I held him by the scruff of his neck and wedged him between my legs. He didn’t try to scramble away. He didn’t scratch his claws on the waxed pine wood floor. He didn’t try to bite me. He submitted. I wondered if Kitten knew I didn’t have help anymore.
I flipped open the clippers. I grabbed each of his paws one at a time. I pressed down on his pads and clipped each nails’ end.
L. had helped me cut Kitten’s nails everywhere we lived. I would hold Kitten on a towel for the clippings and remember back to him being the little cat that I had fed a bottle when I could wrap him up in a washcloth. L. got to know Kitten when I switched him from kitten food to cat food but his name remained Kitten despite being a big cat. While I held his scruff, L. would hold his paws and push on his toesies and clip his daggers. We loved to joke about Kitten’s cute ferociousness.
Kitten pranced away from me. I swept the clippings into a pile. Then, Kitten began to yowl. He sounded like a heartbroken thing, crying in the studio that he shared with me. Nobody else had been in there for months. I wondered if Kitten still remembered L., if he missed L., if he felt hurt by her being gone when she had always been with us through moves and closeness and chores.
I misted the mirror. I sprayed the sink and the toilet and the tub. I wiped and scrubbed away the past. At least one week of time. Sometimes longer.
I cleared the surface of the glass. I didn’t look into the reflection. I didn’t want to see myself aging alone. I saw myself enough when I brushed my teeth with Aim. I always chose the cheaper toothpaste. L. liked the feeling of Crest. I hadn’t fathomed paying for a feeling when I thought the result would be the same.
I swirled the toilet’s porcelain from top to bottom. I brushed off hairs from the tank to the floor. I wiped the flusher and the seat. I brushed the bowl with a scrubber that L. had given me new when I moved. I kept the lid down whenever not in use even before hearing about how inflected droplets spewed up from open plumbing and landed in throats that gulped down illness.
When L. and I first moved in together, once Kitten had fallen through our toilet’s lifted seat and into the bowl. He had scrabbled at the slick lid. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t heard his kerplunk, if I hadn’t been there to lift him up, if I hadn’t set him safely down to dry.
I gathered and threw away my short clip brown hair and Kitten’s needle-length thready dark hair. There were no more long light strands like a fuse.
The bleach reeked but killed nearly everything in my tub. I remembered breaking up oil from our tub. I didn’t know then what I know now; the virus housed in fatty lipids that soap destroyed and bleach demolished. I just knew how much L. enjoyed sex in the shower even though it washed our bodies’ lubrication down the drain.
I cleaned the tiled walls remembering when L. had asked me to come to our bathroom and look at the wall. She said it wasn’t clean. She showed me how she had had to clean it after I had cleaned it. Later, she had told that as a story to our couple friends. A story like a commiseration, not an accusation. A ha-ha story, but I didn’t find it funny.
A stray hair stuck between the grout. I easily plucked it. I didn’t encounter spirals of hair nests from L.’s scalp anymore, combed and then swirled and forgotten.
I wiped Kitten’s hair from the window blinds behind a four-square cubby. He sat on top of the cubbies that used to hold our TV. When I moved out, I had left the TV for L.
L. would watch late at night when I went to sleep early. I didn’t notice her just wanting to be alone, or perhaps she didn’t feel like I could be together with her. I wondered if she still watched the same shows finding comfort by herself.
I wiped off the a/c window unit’s vents. Lint from my small dryer sprinkled the cover. I couldn’t feed the exhaust out of my studio so it spewed against the wall.
I tried to use the dryer as little as I could. I bought wrinkle-free shirts. I hung up shirts I’d only used for a day to wear again. After I did laundry, I used L.’s technique of clinching the shoulders of my damp shirts, the shirts that she had known, lifting them up and then plunging them down with a whipping motion that popped out the wrinkles.
I wiped off my bookshelf. Skin flakes and litter powder covered the wood. If I lifted a book out, then I could see the outline of the story of dust.
I had magically thought that my bookshelf didn’t get dusty in our apartment. I was amazed since Kitten’s litter box took up another corner of my home office. It was years before I mentioned my amazement to L. She said my bookshelf got dusty. She had always dusted it!
Then, I had found it funny that I hadn’t noticed. Now, I knew I hadn’t noticed a lot more. I hadn’t noticed the layers of grime that had built up that neither of us wiped or scrubbed or cleaned.