Jackie had not ever washed light switch covers, but now she was noticing them for the first time. She noticed they were dirty. She ran a finger over the off-white plastic and noticed her nails were dirty, too, and leaned against the wall and looked through the doorframe to the bedroom window with its blue-gray blinds pulled to block the view from the alley. She was staring at nothing, and then she realized it, and looked back at her nails.
A month ago Jackie always knew what to do because a month ago she was living with her boyfriend in the apartment on Union, but now she was living by herself in the apartment on Jackson. She thought that to wash the light switch covers she needed to remove them, but she didn’t have a screwdriver, so she walked down the hall to the apartment manager’s apartment, but when she reached the mailboxes she stopped and checked her mail and forgot about the screwdriver until she was back in the apartment, putting the shiny red and yellow grocery store circulars next to her dirty cereal bowls on the kitchen counter. Bananas were 75 cents a pound.
Outside it was raining just a little as usual, but she told her mom about it anyway because she was still new in the city. She was on her way to the hardware store to buy a screwdriver, she told her mom on the phone, and the bus tires were kind of loud in the rain, sorry. It had been raining this rain when she moved there to live with the boyfriend, little raindrops sparkling over her first view of the city as the plane descended. They were holding hands and drunk on little airplane wines. It was the same rain when they broke up.
Jackie, her mom was saying through the phone. Hello?
Why are you taking the switchplates off? her mom asked.
Switchplates was the right word.
Jackie got off the phone with her mom and went into a drugstore instead. Beauty products and advertisements for beauty products were green and pink and blue and the florescent lights were blue. Jackie looked at lipsticks even though she’d never bought one. In one advertisement a woman was laughing with her mouth slightly open and her white teeth gleaming under red lipstick like she was winning every lotto number and couldn’t believe it, but sort of could. Jackie was at a loss about what to do now, but she was not surprised that he’d broken up with her. They had broken up twice before and each time they’d gotten back together it had seemed they had solved their problems; then the problems showed up again and they’d be sitting on the edge of the bed looking at each other with disappointment and disbelief. Do you really think that’s your best idea? her mom had asked when Jackie announced the move. And she hadn’t, but there was nothing else to do.
When she left the drugstore she forgot for a minute which way to go.
Are you alright? a woman selling newspapers for the homeless asked her.
It’s nothing, Jackie said, and she started walking the wrong way and realized it but was too embarrassed to turn around. There was always the worry of running into him which made her look in all directions at intersections and glance into alleys, which she wanted to stop doing, but couldn’t.
The thing she kept remembering was lightness. He had said he needed more light.
Dishes get dirty and faces get dirty and even streets get dirty; there are soaps for dishes and soaps for faces and streetsweepers that come in the night to push debris into the gutters with a deep rumbling whir, massive machines for even the streets. The switchplates had been nothing and now they were one more of all the dirty things in the world. Just use soap and water her mom had said.