Pigpen – by Peel Prose

I’m proud of you

Jesse’s hands were shaking. He closed the bathroom door, and braced himself against the standing sink. The basin was caked in grime, the sides lined with brown hair from his own head, and he tried to remember the last time he gave the room a wipe down with some Windex. He could hear the daytime soap opera playing in the next room, just like any other Wednesday afternoon in his apartment. He thought about the actors, how hard they must be trying to break out of daytime TV, how they probably resented the sugary, over-dramatic plot lines as much as the rest of America.

He stared as his reflection in the mirror. It was cracked, a souvenir of a small party from years past, some sort of brawl. He didn’t throw parties anymore.

A hot rush flooded his already flushed cheeks. He had done it. He had done it, he had finally done it. He pictured the scene, her apartment, her pink and white bedsheets. He smiled. Nothing could take away this feeling, this is love, this is love, this is a devotion beyond devotion. Nothing would ever be the same after this, an idea that thrilled him and also scared him beyond words. He looked down and noticed the layers of grime beneath his fingernails, the dark staining on the palms of his hands.

Clean yourself up.

He winced, and realized that this was no way to get ahead in life. Looking this way was holding him back. He reached for the electric razor he kept under the medicine cabinet and plugged it in. The moving blades caressed his cheeks and corroded the wispy hairs from his jaw and into the sink. He jumped as the blades knicked the line of his jaw, right below the right side of his mouth. A spot of blood oozed from the gash, then dripped into the sink along with the rest of his hair. One, two, three, each one coming in succession, such organization, he wished the flow would never stop.

Did hers?

He smiled, remembering the events of the previous night. How did she manage to smell so damned good every time he visited her? Like citrus and wine and cooking oil. His thoughts went back to the first time he had met her, three years ago now was it? Three years and his life would never be the same, he knew the placement of every mole on her body, understood which hours of the day she needed to be alone, noticed every inch her hair would grow. Her nails were always painted white. White because she was clean. She was pure.

What you can never be.

His thoughts raced, he turned to the shower curtain and ripped it back. He stripped, and turned the faucet on, letting the stream of water seep from the crown of his head to the bottoms of his feet. He picked up the yellow bar of soap and started scrubbing the skin of his chest. The smell of lemons coated in the insides of his nose. He drug the soap over and over the surface of his body until it felt raw. It felt good, to be clean. He remembered his grandfather and how he used to compare Jesse to Pigpen from the Peanuts cartoons when he came in from playing with his friends. His grandmother would cluck her tongue at him and tell him that he needed to wash up before dinner. They would pray before eating, to a nameless, faceless God, asking him to forgive their filthy sins, let them be bathed in the light of righteousness and other such pious language. He shuddered and switched off the water.

Hannah.

He paused and closed his eyes, cold water dripping like sweat off his shoulder blades. He remembered her how she looked last night, her brown hair all done up in a bun, circles under her wide eyes. She had looked surprised to see him. After the last time they had talked, he couldn’t blame her. The threats made, the words thrown out, he would never forgive himself for that. She was dressed in pale blue. It looked fresh, like it had been plucked off a laundry line after just being starched. Knowing Hannah, it probably had been. He had pictured taking her to the hill, wrapped in a blanket, laying on under the tree with her, weaving forget-me- knots through her curls. Jesse smiled. Looking back on it now, he appreciated the scene that had transpired. It had exceeded his wildest expectations, honestly, and even though the mess was a little much to deal with after the fact, seeing her was worth it. His grandfather always said that if he wasn’t careful to keep clean, he could end up soiling his playmates. Seeing her, bright and shining, probably ready to head outside…

I’m proud of you.

He shook his head and stepped out of the shower. The surfaces of the bathroom seemed even more grimy then they had previously. His eyes traveled from the empty condom wrappers on the floor, the dirty clothes, the streaked mirror, the toothpaste marks on the counter. He felt a familiar itch rise to the surface of his mind. He headed to the cupboard under the sink. His fingers found the bottle of cleaning solution and before he knew what he was doing, the cap was off and a steady puddle of blue was spreading across the counter. And the toilet bowl. And the shower basin, the tile floor, the corners of the room where spidershad set up their residence. Jesse soaked in the smell of the ammonia and felt like he was drowning, drowning, in an endless sea of blue, blue, like the blue of Hannah’s eyes, the forget-me-nots, the pale blue of her cotton dress…

The phone rang from the next room. He hurried and dried off with the dirty towel lying on the ground, wrapped it around his waist and ambled to the next room. The phone, on the floor and in the pocket of the jeans he had worn earlier that day, was lighting up between the layers of fabric in the front right pocket. He peeled the phone out of the jeans, which were still a bit damp, and scanned the name flashing up at him from the screen.

Hannah.

He froze.

That’s impossible.

“Hello?”

He was greeted with only heavy breathing. A ragged breath in, and an equally heavy one blowing out. Jesse felt a cold sweat blossom over his eyes, his heart picked up to a marathon pace and his stomach felt like it had dropped to his knees.

“Who is this?”

More silence. All Jesse could decipher from the other line was the labored breathing, never varying in pace, always an equal inhale and exhale. It was so ragged, he wondered if the person behind it was having an asthma attack or if, possibly…

“…. Hannah?”
More silence, and then
“I know what… you did,”
The voice was decidedly male, elderly, vaguely familiar.
“Who is this?”
“I know what you did,”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about but—“
“You didn’t clean up, Pigpen”
Jesse’s fingers clenched around the phone. No, no, he always cleaned up. He

had cleaned up. The apartment was in the same state as it had been when he had left it. Once he started something he always followed through to completion. Always. He had been raised the right way, he never left a mess.

