BY SIERRA ELIZABETH FLACH
James and I are very happy together. I squeeze his hand tightly. It feels so cool compared to my own sweaty palms. Ladies don’t sweat so I wipe them on my dress and hope James doesn’t notice. I straighten my starched white collar and fix the loose black bow hanging around my neck. Sitting upon the embroidered sofa there is a noticeably uncomfortable silence that hangs over the room, thicker than the dust illuminated by the thin rays of light escaping through the dark blue satin blinds. I walk over to the record player. My little black shoes pad softly on the reds and blues of the Persian rugs overlapping the dark chestnut floor.
The record is smooth and shiny and I hold it between my two palms. Drop the needle. The Bright Eyes song “Laura Laurent” comes on quietly. The violins and xylophone echo through the quiet parlor. Oberst sings,
Laura, are you still livin’ there on your estate of sorrow?
I drop my head side to side and sway with the slow, soothing melodies. A low, irritating buzzing interrupts the music. Returning to the small table, I shoo away a few lumbering flies from the delectables sitting untouched on the table. They swoop in semi-circles around the un-illuminated lampshades and faded patterns on the furniture. They follow the elaborately patterned wallpaper that, when you close, is weaving designs of fountains and mirrors and little fat cherubs flying around naked and boundless. They are trapped on the walls with sad picture frames of James and I when we were first married. James always said the cherubs were creepy and he wanted to change the wallpaper. I loved them so it stayed. We are very happy together. The song continued,
You used to leave it occasionally, but now you don’t even bother.
Back to my delectables. Beautiful sweet tarts baked to perfection with little granules of sugar coating them and red pie filling oozing out at the corners. James’ favorite. Little sandwiches that fit between two fingers but contain so much turkey, cheese, red jelly, and lettuce. They are cut into small triangles, without the crust of course. They’re James’ favorite. Tangy angeled eggs bright yellow with red powder sprinkled on top so carefully. Sweet lavender tea cake with three pieces cut away laying beside the round hunk of moist light pink deliciousness frosted perfectly, evenly with white buttercream frosting. The trick is fresh buttermilk and something else secret, but don’t tell James because that’s his favorite. It’ll spoil the surprise.
Everything is laid out in beautiful porcelain dishes which normally sparkle more but are sort of dull in this late afternoon light. Perhaps, I’ll open the curtains. I walk past the dusty bookshelves.
My eyes seem to follow you…
There are more spider families than I remember. I must remember to dust more. How could James love a woman who doesn’t dust? I run my index finger along the bookshelf and pick up a thick layer of dust. It looks like the fancy powdered sugar I got at the Mercantile that said, “imported from France” on the tin. I place my finger in my mouth and suck the dust off my finger. It tastes filthy like a sort of eldritch candy. I loved it.
Like a hated addiction.
When I get to the window I place my hands on the rough cedar windowsill. James was supposed to sand this down. Through the window I see some of the neighbors walking slowly down the sidewalk. They spin and turn and clip the hedges in some automated suburban dance. There are Elly and Thomas Cardigan sitting enjoying lemonade in crystal glasses watching their children draw chalk etchings on the cool concrete sidewalk. The clouds cast shadows as the sun descends behind the trees and Thomas leans over to kiss Elly on the forehead. I feel a sudden, sharp pain.
The beauty carved out of absolutes, you could never claim…
I draw my hand away from the windowsill to find a splinter in my finger. I must have been holding too tightly. I look again, frustrated at the happy couple. But then again, James and I are happy. Yes, we are very happy
…or even envision.
I spin around and lean on the window sill, and observe James sitting on the couch. He hasn’t touched his food. I go over swiftly, daintily, showing off my beautiful blue morning dress. It’s soft and elegant with a black bow that ties around the neck. My tights are also perfectly white and my shoes make my feet look smaller. I made sure of all of this when I laid out my outfit that every piece of it would look neat and charming.
Laura, you were the saddest song in the shape of a woman,
I pick up the crystal pitcher and pour myself a glass of the pink lemonade as I stand in the middle of the rug. I relish every sip. It’s James’ favorite and the secret ingredient is very apparent in the lemonade. I tip back the glass and drain the contents. I let the glass fall out of my hand onto the carpet and I lean my head back with eyes closed feeling every word that’s sung.
