January 12, 2015 § Leave a comment
Matthew stood in the center of the wood floor, brown eyes darting around, deciding what she should wear today. Elena Rose was pitching the fit of a toddler, but he continued, trying to dress her decently. Mothballs and rodent remnants punctuated the air, a scent which never became familiar to him, though he cared for his wife daily. Although she was crazy, he loved and cared for her unconditionally. His frail white hands, textured in wrinkles, gingerly dressed the cream figure in a flowered sundress and colorful plastic beads, topped with a green hat to accent her strawberry-blonde hair. A tasteful outfit, much like the Elena he knew as a younger man would wear. Summer swept in quicker than expected, pinching off spring’s delicate flowers and moderate temperature. The husband and wife felt suffocated by the boxes and trunks encompassing them. The items were piled from floor to ceiling, spewing forth the remains of his wife’s legacy. She didn’t get out much anymore; she told him that she preferred the attic of their home more than town or the rest of it, because her belongings gleefully decorated every corner of the stuffy wooden room.
“How do you like your outfit today Laney?”
“That much, huh?”
“I’m glad you approve,” he winked at her. “I’m thinking about cleaning out this old attic and storing some things in the basement. What do you think?”
She smiled again and gave a slight head nod like a queen acknowledging the presence of her inferior.
Sweat droplets slid down his forehead, leaving trails like slugs, reminding him of the reality he must enter into once again. Matthew wiped his brow in staccato with the back of his forearm. He glanced back at his wife. She had nodded off. He trudged down the attic stairs.
At noonday and the man promptly served lunch to his beloved and returned to his task, minimizing the amount of boxes occupying the basement.
A musty smell overwhelmed his senses; it had been a long time since he fully took in the whole basement. Although the dust was hell on his nostrils, the cool air offered a welcome reprieve from the heat of the attic. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted a large deep freezer. He recalled Elena’s habit of putting away meals for times when she wasn’t feeling well. It wasn’t the newest thing when they had bought it. He was surprised it was still running.
Matthew dragged himself back up into the heat of summer, checking on Elena. Her lunch plate was mostly empty. He often tried to get her to eat more but her flimsy appetite rarely allowed it. Grabbing the plate, he trudged back down the stairs and dumped it into the sink as he collapsed onto a kitchen chair. Up and down was difficult on his aching bones. He took a sip of water, an oasis for his throat.
His feet shuffled back to the door to the basement and thudded down the stairs. He turned his attention back to the freezer and brushed the lid with his fingertips, remembering their history. Drawing open the lid for the first time in eight years, he was afraid everything would be coated in thick chunks of crystalline ice. Indeed, it was. Everything was perfectly preserved from years back, when Elena had first taken a turn for the worse.
Elena’s hard work and love was condensed into each meal, so he set everything in a pile with the intention of throwing it away when he got to the point of finally letting go. The few top layers were lasagnas, casseroles, and meatloaf, and underneath many brown packages rested. Matthew remembered Elena’s obsession with needing to buy a half cow each spring, fully processed by a meat packing plant and wrapped in brown paper packages of various sizes. She said it was healthier. She always drove to pick it up while he was at work and after he got home they’d pack it away together, and she’d fill the freezer with casseroles layered on top, always forgetting about the cow. And each spring they’d empty the freezer of the little brown packages and put away fresh ones. It drove him crazy.
Matthew picked up a cold rectangular packaged and peeled the brown wrapper open, discovering fleshy meat on a bone. He never understood the different parts of a cow, especially when they were all neatly packed away in the paper parcels. The meat was hard, frozen solid. He turned it over in his hand and looked at the bone. It was a rather thin for a cow. He reached for a smaller one and peeled it open. Inside rested a chunky structure, like a wax hand you’d make at a fair, but unbreakable, frozen, full. The icy chill of the freezer reached him; he stood like a stake in the ground. The hand fell in the freezer with a thud and nestled into its owner.
Only a ghost of a man now, Matthew stumbled backwards into the stairs and pulled himself into the comfort of the warm kitchen. His head was swimming with memories of Elena, falling into place with this newly discovered side of her. He felt hot but his mind was frozen and out of control all at once. His eyes turned cold.
He stepped out to the peeling white washed shed and grabbed the mower’s red and yellow plastic container. Starting in the basement, he sloshed the accelerant in the freezer, over the wood floors in the kitchen, up the attic stairs. He shuffled back out to the driveway, lit a dirty old rag, and tossed it into their house. The aged man drove off into the night, leaving a blazing light behind.
By the time the firefighters blew in from the city, the landmark home had been consumed by the angry light, burping out only blackened remnants of a life quietly spent. And in the midst of the ashes lay a white figure on a metal claw foot frame, lovingly dressed in burnt clothes.
dedicated to: Caroline Henry, (Brianna Ruffatto, Kaylyn Mercuri, and Christina Hyatt) for the idea
and to our teacher, David Kern, for helping us realize the potential of our imaginations