Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Still Life As Meatloaf :: A Short Story

For close to two months, I've been offering bits of advice about writing. One thing I tend to preach often is the benefit of reading stuff you might normally not read. So, at the risk of using this blog as an ego-stroker, I'll give you something new to read right here. It's a short story of mine. Hopefully, it'll spark something in your own writing.

Still Life as Meatloaf

She stands by the dryer folding laundry. They were supposed to be home an hour and a half ago. Her husband and their four-year-old daughter had taken his older kids back to their mother’s house. She wonders if they were in an accident, then folds the same towel for the third time.

She’d seen an accident once. It was in June a few years back. Eighty-nine degrees. Armpit humid. In five-o-clock rush hour, a red ragtop Camero touched the middle embankment, overcorrected, and started flipping. The driver was flung from the car and bounced along the concrete, leaving purple slugs of headmeat strung along the expressway. He was dead before the car finally came to a stop. Upside down. Power wheel still spinning.

She hopes that if they were in an accident, it would be like that—fast, if not magnificent.

She’s never planned a funeral before. I wouldn’t even know where to bury them, much less how. What’s the turnaround time on the life insurance, she wonders. She would have to ask his parents what to do. She folds the same towel for the fourth time.

She can see the minivan, crushed like a tuna fish can, with blood on the steering wheel and their daughter’s lifeless little body suspended upside down, still strapped in the booster seat, her broken neck leaving her head limp and her ponytails reaching for the ground.

She grabs the phone and calls again, pushing the numbers harder than the last time she called. What am I going to do, she thinks as she gets his voice mail. She doesn’t leave a message.

Where would I go, she thinks. Her eyes get wet, get swollen. I can’t stay here, I don’t even like it here. I only came here because he wanted to. I’d have to sell the house and go somewhere—somewhere far away. She sets the phone down and goes back to folding the towels. I’d have to start over with nothing. I’d have to go back to school for something, get a degree, get a job. The life insurance could only go so far.

She walks into the kitchen and begins deliberately preparing dinner for three, grabbing some potatoes from under the counter and tossing them into the sink. She pulls a knife from the drawer and begins cubing the potatoes for boiling.

I always wanted to teach. Maybe that’s what I could do. Maybe I could go back and get my certification and teach. It’s what I was going to do anyway. Yeah, something like fourth grade would be good for me. Dammit, when are they going to get here?

In one clean motion, she slices her left index finger lengthwise, opening the skin and releasing a long, clean rush of blood. It comes fast and dark. She turns on the sink and puts her hands under the tap, cleaning and examining the cut. She wraps some paper towels around it and thinks it will need stitches.

The refrigerator is virgin white and she tries not to get blood on it as she pulls out the ground chuck, eggs, and ketchup. From the cupboard she gets the breadcrumbs. With all of the ingredients in the mixing bowl, she tries to figure how to mix up this mess by herself.

She removes the bloodied paper towels.

The cut bleeds more as a thin flap of skin hangs down, almost refusing to be a part of the finger any longer. She stares at the finger, wounded and bleeding, but still functional. Then she slips both hands into the mixing bowl, squishing the soon-to-be meatloaf between all of her fingers. She squeezes hard and watches the blob slip from her hands as the ingredients bind together, becoming one. The breadcrumbs cling to her wound, forming a dark pink paste that she rubs back into the bowl with her other index finger, letting it sit on top of the mashed up meatpile.

Finished, she rinses her hands in the sink again and rewraps the finger. One-handing the pile into the loaf pan is remarkably easy. To the oven it goes.

It is their dinner. Their sustenance.

She hears the front door open. It is her husband and daughter. Her little girl runs to her to be picked up. She does so, wincing.

“What happened to your finger,” he asks.

“I just cut it making dinner. Where were you?”

“We got stuck in traffic, some chemical truck on its side. They routed all four lanes over to the left. It took forever.”

“Why didn’t you call? I was worried sick.”

“The battery died on the cell, and the charger is in your car. I’m sorry you were worried.”

“Forget about it,” she says and kisses her daughter on the cheek before setting her down.

“What’s for dinner, muhmuh?”

“Meatloaf.”

“Yummy, my favorite.”

“Well it won’t be ready for a little while so you can go play until then.”

“Okay.” And she scampers off.

He steps up to her and hugs her. She pulls him so close, almost violently; she can feel the pressure rush to her finger. The paper towel becomes soaked.

“Whoa,” he says. “What’s that all about?”

Her eyes fill up. “I’m just really glad to see you.”

“Well I’m really glad to see you, too. I gotta admit, though, I don’t like the look of that finger.”

“It’ll be okay,” she says. “You know I’m a quick healer.”

“If you say so.”

She tosses him a potato.

“Why don’t you make yourself useful and help me cut up these potatoes.”

He grins.

Oblivious.

“You got it, baby.”

9 comments:

Patricia Singleton said...

Get story. Been there, done that. Why do we do this to ourselves with worry? I decided a long time ago to not worry. Sometimes, I forget and do it anyway. Your description is really good. It could be a very real picture out of my life as a young wife and mother.

About 25 years ago, my husband went out to run his 2 mile block near our house. I got busy with the kids and 2 hours went by before I realized he wasn't back from his 20 minute run. Then I started worrying. For 30 more minutes, I spent every minute imagining him laying on the side of the road from a hit and run car accident. When he came walking in the door, I angrily demanded where he had been. The radio station was sponsoring a treasure hunt just down the street from our house. He stopped to look for treasure with a crowd of people and forgot about the time. I was so angry, I could have hit him. Instead, I went in the bedroom and slammed the door. He came into the bedroom wanting to know what was wrong. Instead of killing him which I would have loved to do by that time, I picked up a shoe and threw at him and told him to get out of the room and leave me alone until I cooled down. Smart man, left the room. That is one of the few times that I have given my temper full reign.

Patricia Singleton said...

That should read great story, not get story.

Jim Moon said...

Geoff, Great story.

Who of us have not been in that exact situation? Many times delving into our own psyche, and envisioning a worst case situation of any scenario.

The mind is a powerful instrument, and can trick you into believing anything that could be conjured up which lives within our “Bank of Fear”.

Your story did an excellent job with showcasing exactly what type of irationalizations can come true when our mind runs away and gets the best of us within any situation.

I especially can identify how her irrational and worrisome thoughts covered all aspects of the “Loop of fear”, needing to start over from nothing, “What would happen to her, how would she be taken care of?”

Your Verbal and Visible minds eye view of the use of the repetitive folding of towels, I can clearly identify with.

My hang up during nervous/stressful times such as these, once my worrisome psyche has kicked in, is obsessive cleaning. This is just our minds way of taking over to try and cover the angst we feel inside.

I have found my self within this exact thought pattern before, and have envisioned the worst, never having any of my worrisome fears come true, thankfully.

The unfortunate, but truly sad reality of this story is there are people who actually have this type of mental sickness, and feel these fears 100% of the time, and cannot stop them. I could not image the hell they go through on a daily basis.

As I said before, Great Story, Great Writing,

Keep writing em brother.

Sincerely,

Jim Moon

N A Z M I E S K I said...

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