Robin de Voh
writer, developer, nerd

Tidy

By Robin de Voh on 2020-04-01

'Oh crap, only 4 hours left,' Marc thought to himself.

Looking at the mess in his apartment, a sense of doom crept up along his spine. Empty pizza boxes, mostly empty bottles, random crap he knew he should've thrown away ages ago and many misplaced things which were misplaced solely due to the fact that they never had a location to be placed in the first place.

He'd already spent an earlier 4 hours sorting through and throwing things out, leading to eight bulging garbage bags filling up his already cramped hallway. He knew he was far from done, however. Ripping the packaging open of a new bunch of garbage bags he'd be using to sort, he sighed and walked over to his bluetooth speaker. It was pumping out the most energetic punk music he knew about. A good motivator to keeping up his hard, tiresome but ultimately necessary work. He turned the volume up even more.

Work he could have prevented by not having been such a slob, he considered. But then again, he'd always figured that one of the prime perks of being single was being able to be a slob in your own home.

He picked up a stack of papers too high to remain standing by natural means, instead depending entirely on the sticky nature of some of the pages to keep its precarious structural integrity. Now, he had two options. He would either sift through the stack, then separate the keeps from the crud, or he'd just stash it somewhere nobody would look and sort through it at a later and slightly less stressful time.

Marc estimated the stack to consist of no less than 200 separate sheets of paper, all of varying shamefulness, relevance and importance.

He looked at the clock. Three and a half hours until eight.

"The closet's fine for now." He said triumphantly as he opened it up and stashed the stack behind the vacuum cleaner. He knew he'd probably just chuck the entire stack once he'd stumble upon it months down the line, but that wasn't today. The future, Marc thought, wasn't his concern right now.

He spent an hour stashing more trash in yet another couple of garbage bags, then half an hour collecting and thinking of a good place for a stack of magazines he literally hadn't looked at in years.

Once again, he figured the closet would do just fine for this purpose, as it had been for everything else he'd stashed in there so far. He chuckled at his own ingenuity. Cleaning what was necessary, stashing the rest way out of sight for him to deal with at a later date.

Now, this is an important lesson concerning how the male brain can work at times. The way we work can be as simple as this: If it looks clean, it is clean, and there is no debate or discussion in the world which will make us think otherwise.

And Marc is a prime example of this. Clean half your dishes, stash the rest in an otherwise unused cupboard. Wipe the table off with the same cloth you used for everything else. And since it shouldn't be too hard to imagine that Marc doesn't have any real cleaning supplies, let's just say the cleaning liquid is water and the cleaning cloth is a now-dirty t-shirt.

One hour left and all that was left to do was to sort and store the misplaced items. Marc let himself fall backwards onto the couch and put his legs upon the coffee table. He'd earned a short break.

Seven long hours. It had better be worth it. Frantic guitar riffs and drums -- seemingly resulting from a seizure -- filled the room. After a couple of minutes, Marc clapped his hands together and said "Alright, let's finish this thing properly."

About half of the misplaced items found themselves also going into the closet, while the rest ended up stored in drawers, on shelving units or simply stacked onto a piece of furniture out of the way, but in sight. This honor was reserved for the items that Marc thought would make him look interesting and distinguished, of course.

By now he had 15 minutes left and Marc deemed the work to be done. He sat down and turned on the television to wait until it was 8.

It didn't take long for the doorbell to ring. Hell, she was a little early, even. He got up and crossed the hallway which had been emptied of a respectable amount of trash not long before. Opening the door with a smooth swing, he saw her standing there, smiling.

"Well, hello there!" he said enthusiastically. "Hope I'm not too early," she responded with slightly less enthusiasm.

Sheila. Similar age as him, blonde, tall and absolutely gorgeous.

He'd made an offer to watch a movie together last weekend, when they had met in a bar on a night out with their respective friends. They had spent the entire evening and a good portion of the night talking to one another and there had been a definite 'click'.

"Come in, come in. And you're definitely not too early. It's been a fairly calm day, so company's a good thing," he said, taking her coat and hanging it on the coat rack.

Sheila walked in and looked around.

"Nice apartment. Clean, too. Didn't expect that, to be honest," she said, followed by a sly wink.
"Well," Marc started, "it's just a matter of keeping things tidy, now isn't it?"

And here's note number two for you, my favorite reader. People love telling tiny little white lies. Especially if they're going to make them look better and are utterly unverifiable. Even better if they're not about anything important. Now, WE know Marc's day wasn't calm, as well as that he's not tidy at all. To Marc, it didn't even register as a lie. Merely as a truth not yet attained.

Sheila sat down on the couch and noticed one of the stacks of misplaced items on the window sill. It was a stack of his CDs, which he figured was fine to leave out as it showed his musical taste.

"Mind if I look through these?" she asked Marc, smiling. Marc nodded once and she started looking through his collection of albums. She nodded approvingly at some and noticeably less at others.

While she was judging his music taste, Marc suddenly noticed a patch of the floor he'd obviously forgotten to vacuum. Shit! Pizza crumbs, hair, dust, gone unnoticed during his frantic cleaning. He realized that there was no guarantee that it would remain as such, as now that he saw it, it was actually super obvious.

