- Fiction, Folio, Reading, Writing

Say No More, by Robert Lopez

 

A lot of people say I have great posture. I’m not sure this is altogether true, that I have great posture, but I hear it from people all the time, including the woman cleaning my kitchen. She has been here for almost two hours and thus far she has finished cleaning the bathroom and is in the process of cleaning the kitchen. She is slated to be here for another hour as I paid upfront for three. I have remained in the living room while she has been cleaning, as I do not want to make her uncomfortable or feel as though I’m scrutinizing her work. I’m sometimes accused of making people uncomfortable but I don’t think this is my fault. I can’t help how I look or that I am not good with small talk or general conversation. But finally I had to use the bathroom and had no choice. I apologized for disturbing her as I walked through the kitchen, said I would only be a moment, opened and closed the bathroom door as quietly as possible. I did this about thirty minutes ago and it seemed she wasn’t bothered. She continued what she was doing, cleaning the stove, I believe, and didn’t even acknowledge me. I noticed, too, that she wasn’t naked. I’m not saying that she is supposed to be naked, that I’ve paid for some kind of naked cleaning service because it isn’t true. I hired a traditional cleaning service, one that I’ve used now several times. Some people might call me a fanatic about cleanliness, might even call me a freak in this regard, but my question is what’s wrong with that. I spend a decent amount of time cleaning the apartment myself but I also need an expert to come in every couple of weeks regardless. So, I wasn’t expecting her to be naked when I walked through the kitchen to get to the bathroom. Still, I’ve heard that sometimes people like to clean naked so as not to soil their clothes. That sometimes they think they can garner a bigger tip if they were to clean naked. Nothing like this was discussed when she arrived at eleven this morning and I can’t remember where I heard these stories or if it was my mother or father or sister who told me. Sometimes my sister would tell me certain things and I’d have to tell her to stop because I didn’t want to hear it. She’d go on and on about her private sexual affairs, for instance, what she’d like to do to people or have done to her. I don’t know why she’d tell me about her peccadilloes because I never asked but that was my sister for you. I don’t know if someone like my sister told me these stories in confidence or I heard these stories from several people. It could be my sister was a naked maid herself, may’ve even offered to clean my apartment that way. I can’t remember if I’ve ever seen my sister naked, though I’m sure I must’ve. This is when I told her I didn’t want to hear it, so it doesn’t matter what I disclose or whose confidence I’m breaking. When it comes to naked housecleaning it could be something I saw on television or overheard in a bar or restaurant, too. I don’t generally go to bars or restaurants so this seems the most unlikely. I can’t abide any sort of noise, either from people or machines, which is why I don’t go to bars or restaurants. I can’t even listen to music anymore. If someone says hello to me I ask them to write me a letter instead. The only thing the woman who is cleaning my kitchen said to me upon arrival was that I had great posture, which I’m not sure is true. What I mean to say is that I’m not sure it’s true I have great posture and I’m not sure that’s what she said. The woman who is cleaning my kitchen doesn’t speak English and my Polish or German or Russian is rusty at best. I think this is where she is from, the woman who is cleaning my kitchen with all of her clothes on as she looks like she is from that part of the world. She is tall and thin with blonde hair and lifeless blue eyes, which describes most of her compatriots. She herself has great posture and is standing perfectly upright when she isn’t bending over to clean in hard to reach corners. I’m not watching her clean, though, as I think it disrespectful and I don’t want to make her uncomfortable. She and I have only made eye contact two or three times, as we are both shy people. I can’t speak for her, of course, but I was born shy and have been shy my whole life. I almost never speak unless I am spoken to and not always then. This comes from how I was raised, what happened to me growing up. Nine out of ten people shunned by their parents and who were made to live in a shed out in the backyard aren’t what one might call well adjusted. People are sometimes mystified by my silence; they think I’m uncaring or aloof. I’m not sure if this is true, but I’m often baffled by people and am rendered dumb in their presence. This is why I always prefer staying home. I’m certain the woman who is cleaning the kitchen is the same way. I could tell by the way she never looks up when I make a noise or how when I told her my name she said nothing in return. Perhaps she is only shy when she works or because English isn’t her native language. Perhaps when she is out with her friends in Minsk she is bold and aggressive, the sort of woman who gets up on tabletops and dances to pop songs in her underwear. I rarely wear underwear myself as I find it too constricting. In fact, I was naked before she arrived to clean my apartment. This, of course, has nothing to do with shyness and is not in any way a contradiction of such. I am often naked in my apartment as I can rarely muster the effort of dressing myself in the morning. Normally, I have to eat a full breakfast before I can manage getting dressed, which I only do if I have an appointment. Breakfast can consist of nonfat yogurt and store-bought granola, but rarely includes berries or bananas or fruit of any kind. I never eat cereal for breakfast, either, not the oat cereal I used to enjoy as a child or the muesli I used to eat