One Night with Mr. Clean
Picture this: you go to drinks with Mr. Clean. You’re attracted to him—he’s serious, quiet, laughs softly at your jokes. “We could go back to my place,” you say. Mr. Clean nods, not that enthusiastically. He’s playing it cool.
Back at your apartment, one thing leads to another. The two of you fool around in the shower. Why the shower? Mr. Clean insisted. After, when you’re panting and pressed against the glass shower door, you’re surprised at how much you like Mr. Clean—you weren’t looking for anything serious.
“I’m not,” you begin. “I’m not looking for anything serious.”
“Right,” Mr. Clean says. He seems distracted. He’s wearing a towel around his waist and touching the grout between your tiles. You’re still in the nude.
“Well,” you say, “we could watch something. A movie? A show?”
Mr. Clean looks at you as though you’ve just appeared. He has a far-off look in his eyes. You feel self-conscious all of the sudden. “Or, you know,” you start to say, “it’s fine if you have somewhere to be.” Mr. Clean puts a hand up to stop you. His hand is very large.
“Do you mind?” he says. “If I just stayed in the shower for a little while? It’s just”—and here, he brushes the hair behind your ear, smiles grimly—“it’s just not okay in here. There’s a lot of soap scum. A ton of grime.” And so you take a towel off the rack and cover yourself. You shut the bathroom door behind you.
“Take your time,” you tell Mr. Clean, who has already begun scrubbing—you can hear the soft, scuffing sound through the door. You feel light-headed. You remember what he said at the bar when you asked about work, his head bent over a glass of sparkling water, the words whispered softly, like a curse: “Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything in it.”
Your heart clenches. Oh, does he clean.
Finally, at 1 am after hours of cleaning, he leaves quietly, saluting you at the door. You’re dozing on the couch, watching an old episode of Top Chef. Season 3. You don’t remember who won.
“Wait,” you say to Mr. Clean. His white t-shirt strains against his broad chest, but stained with grease now, and wrinkled. “I mean thanks,” you say, “I was just gonna ask if you wanted. You know, we could—” you were about to say exchange numbers, but before you can say it, he walks over to you and cups your face in his giant hand, kisses you deeply as though he’s trying to take something from you, and you kiss him back as though you want it returned.
“I can’t,” he says. “I wish I could. I’m a cleaning man. That’s what I do. I clean.” He shuts the door to your apartment firmly behind him.
Weeks pass, a month. You drift through your life like a sleepwalker. Several times, in the middle of the night, you dream of that sound again—that soft, scuffing noise of sponge against tile and you can’t go back to sleep, so you pace your apartment, the moon huge and ghostly through the window. You wonder where he is at these moments—if he’s happy, if he’s been cleaning other women's bathrooms (are there bathrooms nicer than yours?), if he’s thought of you since.
You try to masturbate, but it becomes difficult. The only way you can finish is if you play a Mr. Clean advertisement on your computer in the background. Then, you always come at the same time, during his catchphrase (“Mr. Clean will clean your whole house and everything in it”), but the orgasm is almost painful, to know that there are so many people hitting the skip button, so many people who don’t know what you know. When you picture him, it’s at the helm of a ship, like a lonely sea captain, a towel tied around his belt loop, waving in the breeze. You start staying in more, refusing to leave your apartment. You work from home anyway, at one of those jobs making lists and content. I’ll give you some good content, you scoff, thinking of him. Your friends ask if you’re sick, depressed, broken hearted. They offer to come over. “My apartment is dirty,” you tell them. “I haven’t cleaned in months.”
More time passes. You begin to curse him. Fuck him, you say aloud, while washing your hair. You think you were better off before you met him. Eventually you agree to go on dates your friends set you up on, but the men are improvisers and stand-up comics, accountants and lawyers, and yes, yes, lots of them produce content for websites. They are not Mr. Clean.
Finally, on one of these dates in which you’re already bored before the sweating drinks arrive, already coloring in the tiny shrimps on the placemat of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, you ask your date what he does again. “Marketing for cleaning companies,” he says.
“What?” you say, dropping your crayon. It makes a soft little clumsy noise as it hits the floor. You lean forward. “What companies?”
“Lysol, Clorox, Mr. Clean—”
“Yeah, you know bald dude, white shirt. Mr. Clean cleans your whole—”
“I know it,” you say. “I’m familiar.” If you’d been holding the crayon you would have snapped it in half.
“He’s a good dude actually. Passionate. He’s dedicated his whole life to clean—”
“I’m ill,” you say, and walk right out and leave, a pop song about a lover’s quarrel playing in the background.
You send weekly emails to the Mr. Clean website, but you’re sure Mr. Clean doesn’t read them. They’re rarely answered, and when they are, only with a polite form letter about sponges and bubbles. It has to be an intern, or a marketing person. You hate to imagine what other people are sending—their complaints, the mundane details of their cleaning habits. Finally, you receive a personal email from the website. It turns out it’s the man who took you to Bubba Gump Shrimp Co, the marketing guy for cleaning companies.
It’s been a year since your night with Mr. Clean. You agree to go out again but you say, “please no work talk on the date,” and he agrees. You enjoy the date, surprisingly. He never brings up your email in which you ask for Mr. Clean’s exact location. Also he has a nice-looking hairline, and a funny way of explaining the story of his life. You hadn’t noticed his Boston accent before. You hadn’t noticed much of anything before. You agree to go out again, ice-skating, and then you go out again, and again after that. Eventually you have sex in bed, and on the couch, and on an easy chair, even outside on a lawn chair, but never in the bathtub and never in the shower. “Just because it’s unsanitary,” you lie.
Occasionally, in the middle of the night, when this man is asleep, breathing softly and steadily beside you, you turn on your phone and check Mr. Clean’s Twitter account. You flip through images of the cartoon version of him. In one image, he’s at the helm of a ship, and there’s a speech bubble escaping from his mouth: Mr. Clean Will Clean Your Whole House and Everything In it. You press the phone to your heart. Oh, does he clean.
Amy Silverberg is currently a Doctoral fellow in Fiction at the University of Southern California. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Southern Review, TriQuarterly, Hobart, The Collagist, The LA Review of Books, and elsewhere. She also performs stand-up comedy around LA. You can follow her on Twitter @AmySilverberg.