What to Throw Away

Evenings, they sit in companionable silence, listening to NPR, the backgammon board spread on a table between them. Now, Celeste pours two mugs of tea and brings them to the table. She sits across from Philip and smiles. The fire snaps. A log falls, sending angry sparks through the black mesh screen to the concrete floor. Philip rises and crosses to the window of the lodge. He parts the heavy curtain to stare outside at the storm.

His skin has acquired a ruddy cast. Leathery, almost. “I'm glad you brought me here,” she tells his back. She's not really. She hates being here, stuck at the top of some quiet lonely mountain with nothing but the snow and her husband and the board games of her youth: Clue... checkers... backgammon, of course.
He turns. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
She rubs her left wrist where arthritis has recently settled in. “Very much.” Another lie.

Philip took up skiing three weeks ago, some midlife crisis, she guessed, and she humored him, knowing it could be much worse, understanding that he would eventually return to the man she married: quiet, studious, cautious in every way.
“What do you do while I'm out?” He returns to his chair.
He hasn't asked her to accompany him on the slopes, and for that she is grateful. “Catch up on my reading,” she says, then blows on her tea. “Watch some movies. Stare into the fire.” God, it's boring here. When he'd told her about the trip, he said she didn't need to go; he'd be happy, he assured her, to go alone. Now, she studies his lips, chapped and flaking. “You need lip balm.”
He waves away her comment; arranges his men on the board.
“You go first,” she says, and he scoops up the dice, drops them in the shaker, lined in black felt. She likes listening to the muted sounds of the dice as he shakes and spills them out. She laughs.
“What's funny?” He moves a man forward three spaces.
“Just remembering my Raggedy Ann doll.” She picks up the dice and rolls. “A Christmas gift from my mother. Hand made by my babysitter.” She splits the roll, moving one man forward two, another six. “I remember untying the strings of her white pinafore, slipping her arms out so I could lift up her dress to see her little heart.”
Philip smiles.
“It was chain stitched in red thread upon her chest. And inside that heart were the words I love you.” She passes him the dice. “I was always a light sleeper. I absolutely could not sleep without her.”
“You still wake up a lot.”
“You know about that?”
“I hear you, Celeste. Prowling through the house, opening and closing drawers and cabinets, like you're looking for something you've lost.”
It's true. She wakes frequently, blinking wide eyes into the darkness, heart racing, breathing too fast, knowing that death will eventually come to her and feeling afraid. “Every night, I woke to the soft sounds of my parents putting the house to bed. Grown-up sounds.” She smiles. “The clink of the dishes in the sink; the dog's final trip outside, his nails tapping on the linoleum; the checking of the doors.” Then there was the quiet settling of the bedsprings, accompanied by her parents' easy conversation; the television clicking on to The Tonight Show. “Do you remember those refillable lighters?”
Philip nods. “Of course.” He rolls the dice, moves a man forward eight spaces.
“Every Sunday, my father would clean and refill his.” She remembers the metallic sound of the lighter flipping open. His thumbing of the wheel. The smell of butane. She remembers the flame, dancing like a genie upon the blackened wick. “That was safety for me. Johnny Carson and butane and a doll in my arms.” Her mother would laugh at something Carson said and her father would join in and, surrounded by their laughter, she allowed herself to drift back to sleep.
“One time, I smeared grape Chapstick over Raggedy Ann's mouth.”
Philip laughs.
“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't scrub it off. For years I fell asleep with the scent of grape in my nose.”
They fall silent. Celeste has the sense that Philip is just going through the motions. He's tired, she reasons, from skiing all day. The reporter talks about cooking oil bombs; people starving for lack of fuel. She imagines the children, chewing upon uncooked grains of rice dropped from giant birds in the sky.
“What happened to it?”
“Hmmmm?”
“Your doll.”
“Oh.” She frowns with the memory. “One day, I was holding her by the shoe, really just black fabric sewn to her leg. I swung her around over my head. And her leg just split open.” She remembers watching that red and white leg tear, watching her doll falter and crumple. “Her leg was stuffed with old holey nylons,” she says, blotting her eyes with her napkin.
