By Justin Lee Fredericksen
I wake up with a headache I haven’t felt in years. Not again. The sun shatters across the room, reflecting off the wall of mirrors. The white of the walls is more brilliant than ever before. I can barely open my eyes. The pain is excruciating; a single tear falls from the crust around my right eye. I grab my hand sanitizer from the nightstand and pump 3 deep pumps into my hands. Feels good. The cool alcohol evaporates quickly as I rub my palms together.
There is a proper way to sanitize. First, I pump all the way down to ensure that the sanitizer becomes fully drawn into the pump, otherwise air bubbles cause it to splatter when it comes out. I let it set for three seconds on the palm so that it has a chance to liquidize from the heat given off the palms. I slowly press my palms together so that the sanitizer spreads evenly across my palms, shifting them so that the motion will spread the sanitizer evenly. I am careful when sliding my right hand over the back of my left hand. When I get to the other side of my left hand, I slide my left over my right hand until my left fingertips are touching the right ones. I open my fingers and slide the fingers between one another and rub vigorously. I use the remaining wetness to rub up and down each finger; starting with the thumb. When the hands are finished, I encircle the wrist on each arm. I wipe the tear from my face.
I slip my white house-shoes on as I slide out of the bed; the marble floor is cool and I do not want to catch a cold. I squeeze my head, one palm on my forehead, the other right above my occipital. The pressure helps. I don’t turn on the lights. I grab a sanitizing wipe and vigorously rub the edge of the medicine cabinet. I take the green pill out and swallow it. I grab the glass from the counter that I cleaned last night. The two-and-a-half-gallon jug of water is on top of the towel cabinet. I fill the glass and gulp it down, careful not to let the brim touch my cheeks. The headaches first started when I was nine years old. I would be sitting in class and my vision would blur and my nose would drip bright crimson down my lips. I always came to school after that with fresh tissues and my medication sealed tightly in a Zip-Lock. Go eat.
The fridge serves a wonderful purpose; everything in it is protected from dust. The last leg of a rotisserie chicken sits quietly waiting in my airtight Hefty Tupperware. The plastic gloves are set by the counter; I always get the clear heavy-duty gloves. I slip a pair on and open the plastic container. I lift the lid gently; I don’t want the condensation dripping onto the drumstick, making it soggy. Chicken looks so fake when it has cooled. The once glowing crisp skin looks dull and lifeless. Careful, small bites are the only way to eat. One does not wish to choke. I finish my cold drumstick and immediately take off the gloves, slipping them into a Zip-lock. I put on another pair of gloves, pick up the bone and put it into another Zip-lock, squeezing the air out before I seal it shut and place it into the fridge. Bacteria have a difficult time growing in cold, hypoxic conditions. There is a large glass bowl filled with bleach in the sink that I like to soak my dishes in before sending them through the dishwasher. They usually soak for at least eight hours.
My shower takes the usual series of events that take forty-five minutes to complete. I prep the shower with a spray bottle of one-part bleach to two-parts distilled water. While the water is heating up, I dip a new luffa into a bleach solution to get rid of the public germs that it has been exposed to while sitting on the store shelf. Who knows what vermin may have been in contact with it. The heat scalds the germs, but I can stand it. I use my electric toothbrush in the shower so that I can control the foam from spraying on the mirror. I address each tooth twice, covering every side of every tooth, followed by my tongue and the roof of my mouth. I must take special care when I cleanse my face. I use a product with salicylic acid that can only stay on for thirty seconds or it will start peeling my flesh off, layer by layer.
I grab the luffa and pump twice to cover it with the body wash. I start at the tops of my shoulders, working my way down. Washing my clandestine areas is cumbersome. I lift my penis with my right hand, gently pressing the head between my fingers, slightly stretching the skin. I lather the skin up and scrub with a thoughtful dedication, to all sides. I lift my scrotum, exposing the taint. I scrub this space and begin my ascension around my scrotum. The soap suds gather around each testicle and tickles me as it runs towards my thighs. I reach around and scrub each small cheek and through the crack. I must use my fingers to get into my rectum. I can’t stand the idea of having fecal matter sitting on my body. I gag a little if I can feel the slimy residue of a previous bowel-movement. I finally lift each foot up, standing like a flamingo in the shower and scrub each foot.
