The Comment – Teddy Burnette

He has the trash can out from under the sink and as he pulls out the bag that’s pretty full but not completely, she comes in to the room and she says thanks and he says it’s no problem, not my first time doing this and she gives him kind of an odd look and he says I didn’t mean anything by that and she keeps on with the odd look so he walks down the hall to the trash room in their apartment and then comes back and she’s still looking sort of puzzled. 

Is she thinking that what he meant by that was she doesn’t ever take out the trash? That it’s not his first time doing it because he’s doing it all the time? Is that what she’s thinking? That he thinks she’s not helping out around the apartment at all and he’s always being told to take the trash out even if he’s set up nice and comfortable on the couch reading the book he’s currently working his way through? That can’t be. He doesn’t think that way at all. Doesn’t mind taking the trash out, and doesn’t have to do it more than once or twice a week. The trash chute’s pretty small so they have to use smaller than normal trash bags just to fit them in, but it’s not like they produce so much trash that it’s overflowing. They’re smart about taking it out in time so that it goes down the chute with no problems. So he doesn’t mind taking it out, he knows that. She’ll remind him sometimes but usually he grabs the trash bag and ties it up and walks it down the hall and that’s that. But now she’s seeming like she took that comment the wrong way, which he didn’t even mean anything by. Just a passing comment. Not my first time doing this. Nothing to that at all. But she’s kind of staring at him still as he comes into the apartment and maybe it’s not puzzlement, because maybe that’d be better, he thinks. Maybe she’s perturbed, though he’s not sure what that really looks like on a face. He can sense and see annoyance or fright or pain but the state of being perturbed is a bit harder to nail down, he thinks. But she looks like what he imagines a perturbed person might look like if he stops for a second and tries to picture the emotion in physical form. 

He sits on the couch and thinks it’ll pass by them. That he said that comment which she misconstrued as saying she doesn’t do anything around the house. Which isn’t true. He knows that. She every week does most of the laundry and the dishes, though they split the dishes when they can, and she scrubs the toilet and the bathtub and though they also divide vacuuming duties she probably has a better eye for the dust in the corners or the spots where he missed some dirt or crumbs. She’s much better at actually keeping the apartment shipshape and clean and he’s more so going through the motions. 

She’s a huge help in their apartment, he thinks. He knows. She’s the reason it looks so nice in here all the time. Should he say that to her? There’s a chance he’s misreading her face and she’s not thinking anything of the kind and if that’s the case there’s no need to bring up what he was thinking earlier. What if he brings it up then? If he says something along the lines of, I know I already said it but I definitely didn’t mean anything by what I said earlier, that whole ‘not my first time’ thing. I only intended it as a joke. Not a good joke, I know that now. A passing comment, really, is what I would call it, not even a joke now that I think about it. So it was a passing comment, that’s all, and I didn’t mean anything by it, and surely nothing alluding to you not doing enough work around here or never taking the trash out, because that’s one of my jobs around here is taking out the trash. I don’t mind it, and you do chores around here that I don’t do, and we divide the labor up pretty well I think. So I want to be sure we’re on the same page here, that we both know we do lots of important work here in our apartment and it’s clean because of the both of us, but definitely more so because of you, because you have a better knack for cleaning where needs to be cleaned and knowing when we should and you keep us on a good routine and schedule and I’m grateful for that. That’s all I meant. But he doesn’t know if he should go into a tangent like that, because he’ll keep talking and talking and waiting to see how she reacts and that rarely works for him, the act of trying to judge in real time how she’s responding mentally to his explanations. 

Decides he won’t say anything and that she probably needs some space, that if there is anything the matter between them, and he still isn’t sure there is, but if the look she gave him did mean anything then he’s better off getting out of the apartment for an hour or two and letting her do what she needs to do. Namely, calming down if she needs to, and if she’s not mad at all like he’s hoping, then she’ll just think he’s out and about and she can read or watch the TV or scroll on her phone or whatever she likes and there’ll be nothing more to it. So he leaves and walks to a bookstore, thinking, this is the best move I could have made, and he looks at the shelves but doesn’t see anything he needs. Flips through an Argentinian author’s diaries that were printed in three volumes, which he already owns. Slots the book back in the shelf and walks out and goes to a coffee shop nearby and sips on a latte and then another and thinks that’s probably been an hour and checks his phone and it’s actually been a little bit longer so he’s in the clear, he thinks. 

