Otis Fuqua

Dish by Dish

The entire point of dishwashing is to do so in peace. Being a good dishwasher means focusing on the dishes, and nothing else. I was good at it. So dish by dish, I forgot to hate her. By the time of the Christmas roasting trays, I was thinking of moving out of our old place. By the time of the Valentine’s Day champagne glasses, I’d moved.

I’d moved into my co-worker Jeff’s closet. It was yellow and smelled like bugs. If I wanted to sleep, I had to lay diagonally. It was hell. I never said anything about it to Jeff, but looking back, it’s amazing I put up with it.

Jeff was my dishwashing partner at the restaurant. He put the dishes away after I cleaned them. We were supposed to switch jobs every once in a while but we didn’t. On my first day, Jeff told me he preferred to put dishes away. Not really thinking, I told him I preferred to clean. So that was that.

Sometimes, when there were no dishes, we leaned against the dishwasher, me on the dirty side, Jeff on the clean side. We chatted politics. Jeff was an anarchist. I was a socialist. We found this delightful to talk about.

When there were dishes, which was usually the case, we didn’t talk. We became one with the machine. We meditated to the mantra of dirty dishes in, clean dishes out. It was nice, thinking about just the one thing. Hours slipped by in what felt like minutes.

That’s how I forgot to hate her. I was halfway through washing a stand mixer caked in cookie dough. The sprayer wasn’t doing much. A chocolate chip came unwedged, and I remembered her. There was no good reason for it. She just popped into mind.

She was kneeling in the grass in front of the Washington Monument. I was sick. There were geese all around. They wanted to eat my vomit. She was rubbing my back, humming a song. Fly me to the moon. It was an important song for us. We danced to it often. Or maybe we only danced to it once. Either way, it felt like we were dancing to it all the time.

We were drinking a lot those days. That’s why I was sick. We’d filled travel mugs with rum and coke. I’d made up a drinking game based on the tourists. They were all taking the same photo, where they positioned the camera so it looked like they were touching the top of the monument. The game was, every time you saw one, you drank. She was cheating. I know because I looked in her mug when she went to the bathroom. It was full.

While I was thinking about this, the bowl of the stand mixer had filled up with water. I stuck both arms in. It came up to my elbows. Most people would’ve found the water scalding. They would’ve cried like little girls. To me, it felt like a warm bath. The image of her melted away.

“I hate that stupid bitch,” I said to Jeff.

Jeff raised the lever that opened the dishwasher. My glasses fogged with steam. I pushed the rack out the other side.

“Did you hear me?” I said. “I hate her.”

On our way home, we saw a homeless woman in the subway station. She was playing a kazoo. It sounded like she was speaking into it. It seemed like she was talking about the people in the station. Her hat was empty. I put a dollar in it. Jeff laughed when I did it.

“God bless you,” the woman said.

“He doesn’t believe in god,” Jeff said. “He believes in himself.”

The woman spat on Jeff’s shoes. They were shiny black work shoes.

Jeff laughed. “Free shoe shine,” he said.

When his back was turned I spat on the woman’s shoes. I felt bad about it though, so I gave her an extra quarter.

When we were on the street level, Jeff accused me of assuming the best of people.

“You don’t know that,” I said.

“You know she’s just gonna spend it on drugs,” he said.

We went to the weed store. Jeff bought a strain of indica. One hit of indica knocks me out. He bought it to shut me up. I’d been talking a lot. Ever since the stand mixer I’d been sort of stuck on her. Jeff liked to do back-handed things like that. Like he’d compliment my hair, even though we both knew it’s my worst attribute. Or he’d give you gum as a way of saying your breath smelled bad.

On a blackboard behind the counter, they’d written the specials. There was a sale on a strain of sativa called Bruce Banner. Next to it, someone had drawn an angry man tearing his shirt off. There were flames behind him. I bought a little.

“Will this make me mad?” I asked the budtender.

She squinted at me. She had a tattoo on her forehead of a lotus flower.

“Super,” she said. Her voice sounded stupid and far away. “Suuuuper.”

I wanted to kiss her stupid mouth.

Jeff and I smoked on the fire escape. I was always a little stressed smoking on the fire escape. We had to be careful not to drop anything.

There was a gentle breeze. The sky was pink. There was a group of kids playing basketball down in the courtyard.

We smoked out of Jeff’s bong. He tried to get me to smoke some of his indica.

“Not today,” I said.

Jeff went into his phone. It was his way of telling me to stop talking. I guess I’d been talking a lot about her. He smoked. When he was done he went inside.

I loaded my bowl and sat. I thought about the person living on the floor below. It smelled like garlic down there. Who was cooking for who, I wondered, and were they about to split up.

Bruce Banner burned all at once. It made my eyes water. I got paranoid. The kids playing basketball laughed. A police siren in the distance got louder. These were the things I was paranoid about. My hands were shaking. I felt cold. This happens to me when I’m paranoid.

The day she left me was the day before my birthday. I was sleeping on the couch. She shook me awake and there she was, suitcases all packed. The TV was flashing behind her. There was a nature documentary on. All these baby sea turtles were racing across the sand. A big yellow crab was trying to get them. They had to get to the ocean before it gobbled them up or something. She put her key on the coffee table. She said something at the door. It was important. She stopped and turned around to say it.

It blind-sided me, her leaving. I had tickets for us to go to the circus the next day. She’d said she was excited.

Jeff put on some music. The bass made the fire escape rattle a little. The vibrations shook the water in the bong. It was a big nasty thing. The glass was coated in brown slime. Little flecks of ash stuck to the stuff. Jeff said it was impossible to clean, but a little salt and rubbing alcohol would’ve taken care of it. Maybe I’ll clean it, I thought. Then I threw it off the fire escape.

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