After forty-five minutes of scrubbing in a steamy hot glass box, my body and teeth are ready to face the world. I reach for my freshly bleached terry-cloth towel and gently blot my bright pink skin. I grab the luffa and seal it in a Zip-Lock, gently pressing the air out. I take it to the refrigerator and put it on the bottom shelf and go into the bedroom to dress for the day.
Closets are simply hanging rooms for dust to collect on one’s clothing. All my clothes are neatly vacuum pressed after bleaching and are organized in an individual packet. All I must do is open the day’s clothes and they are ready to wear, including a new pair of Tom’s. This effort takes thirteen hours every Sunday. My mother was always supportive of my rituals. Mother basically did the same thing, wearing an outfit once and donating it right after. Her parents had invested well and changed the way they lived forever. I was fortunate enough to be the only child, like mother. Everything is set by the desk, my bag, books, and a freshly sanitized water-bottle I fill with the two-and a half-gallon water from inside the fridge. I grab the Zip-Lock bags from inside the fridge to carry to the dumpster, holding them with a sanitizer wipe. Here we go.
The hallway has its usual smell of caustic human existence. They all need to be sanitized. The elevator has its usual odor of sweat and delivery. I need my own elevator. The sanitizing wipes are my only protection against the disease of the world outside. The street is busy with mundane people walking through their dull and filthy lives. Dumpsters are a breeding ground for the disease of the world. Rats have gathered behind the rusted, rotting decay of the metal. As I walked near, I see the colony scamper into the shadows of the alley, jumping over a sleeping lump of a man wrapped in newspaper; I gag. I throw the Zip-Lock towards the opening, but it hits the sleeping man. Don’t breathe in those germs. If you smell it, you are tasting it. Something should be done about those vermin.
I can barely focus on my classes. The idea that filthy creatures have free range to spread disease and live off the waste of society is more than I can bare. I start the day with a Lab. The cool room and fresh sanitized feel comforts me. The other students do not have the appreciation for the sterile environment that I do. The Professor appreciates my attention to detail during our exercises, but my peers look at me like I have three heads. They don’t understand that contamination will destroy the specimens we dissect. After Lab, I go to my class that correlates to the Lab. The streets are filthy; I walk past an alley and gag at the wafting decay from the dumpsters that line the walls of the buildings. I put a disposable mask on that is scented with Vick’s to ease the rest of the walk. The herd of students is overwhelming. They meander along the gum stained sidewalks with no apparent direction.
Lecture classes are bearable, but barely. I get to class early so that I can sanitize the seat and desktop. My seats are in the back of the rooms against the wall where nobody will be walking past me, spreading their germs as they stroll in and out of class to the bathroom. Filth. I bet they do not even wash their hands after they leave the toilet. I get through each day, cleaning my surroundings as best I can. The other students glare at me and rarely make eye contact. I only speak to the Professors. My only comfort comes from knowing that one day I will be eradicating diseases and germs. My classes end at 5 o’clock. I hurry to the grocery before the after-work rush starts. Publix is close to my apartment building; I can walk there in less than ten minutes from class. They always provide sanitizing wipes for the carts; I love that.
This place is kept very clean. The food quality here is impeccable. I check the rating from the Health Department that hangs behind the counter of the Deli every time I come in. 100-A, good. Margie works the counter where I get my rotisserie chickens.
“Two clean chickens.”
“Well, hello Ian. How are you today? Two? Are you having a guest?”
“No, I just need two. New, clean ones, please.”
“I have your chickens right here, just finished cooking; I always keep one aside for you.”
“Did you use the plastic sheets to line the tray?”
“Of course. I always do that for you. How’s your mom?”
“She’s fine. Somewhere in India right now. I’m not sure how she manages there, with all that disease and filth everywhere.”
“Well, tell her I say hello. I am so happy she stopped by when you moved here. I enjoy getting to know my customers.”
“I will. Thank you, Margie.”
