Morning Ritual; Laundry
She wakes before the alarm rings and knows he is still there. At least she thinks it’s a he. She’d assumed so because of the weight pressing upon her while she slept—or tried to—and the stale breath that made her want to hold her own.
She reaches for the bedside lamp, but thinks better of it. Counting to three, she whips back the covers and makes for the bathroom. It takes a moment for her eyes to adjust. The face emerges slowly over her right shoulder. Grey skin. Stringy black hair. A pale reflection in the mirror. It floats closer, the rank breath hot upon her neck. She leans forward, touches the spot where the face is reflected, cups it as if fixing it in place. The face is blank.
She runs to the kitchen and pulls a steak knife from the rack, then returns to the bathroom. She presses the knife’s point against the mirror, scratches lines into the glass: eyes, a nose, a mouth. Still, the face hovers before her. Behind her. She’s no longer sure. The thought crosses her mind that it is her face.
She jabs the knife at the mirror. It shatters, shards streaming down about her. A jagged edge cuts her wrist. Blood drips onto her leg, her foot. She nearly faints but holds onto the towel rack. She opens the shower curtain and turns on the water. Steam rises like breath. She steps into the bathtub, closes the curtain and lets the hot water pound against her. Blood swirls down the drain. She feels lighter, as if she’s rid herself of an illness or a bad dream. The steam rises about her, and she waits, bent beneath the water. The face takes shape, pushing against the opaque plastic. The water beats upon her, swirling down the drain. She is almost sure she sees her own face in the water, but just as quickly it’s gone. Steam enshrouds her until her arms and legs appear detached from her body. A hand reaches for the curtain. She’s no longer sure it’s her own.
That evening at the Laundromat, as Robin folded her clothes, a tiny creature fell from her mouth and onto the silk blouse she’d pressed with such care. She covered her mouth with both hands and bent over the basket to get a better look. When it tried to climb out, she threw a sheet over the top, grabbed the basket, and hurried out the door.
She put the basket in the trunk and drove home. When she opened the trunk, the creature was still in the basket, throwing up all over her silk blouse. Probably motion sick.
She placed the basket on her kitchen counter, then locked her cat in the bedroom. When she returned, the creature stood naked on the granite countertop. She tried to determine if it was a boy or girl, but couldn’t tell. The closer she looked, the more that area seemed to blur.
“Can you speak?” she asked.
The creature moved toward the wooden fruit bowl, wedged its shoulder against it.
“What do you want?” she asked.
It pushed the fruit bowl off, which landed with a crash, spilling bananas and grapes everywhere. The creature jumped from the counter, climbed up her leg, ripped away her red thong underwear, and tried to burrow inside her. She clamped her legs together and thumped the creature with her fist. Worried she might have killed it, she knelt to examine the thing and saw its little chest still moving. It sort of looked like her, she thought. Yes, it had her nose and even her thin lips. And its skin had her same olive complexion, though darker.
Leaving the thing unconscious on the floor, she brought an old birdcage from the garage and locked the creature inside. She took the cage to her bedroom closet and hid it behind her oriental scarf collection. Still time to rearrange the clothes in her son’s drawers. She needed to replace the lighter clothes with the winter clothes from the bins under the bed. But half way up the stairs, she stopped, went back down, took the book she’d been meaning to read from the coffee table —Wuthering Heights—and sat down on the living room sofa.
When her son came home from school, he didn’t say hello or put his shoes away or even hang his backpack on the hook by the laundry. And for once she didn’t care. Even when her husband came home around six thirty, it didn’t lower her spirit as it so often did. He gave her a peck on the cheek and went to change his clothes while she set the table for dinner.
That night, unable to sleep, she went to the closet. But when she pulled away the scarves, the creature’s dull eyes stared back at her from beneath the swing where it sat, arms folded. She covered the cage, adding two of her thickest sweaters.
In the closet under the stairs, she pulled out the easel and paint set her husband had bought her three years before. It was still sealed in the box. She set it up on the back porch and painted the brightening sky, her cat curled at her feet.
When she returned after lunch from volunteering at her son’s school, she headed through the kitchen to the porch and her paints, the smile from earlier that morning still playing about her lips. She stepped in something wet, tracking it to the back door. A butcher knife lay next to a pool of blood, a few white hairs stuck to the blade. Following the trail to the living room, she found her dead cat behind the sofa.
She checked the cage first and found the door open. She looked under each bed, behind each bookshelf, and in the pantry.
That afternoon, when her son came home and went upstairs, she was again surprised she didn’t say anything.
In bed later that night, she read until her husband dozed off, then went outside. Her paints had been emptied, the yellows, reds, and blues shot all over the bougainvillea. Her canvas slashed.
In the morning, after she’d seen her son off to school, she gathered up her books and piled them on the back porch. Then she took the easel and dumped it on top of the books. She grabbed the records she’d kept in a box in the back of the stair closet, ones she hadn’t listened to since college, and she poured them onto the pile. From the garage, she brought a can of kerosene and poured it over everything. The fire was much bigger than she’d imagined, and she worried the neighbors would call the fire department before she had a chance to do what she needed to do.
She hid behind the tomato plants and waited. When the creature came, she lunged, catching it by the feet. The thing clawed at her hand, tearing her skin. She raised the butcher knife and sliced off its head.
She dumped the creature in the trashcan next to the cat, then took off her clothes, soaked them good and long with a spot remover, and placed them in cold water in the kitchen sink. She lay naked on the couch when her son returned home.
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