The burnt cheese clung fast to the bolt heads that secured the pan to its handle. To spare the integrity of the sponge, he employed his thumbnail in separating the charred glue from the slick black pan. Still, some must have gotten stuck between the panhead bolts and the nonstick surface. He must have pushed it farther and farther in, until it formed a ring around the bolt shaft. The surface tension of the water would keep it from flushing it out, unless he were to soak it. Imagine steaming it, or a high-pressure stream. It didn’t matter, was too little to matter. The pan would do its business on its own. The heat would sterilize it. If he were to try to scrape out the gunk with a razor, he would damage the pan, defeat the integrity of the surface.
The lights glowed a clean white overhead. He ran his tongue over the faces of his front teeth.
“What do I do with these?” he mumbled, folding in half and laying out four ziplock bags, one halfway overlapping the halved other. He let the question do its quieting work, break up the condensing buzz of unvoiced doubt. Breathed lightly through the nostrils. Turned his attention back to scrubbing the countertop.
“I feel so happy,” he said.
This was the procedure.
Nature abhors a vacuum?
Does it, though? Or does it love it more than anything? Can’t leave it alone for a second?
The aim was to produce more verbal thoughts, not fewer. The aim, the immediate aim, wasn’t to produce less thinking. Call that thinking? A vague, semiconscious stream of half-seen images and half-felt impressions? And commercials are flash fiction.
He met his friend at a fair. She had a booth, selling soap. Wanting to tell her something about himself, he said, “I’ve been writing, sort of.”
“Yeah? What about? Just random stuff?”
Wanting to be funny, he replied, “I’m sorry, have we met?”
She sort of laughed.
He started taping Standards up on the wall, surrounding himself with them. Because how do you know when an area is clean? He took a photo of the area in question and emailed it to himself, then opened the file on his laptop. Then, sitting in his chair, he held it, screen flat against his lap, a sheet of paper on the screen. He traced the relevant lines and planes.
It always took several drafts. But each was a little better than before, usually. And they gave him something to look at, to reference. Something to answer to.
Because rules were otherwise impossible not to argue with, he set them for halves of hours at a time. Each an experiment. Each set free from at the end of each session with it.
Some proved so salutary, he set them more or less in stone. They could always be argued with, but only out loud. Never in quiet anxiety.
They had met online. Had liked one another instantly, moved in together more or less instantly. Wondered if this had been a mistake, more or less, instantly.
But they both powered through, in their own ways, mostly without the other knowing the extent of it. She taught him to face discomfort foursquare. They developed a talent for holding brutal, precise conversations.
He described in detail what he disliked about her. She somehow reciprocated without it quite feeling that way. Or maybe she hadn’t. It couldn’t have mattered after what he had said.
But things got better, then kept on getting better, for the only reason things ever actually get better.
Things got so good it didn’t make sense. But, having been present for it the whole time, they knew precisely where they were. The disorientation they sometimes felt was what comes from contrasting two abstractions against one another, or reading a book while riding in the car. Whenever they looked around, they knew where they were and that it was a real place.
He moved away out of what must have been necessity. Otherwise, why would he have?