Clean Girls

Ruth LeFaive

Caitlin enunciates the words mother and kitchen and mopping like each syllable has scrubbing properties, like she’s flossing with vowels, cleaning her mouth out for Mr. Gilcrest, our drama teacher. She hopes he’ll notice her A-plus-elocution and become her love slave. She’s telling us again about the time, years ago, when she first learned about blow jobs, the day a neighbor kid was all blow job this and blow job that. Janet Rossmore lurks two seats up. We can smell her cigarettes and greasy hair from here, and we know she’s listening. Everybody’s listening. Caitlin gets to the part where she asked the kid what a blow job was and he said, “Go ask your mother.” Her mom was in the kitchen mopping. Caitlin pauses for suspense and gets into character: college graduate relegated to domestic labor in a cluttered suburban ranch home. She raises her wrist to her forehead (keeping her other hand on the invisible mop), exhales and mimics, “Some people—not me, but some—find it pleasurable to suck on a man’s penis.” Caitlin drops the invisible mop and becomes herself again. She says at first she had envisioned a lone penis, like that song everybody’s parents hate. Detachable Penis. We laugh with her about this. We picture groceries: popsicles and éclairs. Rolls of Life Savers, only bigger. One of us giggles, “Jar of penis, Aisle 12!” But Caitlin has stopped laughing. Her performance is finished. She zips her backpack and waits for the bell to ring. We all wait, and although the lull is short, it’s long enough to imagine the some people. We see them on their knees and we think of Janet Rossmore—we don’t know why. We remember how she never washed her face at camp last summer. Each morning while we brushed our teeth at the row of sinks and mirrors, chatting with foaming mouths, Janet stood alone and quiet, adding eyeshadow to her lids, covering the smudges from the day before. 

Ruth LeFaive lives in Los Angeles where she is writing a collection of linked short stories. Her fiction has appeared in Atticus Review, and is forthcoming elsewhere. Find her online here or @ruthlefaive.