Cleanness by Garth Greenwell Read Online (FREE)
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We had agreed to meet at the fountain in front of the McDonald’s in Slaveykov Square. By my American standards G. was late, and as I waited for him I browsed the book stalls the square is famous for, their wares piled high under awnings in front of the city library. Really it wasn’t a fountain anymore, it had been shuttered for years, since faulty wiring stopped a man’s heart one summer as he dipped his fingers into the cool water there. It was December now, though winter hadn’t yet really taken hold; the sun was out and the weather was mild, it wasn’t unpleasant to stand for a bit and browse the books on display. From the beginning of the year G. had caught my attention, at first simply because he was beautiful, and then for the special quality of friendship I thought I saw between him and another boy in my class, the intensity with which G. sought him out and the privacy he drew about them. It was familiar to me, that intensity, a story from my own adolescence, as was the basking ambivalence with which the other boy received it, how he both invited it and held it off. I had some idea, then, what we would talk about, and why school didn’t offer enough secrecy for us to talk about it there, but I was still curious: he wasn’t a student I was particularly close to, he didn’t stop by my room outside of class, he had never confided in me or sought me out, and I wondered what crisis was bringing him to me now.
I was getting annoyed with the booksellers who, sensing my foreignness, kept directing me to their piles of battered American paperbacks, and as G. continued not to appear I wondered if my sacrificed afternoon would go to waste. But then he did appear, standing beside me suddenly, and my annoyance dissolved at the sight of him. He stood out here, with his slightly formal clothes, his feathered hair, though in the States he would have been generic enough, an East Coast aspirant prep school kid, maybe not quite the real thing, especially if he smiled too broadly (as he was careful almost never to do) and revealed a lower set of teeth in un-American disarray. He was friendly enough in greeting me, but as always there was something reserved about him, as if he were deciding whether or not to pronounce a judgment he was on the point of making. He asked me where we should go only to dismiss all my proposals, saying he would take me to a favorite place of his own, and then he set off, walking not beside but in front of me, preventing conversation and as if he were ready to deny any association with me at all. I was hardly a newcomer, I had lived in Sofia for two years, but I had remained a kind of dilettante of the city, and soon—though the center is small and we hadn’t gone far from Slaveykov and Graf Ignatiev, the part of it I knew best—I had no idea where we were. My ignorance wasn’t for lack of trying: for months after I arrived, I came to the center every morning I could, walking the streets as the city woke up and returning to mark off my route on a map pinned to the wall. And yet those same streets, even a short time later, seemed almost entirely unfamiliar; I could never understand how they fit together, and only the stray detail (an old cornice carving, an oddly painted façade) reminded me I had passed that way before. Walking behind G., as always when I was with someone born in Sofia, I had a sense of the city opening itself up, the monolithic blank concrete of the Soviet-style apartment blocks giving way to unsuspected courtyards and cafés and paths through overgrown little parks. As we entered these spaces, which were quieter and less traveled than the boulevards, G. slowed his pace, allowing me to come up beside him, and we walked in a more companionable way, though still without speaking.