The Cleaner

It was what she’d wanted to do for years

J.A. Taylor


Image by J.A. Taylor on Instagram.

Leena wasn’t the type of woman who took any shit; she was the type who cleaned it up.

She had a job doing just that when she was in high school, back when she would have done just about anything to earn twenty bucks. Two hours cleaning the toilets at the station earned her a jackson she stretched to last a week. It wasn’t a difficult stretch when gas was ninety-six cents a gallon. The first ten dollars filled up her manual transmission Corolla, the next three bought her a meal at McDonald’s, and the following four took her to a movie with Ian and Charlie. Any left over was usually enough to buy the three of them each an ice cream.

But now, almost three decades later, Leena still spent her days in high school, teaching math at Eastridge High. She often looked at the kids in her class and thought about Charlie. He was still out there every night, killing it. Literally. Decades ago when the three of them had stumbled upon the Sparkstone, it changed everything. All of Charlie’s rage mixed with that newfound power convinced him he owed the world something. Justice was a strong word for what he did now, but it certainly wasn’t vengeance. Retribution, maybe? Ian hadn’t been much different, just more vocal and prideful about it. Leena, however, took a more dignified approach to helping humanity: Attempting to infuse obtuse seniors with the sharpness of arithmetic.

“You faggot!” a boy yelled out, digging a spitball out of his ear.

“Gavin,” Leena huffed. “What’s the problem?”

“I think Jason is attracted to me,” Gavin said with a sly grin. “And frankly, it’s getting annoying.”

“Shut up, dickweed,” Jason snapped.

“You know you want some,” Gavin said, grabbing his crotch and jiggling it.

“Enough!” Leena shouted. She thought of Charlie again. He was probably just waking up, getting ready to microwave a Hungry Man dinner, pull his armor on, and hit the streets. A tingle ran down her arm and she thought about leaving it all — the kids, the school, the job — and go join him. Even just for one night. About once a year, he’d try to convince her to leave her job and fight with him. Last time he pushed, she staunchly refused. He’d been unfair, using…