exactly fourteen minutes, the lovemaking was not good. Wild, unfocused, and primal but in a clumsy, virginal way, not the unbridled passion kind of way where every movement, every touch, is perfect and lasting and reflected upon decades later in one’s twilight.
But he was trying and that was good.
Her breathing took on a regular in and out, matching his motion. It came out hard and heavy, moving the small clumps of dust hidden deep beneath the microwave, scattering them around and out into the light in little spinning eddies of gray before her.
Understand that, in this moment, she was not disgusted like most might be. She was enthralled, entranced even, by their movements. Her mind didn’t automatically switch to “I need to clean that when we’re done,” it moved beyond thought. She watched the dust dance on wind that she created and could think of nothing else, a blank mind simply processing a weird ballet play out before it.
The dust is moving because of my breath.
My breath is moving because my husband is having sex with me.
I’m having sex.
And that quick, Elle was out of and then back in to the moment with her husband, breathing hard along the surface of the countertop. The bits of dust eddied closer, nearly teased her lips before eddying back out. A hard exhale and they were back, clinging to her moist lips, melding with the saliva spread across them. Without thinking, she slid her tongue out, captured the dust on its tip, brought it between her lips and tasted.
Her husband would believe right then (and forever after) that he himself had unlocked her sex, had found the key to get her to that point every man believes he’s done with every woman before. She would never correct him.
The dust dissipated like cotton candy inside her mouth. In that moment, her taste buds reawakened, exploded open. This new texture, this new taste, that filled her mouth was unflinchingly raw and fueled something inside her she was unable to name or process. What didn’t melt on her tongue found its way down her throat and the sound that erupted from her, a rocket screaming to get out, was unlike anything she’d ever uttered in life before or any time after.
So he could be forgiven for thinking his lust, his touch, had caused the kitchen to be filled with the sound of her guttural, wordless pleasure.
And she would allow it.
When he finished, she remained splayed out on the countertop, breathing hard and heavy, in and out, trying to suck in more of the dust she could see sitting and waiting there in the dark; she pretended to be winded. She pretended her body was still shivering from the inside out, hoping to coax more of that life-altering substance down her throat.
Days later, Elle would stumble across an article in the doctor’s office about respiratory illnesses. In this article she learned several things:
Dust is not primarily made of human skin flaking off as it dies; it’s composed of pollen, hair, textile fibers, paper fibers, soil minerals, cosmic dust particles, and various other materials found in the local environment.
She preferred to believe it was mostly dead skin, thinking it strangely romantic that she could consume both his and her dead selves into her living one in the hopes that maybe she could bring back their former selves to something recognizable and normal, to something less fraught with friction and solitude spent with someone else.
Nearly 40 pounds of dust accumulate in the average home during the course of the year.
That was 40 pounds of silence between them, 40 pounds of unspoken conversations, 40 pounds of old memory scattered to the wind; that seemed like a waste.
Micrometeorites spread close to 40,000 tons of cosmic dust across the earth each year.
She became titillated by the idea that she had consumed star dust and imagined that she now had something like a denser, more complex connection to the universe because of that fact.
Dust absorbs colors like blue and green in the atmosphere, but allows for oranges and reds to pass right through it. In this way, dust is responsible for the vivid natures of sunrise and sunset.
She found this both fascinating and intoxicating, imagining a sun being born inside her, filling her with a warmth and a light that had both previously gone cold and dark.
Because she had worried about the consumption of the dust amidst the tryst in the kitchen, she had scheduled this appointment to clear up any fears that may have grown inside her about possible health issues that may arise. After reading the article, she got up and left the waiting room, not bothering to cancel her appointment, smiling as she stepped out into the sunlit afternoon.
She may or may not have opened her mouth (like a child in a rainstorm) in the hopes of catching some small bit of that cosmic dust falling from the atmosphere.
Ten minutes. She’d waited the full, glorious ten and fell to her knees by the living room bookshelf. She inhaled and exhaled three times, bent over, and began licking the surface of the bottom shelf, running her tongue along every dusty inch not covered in books or DVDs. It would take her an hour to finish the living room; the book shelf, two end tables, the coffee table. Kitchen next, followed by the dining room, and then up the stairs to the bathrooms and master bedroom to finish. She could be done by 2pm if she hurried, 3 if she took her time.
She hoped there’d be fewer splinters than last week.