This story is by G. Wayne Ashbee and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
JUST A LITTLE BIT GERMY
By G. Wayne Ashbee
“Be sure and wash your hands if you played with the dogs,” she admonished him as he entered through the back screen door. He obediently ducked into the bathroom adjacent to the laundry room, washed his hands, and returned to the kitchen where she was pouring flour and milk into a large mixing bowl.
“Do you mind kneading the dough? I’m afraid I might break a nail, and I just had them done for the party this weekend.”
“Not one little bit,” he rejoined. “Anything else I can do before I get my hands all gooey?”
“No, that would be a big help, and I promise you that these biscuits are going to be every bit as delicious as the ones your mother used to make. You washed your hands, right?
“Of course, dear. But would you excuse me for just one minute?”
He had been planning this moment for about a week. Ever since she told him that they needed to take their relationship “to the next level.” That was her phrase, and he gritted his teeth when she said it. But he had expected a sentiment like this to usher forth eventually as she had recently professed her never-ending affection for him. In other words, “I love you.” He did care for her but not in the same way—not with that quality or quantity—that she cared for him.
It was her nagging of him about his hygiene that so vexed him at times that he wanted to scream. He was not an unclean person; he took a shower every day and always changed his underwear in the morning before getting dressed and leaving for his office. He was just as kempt as the next guy, but that is what she did not understand—he was a man. And men have a different view of what constitutes filth.
He recalled the day his mind became fixed on this matter. It seemed that she would never let up on him. “Dear, grab one of those little sanitary cloths from the dispenser for me will you,” she said, as she pushed the steel shopping cart through the automatic doors of the grocery store. “And be sure and get a different one for yourself. It’s not good to share those kinds of things.”
Once inside the store, he told her that he needed to go to the restroom to splash some cool water on his face. “I knew I should not have worn this heavy sweater today,” he said. When he came out, she of course asked him if he had washed his hands.
“Well, no. All I did was run some tap water into my hands and then splash it on my face,” he said.
“Now, honey, you know that you touched the faucet and there is no telling what kinds of scummy, icky things are on there. So, you go right back in there and wash those hands.”
He felt like a little boy being scolded by his mother. He almost responded to her patronizing tone of voice, but he wondered what was the utility of doing that? She was not going to change. He was convinced that her concern with his hygiene had morphed into a pathology. On the other hand, just to be fair, he considered that perhaps it was his problem. Maybe he was acting out in a way that invited her scrutiny of his physical cleanliness. He tried to remember if his daily routine had changed in some way—were his fingernails dirty, or his breath foul smelling? No, none of these. He still used the same brand of antiperspirant on his armpits each morning and the same mouthwash. He was baffled.
As they left the grocery store, she snatched two more antiseptic cloths from the dispenser, and after putting all the grocery bags in the car, she said, “Here,” while handing him a cloth, “there is just no telling what kind of creepy no-see-ums are on the cart handle.”
He said nothing.
During the drive back to her house, he tried to put the matter out of his mind or at least diminish its importance to him. After all, he told himself, it could be worse, and she could be the opposite way. Not give a damn about being clean. Yes, that would be way worse.
They unpacked all the grocery items and put them in the pantry or in the refrigerator the way that she liked, that she demanded, the items to be stocked—leftovers, canned soda, fresh herbs on the top two shelves; eggs, milk, butter, raw chicken, meat and fish on the bottom two shelves; fruits and vegetables in the two crisper drawers; and juice, bottled water, all the condiments and whatever else in the door shelves. After that, he thought he would perform a reality check on their relationship—just to resolve any lingering doubt about his course of action.
“Come here and give us a big kiss,” he said playfully as he grabbed her around the waist and pulled her to him.
“Wait,” she enjoined, “have you brushed your teeth lately?”
He smiled and released her. “Let’s get dinner started.”
“I was going to make biscuits for you tonight. I know that you talk about how you loved your mother’s biscuits when you were growing up,” she told him.
“That sounds great, dear.”
But the reality test came back positive.
“Are you okay in there?” she asked after lightly knocking on the bathroom door.
“Yeah, I’m fine. Be there in a minute.”
But that minute passed and then another, until five minutes had elapsed, which when added to the original fifteen minutes caused her to be more than a little concerned. He finally opened the bathroom door and walked back into the kitchen.
“What were you doing in there?” she asked with a broad grin that masked the tension she felt.
“I may as well tell you now even though this may not be the most opportune time.”
“What in the world are you talking about?”
“I’ve been having a little problem lately…really for the past month, but I didn’t want you to worry until I was sure. Until after I had been to the doctor for some tests to be completed.”
“Tests? Tests for what, dear? What’s wrong? Please, you know you can tell me anything.”
“I know, and you don’t know how much I appreciate you saying that. It’s comforting to know that I can rely on you to stand by me,” he said.
“This is real hard to put into words,” he continued after leaning back against the kitchen counter, bracing himself and pausing. She waited anxiously.
“Please! You’re killing me. Tell me now.”
“Okay. It’s like this. It began with me having to go to the bathroom more frequently. At first, I thought I might have some weird stomach virus that didn’t have any other symptoms. That is symptoms other than having to go to the bathroom more…a lot more. I was having diarrhea three to four times a day. I took some Pepto Bismol, but it did nothing for it. And then it got worse. I was having diarrhea ten maybe fifteen times a day. I was spending more time in the bathroom at work than at my desk.”