“What's wrong?”
“It just made me so sad. I hated her then. Hated her for what I did to her. I buried her in the trash compactor after dinner that night.” She remembers her profound sadness tinged with that little thrill in knowing that she could take a thing and destroy it.
“It was just a doll, Celeste.” Philip goes to the kitchen and returns with a plate of cookies. “Hungry?”
She takes a cookie and breaks it in half. “One day,” she says, looking at his face. “I went and found the cat. Took him outside to the front yard.”
Philip sets down the plate and sits. He leans in, listening, his chin upon his hand.
“With all these cars passing by, I held that cat by his tail; stood there just watching it swing like a flailing pendulum, back arching, paws curling and reaching, claws extended, grasping at empty air desperately trying to find a purchase on something.” She glances at his face before continuing. “In a sick way, I enjoyed it, feeling the cartilage strain and threaten to give. And I knew again, with complete certainty this time, that I had the capacity for evil. It was frightening and thrilling and, Jesus, it felt so powerful knowing I had the ability to harm another creature.”
Philip's face blanches.
“I was afraid of getting scratched. So I dropped the cat, watched it land on his feet and run away to hide.
“And I hid, too. I ran inside and hid in my bedroom, waiting for someone to stop; waiting for the telephone to ring.” She stares at Philip. “But no one stopped, Philip. No one called my mother. No one ever said a thing.” She blows her nose. “I've never told anyone that before.” She smiles at her husband. “I was so relieved when you told me you didn't want children.” She feared her power, knowing what she was capable of. She smoothed it over, this knowledge, frosting over it like the makeup she applied to the smiling plastic Barbie's head, bright eyes perpetually staring, while she rubbed a bit of blush on her cheeks, rolled pink curlers in her hair, shoved a pair of her mother's earrings through unpierced vinyl lobes. Her face, her home, her entire life was a pretty cake of poison.
There's a sudden snap. She startles. “What was that?”
“Mouse trap.”
She follows Philip to the laundry room. Stares at the mouse stuck there, alternating the frantic yanking of its legs with an awful gnawing. She reaches down, releases the bar, watches the mouse drag itself free. Before it can get away, Philip brings his boot to the side of its head. She hears the crunching of the fragile bones.
“Jesus, Philip.”
He picks up the mouse with a balled up tissue, opens the slider, and tosses it into the night. A gust of frigid air blasts into the room and she wishes to move closer to her husband, but finds she cannot.
He resets the trap; washes his hands in the kitchen sink; takes a handful of chips and carries them to the dining room. “Celeste, I want a divorce,” he says and at the same time she speaks, too.
“I want a baby, Philip.”
They stare at each other. “That was years ago, Philip. I was just a child.”
“I'm seeing someone. Your move,” he says.
She rolls double sixes. “Oh, how lucky,” she says through her tears, capturing two of his men and moving a man twelve towards home.
“I'm sorry,” he says. But somehow this isn't enough. “Look,” he says. “If we were to dissect our marriage, we'd find it's empty. Full,” he says, “of old discarded nylons.”
She leaves the game. Pushes away from the table and goes to their bedroom. She prepares for bed while her husband shuts off the radio, throws the deadbolts home. She pretends to sleep when he comes into the bedroom and rummages through his drawers.
When his breath comes slow and even from the living room couch, she rises and goes to the window. “Nothing feels safe anymore,” she tells the night. She wide-eyes in the dark, wishing for the old comforts: butane, her doll, and Johnny Carson. She feels a hand upon her shoulder; refuses to turn around. “What's wrong with me, Philip?”
“You're human, Celeste. That is all.” He gives an easy laugh and she laughs too. Tomorrow they will begin the slow dismantling of their lives. What's for him. What's for her. What to throw away.

  
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Supermaren gave me this prompt: The peacock and the mouse.. I gave Diane this prompt: Take Cinderella and make her evil. Now make her step mother and sisters good. Give me the story.