years ago. Only sometimes will I scramble or fry two or three eggs depending on my appetite, but I’ve never poached or boiled an egg in my life. Sometimes, I separate and then dispose of the yolks in an effort to lower cholesterol. I’m not sure if I should limit my cholesterol intake, but both my father and grandfather died young of heart attacks, so there is that. Whenever I do make eggs, which is infrequently at best, I’ll slide two pieces of whole wheat or multi-grain bread into the toaster, which I’ll dress with Irish butter, but never any jelly or jam or marmalade or preserves. Only once or twice a year will I prepare steel-cut oats for breakfast. Normally, I will not measure out how much water is needed according to the ratio on the can. The recommended serving for one is insubstantial and I can never figure out how much more to make. I refuse to stand over the stove to stir oatmeal every two or so minutes for half an hour is my problem and then it gets burned. I’ve never used a blender to make breakfast, which I understand some people do. They call it a smoothie and they put almost anything in it. This doesn’t seem right to me, not the process, nor the ridiculous word they call it. I never drink anything when I eat breakfast except for water sometimes. I can’t drink coffee for the caffeine and what it does to my bladder and sleep patterns and I can’t drink orange juice for the same reasons. Once in a while, I’ll make an herbal tea as I enjoy the taste. Drinking tea makes me feel like I’m at home even though I almost never feel that way. I’ve never in my life made French toast or pancakes or waffles for the effort involved, which is beyond my meager capabilities. I have a memory of my mother making me waffles one morning, but I’m not sure this happened. Sometimes I can’t distinguish between what’s real and what I’ve dreamed or saw in a movie when it comes to my own life story. But I only eat breakfast if I have to leave the apartment and I only leave the apartment if I have an appointment. Sometimes, I have to visit a doctor or dentist or accountant. There is something wrong with my hearing and something wrong with my gums and something wrong with my finances. Getting dressed includes wearing earplugs, which I do whenever I leave the house. Sometimes I wear headphones, too, as extra protection. I can’t hear anything when I’m wearing both earplugs and headphones at the same time, so it’s excellent and most effective. I’m sure one day I’ll be totally deaf, if I live long enough, so in this way it’s like practice. Both my mother and grandmother went deaf, but neither was ever so sensitive to noise that they had to wear earplugs and headphones whenever they went outside. Perhaps this is why they went deaf in the first place, repeated sonic trauma. It’s possible I might be saving what little hearing I have left by these prophylactic measures. If I’m ever run over by a bus or truck, it will be when I am wearing earplugs and headphones at the same time. I’ve almost been run over several times already. The problem is I never pay attention when I am out on the streets and I cross against the lights. One time, someone had to pull me out of the way of an oncoming eighteen-wheeler. It was quite a sensation; being jerked back by the shirt collar and feeling the whoosh of air as the truck sped past. I couldn’t hear myself thank the person who saved my life, but I’m pretty sure I thanked him. If he said something in reply, I couldn’t hear that, either, as the headphones were still securely on my head after nearly being run over and getting jerked back to safety. I remember watching a movie where a woman was run over by a city bus and later died in a stranger’s arms. I remember wondering what it must feel like to lay on the ground after you’ve been mortally wounded, what would you look at and what would you think about. Perhaps you’d look up into the sky and find a cloud that resembles a president or Jesus. I’ve never seen a cloud that looked like anything else but I’ve heard stories. Maybe you’d listen to the wind and find a kind of music in that sound. I never listen to music when I’m wearing the headphones, as that would defeat the purpose. The last woman who came over to clean did so with headphones on the entire time. I do not know what she was listening to and I didn’t ask. This woman wasn’t Polish or Czech, but rather from somewhere in Central America. Someplace awful where the weather is unbearable and there are monkeys and bugs and hundreds of years ago marauding Europeans discovered it and turned everyone Catholic after raping and pillaging everyone first. I was born Catholic, was baptized as an infant and received first communion as a child and then got confirmed as a teenager. After that, I never went back to church, as I found the entire practice tedious and futile. Both my deaf mother and deaf grandmother were zealots, though perhaps that is too strong a term. A zealot is fanatical and neither my mother nor grandmother could be described this way. It’s true they visited church often and spent hours every day saying novenas, but they never proselytized or served God in a more profound manner. They were devout, in fact my mother still is. She is almost one hundred years old and manages to go to church several times a week. I can’t remember exactly when she disowned me as it was a long time ago. The whys and wherefores don’t matter anymore, but I’m sure my lack of faith played a part in it. I seem to remember her using the word “heretic.” I’m not sure if she disowned my brother at the same time or subsequent to my disownment. I don’t harbor any ill will toward any of them, not my mother or brother or the woman who got hit by the city bus and looked up to see Jesus in the clouds. I also don’t harbor ill will toward the cleaning woman, though I still believe she stole from me. I can’t prove this but I also can’t find the antique flask I’ve had for over