by Gay Toltl Kinman
Trigger warning for talk of suicide.
“You ate all the fat on those lamb chops!” Selena stared down at her husband stretched out on the recliner. “I can’t believe you did that.”
Matt smiled like a cat lapping cream. “Mmmm and it was good.”
“I should have cut it all off. I don’t know why I didn’t. I guess I thought it looked more like good lamb chops. I had no idea that you would even eat that. People cut the fat off meat. It’s a wonder you don’t keel over right now with clogged arteries just like your father.” She grabbed his tray and took it into the kitchen. Dishes rattled all the way. Even more so, when she slammed the tray on the counter causing the spoon to jump off and clatter to the floor.
“Here I try to give you well balanced, healthy meals, and you do this.” She knew he could hear her. She was mad at herself.
“I cleaned my plate, just like my mommy taught me,” he called from the living room.
Now she was mad at him. The thought of those big pieces of fat made her nauseous.
“Oh, stop nagging me. You put it on my plate for goodness sake. Stop carrying on like it’s the end of the world.” He yelled at her as though he could hear her thoughts. Maybe after twenty years he could.
“Don’t you understand, I don’t want you to end up like—like most of the men in your family.”
Except his brother, Tom.
“You mean like my brother?”
The last was said quietly, so she wasn’t sure she heard him correctly. She went to the kitchen doorway. “I thought he shot himself because he was depressed over his business.”
“Who knows why he did it? Don’t bug me. I told you before I don’t want to talk about him again. He’s dead. I never want to hear his name mentioned. You understand that?” He shouted the last sentence, his fist pounding the padded arm of the recliner.
“Not talking to your sister-in-law is no way to handle it.”?
“My sister-in-law is none of your business. Stop nagging me about her.”
“You only say that I’m nagging you when you know I’m right. Why don’t you see your sister-in-law? Lord knows she calls here often enough asking for you.”
“Leave me alone. Don’t you have something to do in the kitchen?” He pushed the remote control and the TV sprang to life, the volume deafening. Monday night football. Pre-game interviews.
She took him dessert—always fruit, this time a dish of applesauce his brother had made last year.
Selena wondered for the umpteenth time why Matt wouldn’t go over to his sister-in-law’s. Or return her calls, at least. He didn’t even have to return them, just pick up the receiver when she called.
Selena herself would have, but they had nothing in common and she really didn’t like the woman. Matt had been over there a lot when his brother was still alive.
His brother’s suicide had hit Matt hard, she knew. He was a different person, not in a good mood like he used to be when he came back from his brother’s house. Now, he was in a bad mood all the time.
The day his brother committed suicide, she had run into him downtown. She was surprised to see him and she said so. “I thought you and Matt were fixing your roof. He’s over at your place right now. Did you just come into town to pick up something at the hardware store?”
He had looked at her with an odd expression. Then he’d taken off like he was riding a rocket.
Matt hadn’t come home for hours, not that she expected him before dinner time. And then when he came home, he grabbed the bottle of scotch and went out to the garage where he had his workshop, just as his brothers and his father before them. He mumbled something about not wanting anything to eat. He didn’t even take a glass.
The next thing she heard was that his brother had shot himself with his hunting rifle.
After that day, Matt would have nothing to do with his sister-in-law.
Selena went back over that day. Matt not wanting to talk to his sister-in-law. That had made her curious. Thinking about the look on his brother’s face when she had run into him in town, her sister-in-law’s telephone calls and the messages she left.
Now she wondered.
She hadn’t really thought too much about it, but she realized that Matt hadn’t made love to her for a long time. She started to calculate when he slacked off. Was it the same time he started to spend a lot of time at his brother’s? His brother’s place where his sister-in-law lived. She knew Matt liked her. Saw it in his eyes when they had gone over there for dinner occasionally.
Selena stared out of her kitchen window at the peach tree now heavy with fruit, the oleander bushes bright with blossoms, and the green lawn lush after the rain. Why was she thinking about that day now? Something in Matt’s voice just now when he talked about his sister-in-law. How could he turn from liking her into loathing her?
But did she want to know?
She didn’t want to know, but suddenly she did. She knew. That meant—that day she’d run into Matt’s brother he had been working at the store he owned downtown. She shut her eyes and tried to picture the bag that he had in his hand. She had thought it was from the hardware store. She had said so to him. Why else would he take a run into town if they were working on the roof? The design on the bag—not the hardware store. The restaurant. He’d bought some food to take back to the house. No. The bag wasn’t big enough for more than one sandwich. He wasn’t getting lunch for the three of them. He wasn’t working on his roof at home.
And neither was Matt. Matt was working on something else. Somebody else. Making their own kind of sandwich.
Suddenly she felt ill. Bile crept up her throat.
She threw up in the sink. She turned on the faucet, leaning over and drinking from the stream of water to rinse her mouth.
It couldn’t be.
She thought again of Matt’s brother’s face. He had looked shocked, about to say “What the hell are you talking about?” But she’d given him an out. The hardware store.
And then he’d gone home.
And then he’d caught them.
And then he’d decided to kill himself.
And that’s why Matt wouldn’t talk to his sister-in-law.
So, Matt had been fooling around.
She thought further. The natural sequence of events.
The natural result of sandwich making.
The reason for his sister-in-law’s voice, the rising hysteria in her pleading to talk to Matt.
Which could mean—her sister-in-law was pregnant?
Not she, Selena, who had always wanted a baby.
My god they were both almost fifty!
Was that the reason he didn’t call her back?
He hadn’t wanted any children. He wasn’t going to have a squalling brat keeping him awake at night. No siree.
Always asking if her diaphragm was in. Or if she was taking the pill. But that hadn’t been a problem lately.
What about her sister-in-law? Had he asked her the same questions?
