Writer - Cathy Adams
I clean my son’s bathroom once a year. It happens in summer while he is away visiting relatives so that I can have a full day to tackle whatever lurks there. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that it gets cleaned only once a year, it just gets cleaned by me once a year. The rest of the time my son is responsible for cleaning his bathroom. So, I guess for all practical purposes it gets truly cleaned only once a year.
My machete in one hand and a bullwhip strapped onto my belt, I pulled the gas mask over my face and kicked open the door. I didn’t want whatever might be waiting in there to have any advance warning that I was coming. The cleaning wagon lay behind me. I had the sprayer full of Round-Up pumped up tightly just in case I needed a quick defoliant. I stepped inside and the room was still. The only sound came from the slow dripping faucet in the sink. I caught sight of a turquoise, yellow, and bright orange rainbow shaped stain growing up from the impact sight of the dripping water. I reached for the bleach on the cleaning wagon, carefully keeping my eyes trained on anything that looked like it might move, and that was nearly everything in the room. In the corner I spied the pants to a Power Rangers costume I had made for my son when he was in the third grade. I didn’t have time to even wonder what he could possibly have been doing with them now that he is in high school. I saw something scamper from the closet over behind the toilet. I think it had a tail and light markings on its back, but it was moved fast and burrowed itself under a domed structure made up of twigs, dirty underwear, and shredded gym socks all mudded together with what could only have been Comet mixed with animal saliva. I stayed where I was and decided that after I got most of the clothes picked up around it, I’d try smoking it out by lighting one of my son’s old sneakers and tossing it near the structure that I thought looked like what a beaver’s dam would look like if Tim Burton designed it.
There was more movement on the floor near the sink. I didn’t remember that the room was carpeted, and for a moment I thought I’d go back and get the vacuum cleaner. I looked closer and shook my head and my confusion. The bathroom wasn’t carpeted. There was so much fuzz and hair on the floor, it just looked that way.
It was time to get started, but then I saw it. Movement. Again on the floor near the sink. I knelt down, but not too close for fear of a sneak attack by something I hadn’t seen yet. Whatever was down there was scrambling in the mass of lint, hair, spider webs, and organic matter that could only be identified by DNA testing at the CDC. It was a bug of some sort and from the looks of its thrashing legs, I was sure it was in the throes of death. Closer, I bent down and saw that the toothpaste cap sized creature seemed to be summoning me with one little hairy arm. It was mired in a fluff of hairball. But could it be? Something seemed to be waving above it, like a tiny postage stamp stuck to its head. I bent over until I was just inches from the bug and saw that it was no postage stamp above its head. The bug was holding a tiny placard with tiny letters that read, “Get me out of here!” The writing was scrawled and shaky as if it had been written by a desperate, miniscule hand. I thought about the other thing, the one camped out in its hut behind the toilet. Who to call? The animal shelter, PETA, the Red Cross, the Army Corps of Engineers? In the end I scooped up the hairball bug with its placard and took it to my flower garden. He dropped his little sign, kicked the towel lint and fuzz off his feet and wiped tears from his twelve eyes. “It’s over,” I said. “You’re free now.” He crawled until he was under a Black-eyed Susan and I couldn’t see him anymore.
The other one that ran behind the toilet in the domed structure didn’t want to go. Like an abused child that clings to its parent because the fear of the unknown outstrips the certainty of the horrors of the present, I had to force it out. I pushed a window open and smoked him out with a burning sneaker. From a crack in the door I saw what must have been a genetic throwback to some prehistoric creature that had crawled from the muck of the shower and evolved right there behind the toilet.
Free of the animal kingdom that had set up domicile in my son’s bathroom, I did get it clean before he returned home the next morning. He was convinced we had added a wing onto the house, but slowly the memory came back to him, and he stood there agog at his bathroom that seemed twice as big as it had been before I took out the wheelbarrow full of dirty towels.
Sometimes I still look for the bug creature when I’m pulling weeds in my flower garden. I know he’s there because months later I found a scrap of a chewing gum wrapper no bigger than my thumbnail with words so small I had to squint to make out the words. In shaky handwriting it read, “Thank you.”
Everything else is a secret.