The grate in question was over the ceiling fan in her powder room, and it did have a fine coating of black residue between its tines. I hadn't noticed, naturally, being a man. We guys have a special lens in our eyes that enables us to completely block out views of crud we don't want to clean up immediately or maybe ever. It's why the garage looks the way it does. If my Significant Other hadn't pointed the black stuff out to me, I would probably not have noticed it until the grate sprouted black crud tentacles long enough to audition for a role in the next production of Pirates of the Caribbean.
My S.O. wouldn't let me get away with that, of course. Her powder room is spotlessly clean. It is to mine what a bubble-boy bubble chamber in a university hospital is to a beer hall men's room on a weekend night, in terms of number and variety of festering microorganisms. It is also kept relatively smell-free by a match-fan-candle ritual after every use which might result in lingering odor, a ceremony which is rigidly insisted upon by the house's mistress.
So the black fur hanging from the grate had to go. I wrestled the plastic grid out of the ceiling, to discover that the fan behind it was even more thickly coated with the nauseating substance. This was the darkest of dark matter. If 90% of the universe is composed of this stuff, as some astrophysicists have proposed, it is a much yuckier universe than most of us would like to believe.
The black crumbs were so oily. Where could so much grease have come from? I resolved silently to quit eating fried foods. Then I realized it was the wax from the candle, burnt after every flush to placate the gods of animal smells, which was re-congealing on the fan. But what else was clinging to the wax? Olfactory evidence of digestion, no doubt. The particles that carry the smell of bodily processes to the nose, glued there to the machinery of the fan.
I cleaned out that grate and fan with gloves on. When I had finally purified it, I put the grate back on the fan and worked it back into the hole in the ceiling. It was then that I noticed that the fan was not vented in any way. A bathroom with a shower couldn't be built like that; you can't just vent water vapor into the floorboards above. But your personal steam is not going to rot wood, as proud as you might be proud of its quantity and pungency. So the home's builder saved a few bucks by installing a fan that when turned on, ventilates nowhere. It only makes a comforting noise while it forms a vortex of stench which slowly rotates in a warm typhoon around the fannee. The dark stuff cakes on the grate because it has no where else to go. No doubt minute particles of it break off from time to time and rain silently on the bath's occupant, like dead microorganisms in a fossil sea, filtering filthily from above.
My S.O's place is at least thirty years old. The builder is long gone. I silently cursed his memory.
"Are you done?" came the question.
"Is it working?" was the follow-up, delivered in that I'm-prepared-to-be-exasperated tone that we guys always hear if even just once we promised to fix something and broke it permanently and expensively instead.
"As well as it always has," I said truthfully. Spare her the details. Squash the urge to say "You know you've been sitting in a whirlpool of stinky ever since you moved in here?"
I'll at least wait until she's using the powder room to tell her that.
That way, she won't hear me over the fan.