Getting Clean

The first time Sidney pulled the man out, she grabbed him by the ankles, heaved, lost her grip, fell back and smacked her ass on the concrete, bruising her coccyx. Sidney stood, loosened the pebbles jabbed into her palms by wiping them against the seams in her jeans and reached back for the man, higher up, grabbing the hollow part of his thigh, above the kneecap, pulled again. Her ass hurt, started to pulse with each thump of her heart, the veins moving into clots like small, awkward explosions as she breathed deeply, gathering all her strength into the thick muscle of her diaphragm, and leaned against the air. The man came onto the concrete thick as blood, water pouring out of him like a ruptured balloon, and lay on his side, one arm curled in toward his stomach, the other pointing straight ahead, as if he had one magnificent question left and only waited to be called on. Sidney lodged her hands beneath his belly, yanked him onto his back, opened his mouth as she’d been taught in high school years before remembering, and did a pinky sweep to make sure the passage was clear. She placed her ear on his chest, where his heart should have given her rise, and she heard the sound of water soaking into fabric, rubbing against itself without friction, without making heat. And then she began thrusting his body back into the world, pushing the water out of his lungs and giving his breath room to move.

Soon after, weeks, the man moved in with Sidney, bringing his eight-month old Labrador and her knack for gnawing on anything placed near, and his collection of rusted tin cans he stole from his grandfather after the old man shot at him with a .22 and told the man, then a boy, that he thought he was a rabbit. The man moved in with the same slow perfection of a contagion, one so new to the system that the body confuses itself into believing it was there all along, behind a stage of blood vessels, crouched seamlessly inside the spleen. Sidney would come home, put her keys and lighter on the nightstand, sigh about the lady in the cubicle next to her, the one who fidgeted through every cold call, clicking her teeth with the tip of her pen. She’d hear it before she knew the name of it: the steady rush of water dripping off the faux-wood countertop in the kitchen, collecting in puddles where the paneling sunk because of the silverware drawer. At first, Sidney stormed to the noise, gasping, her hand meandering of its own accord to the soft spot where she bruised her tailbone, maybe out of fear, maybe knowledge, and when the first tart taste of panic crept into the back of her throat, Sidney swallowed hard and dashed her arms into the sink, up and sometimes past the elbows, gripping the man around his cheeks and pulling him out in a giant slosh.

But they went out, gave functionality a shot.

In restaurants, Sidney memorized how many glasses of water it took before she had to pee, because if she left for too long, if there was, heaven forbid, a line at the ladies room, she might come back to the table, lipstick freshened, hair tucked neat and new behind her ear, and find the man hovering over his bowl of soup, measuring with one knuckle the depth of the bowl, if he could cut off the airways with any success. Otherwise, the man wouldn’t dive in. Bubbles, he would say later, are not the point. At three glasses of water, or one of wine, Sidney would stop drinking, cross her legs and tap the toe of her foot against the instep of the other.

At home, Sidney hid all the mixing pots, the crock pot, even the bowls her mother gave her after graduation. She gathered all the cups and mugs that fit over her mouth and nose, smashed them against the south wall of the house and swept the mess of it under the cinderblocks holding up the foundation. She learned how to turn off the water faucets so the man couldn’t fill up the sinks, and she filled the one bathtub in the house with a homemade mixture of concrete, which was much more sand than anything else, forcing the man to stand up to bathe. But still, on cool nights when storm clouds rolled in off the plains, bumping against each other and puffing out their chests like aged wrestlers, and the evening would start to tilt toward rain, Sidney would lock the doors from the outside with padlocks and sleep out in the car. One puddle, one foot-full hole in the front yard where Sue, the man’s dog, had decided a rabbit had nested, pissed or both, and dug unmercifully the day before, would work well enough, would suffice for the man. Anytime the two of them sat staring at the television or sitting across from the other at the kitchen table, eating their shallow platefuls of Cornflakes, and Sidney smelled the weather dip to rain, she immediately thanked herself for getting the roofers out there months before, four grown men wearing knee pads, pouring buckets of water down the roof, while Sidney, walking from room to room, checked for leaks. Leave nothing, she thought.

Laying in the car, looking up to the frayed upholstery of the ceiling, one arm elbowed to her forehead, she listened to the steady ticks of raindrops tap-dancing across the hood of the ’88 Chevy, beat up and hail bent. Sidney, with a handful of miniature, flimsy keys, her ass throbbing against the barometric pressure, and a yellow Labrador, panting against the back window, its breath fogging up in the two triangles of its nostrils, poised an inch from the glass, Sidney would cross her fingers and wish on every sharp tack of rain for a very long, a very steady drought.

About the author:

Patrick Whitfill was born in a small Texas town, moved to a bigger one. He's currently finishing up his Ph.D. His poetry can be found in POEM, Red Wheelbarrow and is forthcoming in The Cape Rock. This is his first published story.