Housekeeping

By Clare Castleberry

 

Margot's husband was sprawled out on the kitchen floor with a darkening halo of blood around his head, but at least he was no longer babbling for her forgiveness. Margot stepped around him carefully and poured herself a cup of fresh coffee. She ignored the stench of death that seeped up from him and focused on the rich aroma of the coffee instead.

 

Buffy the cat wailed, breaking the silence. Buffy was always crying, starved, yet fat as a tick. 

“Shut up!” Margot snapped, and Buffy slinked away under the kitchen table. Margot sat down, sipped her coffee, and looked out the window. The cat whined again and butted her head up against Margot’s foot. It was still dewy outside. Blobs of water had collected on the holly tree leaves, little orbs catching tiny rainbows. She peered through glass marked by the kids’ hands, already dreading a full day of cleaning. An attractive woman jogged past the window. She was wearing short black shorts, a pink tank top, matching tennis shoes and matching ball cap. 

 

The bitch, Margot thought, envious.

 

Margot couldn’t remember the last time she was out for a jog. After having Joyce and Jamie, she could not run without pissing herself. She looked down at the bubble of fat that now protruded from her waistline, adjusted her nightgown, and took another sip of coffee. The twins had been staying with Grandma for the past few days, which was a welcome relief from being Mommy all day. Preschool was closed due to the quarantine, and Margot had been at the end of her rope. She had called her mother and begged for her to take the twins, just for a little while, just long enough for her to work things out with her husband.

 

But now with the twins gone, she noticed an unsightly accumulation of filth all over the house. She thought about the time she found cat vomit under a table and wondered how long it had been there. She remembered when she discovered an old cheese sandwich stashed away in Joyce’s dresser drawer. And she nearly cringed when she thought about the dry, crunchy pile of some unidentified…thing under Jamie’s bed. Now that the twins were with Grandma, the house seemed somewhat clean at the end of the day, but the minute Margot woke up the next morning, it was like it was grimy all over again. 

 

Margot stared at the dirty dishes on the breakfast table and the pan on the stovetop, which had a flakey film of scrambled egg all over it. Jamie’s toy cars were scattered all over the kitchen floor, and Joyce had marked up the breakfast table with red, pink, and purple permanent markers. Again. Margot considered leaving everything the way it was, but she knew the cat would feast on the leftover scraps and vomit them up in a secret place, and she would step in it again and get pissed.

Margot stood, carried the coffee with her, and fed the cat. Started washing dishes. Flicked on the garbage disposal. It responded with an angry whiiiirrrrr, grinding up egg chunks, toast crumbs, blobs of grape jelly.

 

Margot stared at it with a detached fascination. What would happen if I just stuck my whole hand down there? The disposal was somehow more and more mesmerizing, strangely pulling her in, hypnotizing her with its powerful spinning blades and its steady, mechanical noise.

Go ahead, Margot. You can’t clean if you don’t have any hands. 

 

She swore she heard it. It had a tinny, motorized voice. Almost female. 

 

She quickly shut the disposal off. She hurriedly put the dishes in the dishwasher, started it, poured more coffee, and then drained the whole cup. She stared back at the disposal, waiting for it to kick back on involuntarily. The cat startled her by butting up against her leg and yowling for attention.

Margot looked down, and the cat’s face was smeared with red. The cat had been feasting on the corpse’s blood, and she licked it off her face like it was a rare delicacy. 

 

“Bitch!” Margot screamed, and she noted her voice sounded as if she was gargling with glass. She glared at the cat, wishing it would burst into flames. The cat glared back at her with round, astonished eyes. Margot opened the cabinet where she kept the cleaning supplies, grabbed the window cleaner, slammed the cabinet door. She squirted some of the electric blue stuff out onto a paper towel and began wiping the window. It was suddenly so much clearer now—the holly tree leaves even looked greener, and she thought of that commercial where everyone walks into the sliding glass door because they believe it’s open. But it’s not. It’s just immaculate. The window cleaner smelled different—potent and a bit chemical, yes, but… There’s something more pleasant about it. 

 

In a moment of sheer panic, she thought she may be pregnant again. Her sense of smell had nearly tripled when she was pregnant with the twins, but this wasn’t it. And she was having her period. She flipped the window cleaner bottle over.  Drink me, it said in fine print.

Margot squinted and held the bottle closer. She decided to drink more coffee, but the window cleaner smelled decadent, and she could imagine it giving her a light, refreshing and airy feeling as clear and blue as a winter sky. She opened the bottle and put just a smidgen in her coffee. Pleasant.

 

Margot poured more, and it wasn’t long before she was doing shots of window cleaner from her coffee mug. She roamed through the house and found herself in her husband’s office. The bastard. She looked again at the laptop on his desk, considered snooping through his emails again, but decided against it, afraid of finding another flirtatious email from his busty blonde co-worker. There was a plate with sandwich remnants on it—something she had made for her husband two days ago. She considered smashing the plate over the laptop, but like a good housewife, she carried it back into the kitchen. Down the garbage disposal it went. It ate it up with its mighty whiiiirrr and mechanical grinding, turning worthless leftovers into pulverized granules of nothingness. Margot stared down into its yawning vortex, drunk and flighty on window cleaner. Did it really speak earlier?

 

“Hiiii,” she whispered.

 

“Come, Margot,” it said back.

 

She lowered her hand into its hungry mouth. There was a dull ache, and Margot had a flash of sobriety, flipped the switch off, pulled her hand out to survey the damage. Her fingers looked chewed and bloody, almost like the canned cat food she gave the bitch of a cat, only mixed with spaghetti sauce. There was only a little pain. Margot heard Buffy purring, a loud noise that seemed to reverberate throughout the kitchen. She looked over at the cat, who seemed to wear an expression of pure satisfaction. But there was a burnt smell, something she did not notice before. It was the toaster. The piece that got stuck in there earlier—her toast!

 

“I forgot all about you,” she said to it. 

 

“Help me,” the toast called faintly. Margot retrieved a knife from the drawer with her one good hand.

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