A Short Story by Dylan Webster
Blue foam reflux collects on my hands as I scrub the bathtub. Some of it pops up into the air like fireworks as I shove my weight into every stroke. I have to hurry – time got away from me again. I hate rushing – the sweating, the stress of trying to beat some sort of impending deadline. Like I’m the servant of the house, waiting for the master to return.
I finish the tub up quickly, and sprint to the kitchen to grab some more of the cleaning supplies that I forgot. Yet another thing I hate – the forgetfulness I suffer from while rushing. But I guess it doesn’t matter, it has to get done. None of my complaining will alleviate anything. And it definitely won’t help me if I try to use that as an explanation for why the house isn’t finished.
You’ve had all day!
I know, I’ll say. I’m sorry I got… I got distracted wi –
Ohhh you got distracted? Of course you did! The impact of the keys on the table will startle me. It’s always something, or you’re always too damn tired. Well how you think I feel? Huh! I’ve been at work all day!
And it’ll just go to shit from there. It always has. How am I supposed to react? I don’t know? What can i say to not set off that bomb?!
I spray the windex haphazardly on the mirror, squinting as some of the droplets kamikaze themselves into my face. I fold the paper towel into my favorite sturdy square, and quickly wipe the glass. I need to hurry. There’s still so much that needs to get done. I’m not even sure how long I have left. I reach for my pocket to find my phone, but I freeze as my fingertips make contact with the cool aluminum. I don’t want to look at the phone. It always makes time slip away faster. There might be a text. A question. And how am I supposed to respond?
I’m almost done! Love you – maybe a loving emoticon? But that text will only beg for the response I dread.
Almost?!?! Babe, it’s 4 o’clock… what’ve you been doing all day?
And I know what I’ve done all day. I’ve been taking care of our son, of course, he needs to be fed and washed and played with. Not to mention the fact that if I try to clean the house while he’s awake, it’s almost a useless venture. I mean, all he’ll do is pull everything out again as soon as he sees me put it away!
Not that I’m angry, he’s two. What should I expect? What should we expect?
I can tell you what I expect! I expect that we don’t live in a damn pigsty!
My heart quickens its beat as I think of these things. It’s a frightening feeling, really, but it’s more than just frightening. It’s haunting. The changes that people can go through. Most of the laughter and the dreams have all died out, and in their stead are these conversations and sighing exasperations. I don’t know if it’s the stress of having a child, or the stress that comes from work, but it wears people down. It drives them against those they love, even spouses.
I toss the paper towel in the wastebasket and make my way to the living room, where many of our son’s toys lie strewn across the tile; like a grand battle of nations has taken place, and here lie the dead. I reach down to pick up some of the action figures, and suddenly I remember the wastebasket I just threw the paper towels in is full.
I toss the toys into the bin and rush back to the bathroom to take out the trash. But I forgot a replacement bag! Dammit.
I stop now, for a second. I need to breathe. I need to calm down. I’m getting so worked up over cleaning a house. Over trash bins and toys.
But that doesn’t help as much as I’d hoped. I can still feel the soreness swelling in my throat. The heat in my face. I hate this, I hate the feeling of teetering on the edge of tears.
Oh god, now we’re gonna cry about it? So, instead of you just doing what I say, we’re going to have a little counseling session? Nice.
I’ll jump again as the wall implodes in the shape of a fist. Then the windows rattle in their old sills as the door slams shut. And I’ll just sit there. Feeling… well, I don’t even know really. The last time I felt so many things, I don’t know if I could actually describe them. A lot of my friends say I look sad, but I hate that word. Some of them say I should be angry, but how could I? There’s nothing left to fuel that anger when I’m too busy trying to get our screaming child to sleep, and get some ice for my face.
Should I just haul off and lose control? But how is that going to really change anything? I guess it could, if I got a good enough hit in, grabbed my son, and left right away. But if I don’t get a real blow in, then I’ve just stoked the flames, and I don’t know if I could handle the blind rage that would follow.
I wipe the miniscule pools from my eyes, and head to the kitchen for some old shopping bags to put in the wastebasket. I try to sneak past my son’s room so as not to wake him up.
I take the bag out of the trash, replace it, and walk outside to throw it away. The sun is threatening to give up, and I know the drive home from work doesn’t take too long. I better hurry. Not all the toys are picked up yet, and there are still way too many dishes.
Maybe if I’m still doing the dishes, it won’t be too bad. But who am I kidding? Of course it will be. It always is. It has been for so long now, I don’t know how to think of it any other way. But though I know it to be hopeless, I still try. With the cleaning, and with the relationship. It’s so interesting to me.
My own life has become an interesting phenomenon to look upon. Like when you see some wild animal’s carcass being eaten by even wilder animals. Maybe that’s why I don’t say anything – do anything. The carcass is already being eaten, and there’s no more life to be saved anyway.