Labels: ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: What to Throw Away

Monday, October 15, 2012

What to Throw Away

Evenings, they sit in companionable silence, listening to NPR, the backgammon board spread on a table between them. Now, Celeste pours two mugs of tea and brings them to the table. She sits across from Philip and smiles. The fire snaps. A log falls, sending angry sparks through the black mesh screen to the concrete floor. Philip rises and crosses to the window of the lodge. He parts the heavy curtain to stare outside at the storm.

His skin has acquired a ruddy cast. Leathery, almost. “I'm glad you brought me here,” she tells his back. She's not really. She hates being here, stuck at the top of some quiet lonely mountain with nothing but the snow and her husband and the board games of her youth: Clue... checkers... backgammon, of course.
He turns. “Are you enjoying yourself?”
She rubs her left wrist where arthritis has recently settled in. “Very much.” Another lie.

Philip took up skiing three weeks ago, some midlife crisis, she guessed, and she humored him, knowing it could be much worse, understanding that he would eventually return to the man she married: quiet, studious, cautious in every way.
“What do you do while I'm out?” He returns to his chair.
He hasn't asked her to accompany him on the slopes, and for that she is grateful. “Catch up on my reading,” she says, then blows on her tea. “Watch some movies. Stare into the fire.” God, it's boring here. When he'd told her about the trip, he said she didn't need to go; he'd be happy, he assured her, to go alone. Now, she studies his lips, chapped and flaking. “You need lip balm.”
He waves away her comment; arranges his men on the board.
“You go first,” she says, and he scoops up the dice, drops them in the shaker, lined in black felt. She likes listening to the muted sounds of the dice as he shakes and spills them out. She laughs.
“What's funny?” He moves a man forward three spaces.
“Just remembering my Raggedy Ann doll.” She picks up the dice and rolls. “A Christmas gift from my mother. Hand made by my babysitter.” She splits the roll, moving one man forward two, another six. “I remember untying the strings of her white pinafore, slipping her arms out so I could lift up her dress to see her little heart.”
Philip smiles.
“It was chain stitched in red thread upon her chest. And inside that heart were the words I love you.” She passes him the dice. “I was always a light sleeper. I absolutely could not sleep without her.”
“You still wake up a lot.”
“You know about that?”
“I hear you, Celeste. Prowling through the house, opening and closing drawers and cabinets, like you're looking for something you've lost.”
It's true. She wakes frequently, blinking wide eyes into the darkness, heart racing, breathing too fast, knowing that death will eventually come to her and feeling afraid. “Every night, I woke to the soft sounds of my parents putting the house to bed. Grown-up sounds.” She smiles. “The clink of the dishes in the sink; the dog's final trip outside, his nails tapping on the linoleum; the checking of the doors.” Then there was the quiet settling of the bedsprings, accompanied by her parents' easy conversation; the television clicking on to The Tonight Show. “Do you remember those refillable lighters?”
Philip nods. “Of course.” He rolls the dice, moves a man forward eight spaces.
“Every Sunday, my father would clean and refill his.” She remembers the metallic sound of the lighter flipping open. His thumbing of the wheel. The smell of butane. She remembers the flame, dancing like a genie upon the blackened wick. “That was safety for me. Johnny Carson and butane and a doll in my arms.” Her mother would laugh at something Carson said and her father would join in and, surrounded by their laughter, she allowed herself to drift back to sleep.
“One time, I smeared grape Chapstick over Raggedy Ann's mouth.”
Philip laughs.
“No matter how hard I tried, I couldn't scrub it off. For years I fell asleep with the scent of grape in my nose.”
They fall silent. Celeste has the sense that Philip is just going through the motions. He's tired, she reasons, from skiing all day. The reporter talks about cooking oil bombs; people starving for lack of fuel. She imagines the children, chewing upon uncooked grains of rice dropped from giant birds in the sky.
“What happened to it?”
“Hmmmm?”
“Your doll.”