He could leave it, but she might notice and that would be bad. Damn it, his white lie just became verifiable! He told the lie, now he'd have to live up to it.

'Okay,' he thought, 'she can't see it without getting up. Best course of action is to simply admit I missed a spot and clean it up right now. That way I'll still come across as tidy, just, I don't know, distracted or something.'

He cleared his throat.

"Oh, hey, look at that," he said as naturally as he could, "I seem to have missed a spot while vacuuming, haha!"

Sheila looked up from his CD collection and smiled at him.

"Happens to the best of us," she said.
"Mind if I...?" he asked.
"Not at all. I've got enough CDs to judge you by for at least another ten minutes. Knock yourself out."

'Alright,' Marc thought, 'I'm in the clear!'

He nodded and walked over to the closet. Due to his pride in masking the situation and getting away with it, he opened it up and grabbed the vacuum cleaner without stopping to think.

Now, you have to understand that during the past 3 hours of cleaning, more and more 'stuff' had been piled up in that closet. While at first he'd been able to stash it behind the vacuum cleaner easily, by the end of his inventive cleaning shortcut, it was all quite top-heavy and the vacuum had become an integral part of the structure's stability.

So, my astute reader, can you guess what happens next?

Exactly.

After the vacuum cleaner had been removed from its load-bearing position, everything came tumbling out of the closet.

A torrent of overdue payments, snail mail, magazines, letters from exes ('Why? Why did I keep those?' he thought) and a multitude of other not-for-Sheila things spewed forth from the closet. One garbage bag he'd stuffed in there as well split open when it hit the ground and its contents spilled across the floor.

Sheila noticed a sound first and looked up. Then she saw the mess Marc had made. She got up, walked over and seemed to be homing in on one specific item that had tumbled out of the closet.

She looked at Marc, grinned, and bent down to pick up the magazine.

Marc, in the meantime, stood motionless and slack-jawed. He knew what that magazine was. It wasn't a good thing she picked it up. His brain had gone into panic mode, which thankfully prevented him from immediately saying stupid things to somehow 'fix' the situation.

You see, Marc has his smart moments, but positively more dumb ones. Men often do. Sure, we'll try to take into account what others may do and try to work around that, but we also figure we're too smart to cause something like this ourselves.

Had Marc's brain not gone into panic mode, he would by now have been blurting out things like how it's not his, a friend went overseas to Europe and asked him to take care of his stuff, it's for research, for a university course, a movie he's planning on making or perhaps a book he's intending to write. The exceptionally stupid would even attempt to get away with the utterly laughable "How'd that get there?!" about something that obviously had to have been his.

Sheila opened the magazine and flipped through it. She started laughing, and Marc noticed her laughter increased as she flipped through it.

Realizing an opening for a positive outcome -- laughter is positive, after all -- Marc's brain slowly started coming out of panic mode, allowing him to respond and turn this all around to his benefit.

"How'd that get there? Haha," Marc said, trying to look a bit shocked.

Oh, Marc, you fucking idiot.

Sheila just looked at him, obviously trying to figure out if he really was this dumb.

"It's fine," she eventually said, "it's a bit weird for you to have a porn magazine, what with the internet full of porn nowadays, but don't worry about it."

Marc's brain was fully firing its synapses now and he had two choices. One: Admit and agree. Two: Keep arguing.

But he felt shame. The magazine was really old and he'd forgotten he even had it, but something in him was against admitting it. He didn't want to be 'that guy with the porn mag'. So his brain started coming up with an excuse, a ruse, a way of coming out of this without Sheila telling her friends he's a complete weirdo.

It didn't matter to him she'd already said it was fine. His brain was still in panic mode enough that it didn't trust that statement.

Lacking a proper response, however, since there was none other than more lies, his brain went into attack-as-a-defense mode.

"At least I don't snort when I laugh," he muttered awkwardly.

Marc, why? Just... Why?

Sheila looked up and it was entirely clear how she felt about that statement.

"Really? That's how you respond?"

She took a step forward and pushed the magazine forcefully into Marc's chest. "Maybe this'll keep you company tonight."

She walked past him, grabbed her coat and walked out. She slammed the door. A number of items which had been barely holding on in the closet now also fell out, covering Marc's feet.

He sighed and walked over to the couch, where he sat down. His mind started going over what exactly had happened tonight. He raised a hand to his face and sighed.

He eventually came to the conclusion that even though it was dumb and he needed to make sure nothing like that ever happened again, it also could've been much worse. He remembered this wasn't the only porn magazine he still had, and it definitely hadn't been the worst.

He decided to take better care in the future. Actually be tidy. And get rid of those magazines, just in case.

A few weeks later, a girl named Jenny, after an all-too-similar incident, would pick up a magazine that definitely didn't make him look any better.

Marc decided to take better care in the future. Again.

I don't know when I wrote this, to be honest, but it was a very long time ago. Due to the whole COVID-19 situation I've got a lot of time on my hands, due to working from home and having not a lot of social out-of-house things, and this story came up in my mind recently.

So I rewrote it, 10+ years after it was originally written, and I'm considering going through other old stories and doing the same. Let's see what happens!