A Messy Affair

Brandon Layng

“Don’t worry sweetheart I’ll clean up this mess.” The counter was cluttered with dishes covered in chicken and pasta; a wooden bowl contained sour smelling remnants of a Caesar Salad. Sauce and seasoning was sprinkled over the Formica like the sand by the back door. The sand from the turtle-shaped box in the back, the one with the shovel and pail which sat half buried beneath the grains they had had delivered from the place down off of the highway. They had given it Danny his birthday that last summer.

He started to run the water in the sink and squirted a short stream of apricot scented dish soap into the rapidly filling basin. Rolling up the sleeves of his dress shirt to keep the water from splashing onto the white cotton, he took off his Bulova watch, the one Rachel had given to him for the Christmas that had just passed. She had been tired of constantly yelling at him for being late and never failed to remind him that it was the cause of their misfortune.

“Did you enjoy your dinner Rachel?” He didn’t really need an answer, he could see that she hadn’t touched her food, it sat on the plate the pasta getting hard and the chicken stiff and cold. The barbeque sauce on the chicken reminded him of a head wound leaking congealing post-mortem blood.

He had booked the day off for the anniversary. It was a special day for them but a somber one. Scraping off the dishes into the garbage bag he thought about the appointment filled day he would have when he got back to the hospital. He felt guilty for taking time off; his patients needed him and yet so did his family, more than ever they needed him.

Rachel’s dinner slid as one chunk into the grocery bag and the foul smelling salad followed. He used a fork to scrape the fat and grease from the frying pan before he put it into the sink. Not one to do the dishes often, he had half expected to hear Rachel snap at him for putting the pan in at the same time as the plates. She was always told him to wash the pans last otherwise the plates and glasses would come out with a film on them.

The only sound in the kitchen was the pop of bubbles in the water and the pan settling onto the pile. Next he put in the pot he had used to cook the pasta in. The white Alfredo sauce mixing and clouding the water like a cataract.

“I hung up that picture Danny drew for me. The one with the sailboat on it. I put it over my desk in a frame I picked up down in the hospital gift shop. My receptionist Betty, you remember her from the service last year, she didn’t look like she approved. I don’t know maybe she thought it was unprofessional or something.” He put his hands into the hot water and saw Danny’s Spider-man cup sitting on the window sill behind the sink. It was covered in a fine layer of dust and he couldn’t remember when he had put it up there. Maybe Rachel had put it up there. He would have asked her if she was not being so quiet. Sometimes you don’t want to ruin a good thing. Instead he put the pot back in the water and washed the cup.

After the cup came the pot, both placed in the drying rack and started to find the silence in the kitchen oppressive. It was like a boulder on his shoulders that weighed him down and troubled his thoughts.

“I thought maybe this summer I’d go out and buy one of those small sailboats, one of the little three person kinds, and take it out to Crescent Lake,” he said and when there was still no reply from Rachel he decided he’d had enough; it was time for someone to talk about what happened while he was making dinner.

“Listen Rachel I’m sorry I rose my voice to you earlier, but it just pissed me off when you said you hated celebrating the anniversary.” With trembling fingers he picked up a plate to wash it, stared out the window to the backyard where the sandbox sat by the pool, the turtle shaped lid pushed to the side from the last time Danny was in a rush to make a sand castle. The cover was pulled over the pool and a layer of snow that would soon melt sat on top like a bundled up blanket. “I get so upset when you start talking to me about Danny that way. Our poor sweet little Danny.”

He wouldn’t give her time to interject with her own two cents that she seemed to need to spend on an argument. He hadn’t wanted her to hit him with one of her patented cheap shot remarks that always cut into his heart like a knife or beat him over the head with yell after yell like she was slamming him with a frying pan.

“I hate how you always have to tell me that what happened was my fault, shoving it into my face, like I don’t already know.” His voice cracked with emotion like an egg hitting the floor and splattering bloody yolk. He washed the cutlery as he talked; swiping the knives, spoons and forks with the dishcloth while staring out at the piece of plastic with the snow covered sand in it. The shovel stuck out like a hand raised in triumph. Or one grasping for help.

“I mean where do you get off Rachel? Saying it was my fault because I got home too late. I was in the middle of performing heart surgery on a man for Christ sakes!” He fought for control of the angry quiver in his voice and lost the battle. “You called the office and told them Danny was missing while I was cracking the man’s ribcage, I couldn’t very well leave. And where were you?” He remembered the two wine glasses he had seen in the sink that day, one with the red lipstick she wore on the rim, the other with only a trace of the wine that sat in the bottom like the last dredges of water in a drained pool. He knew what that water looked like because he had seen it later that day when they closed down the pool for good.