“Oh. My…God!” she stammered as her eyes widened with a look of dismay that quickly turned to shock as he continued.
“And then it would come on so fast that I could barely make it to the bathroom. There have been a couple of times…I hate to say this…that I didn’t make it in time. I messed my pants.” He let his voice trail off as he placed his hand over his eyes pretending to hide tears. He had actually practiced this part several times.
“I don’t know what to say.” And she really was speechless until she regained enough composure to ask, “When are you going to get better? You know—cured?”
“I’m afraid there is no cure. The doctor said it was a disease called Crohn’s.” He spelled it for her. “It’s pretty nasty stuff, and you just have to learn to live with it. The diarrhea is just part of the disease, but in my case, it seems to be the major part.”
“No cure.” she said matter of factly. “No cure?” she repeated with disbelief.
“No cure,” he affirmed.
“And last week I was at the mall buying you a birthday present when it hit me really hard. I practically ran to the bathroom. I made it there but then before I could get to the toilet…well, it was a disaster…a tsunami.” He chose this word intentionally—to paint a disturbing picture for her. I had to call my brother on the cell phone to bring me a change of underwear and trousers so I could leave the mall. I just threw my soiled clothes in the bathroom trash can. Thank goodness I had already bought your present.”
She took a step back as she recalled the negligee he presented to her last week on her birthday. She had already worn it—before she washed it. She grimaced at the thought.
“I know that we may have to change our routine somewhat. But not that much. I’ll have to wear those adult diaper things, but not all the time…well, yeah, maybe at first. And sometimes at night…in bed. You know…just when it’s bad. Which is not that often. Maybe most of the time until the doctor can get me on the right medication and I change my diet. You don’t know how much I appreciate someone like you standing by me. It’s so comforting.”
“Of course,” she muttered.
“Okay,” he exhaled. “I feel better now. So let me at that biscuit dough,” he said as he walked toward the mixing bowl.
“Oh, no!” she announced in such a loud voice that it caused him to jump. “I mean, you just go sit down in the living room…watch the news…I’ll take care of all this.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh, yes. Very sure.”
“I forgot to tell you that I did make a little mess on your bathroom floor, but it was virtually nothing. And I cleaned it up with the hand towel. I threw the towel in your washing machine since you already had some clothes in there to be washed. Was that okay?”
“Of course,” she frowned. Her negligee was in the washing machine.
They had a quiet dinner that evening. She ate very little. She told him that she did not feel well and that, if he didn’t mind, she wanted to go to bed—by herself.
“Of course, dear. I’ll drive on back to my place. By the way, it’s supposed to be really warm tomorrow so I was thinking that you should come over and we’ll go for a swim in the pool. How’s that grab you?”
“A swim? With you in the water…I mean the pool. Yes, I’ll call you.”
She did call the next day but not to confirm a dip in the pool. “Look, dear, I’ve been thinking about us. I know that I have been talking to you about the two of us making a stronger commitment. But I really sense that we’re not in the same place about that…do you understand what I’m saying?”
“I guess I do” he replied.
“Perhaps we should take some time off, not rush things, and make sure of where we’re going so that we both can be on the same page…so to speak.”
How curious, he thought. The same hollow platitudes I was going to say to her.
“If you think that’s best. Whatever makes you happy, dear.”
Elizabeth Westra says
This was a story that showed how fickle people can be. I love the way the guy tested his girl friend to see if she really cared for him. It was obvious that she had a phobia and was obsessive about cleanliness. The way he handled it let her break up with him and avoid the hurt of him telling her that they were done. I liked this story very much. It was clever.
Kara Bohonowicz says
Interesting!! I was engaged in the story.
The title definitely caught my attention–I thought this might be a humorous story. It’s not. As I read on, I was certain the woman was talking to a child. The ‘as good as your mother’s’ bit was a great effect to keep that misdirection active. Could be a new step parent/child situation with the playing with the dog and apprehension of the mMC entering the fMC’s space and being somewhat reluctantly obedient. I was intrigued, especially after it was revealed that this is about a couple in a young romance.
Sympathizing with the mMC is easy. I think we all have a germophobe in our lives. His emasculation reads loudly although he is in a quiet bathroom contemplating his next move. However, I don’t think the mMC sympathizes enough with the fMC to make his reveal truly the saving face opportunity it could be for her. It reads kind of mean-spirited to me. But that could be what you were going for.
I appreciate your attempt at detailing her compulsion with the specifics of how items must be put away. Sadly, it’s something the mMC cannot look past. He wants to get her out of his life completely by making himself as unappealing as possible. He’s testing her love, and proving to himself that she just wants to control him and their environment instead of acknowledging that she has real compulsion. Her responses (and his recollection of all the times her psychosis emasculated him) are read by me as insensitive and shallow. The line about ‘hollow platitudes’ confirms my assessment, and for that, I applaud you because that’s real life for a lot of people. Not everyone is ready to face their psychoses.
Good job! This is a thought-provoking topic that could tilt in a few ways. Thanks for an interesting read. It’s definitely a conversation starter.
It seems well-played. If you have ever dealt with a germahobe, you get the message.