“Oh.” She frowns with the memory. “One day, I was holding her by the shoe, really just black fabric sewn to her leg. I swung her around over my head. And her leg just split open.” She remembers watching that red and white leg tear, watching her doll falter and crumple. “Her leg was stuffed with old holey nylons,” she says, blotting her eyes with her napkin.
“What's wrong?”
“It just made me so sad. I hated her then. Hated her for what I did to her. I buried her in the trash compactor after dinner that night.” She remembers her profound sadness tinged with that little thrill in knowing that she could take a thing and destroy it.
“It was just a doll, Celeste.” Philip goes to the kitchen and returns with a plate of cookies. “Hungry?”
She takes a cookie and breaks it in half. “One day,” she says, looking at his face. “I went and found the cat. Took him outside to the front yard.”
Philip sets down the plate and sits. He leans in, listening, his chin upon his hand.
“With all these cars passing by, I held that cat by his tail; stood there just watching it swing like a flailing pendulum, back arching, paws curling and reaching, claws extended, grasping at empty air desperately trying to find a purchase on something.” She glances at his face before continuing. “In a sick way, I enjoyed it, feeling the cartilage strain and threaten to give. And I knew again, with complete certainty this time, that I had the capacity for evil. It was frightening and thrilling and, Jesus, it felt so powerful knowing I had the ability to harm another creature.”
Philip's face blanches.
“I was afraid of getting scratched. So I dropped the cat, watched it land on his feet and run away to hide.
“And I hid, too. I ran inside and hid in my bedroom, waiting for someone to stop; waiting for the telephone to ring.” She stares at Philip. “But no one stopped, Philip. No one called my mother. No one ever said a thing.” She blows her nose. “I've never told anyone that before.” She smiles at her husband. “I was so relieved when you told me you didn't want children.” She feared her power, knowing what she was capable of. She smoothed it over, this knowledge, frosting over it like the makeup she applied to the smiling plastic Barbie's head, bright eyes perpetually staring, while she rubbed a bit of blush on her cheeks, rolled pink curlers in her hair, shoved a pair of her mother's earrings through unpierced vinyl lobes. Her face, her home, her entire life was a pretty cake of poison.
There's a sudden snap. She startles. “What was that?”
“Mouse trap.”
She follows Philip to the laundry room. Stares at the mouse stuck there, alternating the frantic yanking of its legs with an awful gnawing. She reaches down, releases the bar, watches the mouse drag itself free. Before it can get away, Philip brings his boot to the side of its head. She hears the crunching of the fragile bones.
“Jesus, Philip.”
He picks up the mouse with a balled up tissue, opens the slider, and tosses it into the night. A gust of frigid air blasts into the room and she wishes to move closer to her husband, but finds she cannot.
He resets the trap; washes his hands in the kitchen sink; takes a handful of chips and carries them to the dining room. “Celeste, I want a divorce,” he says and at the same time she speaks, too.
“I want a baby, Philip.”
They stare at each other. “That was years ago, Philip. I was just a child.”
“I'm seeing someone. Your move,” he says.
She rolls double sixes. “Oh, how lucky,” she says through her tears, capturing two of his men and moving a man twelve towards home.
“I'm sorry,” he says. But somehow this isn't enough. “Look,” he says. “If we were to dissect our marriage, we'd find it's empty. Full,” he says, “of old discarded nylons.”
She leaves the game. Pushes away from the table and goes to their bedroom. She prepares for bed while her husband shuts off the radio, throws the deadbolts home. She pretends to sleep when he comes into the bedroom and rummages through his drawers.
When his breath comes slow and even from the living room couch, she rises and goes to the window. “Nothing feels safe anymore,” she tells the night. She wide-eyes in the dark, wishing for the old comforts: butane, her doll, and Johnny Carson. She feels a hand upon her shoulder; refuses to turn around. “What's wrong with me, Philip?”
“You're human, Celeste. That is all.” He gives an easy laugh and she laughs too. Tomorrow they will begin the slow dismantling of their lives. What's for him. What's for her. What to throw away.

  
For the Scriptic prompt exchange this week, Supermaren gave me this prompt: The peacock and the mouse.. I gave Diane this prompt: Take Cinderella and make her evil. Now make her step mother and sisters good. Give me the story.

