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Some of Us Have to Get Up in the Morning (excerpt)

Every year there was one Dot couldn't help but be nice to, one whose polite open face made it sort of painful for her to behave the way she normally did. She actually liked Ed Teabern, even if she doubted he cared about her any more than anyone else at Bradenton State did. It probably wouldn't matter to him at all if he knew she was feeling a little dizzy this morning, for instance. Or that her supervisor Carolee – who was only supposed to be sitting in while her real boss was recovering from thyroid surgery – strutted around like she owned the place. But on the other hand, when she was talking to Ed it was easy to pretend those problems didn't mean very much. Ed was all toothy hellos, picking up a sponge that had just fallen off her cart, or saying, right out of nowhere, “Thanks for doing such a great job on the bathrooms, Dot.”

She smiled as she remembered that, pushing her cart off the elevator and wheeling it down the corridor of Ed's floor in Eppley Hall. The smile widened when she noticed his door was open. By the time she peered in, she'd mustered a full and actual grin, just for him.

But Ed wasn't there. Of course his roommate was. He was always there, lying on his bed with his feet propped up on the headboard, watching some sports game or other on the TV. The name on the door next to ED was ANDREW, but the first two letters had been carefully blacked with a magic marker so that it read DREW. Ed had told her that his roommate wanted people to call him that and not the other, though he wouldn't say why. As a result, Dot didn't know what to call him. She wouldn't bother breaking his bubble by using his real name, but neither would she play a part in his foolishness by using his chosen one. At any rate, Drew or Andrew, she didn't see much difference, or why it should matter.

He glanced from the TV long enough to say, “Ed's in the shower.”

“Oh,” she said. She was a little surprised that he knew she was looking for Ed. She wondered if all the boys on the floor connected her with him, maybe even teased him about it. The wondering made her linger a moment, which Drew not Andrew noticed. Dot covered by gazing at a poster of a giant vodka bottle hanging on the wall over his bed. He was probably not even of age to drink. He grinned when he saw her looking at it, no doubt happy that someone suspected not only that he drank, but that he was doing something illegal by it. He was really just a little boy. Most men were when it came to alcohol and petty criminal behavior.

Dot turned back toward her cart and started to push it when she saw Ed, lumbering down the hall. His hair was wet and a wet towel was balled up in one of his large hands, but he was fully clothed. That's the way Ed took his showers. He went into the bathroom with all his clothes on and came out wearing the exact same things. Dot figured he did it because he didn't have the body that some of the others, like his roommate, did. Ed was a big guy but soft and slouchy, with love handles, and pimples on his chest. Dot saw them once when she burst into the bathroom, suspecting he was in there and forgetting for some reason to call out her usual warning of “Housekeeping!” Dot liked Ed's modesty. It was nice that he wasn't like the others, who trotted to and from the showers she scrubbed every day wearing only their towels, stopping to talk at the open doors of their friends, their wet, naked arms raised against the door frames.

“Hello, Ed,” she said.

“Hi, Dot.” He smiled in his open-mouthed way. “I hope you're doing good today.”

“Oh, I can't complain. And you?”

“I'm good.” It was their usual greeting. But something was different. Ed wouldn't quite meet her eyes. Instead he looked at the dirty socks on his feet. He kicked the heel of one foot with the toes of the other. Then he came out with it.

“I'm really sorry you have to clean the bathroom today,” he said. Drew not Andrew did not turn his head from the TV, but suddenly seemed as though he was listening carefully.

“Why, Ed?” said Dot. “Is it real bad?”

Ed looked deeply embarrassed. “Someone threw up all over one of the stalls,” he said. “It's pretty disgusting.”

“Oh,” said Dot.

“I'm really sorry. The guys on this floor,” he said, shaking his head “-- they're pigs.”

“It's alright, Ed.”

“People who can't hold their liquor shouldn't drink,” he said. “They're just ignorant.”

Dot couldn't exactly disagree. In her nine years of cleaning up after them, none of the students impressed her as particularly smart. They gabbed on their phones and played their music too loud and left notes on their doors saying what party there were at and how many kegs were involved. In short, they behaved like they were stupid.

-- excerpt from the story “Cleanser” from Some of Us Have to Get Up in the Morning