thirty years. The flask was a gift from a friend for standing up at his wedding. It’s the only wedding I’ve ever attended and the only time I’ve worn a tuxedo. I was a member of his wedding party, a groomsmen, though I had no official responsibilities. In fact, I can’t recall the event at all, except to say that I might be lying. I can recall the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding, but not the actual wedding ceremony or reception afterwards. There wasn’t an actual rehearsal during the rehearsal dinner, I don’t think. Nobody practiced reciting their lines, stood in their assigned places, hit marks, and what have you. There was a dinner at a restaurant and everyone around the table said something, including the bride and groom. What I remember is that the bride toasted her mother, babbled on and on for an hour or so until she said her mother was a diamond in the rough. There was a moment or two of silence or nervous laughter and then the bride’s future mother-in-law corrected her, said I’m pretty sure your mother is finished. Then there was more nervous laughter and silence and this is when I hoped a city bus was on the way to run all of us over. I’m not sure what the bride meant or what she intended to say. For years, I’ve tried to figure this out and have come up empty. I can’t remember what I said that night, though I believe I said something. I might’ve recited a poem, something like, “within me tis as if the green and climbing eyesight of a cat has crawled near my mind’s poor birds.” I’m sure everyone looked at me askance, like there was something very wrong with me. People used to look at me like this all the time, but it hasn’t happened in a long time. This is because I don’t talk unless it’s necessary and try not to recite poetry in public anymore. Not a sonnet, not a villanelle, not even a limerick. The groom was an old friend, someone I went to school with and knew for almost twenty years. I couldn’t keep up with him any longer due to his political affiliations, which were heinous and extreme, but the disillusion happened years later. Still, I treasured the flask and was both shocked and disappointed to find it gone. This particular cleaning woman, the one who I’m certain stole it, wasn’t tall or thin, but rather short and corpulent. She wore a gold crucifix around her neck and like her colleague today didn’t remove her clothes while cleaning any part of my apartment. She said her name was Sofia or Esperanza, I can’t remember. It’s possible I’ve had two cleaning ladies and I’m confusing the two. Regardless, I did contact the agency and filed a complaint, but ultimately I couldn’t prove anything and the cleaning woman in question denied any wrongdoing. I never suggested she should get deported and realized this might happen were I to press the matter. This is when I reversed course and told the agency I found the flask and withdrew my complaint. I even wrote the cleaning woman a glowing review, even though I still believe she absconded with the flask. The thought has occurred to me that if she were naked, she’d have nowhere to hide contraband, which is perhaps one virtue of hiring a naked maid. I’m not sure why anyone chooses to wear clothes when not absolutely necessary. In my own apartment, I never bother getting dressed, as there is no one here to see me, except for maybe the people in the park across the street. I’m not sure if anyone in the park has ever seen me naked in my apartment, but I do sometimes have the blinds open now and I am almost always naked in here. A few months ago, I bought some houseplants and a tree and they need sunlight to stay alive. I’m always mindful of this even though I don’t care for the sun or its light. I come from a long line of fair-skinned people, though hereditarily we should all be swarthy, as I descend from both the communities near the Mediterranean and Caribbean seas. The sun has long been my families’ enemy as several members have contracted all manner of skin-related catastrophes, from sunspots to terminal melanoma. In fact, before I bought the plants I never had the blinds open, not even once. I have blackout curtains hanging in the living room where the plants are, so when I said “blinds” I was mistaken. I’m not sure why I said “blinds” when I meant “curtains.” I know the difference between the two as I have blinds in the bathroom, though I’m not saying that I hung the blinds in my bathroom. The blinds were hanging in the bathroom when I moved in and so I left well enough alone. However, I did go out and purchase the blackout curtains and hung them over the bay windows in the living room. I felt accomplished for this because I’m useless more often than otherwise. Almost no light filters through the blackout curtains so I have to pull them back for the plants. I’m also careful to water the plants at least once a week, which is what the clerk at the nursery told me to do. I’ve noted that one of the plants seems to require watering more than the others. The leaves on this one sag if it goes too long without water. It’s almost funny, the sight of these drooping leaves, but I never laugh because I will feel awful if the plant dies before I do. In this way, it is almost like I’m a parent, which I never could be. There are too many people in the world as it is and it would be best if my genes die with me. I do like the plants and don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to buy plants before. I do know why, actually, it’s because I have no imagination and am perhaps the simplest man who’s ever lived. I can live on food and water and a comfortable bed, as long as there is air-conditioning. I probably couldn’t live without air-conditioning. It feels like I’m going to choke and die when it’s too hot, when I’m sweating and can’t stop. I sweat all the time in the summer, even in bed when I have the air conditioner on. It is no way to go through life, but go through it I do, every