“Who is this?” Jesse winced at the sound of his own desperation.

An electronic beep sounded and then silence. He pulled back his hand and looked at the screen.

Call ended.

His mind started spinning. He knew he hadn’t left a mess, he had picked up every article of clothing, scrubbed out every spot of blood, he had even remade the bed for Christ’s sake, folding Hannah’s dress over the side. He closed his eyes, and massaged his temples with vigorous speed. Who else could possibly have known about his visit to Hannah’s place today? His mind ran raced over the faces of his friends, Hannah’s friends, his family, her family, anyone who could possibly have been watching. Waiting in the shadows. He pulled his jeans over his legs, stepped into a pair of tennis shoes, and tripped over himself getting out the door.

The car ride over to the apartment was excruciating. He needed to know who the voice at the other end of the line was. Hannah’s phone was at the apartment. Maybe the man was waiting for him to connect the dots, to pay a visit, to clean up the mess.

I’m proud of you.

Jesse ran a red light. Two more right turns and he would be there. The second floor, up the stairs, careful to avoid the ice coating the lengths of the wood. Behind the green door, number seven, number seven, seven for completion, seven for magic, seven for some kind of understanding, some grasp—

He screeched into the parking lot, took the stairs two at a time, bursting into number seven on the second floor. The familiar smell of citrus greeted him as he stepped inside. The room was dim, with curtains drawn over the large windows, shutting out the late afternoon sun. He retraced his steps from the previous night, going from the parlor, then to the kitchen, then through to the bedroom. Everything was perfectly in place. The bed sheets were even tucked in at the corners, the clothes were all placed in the armoire, it honestly looked as if Hannah had only stepped out for a moment, that she would be back soon. That she would be back soon. Jesse laughed in spite of himself.

Memories of a few hours earlier flooded his senses, he pictured how the room had looked so different in the moonlight, how different he had felt. Hannah had been frightened, but had invited him inside anyways. She was always good about knowing what to say to calm him down. He remembered when they had first started dating, when his compulsion had been particularly bad. When she found him scrubbing the tiled floor of the kitchen with a toothbrush, she said nothing, only joined him with a toothbrush of her own. She understood when he had to

wash every dish three times, three times for luck, for the Trinity, for his grandfather and grandmother. She said nothing about it, until one day when she woke up and turned to him and told him that he shouldn’t have become so dependent on her and that his illness had crippled their relationship. That was the morning she packed a small suitcase and went to stay with her mother for a while, only that while turned into three weeks, and during that three weeks Jesse had sought the treatment he had never thought he needed, he took the pills the doctor prescribed, because if his illness was crippling Hannah then he would clean up the mess, he would clean up the mess.

Jesse bit his lip. He couldn’t find her, he needed Hannah, he told her that last night. Hannah had only moved away from him every time he had tried to move closer, she had moved her hand away when he tried to cover it with his own.

I’m proud of you.

She had told him that, when he tried to tell her all the things he had been doing, all of the medications he had been taking, all of the compulsions he was battling. She had half-smiled, but the warmth never reached the blue of her eyes. No, she didn’t understand, she didn’t understand, they belonged together. He had tried to tell her, and all she had done was reach for her goddamned phone.

Jesse sat heavily on the bed and remembered. He remembered snatching the phone from her clammy palms, snapping it between his hands like the neck of a small animal. His rage welled up inside him, he couldn’t remember thinking straight. He took lamp from the bedside table and struck her over the head in a sudden gush of anger. Hannah had hit the floor hard. A steady trickle of blood ran from her temple to her chin. She had looked up at him, eyes dilated, like a little girl’s. A little boy’s. A little boy told to clean up, wash up—

Don’t touch me, you disgusting child—
You were born into sin, you were born into sin—
God punished us by leaving you here—
Clean up this mess! Clean up this mess—
Flithy—
Disgusting—
Pigpen!
Pigpen!
Pigpen!
Jesse was transported back to his childhood, his grandfather’s voice,commanding him, condemning him. He wanted to be clean, he wanted to be pure,he needed to clean himself, he needed to be Holy, he needed to be righteous. God hated bastards, God hated the sinful, God hated him, God hated him. Before he knew it, tears were flooding his eyes and running down his face. Where was she? What had they done with her?

Sobbing, he pushed himself from the bed and through the rest of the apartment. He knocked a vase of flowers from a bookshelf, he crashed into a glass cereal bowl on the kitchen counter. Once outside, he took the stairs down, two at a time. Where was she? What had they done with her? What had they done with her?

I think you know.

He thought back, to the dead weight of Hannah’s body as he dragged her out of the apartment. How the night air felt against her cold skin. The click of the trunk locking. Jesse turned to the back of the car slowly. He reached into his pocket, and withdrew the key. He inserted the key into the lock and turned until he heard the tick of the door opening, though he already knew what he would find there. A lock of brown hair. The smell of citrus and wine and cooking oil. So clean, so clean.

I’m proud of you.
Jesse closed the door.
I’m proud of you.
He stepped around to the driver’s side.
I’m proud of you.
He put on the radio.
I’m proud of you.
I’m proud of you.
I’m proud of you.
Pigpen.