Across the Clean Floor

Ilija Đurović

Artwork by Elephnt

The hardest part is after the last guests leave. I take the half-empty glasses into the kitchen and run water over them. I listen as the sound merges with the sound of water running in the bathroom. I don’t clear what remains of the food. She doesn't put the leftovers away right after our get-togethers. The table will be a mess until tomorrow.

She comes out of the bathroom and looks at me. “You’re still at it,” she says.

I watch as she walks across the room. Moves things off the table. Looks under the plates. Shoves her fingers between the cushions of the armchair. I ask what she’s looking for. She doesn’t answer. She waves me off and shoves her hand even deeper into the cushions. She rests her chin on the arm of the chair and burrows her fingers deep into the accumulated grit. I go out to the balcony. When she’s done with the cushions, she slides to the floor and reaches her whole arm under the chair. Her forehead presses against the side. She gets up and looks at me.

“Can you buy me some cleaning supplies?” she asks.

“It’s late,” I say.

Again she crouches down. Dark strands show through her otherwise blond hair. I put on my jacket and leave.

During the night shift only two of the twenty check-out lanes are open. Working one of them is a woman who always politely says good evening. She looks at me through her black clotted eyelashes. She bags the cleaning supplies and the hair dye and drops the receipt into the bag. She is spooling a new roll of paper into the register when I say good night. Sometimes I run into her on the street. I have a hard time recognizing her without the red apron.

She is waiting for me when I return. She looks at me and takes the bag. She puts the dye on the table with the remains of the food. “I’ll need your help when I finish this,” she says. Her gesture encompasses the room. Everything has been moved away from the walls. She managed to pull the couch to the center of the room by herself. The armchair is turned over on its side. “It seeped in everywhere,” she says.

She pours the detergent into the water. She brings in a ripped-up sheet from the bathroom. I ask her about the leftover food. She says she’ll finish that after cleaning. I take a bottle from the table and go out to the balcony.

“Don’t overdo,” she says.

I watch her body sway as she pushes the rag back and forth, her blond ponytail swinging from one shoulder to the other. I put down the bottle and go back inside. I look at her hands in the water. Her fingers are blue at the tips. She doesn’t look at me as I approach.

For a few seconds I just look at the tips of my shoes, and then I kick over the bucket of water. The soapy water spills out across the parquet floor. I grab a torn sheet and drop down beside her. I wring out the rag and wipe up what’s left of the suds. I consider the outline of her face from her irregularly shaped ear to her lips. I breathe in the smell of sweat and soap suds.

We spend ages dragging the rags back and forth across the clean floor.

translated from the Montenegrin by Paula Gordon