Deep Clean:
2019 Barthelme Prize Honorable Mention

Michael Holt

I’d found their ad in the weekly. It looked perhaps slightly less suspicious than some other services I’d employed, though unfortunately that wasn’t saying much. They arrived at my door wearing backpacks and vests, a short white woman and a tall Asian man, very normal- looking, like Greenpeace volunteers or acquaintances from college. After curtly introducing themselves as Dylan and Kim, they squeezed past me in the narrow hall and went into my living room, and I followed, wondering if I should tell them something, direct them in some way, point something out, though what exactly I would point out I didn’t know. Everything, maybe. All this, I could have said, waving my arm around vaguely. They opened their backpacks and began extracting an astonishing array of tiny tools, brushes and files, tweezers, chisels, feather dusters sized for a doll house, magnifying glasses, pencil erasers, mirrors like the ones dentists put in your mouth. They went behind my desk and behind the couch, stood on chairs to get to the high corners, pulled my bed and bookshelves away from the walls, and they scraped and brushed and rubbed and filed, they sanded things down, and dusted them, and poked holes in them, and took samples from them which they placed in small jars. They worked in almost total silence and with an utterly unwavering focus, while I stood around, witless and annoying, continually asking if they needed anything, water or a glass of wine, noodle soup, trail mix, tea. I wanted to know what they were finding and also didn’t want to know. I wanted to ask them out for a drink and then never see them again. They brought in new tools, including one that hummed, and another that whirred, and another that seemed to involve some kind of suction. Is it that bad? I said. It’s normal, said Dylan. I spent the afternoon at the movies. I watched two matinées, sneaking into the second one. By the time I was returning to my neighborhood, I’d convinced myself that Dylan and Kim had absconded with everything I owned. Part of me was actually relieved. Part of me was always looking for an excuse to start over again. In fact they were sitting on the bumper of their van, eating sandwiches. How’d it go? I said. Fine, said Kim. She had the kind of perfect posture that made me straighten my own. I tried to peer through the blankness of her face, but Dylan brought my attempt to a halt with a clipboard. I wrote them a check, shook their hands limply, then went inside, sat down on my couch, and looked around, feeling slightly less plagued by the things I’ve always been plagued by, but only slightly.