I push the cart through the aisle towards the cleaning products. Rat poison is always kept on the bottom shelves. That will do the trick. I grab two boxes and head to the register. I slip on a pair of my gloves as I get to the register. Money carries so many germs. I only use a debit card. The girl at the checkout looked at me strangely as I swiped my card with a gloved hand. I look over at the bagger and witness him lick his finger to get a grip on the plastic bag.
“No! Stop that. I want a new bagger. He licked his finger!”
“What?” the cashier asked.
“He licked his finger. I can’t eat my chicken if it’s contaminated. His filthy saliva is all over everything!”
“I didn’t…” the bagger started out.
“You did! I saw you. Get away from my chicken! You will ruin everything!”
The cashier just stood there with her mouth gaping wide open. The bagger turned a shade of red and walked away towards the offices. Margie runs toward lane 8 where I stand.
“Ian. Honey I will take care of this. Did he touch the chickens?”
“No, but he was going to. And right after he licked his fingers.”
“It’s o.k. It’s o.k. I have a reusable bag right here for you. Take this and bring it back with you next time.”
Margie wipes around the handles and throughout the bright green bag’s interior with a sanitizing wipe and places the chickens and rat poison inside it.
“Here Ian. You are all set. The bag is on me.”
I stand there, staring at the green bag.
“O.K., but he should be fired. People do not want saliva all over their chickens!”
I take the bag and walk to the automatic doors, holding my breath as I exit. The air that blows to keep the A.C. inside the store just kicks up dust. I threw the gloves into the trash-can as I walked through the automatic doors.
As I am walking to my building, the head-splitting sensation has returned; I wince at the pain as a tear falls from my eye. Pressure builds behind my eyes until my nose begins to bleed. The blood drips down my lip, but there is nothing I can do; my hands are full and I can’t put it on the ground. It’s too dirty. At least I know that my blood is the cleanest thing on the ground, but my whites are ruined. The throbbing is almost too much! I get into my apartment, slide the shoes off at the door and set the green bag on the counter. I grab the green pills from the medicine cabinet after a careful cleaning of its side with the wipes. The brim of the cool sink chills my blood as it is pumped through my veins. The pain subsides and I clean my face. The day’s clothing is placed into a giant Zip-lock and placed into the fridge for later disposal. The chickens! At this point the chickens have been exposed to variations in temperature that are sure to have grown bacteria by now. They will both have to be fed to the vermin.
There is a specific methodology to inserting the individual pellets of poison into the chicken corpses. Gloves. The chickens are placed into carefully constructed aluminum foil ‘boats’ so that the juices do not spill onto the counters. I carefully place the chickens in their individual boats; their warm bodies thrill me. There is a level of excitement I haven not felt before; I am doing society a favor. Focus. I use the cheese knife to slit 46 tiny pockets, exactly ¼ of an inch deep, into the golden brown, skins of the chickens; the slanted tip is perfect for creating the pockets. Each pocket is filled with two pellets of poison that are carefully inserted with tweezers. This should do it! Each insertion releases the juices that will dissolve the pellets, making them blend with the chicken’s flavor.
After I have filled the breasts and drumsticks, I carefully turn the chickens over, exposing their spines and dark meats. The meat is so soft and tender, but I still use the cheese knife so that the pockets are perfect. There is a great deal of juices that have flowed from these corpses; I must make new boats that will be easy to transport and not continue to make a mess. Time to change gloves. The bases for the new boats are laid out so that I can dispose of the filthy ones into their air-tight Zip-locks.
The construction of these receptacles resembles something of a long tent. There are perfect folds that seal the carcasses into their tents. I made sure to leave the shiny side out; the light really reflects off this, which will no doubt attract these vermin. My work area needs special attention; it takes me over two hours to clean up. The kitchen is spotless, except for the two shiny tents. All the Zip-Locks have been neatly stacked in the fridge and need to be taken down. I tried to use the trash chute once, but the smell of cheap air-freshener and waste made me throw up. I could taste the germs. It took four hours to scrub the germs from that experience off me. The sun was beginning to set, perfect time. The vermin will be hungry.