Walks home and opens the door and says Hi there, just got back, how have you been? And she’s on her knees cleaning the hardwood floors and it looks like she vacuumed and cleaned the sofa too and the kitchen is sparkling; all the pots and pans shining and the rest of the dishes dripping dry in the sink on the rack, and the refrigerator looks fresh and without spots or stains and so does the stovetop. Looks around some more, sees that the bed is made and the pillows are plumped up and she’s wiped clean the desk and organized all their notebooks and laptops and put the charging cords in nice neat coils on the floor so they don’t step on them, and she’s watered all the plants and taken off any dry or yellow leaves and swept beneath them and maybe even put some fresh dirt in the pots though he’s not sure on that, but it looks like the top layer has the dark, earthy look of fresh dirt, and he takes all this in and says oh, c’mon, and regrets it right away but he can’t believe she’s doing all this. She’s cleaning and laboring away on the weekend because he said one thing about taking out the trash, not my first time, or whatever he said, he can’t even remember the exact wording now. Look at her now, sweating and she’s got her hair up and out of her face. She’s wiping sweat off her forehead because she’s got gloves on to keep her hands safe from all the cleaning products she’s using, and he can’t believe she’s doing all this because of one silly comment. 

She finally pauses from her cleaning of the floor and looks up with a look that says, you shouldn’t’ve said that, and he knows he shouldn’t’ve said that exasperated comment, this new comment that she’s mad about now, oh, c’mon, but really, what’s the big idea here? That she’s so upset over a comment about the trash that she’s doing a whole apartment clean as a response? Some revenge plot, some guilt-trip plot? He doesn’t get it. Doesn’t like it either. Says I’m going then, if that’s what this is going to be like, if that’s what you’re going to be like and packs some clothes in a backpack and puts some books in a tote bag and leaves and goes to his brother’s apartment in a different part of the city and tells him that he and her got into a bit of an argument so can he stay here for a day or two? His brother says he can and he sleeps there that night. He doesn’t call, she doesn’t call either and it stays the same the next day. 

He tells his brother the whole story. Starts to think that maybe he overreacted. That he overreacted by leaps and bounds more than he should have. Even if she was mad, she was taking out her anger by cleaning the whole damn apartment. Which, he can’t be mad about, right? Getting mad that she’s cleaning the apartment and doing all this hard work that he never wants to do himself? He thinks maybe he should rile her up whenever the apartment needs cleaning, but knows he never would. He hates when they’re mad at each other like this, especially because it so rarely happens. Usually they’re moving along nice and easy, no worries or concerns between them, but this one is bigger than normal. He’s never gone and slept somewhere else before, a different location, is what he means. He’s slept on the couch but not anywhere else but their apartment and now he’s at his brother’s and his brother isn’t supporting him too much, he’s saying what were you thinking? And he can’t argue with that, his brother’s right. What was he thinking? Knows now he has to go back to her and decides that first thing in the morning the next day, after he’s been gone for two nights, that he’ll make his way back to the apartment they share and get on his knees and beg if he needs to and do whatever it takes to have her say he can come and sleep in their bed again and tell him he’s been an idiot and an asshole and the worst but she loves him and needs him back here and he can say he’s been an idiot and asshole and the worst but he loves her and needs to be back there with her and so he falls asleep that night thinking that everything will be better the next day. 

Wakes up and starts walking to his apartment and he’s still feeling good about the situation. A block or two away he sees a van outside the apartment and she’s loading something into the back of the car. She doesn’t see him and he stops and watches and she’s got mops and buckets and cleaning supplies, dustpans and rags, bleach and whatever else one uses on bathroom surfaces, lots of bottles of various colored liquids and mixtures that are surely used for all the other surfaces one could need cleaned, and on the side of the van she’s written Cleaning Service: Not Our First Time! and he can’t believe it. He can’t believe this. He’s the one overreacting? Not anymore, no way. Walks away, defiantly as he can, though she doesn’t look up once, and he lets out a sigh and says oh, c’mon.