Yea, I thought you were beautiful…
I twirled around so James could see in its entirety. Do you like it? I asked him. I could tell by his eyes that he was in wonder. I laughed adorably and leaned over to kiss his lips. It feels a little strange. I kiss his forehead. “Oh, James”, I say. I sit down beside him and we hold hands. “Well if you won’t eat your tart, I will”. It’s made with only the best ingredients. I ate three tarts before I decided another would be unladylike. They were delicious with cherries, sugars, sweet light crust, and another special ingredient. They are James’ favorite.
…but I wept with your movements.
I notice the flies have made themselves at home in the sandwiches and the deviled eggs looks soggy and sweaty in this humid room. I would open a window if I could stand the loud, belligerent neighbors, the Cardigan’s are the worst of them. Constantly chattering and…and cursing. They are such horrid people. But the eggs, they look so sad and weepy. The egg yellow and red powder have melted into each other and seeped onto my grandmother’s china plate. I feel the sweating pitcher of sparkling lemonade. It’s warm. Perhaps I was standing at the window longer than I thought? Or perhaps it’s this sweltering heat.
But I hope that you’re laughin’ now from that place on the carpet…
I sit down on the love seat perpendicular to James’ couch and feel my forehead. It is a little warm in here. I would open the windows if I wasn’t worrying about the Cardigans minding there own business. What would they think? I laugh out loud rubbing the blue and cream striped cushions next to me with my flat palms. The waning evening light casts shadows but I can still see the bright red stains on the sofa. I’ll have to flip those upside down for now. I hear a fly buzzing maddeningly in my ear and swat at it. It’s the angeled eggs. I’ll bring them to the kitchen.
Oh, how she would worry so, you know I was just a stranger…
As I pick up the egg tray there is a knock on the door. Jesus Christ, who could that be? I walk slowly, but with good posture as always and make sure to wipe my hands. In the peephole I see it’s goddamn Mrs. Cardigan. I crack the door.
“Hello, Mrs. Cardigan, so wonderful to see you.” I said politely.
“Hello, dear, is everything okay? We haven’t seen much of you or…or James in a few days.”
“Oh, sure just busy! Busy doing some spring cleaning. The house is a wreck so not many visitors until it’s tidy. You know how good of a homemaker I am,” I explained.
“It’s October.” she said so stupidly. Her rudeness shocked me so much that it took me a few seconds to collect myself and reply,
“Excuse me?” I asked.
“You said you were spring cleaning. Dear, it’s October,” the witch yelled at me.
*Muffled* But she asked me to care for you, yes she did…
“Well, it’s almost dinner time so I’ve got to fix James supper. You know, I’m fixing his favorite tonight…”
“How are you and James? Thomas said he didn’t show up for work on Wednesday,?” ill-mannered Mrs. Cardigan interrupted me so impolitely.
“Well like they say ‘Wednesdays are for work but Sundays are for lovers’. So if you’ll excuse me…” I tried to shut the door, but Mrs. Cardigan threw herself into the doorway.
“May I come in for a moment?” she screamed at me.
I told her as politely as I could, “Mrs. Cardigan, you would do well to not interfere with mine or my husbands affairs. I suggest you get your nose out of my business and put it back where it belongs if you don’t want to end up like that slut friend of James’.”
Mrs. Cardigan began, “Do you know anything about that? No one has seen her since she left her job at the library. Have you seen Suzanne…”
I slammed the door in her face and locked it. She knocked and yelled for a while before she left. What a horrible woman.
…And I went and betrayed her
I say to James, “I’ll be right back, darling.” and pick up the tray covered in festering flies. They’ve made their home in the bright yellow melting mayonnaise. I lean over to kiss him on the forehead and he slumps over to his side. I roll my eyes at him. What a bum. But I love him. Yes, I do. And I walk into the kitchen with the dripping tray of rotting delectables. It smells a little stale in the kitchen. I open the garbage to dump the old food in and a huge amount of flies and maggots turn and wriggle and fly up at me. I dump in on top of them and this causes a ruckus of buzzing and creeping.
