I stood at the patio doors, gazing at the compost heap in the backyard and trying to ignore my husband in the kitchen, as I waited to let the dog back in. I rubbed my twitchy eyelid and took a deep breath; in through the nose, out through the mouth. This was turning out to be one heck of a day.
A few years back while on one of his trips, my husband had met someone who was passionate about composting and had returned eager to try it out for himself. I never knew what sort of hare-brained idea was going to be stuck in his head when he blew back into town. In the beginning of our marriage, that was exciting. He would fill the quiet house with his big personality and restless energy, and before I knew it I was helping him build a koi pond or shopping for four wheelers. But even back then, I had always been relieved when he packed his bag to leave again.
The truth was that I liked my peaceful, orderly life. On a typical day I would rise at seven, let the dog out and make coffee. I would eat a bowl of cereal or oatmeal while checking out the news. Then I would work all morning, reviewing the status of my clients’ accounts, shuffling money around, making phone calls. At noon, I would make myself a sandwich, usually tuna, and sit down with a book. It felt decadent to take an hour in the middle of the day to read. That was always the best part of my day.
I worked hard through the afternoons and quit sometime in the early evening. The dog and I would take a brisk walk, which was good for both of us. After a dinner consisting of a salad or a simple stir fry, I would often work some more, though I spent some evenings watching TV or reading. I was in bed before midnight each night, without fail. Even on New Year’s Eve.
I was even busier now than I had been before Coronavirus. I spent my days holding clients’ hands and listening to their problems. I cashed out accounts and shuffled investments, and helped my small business owners make hard decisions. I could have handled that added stress. Even in hard times, I loved what I did.
My husband was exposed to the virus at work, in a peripheral way, and had to self-quarantine at home for fourteen days. It was the longest stretch of time we had spent together since our honeymoon. Sometimes he would work on a tour and we wouldn’t see each other for a few months. Even when his quarantine ended, he wouldn’t be going back to work. He did logistics for big events, which was about as non-essential as you could get right now.
He had been bouncing around the house with manic energy for days now. He made noise. He created chaos. He interrupted me at least fifty-seven times each day while I was trying to concentrate on my work.
“Did you see this video…?”
“The death toll spiked again….”
“How about if we rearrange the furniture in the living room…”
“We should put in a pool. Don’t you want a pool?”
I found myself grinding my teeth, and had to wear my mouth guard during the day. I jumped at every noise. I tossed and turned at night. The eye twitch I hadn’t suffered since college came back.
I was concentrating on the rules for stimulus loans for small businesses when my husband banged my office door open. I jumped and spilled coffee over a stack of paperwork.
“I know you’re extra busy right now, so I’m going to do the laundry to save you some time,” he announced.
I felt acid eating at my stomach. “Thank you,” I said.
Five minutes later, he was back.
“How do you get barbecue sauce out of a shirt?”
Three minutes later:
“Should I use the permanent press cycle or normal? What does permanent press mean?”
Five minutes later:
“How do I change the water setting to hot?”
Two minutes later:
“Do we have any liquid fabric softener?”
I was on a video call with a client when the washer began to thump ominously. He had put in too many clothes and the load was out of balance. I waited for him to notice and deal with it. The thumping grew louder, making the wall vibrate.
“What’s that noise?” my client asked.
I had to pause the call and go shut off the washer. I would have to return to rebalance the load, and again to transfer the clothes to the dryer. I usually did laundry on the weekends so it wouldn’t interrupt my workday, but that was super helpful of my husband. I should have tracked him down and yelled at him, but I hated fighting. I would do about anything to avoid a confrontation.
At five, I called the dog for our evening walk. Normally that signal sent him tearing around the house, and I could barely get him to stand still long enough to attach his leash. Today, he was stretched out on his dog bed and barely lifted his head.
“I already walked him,” my husband called from the kitchen. He had to shout to be heard over the blaring TV. “We went about six miles. When we got back he was famished, so I fed him the rest of the meatloaf from last night.”
No doubt he would be throwing that up soon. I knelt beside the dog and gave him a gentle pat. He whined softly and his tail thumped the floor a few times. When I stood, I noticed that the little table I kept next to the front door to hold my library books was missing. No doubt, it was servicing one of my husband’s many projects.
Where were my books?
The kitchen was a disaster area. Every surface was covered with dirty dishes, opened packages and spilled flour. There were a couple of brown puddles on the floor.
“I’m making a tagine,” he said with glee. “And homemade flat bread. Do we have turmeric?”
I went to the spice rack and found the turmeric for him. Then I started loading the dishwasher.
“What does chiffonade mean?” he asked.
“You roll up the herbs and slice them into little ribbons.”
He gave me a blank look.
I sighed. “I’ll do it for you.”
My Santoku knife, which was the last gift my sister had given me before she passed, wasn’t in its case. I always washed it by hand, dried it, and returned it to the embossed case in the drawer. When it wasn’t there, I felt a little jolt of panic.
I found the knife in the bottom of the kitchen sink, under a stack of dirty, oozing dishes.
“I’m supposed to use a cast iron pan for this. Do we have one?”
I dug around in a cabinet and found the pan. Then I whacked my husband in the head with it.
His mouth dropped open and he staggered, reaching for the wound. I hit him again, harder, and he dropped to his knees. He wavered for a moment then toppled like a felled tree.
I stepped over him and shut off the stove. I couldn’t find the remote, so I unplugged the TV. The dog got unsteadily to his feet and went to the back door. I let him out, and watched as he vomited on the deck.
As I tried not to look at my husband on the kitchen floor, I rubbed my twitchy eyelid and took a deep breath; in through the nose and out through the mouth.
I could tell people that he had gotten his dream job in Texas, and that I would join him once I had gotten the house cleaned out and sold. That would give me a great excuse to clean up and get rid of his many half-finished projects. In a few months, I could announce our separation. No one would be surprised.
My husband was an independent contractor, so he didn’t have a boss to answer to. And with the Stay At Home Order, no one would miss him for weeks. Plenty of time to figure out the details.
For now, I just needed to do something with the body. I couldn’t very well leave it in the middle of the kitchen floor. There was a deep freeze in the garage, but my husband had filled it with a ridiculous amount of food just before he started his self-quarantine. If I put his body in there, what would I do with all that food?
The dog whined at the door, and I opened it to let him in. As I did, my gaze fell on the compost heap. Maybe I could make use of that after all….