He wasn’t surprised to hear silence from his wife at his question. She never answered that one because a guilty conscience would not permit her to lie.

She had smelled of another man’s musk. Smeared lipstick making her face into a bad clown mask. Panties hanging like a noose from her jeans pocket. The front door had been ajar when he’d come home, panicking to the point of almost running the car through the garage door, his hand was on the knob and swinging the door open before he registered that someone had recently left by that way and when he saw the long stemmed glasses, he knew that while his son’s lungs filled with chlorinated water and suffocated the life from his body, depraving his brain of oxygen, a man who took pleasure in his wife’s body ran from the house when he could have pulled Danny from the pool. His wife taking the precious minutes of their son’s life to get dressed, so her infidelities would not be as obvious. Rachel had his limp form pulled onto the concrete where his water soaked clothes puddle around him, her fists pounding his chest while she screamed.
He washed the pan bottom with the steel wool pad he had exchanged the dishcloth for and tried to scrub off the meat burned to it. Getting frustrated with it, he never thought it would be so difficult to get something like that off of a pan. If he had maybe he would have used the pot.

He had pushed her away, fearing that she had already cracked one of his boy’s ribs and paid no attention to the splashing as she fell backwards into the pool. He started CPR and when the wrenching sobs that had wracked his body subsided and the cooing of a dove in the trees hovered over their huddled bodies like a lament.

“You know what? Screw it! I’m just going to let this thing soak in the other side of the sink and I’ll come back to it later after I’m done cleaning the floor.” He ran the water as hot as it would go in the other side of the sink and watched as the steam began to fog the window making the images of the backyard grow vague and indistinct like memories of objects instead of the objects themselves. He shut off the water and picked up the pan to toss it in the clean hot water. Something stuck to the pan came loose and plopped into the dirty water before he could put it in the other side to soak. His emotions were too unwieldy for him to notice the tiny splash.

There was a thump that caused him a moment of fear.

“I can’t believe you said what you said Rachel. How could you say Danny’s dead?” He slammed his fist on the counter and an angry tear dropped into the dishwater. He reached his hand in, it was the temperature of blood like the way it felt when he put his hands into the opened chest cavity of a patient on the operating table. He curled his index and middle finger around the drain stopper and pulled it out. The water quietly drained and the only sound his ears could hear was his own sniffles as he fought back the tears that threatened to follow the first like lemmings off of a cliff. He closed his eyes and could not open them until the drain gurgled with the last of the water. Looking down into the drain he saw the seared orb of an eyeball staring accusingly back at him. His wife’s blue iris runny like pool water and death.

There was another thump that made his heart jump followed by a mewling sound. He dropped the drain stopper into the sink, the metal clip poking through the pupil, rushed out of the kitchen so fast he was nearly running past the slumped form of his wife, ignoring her moans of pain. The empty eye socket seeped out onto the floor and he skidded across the puddle before making it to the carpeted living room, where he took the stairs to the second floor two at a time. The door at the end of the hallway was partially open the light from inside the room glaring off of the glossy plastic stick-on Optimus Prime. He slowed as he came to it and nudged it open with a shaking hand.

Danny was on the floor. Limbs sprawled out and stiff.

He moved silently across the carpet to where his son lay beside the race car bed. Danny often fell off the lumpy mattress, so often he’d been forced to put down padding to prevent bruising on the boy’s body. Gingerly he picked him up, feeling the rigidity of the limbs, looking down as he placed him on the bed and seeing the glassy sheen of the eyes; lifeless eyes.

He chided himself for thinking that way and held his poor sweet Danny in his arms while he wept silent tears.

“Your mother has gone to a better place son.,” he said and choked on the thickness of the words. “Y-y-your mother lives with grandma now. You remember her, don’t you? She passed last year.”

There was a twitch at the corners of Danny’s mouth and a dribble of drool went streaming down his son’s chin. He wiped it away with a corner of the blanket and smiled to see his son shining through the veil of his damaged brain.

He would clean up the mess later.


2 Responses to “A Messy Affair”

  1. Over all good story. A little awkward in a couple spots. The hand in the sink to remove the stopper and running by his wife’s body.

    • Yeah, this one was a hard one to find a home for orignally. A lot of places passed on it because of the domestic violence issues. Thank you for taking the time to read it Dale.

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