The afternoon goes like this. Calvin comes home upset. He didn’t do well on a test and his friends didn’t tell him where they were going after school, so he walked home by himself. We used to call him Cal for short, when he was blond and eight years old and his smile bounced up and down with the rest of his small body. Now he is 17 and his hair is darker and falls in front of his eyes, and he no longer smiles. On his way up to his bedroom to study for an AP chemistry quiz, he slides open a kitchen drawer and pockets a vaguely bent paring knife that glistens in the light. He brings an apple upstairs too, and once he arrives to his room he will slice it open piece by piece over a napkin, methodically, and then the sweet juice will dribble down his throat as he crams his head with chemical equations. He will savor it until every last piece is gone.
Now he is in his room, and he tries to breathe easier but it’s too messy to do so. He hasn’t cleaned for weeks, has left dirty clothes and textbooks strewn all over a carpet that used to be a baby blue but is now tinted a stale green. He leaves his crumpled chemistry notes and the sliced apple on his pillow and tries to make the rest of his room a little neater. “Clothes in the hamper,” he whispers to himself, and then deposits them in the washing machine down the hall. On his way back he catches a glimpse of himself in the fake-bronze-etched mirror poised over a hallway table. His face is worn down by lines, his hair shines faintly with oil, and dark dots graze his chin and cheeks and under his nose. Once he is back in his room, he stacks textbooks and rearranges furniture and takes down a picture of him and his friends on the wall and throws something away that once meant a great deal to him, some faded plastic crimson-painted medal that he won in a middle school track competition (his mother cried that day, but he doesn’t remember why). He pulls the sheets down taut around his bed and punches his pillow like he sees housewives do in old movies, and then uses soap and hot water to scrub clean the stainless steel knife he used to cut the apple. Then he deposits it in the top drawer next to his bed.
We come home together, Maria and I. We don’t see Calvin. We store ourselves in the living room, huddling under blankets and drinking lime sodas we found in the beat-up fridge in the basement, where Andy kept the cheap beer before he left for college. We watch dull rom-coms where the man chases after the girl and then we wonder who will chase after us when we get to be that pretty. Maria spills soda on her favorite pink-and-cream sweater, so I go upstairs to get a fresh shirt for her. We had both set most of our clothes out to be washed this afternoon, but Calvin has chosen today of all days to deposit his own clothes in the machine. I knock on his door. He doesn’t answer.
“Calvin,” I say, so he opens it. His cold dark-brown eyes make my neck feel achingly itchy. “You put your clothes in the washing machine.”
“Isn’t that where they go?” His long fingers slide along the cool metallic roundness of the doorknob. He wants me to leave him alone.
“Maria and I both had ours in line to go in the laundry room already. You didn’t see our baskets?”
“Since when is there a line?”
“Since when do you know where dirty clothes go?”
He closes the door in my face. I find an old shirt in my closet—purple rabbits dance along its seams—and bring it down for Maria to wear. Then I put her sweater in with Calvin’s laundry.
The evening goes like this. Our parents don’t get home from work until late, so Maria cooks a frozen pizza in the oven. She tries to keep the purple-rabbit shirt clean by tucking a series of napkins all the way down its front, which makes me laugh. We knock on Calvin’s door for dinner, but he doesn’t answer. I need a pizza knife to cut my slices apart, so I go to the knife drawer. There is one missing. I don’t think much of it. I start a paper and Maria turns on another movie. In our respective places we each watch the black-etched sticks of the clock slide around their axes. We leave Calvin two slices of pizza. We walk back to our rooms. Calvin’s light is on. We shut our doors to let him know it’s safe to come out and soon after, his creaks open. Once he is done eating, he will firmly scrub each glob of cold pizza sauce off his plate with a worn sponge and deposit the plate in the dishwasher. The apple knife will stay in his bedroom drawer.
The night goes like this. Maria goes to say goodnight to Calvin. She knocks on his door, but there is silence again. This time she opens it. Her eyebrows furrow, surprised. He is sleeping on the floor, chemistry textbook by his head, long dark hair obscuring his closed eyes. His shoulders rise and fall with each coursing breath. His bed is made. There are no more dirty shirts or pants on the floor. All his drawers are shut. His bookshelf is in a different place. Maria closes his door and goes to the laundry room to deposit his damp clothes in the dryer. She does not notice the five pale stuffed envelopes under his dark-wrought desk, or how they are each inscribed with our names.
I see her on her way back to her room. She opens Calvin’s door once more for me, to show me how clean it is. I have not looked inside his room in days. I feel guilty for watching him sleep. His dark, crumpled form looks out of place against the bright walls that have been newly revealed with the adjustment of the furniture. The Calvin he is now can’t fit in this new room: one must deform for the other to belong. Maria smiles. She is proud he cleaned.
On my way out, I stub my toe on the edge of the doorframe. The noise doesn’t wake Calvin, though a part of me wishes it did. He shifts in his sleep and his head knocks against the textbook. His breaths continue, deep and rising. We go to sleep.
Join the conversation!