Coming Clean by I. T. Haplo
My friend Jonah needed a shower. He stank of dogs, hay, sweat, and various foodstuffs represented by stains both streaked and splattered on his 4XL tee shirt. Maeline was on the living room sofa, yeling at Wheel of Fortune and drinking vodka straight. He told her he would listen for her in case she needed anything, forgetting about his slight hearing deficit.
He peeled his “I’ve Got Anorexia” shirt off as he lumbered down the hallway of their double-wide and stepped into the room they had long ago dedicated to “everything else,” which included his clothes. He grabbed his blue “My Eyes Are Up Here” tee and pink boxers, continued to the bathroom, dropped his drawers, and turned on the light and the bathroom radio.
Staring at his graying buzzcut in the medicine chest mirror, he ran his palm over his head and decided to give it another clipping. Two minutes later he was finished because his style was no style; he declined to get into fades or any other versions of buzz, going with one #2 attachment all over.
But in those two minutes, due to the noise of the clipper and the radio and his distance from the living room, he missed hearing Maeline calling his name. Texting her doctor lover, she had leaned too far over the arm of the sofa while reaching for the Stoli bottle. Small as she was—Jonah called her “little, bitty AND tiny”—she managed to wedge herself face up between the end of the couch and the solid-sided end table. Always half-cocked in the pissed off position, she was instantly enraged. She yelled for Jonah at full volume for a minute, then paused for breath and to draw more curses from her memory banks.
Jonah squinted at his reflection, stepped into the shower stall, and remembered at the last moment to turn on the exhaust fan. It rattled into life and, not realizing Maeline already had that department covered, he cursed himself. He never remembered, when he wasn’t naked and wet, to tighten the screw he knew to be the problem. Turning the radio volume higher, he soaped up, using the same Miracle II liquid for head, feet, and everything between. He didn’t believe the story behind it that his mother-in-law did, but he appreciated her regular gifts of cases of the bottles. The stuff didn’t make him itch or smell like laboratory flowers, and reading “eloptic energy” in the ingredient list always made him giggle.
As the water heated up, he prolonged his laving time, savoring the solitude. No dogs. No Maeline. Just hot water beating his sore muscles and rinsing away the shorn hair tips. He hummed along with a radio tune that happened to be in rhythm with the clatter of the fan.
Maeline was firmly stuck and too drunk to figure out how to free herself. Her cell phone had skittered along the baseboard, coming to rest far out of reach. Emperor Dorkmeister Kahn blocked her from scooting forward. The oldest and biggest Chinese Shar-Pei they owned, he slumbered deeply, and when Maeline kicked against his back, he farted. She gave up screaming and kicking and thought about her next move. The vodka bottled rolled gently from side to side on the tabletop as she bumped against it, partially emptying itself onto the carpet.
Rubbing the towel briskly over his pate, Jonah chuckled. He never had to unclog a hair-encumbered drain, except for Maeline’s in the master suite at the other end of the house. The mirror was foggy, indicating a service deficit in the racketing fan, but he left it on in case it was helping even a little.
Maeline groped around with her foot, grabbing a cushion with her toes. Pulling carefully, she managed to bring it toward the front of the sofa. Accelerating her tug, she unseated the pillow and the .45 tucked beneath it. Using the same foot, she nudged the gun until it was within hand’s reach. She rescued the Stoli, swallowed the last dreg while mourning the loss of the rest, raised the weapon, and fired all of the five shots left in the clip after her squirrel practice that afternoon.
Jonah started to sing, enjoying the echo of his bass voice. Perched on the toilet seat, he leaned his belly between his spread legs and serenaded his toenails while he clipped them.
Using the vodka bottle as a prosthesis, Maeline scraped it against the landline cord before hooking it and bringing it toward her until she could grab it. Hand over hand, she pulled until the phone snagged on the lamp. Jerking on the cord brought the phone down, slicing a small gash into her forehead. It also brought the lamp, whose bulb exploded, showering her with shards. Although she had loved the Hello Kitty base with bows all over the shade, it now became her least favorite light source. She held the phone above her face and dialed her dad’s number. He lived just down the road and was at her side in five minutes.
Jonah finished dressing, if that’s what putting on boxers and a tee could be called, and stepped into the hallway. Forgetting to turn off the fan, he was almost to the living room when he heard his father-in-law’s voice. He rounded the corner to see him staring at the ceiling, listening to Maeline’s account of the incident. Ceiling dust drifted downward. The man slowly turned toward Jonah just as she said, “. . . and I yelled and yelled but ol’ Jonah-and-the-whale never showed up, so I shot the ceiling and he still didn’t come . . .”
Jonah told me during one of his trips to town—I never visit him or go anywhere close to Maeline—that he knew then he’d get two ass chewings before he could check to see whether she had nicked electrical wires in the upper insulation. Knowing how her mind worked, he said he decided to be glad she had not tried smoke signals.
I. T. Haplo has lived everywhere (possibly next door to you) and writes fact as though it were fiction. “Coming Clean” is an installment in the ongoing account of The Trials of Jonah.
I. T. Haplo was featured in UnCommon Origins.