day without fail. For what purpose and to what end I’ve no idea, though I suppose I do know to what end, the same that ends everybody. All that’s left is the when and how and the answers are probably soon and unspeakable. It reminds me of a television program I saw once, where two police detectives were discussing what it must be like to get shot. They wondered if it would feel hot or cold, that the bullet is made from cold steel but when fired it would heat up. I can’t remember what conclusions they drew, if any. I’m sure someone somewhere has shot himself to see what it feels like. The world is this sort of place. I remember a young colleague once telling me a story of how he and his friends waterboarded each other out of the same kind of meaningless curiosity. I’ve had no such desire in my life, though I have imagined pouring boiling water over my head and genitals or stepping in front of a moving train or truck. I’ve imagined doing all sorts of things, but executing such is another matter. For instance, this very morning I wondered what would happen if when the maid arrived I’d answered the door naked. I wondered if she would recoil in fear and horror or if she would be nonchalant about it. There is nothing inherently threatening about a naked man. In fact, you can probably say a naked man is less threatening than his clothed counterpart as you know exactly what you’re dealing with, there can be no weapons concealed anywhere. I know that I mean no harm to anyone but who else would know that by looking. Still, I could never do such a thing as I am as much a slave to convention and courtesy as anyone. The only thing I couldn’t do to make a guest comfortable in my own home is turn off the air conditioner. I keep a closet full of sweaters and coats for such purpose, in case someone gets cold. But I am careful to move the plants out of the way of the air conditioner, as I’m sure it’s not good for them. No one told me this, but there are certain things one knows without being told. I’m not sure how long plants are supposed to live and I’m not sure how long I’m supposed to live, either. If I were to go to a doctor for something other than my hearing, I’m certain I’d be told I have only months to go. The reason I believe this is I wake in the middle of the night gasping for air probably more than what’s normal. I’ve always woken up in the middle of the night gasping for air but it seems to happen more frequently these last few months. Always I am sweating when I wake up like this. I think I stop breathing but something jolts me awake before I can drift off into whatever comes next. I’m not sure how I feel about this. I’ve been alive for almost fifty years and I’m not sure how I feel about anything, just like it’s never occurred to me to buy a houseplant or go to a nursery. I may’ve mentioned that already. I find that I repeat myself more as I get older and this is another thing people tell me. They say, you already told me this, and I curse myself for lending voice to thought in the first place. You can’t repeat yourself if you remain mute. But not too long ago I had a friend visiting from out of town and she suggested I buy some plants to give the apartment some life and color. This is the friend who I once shared a hotel room with for three days and nights but nothing ever happened. We were both attending a conference and figured we could reduce expenses by sharing a room even though there was only one bed. One night, after she got back from drinking too much, she curled up into me and said, “There’s a fog.” She pushed her lips into mine and I put my arms around her body, moving my hands over her back down to the top of her buttocks. Again she said, “There’s a fog,” and then she said, “If you want to stick it in me, you can but we won’t be friends anymore.” I didn’t know what to do or say so I didn’t do or say anything. I thought about how for years I wanted to see my friend naked or have her see me naked and how that might lead to sex communication. I thought about what I should hide from the cleaning lady the next time I made an appointment and then I thought about fog and the weather conditions that create fog and how I’ve lived my entire life inside a fog since the day I was born. After all this thought, I didn’t stick anything anywhere, and a few minutes later, she was asleep and so we are still friends to this day. This is how I could have her over for a visit even though I’m sure we could still visit together if I did stick it in her like she offered. I’m not sure sticking it in automatically nullifies a friendship of ten years, but it’s hard to know these kinds of things when you’re stuck inside a fog. She said she was jealous of all the natural light I have because where she lives there’s none. This is when I told my friend that if something happens in the middle of the night or the middle of the street then she has to come to my apartment to water the plants. I tell her she can live here if she wants to. I tell her the plants will be her responsibility but she scoffs at me. She says that nothing will happen to me in the middle of the night or street and that I will live for another fifty years at least. I had no reply and didn’t know why she had to be that cruel. I still try not to think about what she said about my lifespan or what she said in the hotel room. I should’ve said something like, “How dare you” or “I thought we were friends,” but instead I went into the kitchen alone and boiled water for tea.

 

Note: This fiction part of Big Other’s Puerto Rican Writer’s Folio: A Hauntology

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Robert Lopez is the author of five books of which the most recent are Good People and All Back Full. He's taught at the New School, Columbia University, Pratt Institute. Syracuse University, and the Solstice Low-Res MFA Program of Pine Manor College.

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