I think this a lot, lately. It’s like I’m watching myself in a video game. I’m the third-person camera right behind the character, and I watch as they rush around and worry and get beaten. I watch as this character cares for its wounds in secret, and lies to protect. But I’m not the player. I don’t have the controller. I’m not sure who does, but I know it isn’t me.
I’m back inside scrambling after the last of the plastic warriors from the tile battlefield, when I glance at the time. God, it’s insane. It’s like time winds up and goes faster when I’m trying to get something done. Time has no consideration for what I may endure.
Now that the floor’s clean I begin sweeping. I can’t help but think about how I’m not going to make it in time. I won’t be able to finish! My mind wanders into the myriad ways in which this will end, and all the different ways I will suffer.
Suffering has passed the oppressive phase at this point. I no longer feel crushed, defeated. I had felt that once when I had to explain a bruise that I couldn’t have hidden – but that passed. It was overtaken by humiliation. For a while I could not believe that I had put myself here in this position. But now, I am numb. I don’t feel much of the physical pain, I don’t feel trapped – I feel nothing. I feel it slipping away into that nothingness faster and faster. I only fear for my son. He is what has kept the bullets out of the chamber and the barrel out of my mouth. I cannot bear to leave him here alone in this house. In this environment.
But there is still hatred, although now it is hatred for myself. I find myself with these thoughts that feel foreign. As if it’s not me who thinks these things, but more like they are placed in my mind, and then forced to the forefront. This self hatred, and this guilt.
I put the broom away and run over to the kitchen sink. This is finally the end, the last thing I have to finish. I clatter all the plates into the right side of the sink, and start washing the pots and pans. There are quite a few of them now, as they seem to pile up so quickly if you miss even one day. And naturally I will be the only one to do them. But my mind begins to clear a little bit, knowing that this is the end; and once this is done, I’ll be okay. I won’t have to worry about the abuse.
And that sends a chill down my spine.
But that’s what it truly is. Even the times where I’m not left with a bruise or a scar, there is still the emotional aftermath. The manipulation. When I feel obligated to cover things up, and to lie. When I’m feeling boxed into forgiveness and forgetfulness, and the impetus remains on me to move on and make things work. This stings, and I can’t help the introspective inclination to reconsider so many aspects of my life. I need to stop dwelling on the dreams of the past, the hopes I had when we first married, and recognize what’s actually happening.
I’ve thought this before, but it’s becoming clearer now. Now is the moment when the fear begins to set in heavily. In my lungs, in my stomach. Sinking and weighing me down. This is the moment when I always turn back, but I know that I can’t do that this time. I know I can’t. I need to be strong, and I need to find the strength some—
My son is screaming in his room. I thought he was asleep? His cries are growing louder, so I know he won’t fall back asleep, something’s wrong.
I try to dry my hands, but only leave them moist rather than wet. I set the rag down on the counter as I turn and—
The high, cracking sound of glass shattering echoes in the kitchen. I look down and realize the rag knocked one of the glasses off the counter. A million glinting shards now glitter on the tile. My son still screams from his room.
My heart kicks back up to its high beat, and I feel the pressure on my chest. The anxiety is beginning to take control. Like a phantom version of myself wrapping around me, trying to become the real me. Whatever that is.
I carefully tip toe over the shards, and head to my son’s bedroom. I open the door, and the acidic smell of vomit crashes into me immediately. I turn his light on and see his entire body covered in the chunky orange vomit. So are his sheets.
I can’t stop my shoulders from slumping at this point. The nearly breathless anxiety, again, seeps in. The shattered glass in the kitchen is all over the floor, and probably also in the dining room, knowing how the little fragments go flying. Now my son’s sheets need to be washed, the mattress sprayed and flipped, and my son needs to be showered and changed. All this! Right as I was trying to get the last of the house finished in time. I don’t know what the hell I’m supposed to do now. I feel my fingers running through my hair.
I grab my son, and take the wet clothes off. I remove his diaper and put him in the shower, knowing he’ll be able to occupy himself for a moment and cease the piercing screams. I take the sheets and his putrid clothes and throw them in a bag quickly. I glance at my son, and then begin thinking about how quickly I can clean the mess in the kitchen.
The sweat begins to gather in a small audience of beads on my forehead. I wipe it away, and try to wash my son as fast as possible. He babbles now, happy and unaware.
The front door reverberates through the hall.
“What the hell?” I hear the car keys slam onto the kitchen table, as I’d feared. Shoes kicked off, impacting the wall. I can sense the frustration and anger.
My heart is pounding now. I’ve failed. It’s too late, and I can’t try to cover everything up. Here comes another long night, the heart gripping anxiety, the anger, the fighting. I’ll say nothing. Again. What can I say? And if I get hit, what can I do? I can’t hit back.
“What the fuck happened in here?” She says from our son’s bedroom.
Dylan Webster lives and writes in Phoenix, Arizona. Previously published in The Dillydoun Review and Quillkeepers Press.