It had been her idea—something she'd heard on one of the podcasts she listened to at the gym. When he wanted to drop a few pounds, he ran to and around Audubon Park or up on the levee, even in July, and listened to music. But she went to a gym and used its machines while listening to people talk instead of sing. And after one such workout, she'd gone to the store and purchased glass bottles of vinegar, cardboard boxes of washing soda, drawstring bags made of muslin. She poured the Windex and Pledge down the drain, threw their bottles in the blue bin. "Just this one last time," she said with her I-mean-it look, which sometimes did and sometimes didn't mean that she did mean it.
Unlike the time she'd brought home quilting supplies, including dozens of bolts of new fabric that had eventually gone to Goodwill, and unlike the assorted pieces of workout equipment that had gone from living room to backroom to shed to curb (the machines at the gym were better, after all), this project had stuck. Hanging sheets on the line in New Orleans was not the same as hanging sheets in the less humid places lived in by the people whose treatises she read on her phone, but hang them she did. Sometimes they just slept on the bare mattress if an afternoon rain arrived unexpectedly—not that rain wasn't expected most afternoons.
Unlike those other times, with the quilting supplies and the Abdominizer, he didn't just go along. (He'd always gone along, always smiled and said "Great idea" or at least "Sure, we can afford it if we cut back a little elsewhere.") No, this time he joined in all the way, because he enjoyed turning the compost pile, liked the flavor of homemade jam, thought she looked better without the makeup. He knew that for her it wasn't as much about love of the earth or a desire to relish simple pleasures as it was about control streaked with a hypochondria that transferred from germs to chemicals.
As she fashioned homemade laundry pods and melted beeswax into shea butter, he retreated to his studio. (She'd finally given up the shed in exchange for getting his materials out of their increasingly minimalist house. "It's not a tiny house," he told her after seeing something she'd posted—another reason not to log on. "It's always been a small house.")
He no longer popped open fresh tubes of paint and mixed their pigments across virgin canvas. And her obsessions had been good for his career. "Found materials," he typed into his artist's statements. "Refuse/refuse," he wrote on title cards, numbering them higher and higher as the gallery owners and ultimately even their customers gobbled his works like the greedy consumers she'd said we all were but shouldn't be.
Now he could turn down shows, some of them, and did so as he worked on just one new piece—an enormous female nude made from nothing store bought. His rules were strict, his definition of local confined to the garbage cans and gutters of the Lower Quarter. Nothing near Canal or even past the Cathedral. Nothing from the Bywater, which would have been too easy given all the remodels.
When she found an empty tube of epoxy in their garbage can, she didn't believe him when he told her it had fallen off a truck that hit a pothole on Decatur. But he no longer cared. Let her recycle her boxes in some other part of town, he thought as he stained the lips of the Trash Madonna with a dye made from French Market strawberries and again when he secured the aluminum plates of her breasts with repurposed nails. Let her take away her thrift-store chic and leave him with a woman who needs no clothes at all, who requires no soap, who doesn't even kill microorganisms because she doesn't breathe air.