Labels: ,

17 Comments:

At October 15, 2012 at 9:20 AM , Anonymous Jessie Powell said...

That was so chilling. The way she seemed to be doing everything for him because she loved him, but really it was because she was afraid of herself. Her confessing her darkest moment at the moment that he said he wanted out. And they both wanted their different things for the same reason. AWESOME.

 
At October 15, 2012 at 9:26 AM , Anonymous jaum said...

Big applause! Really liked this one a lot. And tying it back to the title under these circumstances was one of the best parts.

 
At October 15, 2012 at 9:32 AM , Anonymous Victoria KP said...

I think this is one of the best things you've written (and I've enjoyed everything of yours I've read). It got to me on so many levels. First there was the sadness of being stuck in an unhappy place. Then I could relate to this girl and her Raggedy Ann doll and remembering my own father's butane lighter. Then the chill of the story about the cat comes seemingly out of nowhere. And then the confessions at the end. Truly, I think you should submit this for publication somewhere.

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:31 PM , Anonymous Carrie said...

It's a very disturbing scene. The isolation and the distance of where the characters are physically and emotionally.

I was not expecting her to say she wanted a baby...I was figuring Phillip wanted out of the marriage though

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:33 PM , Anonymous Leslie Collins said...

Wow!

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:33 PM , Anonymous Leslie Collins said...

Wow! Fantastic! I remember the same disappointment when my doll's leg split about 10 years ago revealing her "innards"!

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:52 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks! Yeah, those nylons were a bit of a disappointment, weren't they?

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:52 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

I wasn't expecting it either, Carrie. Thanks for reading.

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:52 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Oh, thanks, Victoria! The thing is, once something's posted to your blog, it's pretty much off-limits to other subs. I've found a few publications that will accept previously published material, but it's tough. I've been submitting things separately to literary mags.

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:52 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks!

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:52 PM , Anonymous Kgwaite said...

Thanks, Jessie. Kind of sad.

 
At October 16, 2012 at 4:57 PM , Anonymous Meum said...

The word dismantling comes to mind. I think we have all been on that precarious edge; one wonders if they could have continued, had Phil neglected to ask for a divorce. It seems that Celeste knew, subconsciously, that Phil wanted out. Is that why she wanted a baby...

 
At October 16, 2012 at 5:00 PM , Anonymous Lisa W. Rosenberg said...

Heartbreaking and beautiful. I'm so right there in the scene with Celeste. The only think I'm not sure of is the cat. The doll story was so meaningful, I felt the cat story was there to underscore the same impulsive destructiveness, but I think it might be one anectote too many? What if you went from the doll, to the mousetrap, to he wants a divorce? I think the impact would be even more. I'm not sure. It's so well-written. Just a thought.

 
At October 16, 2012 at 5:01 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Lisa. I think you need the cat. The breaking of the doll? Not too big. The cat? That's a big deal. And I needed it to show her--and our--capacity for evil. While she tries to hide from it, others embrace it.

 
At October 16, 2012 at 5:04 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Dismantled for sure. Thanks for reading!

 
At October 18, 2012 at 3:07 PM , Anonymous Christine said...

Wow, this is one of the most powerful things I've read in ages. It has a very Scandinavian feel to it (the snow, the tone, not sure how to explain it). The memories you chose to describe are incredibly relatable - I had a similar experience with grape bubblegum, and I fell asleep to the eerie strains of Mystery! on PBS. Fantastic writing, Kelly, really stunning.

 
At October 20, 2012 at 7:45 AM , Anonymous Denise said...

I really enjoyed this passage. It was very real and the wife's reaction to her husbands announcement of wanting a divorce seemed very much in character for her. She was being very reflective, acknowledging paths she wished she had or had not followed and therefore seemed to accept his wish to part ways as just one more path. My only concrit, and this sounds so petty given the gravity and suspense of the piece, is the tea. Tea steeps in a mug and it's generally not pours into one. Very, very minute, but it stuck with me and I kept thinking about it as read on.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home