Do you know we’re in high demand?
I go to place the tray in the sink and remember the clothes I have draining in there. An ugly blue polo shirt that reads “Carnegie Heights Public Library” is soaking in some stagnant crimson water. I sigh and lift it up with tongs letting all the bloody water run down the sink. The water swirled and drained from the yellow sink like some sort of sick baptism. It was beautiful. I don’t understand how James could ever carouse with such a boring creature. I am prettier. I cook better. I keep a better house. All Suzanne did was read stuffy books and say long ugly words and act superciliously. But James. Oh, James was taken in by it.
Laura us people who suffer…
I think of them together, laughing and using words I didn’t understand and talking about socialism and South African apartheid. I wipe a hot tear before it could stream past my nose.
Because we don’t take to arguing…
Well, I don’t have to worry about that anymore. I smile.
…and we’re quick to surrender.
Well, maybe I couldn’t compete with her intellect. But I’ve never really been one to argue anyway. I prefer…other measures. More ladylike measures. I take out a bowl from the rickety chestnut cabinet. The hinge needs to be greased. I’ll have James do it. In the meantime, I think I’ll whip up James favorite: French Meringue, of course, with my secret ingredient.
I think I would call tonight, if I still had your number…
There is an incessant ringing as I mix together the egg whites and sugar. Mrs. Cardigan comes on leaving messages. I take the meat mallet from the counter, I used it earlier for tenderizing meat, and my hand sticks to it. I raise it above my head and smash the answering machine. Finally there is silence aside from the soft music drifting in from the other room.
Your thoughts have always laid close to mine…
I open the fridge. Not much left of the torso. The fingers are all but useless, goddamn Suzanne and her manicures. There’s a bag of something neatly placed in a Ziploc back in the salad crisper, I think it was the liver. It only takes a pinch to turn my snow white meringue into a beautiful shade of bright pink. It looks like a winter sunrise sky. It mixes into the meringue so softly and so delicately and so gracefully it makes me want to cry. I pour it into a crystal bowl.
We were both skippin’ supper.
“Time for dessert, James!”
I light a candle and pick him up from his slump and sit facing him on his lap. He won’t really cooperate. Shifting stiffly from side to side as I try to feed him the meringue.
“I made this for you!” I tease, “It’s your favorite!”
I hold his mouth open and shovel the meringue in. It dribbles down the sides of his mouth. I take a spoonful. I eat it slowly. It’s delicious. I enjoy every second. James won’t swallow the meringue. How ungrateful. I jump up off the couch.
“You’re so ungrateful! You always were.”
There are sirens in the distance.
I turn around and hold my head. I feel a migraine coming on. I walk over to the record player and turn it up blindingly loud.
But you should never be embarrassed by, your trouble with livin’
I sway back and forth to the music. It crackles from the speakers and vibrates the floor with the slide guitar. The sun has set and shadows from the candles dance on the wall.
Cause it’s the ones with the sorest throats, Laura, who have done the most singing.
The sirens are getting louder and I plug my ears. The cherubs on the walls are staring at me. They are everywhere. The room is so hot and my head is spinning. The floor feels like it’s falling beneath me.
As the song played out,
La la la la la la
I spin around to balance myself and throw the meringue at the freakish cherubs all laughing and making fun of me. The crystal shatters. I try to pull the wallpaper down from the loose corners. It just tears away about halfway down. I throw it in desperation and the fall onto the table with all the old delectables from earlier. There is red jellies, fillings, and meringue everywhere. It all smells rotten. It stinks to high heaven and my house is a wreck. My clothes are filthy and I can do nothing but crawl into James’ arms.
Oh, La la la la la la
I hold around his neck, but he doesn’t hold me back.
La la la la.
Through my tearful eyelashes I can see bright lights flashing in the window. I hide my face in James’ shirt, but he’s cold. He’s cold and he doesn’t love me back. The blue and red and white lights bounce all over the room and reflects off the broken crystal shards. The lights are beautiful, but sad like the day after Christmas. Somebody’s knocking on the door and I shut my eyes.
That was really great!