God, there’s dirt everywhere you look. How did you let yourself become such a pig? Out comes the vacuum cleaner, the laughably small and shrill one that was Mom’s housewarming present. You lay into the carpet, vigorously dragging the unit back and forth, reveling in the tight lines it draws in the tight Berber fabric.

But it doesn’t seem to be picking anything up. Look there; you went over a fleck of granola three times, and yet that refugee of a hurried breakfast hasn’t budged. Cracking open the vacuum cleaner shows why: the bag’s full. When’s the last time you emptied it? Or is the floor so filthy that a few quick sweeps were grime enough to fill it? You shudder to think of her there, eying the floor askance, hesitating to kick off her boots for fear of getting black soles.

There’s the pile of dishes heaped in the sink, as well. Approaching, you remember why it’s been Chinese takeout and pizza for the last few days—every dish in the apartment is in there, from plates to scooped-out butter jars, all brimming with stagnant muck. You dip a finger in, withdrawing it a second later as if burned, flailing it in revulsion. Surely she has seen other messes like this; there’s no need to dive in and scrub when she probably has a sinkful just like it at home. Then comes the image of her on the couch, asking for a snack and having it come out on a napkin.

You run some water and break out the sponges, dry and hard from lack of use. Soapy water cascades to the floor, soaking into your socks and the rug. Another thing to clean, more time lost. You fill bag after bag with dripping paper towels; before long, mopping up the spill has turned into mopping the kitchen floor. Hair and crumbs and bits of dead leaves and dried noodles and more; your head starts to spin as the room takes on an antiseptic odor. The bathroom’s even worse; out with the Windex. Every surface has to shine.

Music, music. There’s got to be music to play. What’s in there now? Verde? What were you thinking? Who listens to Verde anymore but geeks and opera students? Disgusted, you drop the disc into its case. Isn’t there any popular music in this apartment? You paw through a stack of discs, cursing Mozart and Gershwin and Yo-Yo Ma as you go. Nothing that you think she might like, though come to think of it you have no idea what she listens to. A CD of James Bond theme songs is the hippest choice on hand; you jam it into the player, cursing.

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