All the plastic-sealed waste stacks neatly into a garbage bag which I press the air out of before knotting it closed. I put on a fresh pair of gloves this time; I will have to spend some time getting the trash in the dumpster and set the chickens out. I gather my things, garbage in one hand, the silver tents gripped in the other. This is it. Disease must be stopped from spreading. I am the one who can see the big picture and actually do something about it. I am cleaning up the city, vermin by vermin. Dusk had cast its shadowy haze over the city; the buildings look like they are holding their secrets even tighter. The air smelled crisp apart from heavy currents of decay wafting through it.
The dumpster sat in its familiar place, the familiar rats scampering about. The man under the newspaper was gone. Did he move away? He’ll be back. The doors to the dumpster were open as I walked closer. The liquids and the decaying matter squished under my shoes. I gag. I get the trash into the dumpster. The rats have crept close; the night takes their fear away. I set the silver tents in front of the dumpster. I carefully rip the tops open, exposing the chickens. I want the smell to draw them to their final meal. Come and get it vermin. The urge to puke has increased as I have been inundated with decay. I vomit onto the sidewalk. The door is propped open by a rock I left so that I would not need my fob to get in. I carefully remove the gloves, sliding one off and tucking the other into it as that one is removed. The concierge appears to still be on break, so I walk around the desk and dispose of the gloves behind the desk’s waste bin.
Exhaustion has taken over. I have so much cleaning up to do. Once again, I discard everything I have on and seal it into a Zip-Lock to be thrown away. That kind of exposure to filth will not likely come off with bleach. My shower is long and extra hot. I slip into bed as the growling of my stomach fades away with the day.
Morning sunlight breaks through the windows, exposing the new day, revealing the secrets of the night. There is no headache. There is no chicken. My morning routine moves quickly today, precise, exact movements get me ready for class early. The entrance of my building is crowded with people. I cannot stand crowds. I have the Zip-Lock of yesterday’s clothing under my arm as I move through the crowd, holding my breath as I pass each person. What is all this? There is yellow tape strewn in front of the alley. Officers are standing around blocking people from looking at the dumpster, while others are quietly talking to some and writing down notes of their conversations. As I walk to a clearing in the crowd, two bodies are being carted away by the EMTs. Got ‘em.
I walk with relief. The city has become a little cleaner. The entire campus is talking about the homeless people found outside my building. I overhear people speculating;
“Maybe they died of natural causes?”
“Maybe they had a disease. I heard that Tuberculosis was on the rise again.”
“Did they kill each other?”
Maybe they had it coming. My day flies by; I feel safer and clean. The city feels lighter and the pressure of the day is nonexistent. I get finished with classes and head to Publix.
“Well, hello Ian. Back already?”
“Hello. Yes, one clean chicken please.”
“Did you eat both of those chickens already?”
“Well, I put them out. They were exposed to too many variants in temperature, so I left them for the city’s vermin.”
“Oh, well that’s good of you. Did you hear about the two-homeless people they found this morning?”
“I did. I saw them carting the bodies off. It happened in the alley next to my building. It’s a relief really.”
Margie stands there with her mouth gaping. I grab the chicken with a Cheshire smile on my face that I cannot control. I place the chicken in the green bag and head to the registers. I rush through the line with my gloves on and I lift the chicken up to be scanned, this way I am the only one touching my food. I walk through the doors and rush home. I’m starving.
Sami Holden earned an MFA in Screenwriting from UC-Riverside at Palm Desert and is the founder of The Tiny Tim Literary Review. Previously she was a dating advice columnist for The Good Men Project’s column - Dating in the Digital Age with Sami Holden as well as the press and social media editor for The Coachella Review. She wrote a blog for a number of years called Chronicles of Cheerful Clotter for HemAware Magazine, where she detailed her life with chronic health conditions. Sami is also an associate producer and press manager for the documentary Invisible: The Film, which focuses on individuals living with chronic pain and invisible illness. She has served on the Board of Directors for the National Hemophilia Foundation, spent time as a Senatorial intern, and was Miss Wisconsin for the ANTSO program. In addition, she has had articles published in Chronicality, Elephant Journal, The Glow (Australia), I.G. Living Magazine, The Manifest-Station, The Mighty, National Pain Report, Ravishly, and YourTango. Her interests include ukuleles and sloths. Find her @SamiDan19.