This story is by K.T.Torian and was part of our 2018 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I sprawled out on the living room floor, my eyelids closed, covered with turquoise eye shadow, and my hair matted against the side of my head. Plastic containers of all shapes, colors, and sizes were scattered around me. My legs twitched in pain. They were bent like open safety pins.
Quick, shallow breaths escaped my lungs. My strength had been sucked out like water drained from a bathtub.
Our pet parrot, Juicy Fruit squawked, “Ruby, Hello, Ruby, Hello!”
Move, Ruby. Try and stand up.
I had nineteen hours left to prepare for my first Donna DeWitt’s Snap ’em and Trap ’em plastic food container party. Snap ’em and Trap ’em were guaranteed to save food for three months or until it turned brown.
After rolling over on a spatula, I crawled to the sofa table and reached for my Lucky Strike cigarettes. I can’t smoke in the house; the containers will turn yellow. It says that right there on the Snap ’em and Trap ’em label.
I scanned the sallow, cracked plastic covering the front room furniture that had suffered from my years of smoking. I was not even sure of the cushion colors on the couch anymore. I could just make out a plaid pattern. Covers were only removed on special occasions at the insistence of Mr. Wonderful. I couldn’t remember the last time we had a special occasion. I think it was Thanksgiving when his mother gave me a lesson on the importance of properly maintaining front room furniture.
The covers were coming off tomorrow.
I grumbled and stuffed the pack of cigarettes into my sagging pocket. Heaven forbid I should screw up. Julia Armstrong, the DeWitt Queen of Sales, would pull my license in a heartbeat. It had taken me eight months to receive my Snap ’em license. I wasn’t about to let Her Royal Highness snatch it away from me.
I hoisted my body upward as the ottoman supported me. The sweat slid down my face like a tropical rain. The mu mu I wore clung to me and made strange sucking sounds with each step that I took across the lime green shag carpet.
I plodded into the kitchen, a safe distance from the containers, and pulled out my pack of cigarettes. The crinkle of the cellophane wrapper made my mouth go into some kind of narcotic, pre-game entertainment. I tapped the pack and out popped my little life-robbing friend. I flipped open the Dante’s Inferno Bar matchbook with my thumb. The cigarette dangled from my cracked lips. It waited to be fired up. The smell filled my flared nostrils. “Ahhhh.” I released my breath as if having a major orgasm. When was the last time I experienced one of those?
It was now six o’clock. The front door opened and slammed shut. I froze, my cigarette suspended in mid-air.
“Mr. Wonderful’s home, Mr. Wonderful’s home.” Juicy Fruit squawked. I could hear him flapping his wings as he flew back into his cage, latched the gate, and started flinging seed into the air.
Burt was home “Piss ants.” I exhaled.
I headed for the porch leading down to the backyard and pushed the screen door open. Before it closed, my mu mu caught on something. I yanked the material out, but a piece of ripped cotton dangled from a rusted nail. Trying to calm my shaking hands, I took a couple more puffs from my cigarette and flicked the butt into Burt’s beloved flower bed.
“Damn you Ruby!” he yelled. “I told you not to smoke those nasty things anymore. The house stinks now. Trying to kill me with that second-hand smoke?”
Plastic containers crashed against the walls. All my hard work would now look like a poorly kept graveyard. I heard his heavy work boots march in my direction as his metal lunch box hit the tiled kitchen counter. He shoved the screen door open, forcing me back down the stairs. I took in his blotchy red face before his hand raised, and I braced myself as I felt the first sharp sting across my face. I stumbled backward and landed flat on my ass right in the middle of his tulip bed. Oh, there will be hell to pay. I can see it in his unblinking, flat brown eyes.
I put my hand on my cheek and hoped the slap wouldn’t leave a mark. How will I explain that bruise to the Snap ’em girls tomorrow?
He stomped down the stairs and passed me with his stiff, righteous posture, kicking my right leg. His armpits were stained with sweat and he had a body odor that could wilt his lavender plants.
His distorted face glared down at me. “Look what you’ve done to my prize tulips! I was supposed to take these to the club next week for the annual contest. I’ve had it with you, Ruby.”
I did my best to try and hold onto the small amount of dignity I had left. I struggled to stand up and straighten my spine, which sent a sharp pain down my right side.
“You’re not having those whiney women in this house with your ridiculous display of plastic! If you’d checked with me first, I would have told you no. Now look at the situation you’ve created. You never listen,” Burt roared. “You know what to do, now go get it.”
I deliberately took my time mounting the stairs and revisited the kitchen. I became light-headed and my hand shook as I grabbed the knob on the junk drawer. When I pulled it open, I noticed the smell of yellowing tape, old gloves, and stale gum. My hand traversed to the back, skimming the stiff bristles of a hair brush, a lint roller, and a wooden ruler. I wrapped my fingers around a solid object and glided it over the weapons of the past. The brush was the most painful. I slid it into my pocket next to my cigarettes.
I returned to the back door and my hand hesitated on the handle. I watched Burt outside, anticipating my return. His arms were folded across his chest, expecting me to hand him his weapon of choice. I bet he’s thinking, did she pick the brush or the wooden ruler?
“Well Ruby, get out here and give it to me.” He stood at the bottom of the stairs with that smug, superior look on his face.
I smiled and pushed the screen open slowly with my index finger. On the top step, I spread my feet apart and took a solid stance. I brought my weapon of choice out of my pocket and did exactly what Burt had asked me to do. Give it to him. I shot him right in the middle of his Widow’s Peak forehead. He dropped backward, taking out the other half of his prized tulips.
I waited for a moment. “Hey Burt, are you gone yet?”
He looked dead. His eyes were open, unblinking.
“Now,” I said, “there will be no more talk about whether I’m giving a Snap ’em and Trap ’em party, Mr. Wonderful.”
I smoothed out the front of my mu mu, strolled back into the kitchen, tapped out a Lucky Strike, and lit up.