More bile came up. She realized the tap was still running. She scooped water and aimed it in the general direction of her mouth, swished what was in there and spit it out. Onto Matt’s plate in the sink.?
No wonder his sister-in-law only asked for Matt. “Telemarketers,” Matt would say. “Don’t answer it.” But Selena knew that he was afraid it would be his sister-in-law.
Selena answered when Matt wasn’t there and the messages were always the same. “Ask Matt to call me right away.” That was all she said before she disconnected.
Selena shook her head. No, no, I’m imagining all of this. Me, who doesn’t have a creative bone in my body. At least that’s what Matt had always told her.
Well, neither does he, come to think of it.
Unless it’s for making a sandwich. With someone else.
Then she wondered. How many others had there been? No, probably none. His abstinence with her had only been recent. Since he had started going over to his brother’s house more. Why hadn’t she made the connection?
Almost fifty and she’d never had a child. A baby she’d always wanted.
Having a baby now—
She would have done it.
For a moment she pictured it—it would be a girl.
Thoughts flitted through her mind of raising the child. Her sister-in-law’s child.
But Matt wasn’t in the picture.
And neither was her sister-in-law.
And then she thought—
No, no, don’t go there.
But in her mind she saw the scene. Occasionally, she was psychic. Was this one of those times? Or just her imagination acting up? The imagination that Matt said she didn’t have.
Her mind wanted to go there, was there, but her body was afraid. She didn’t want to see. She squeezed her eyes shut as though it mattered for viewing on the big screen in her mind.
Her brother-in-law with the puzzled look on his face, goes home, finds them on the sofa. Gets his gun. Hesitates. Isn’t sure who to shoot first. Matt overpowers him, knocks him out. They take him out to the garage, where he has his workshop, prop him up in the chair, position the rifle between his legs, made sure it’s his right hand on the trigger, and—
“Bring me a bigger spoon,” Matt yelled from the living room. “What the hell do you think I am—a kid?”
Jerking herself back from the garage at her brother-in-law’s to her kitchen was painful. As though she had left some internal body parts behind. That was always the feeling she had before in one of her rare psychic trances.
She moved slowly, stiffly to the cutlery drawer. Her vision was blank, her hand shaky as she reached for the spoon. She wasn’t sure she could make it into the living room. She tried to gather in the missing parts from the air around her, clutching the door frame with one hand, guiding herself to Matt’s chair, each step painful as though she had just had a hysterectomy without anesthesia. She handed him the spoon. He grabbed it without looking at her, digging into the applesauce, apples from his brother’s tree.
She backed up, feeling her way into the kitchen.
That’s why the vision had been so strong. The last person to touch those apples and the jar had been her brother-in-law.
Now the vision was gone, nothing more to be seen in her mind’s eye. Because there was nothing more to see. She made her way into the dining room. A room with French doors in two walls. Her room. Matt’s imprint was not in it at all. He never set foot in the room. Too fancy for him. He was a meat-and-potatoes guy in the kitchen—or the living room—where he had taken to having her serve him on a tray, so he wouldn’t have to move from the TV or his newspaper.
The dining room held her mother’s crystal, china, and silver—eight of everything. Almost like a museum, Matt had said. Maybe that’s why she liked it, memories of her childhood were clear and bright when she closed the French door to the hallway. The smell of her childhood.
She dropped onto a chair, every nerve in her body vibrating, her heart pounding. She felt faint. But she knew it would pass. She should lie down, but she didn’t want to go to the bedroom where Matt’s presence was strong. She wanted to stay here in the quiet coolness of her childhood when life was simpler, happier.
Slowly, the fog in her mind began to clear, her heart slowed its pace, and her breathing became normal.
What should she do?
If they had killed Matt’s brother, were they planning the same fate for her? But, why? Matt could just divorce her, no need to kill her. Had they killed him in the heat of the moment because he had threatened them?
Should she tell someone about her suspicions? The police? No, she didn’t know anything for sure. All crazy thoughts. As far as she knew the police had written it off as suicide. How could they go back to check anything now? Matt’s brother had been cremated.
A great lethargy came over her.
No, she wouldn’t do anything.
What could she do?
She put her head down cradled by her arms on the table, smelling the furniture polish, the same kind her mother had used.
The next thing she knew, Matt was calling her. He stood in the hallway just outside the French door. He wouldn’t even touch the knob.
“I’m going out,” he said through the glass. “Don’t know when I’ll be back.” Then he left.
Going to his sister-in-law’s?
Selena didn’t think so, more likely to the village bar and Monday night football with the guys. So, he wouldn’t hear the phone ring or any of its messages.
The only thing she knew at the moment was that her marriage was over. She felt nothing for Matt now. All her tenderest feelings of caring were gone, vanished like the vision of what happened in her brother-in-law’s garage. Perversely, she decided to call her sister-in-law. Probe a little, after all she could be imagining everything. Maybe her life hadn’t changed radically after all, maybe everything was just the same—a faithful, non-murdering Matt. Better yet, she could walk across the lawn, visit her in person.
It didn’t matter, she was finished, had cut her losses, namely Matt, and was moving on, mentally and emotionally. To where, she had no idea. Certainly not moving out of the house, Matt would have to do that. Let him move in with his sister-in-law. Let her serve his meals on a tray while he watched TV and yelled for a larger spoon.
She felt light, free, as though a burden had been lifted from her shoulders. Maybe the reason Matt hadn’t made love to her for a long time was because she hadn’t wanted him to, maybe her body language had turned him off. Had she been unconsciously drawing away from him? No. Maybe he was going through his male menopause.
Maybe that’s why he had been making sandwiches with his sister-in-law, maybe he knew he was losing his drive and wanted to get it back. Maybe he thought he could get it back with another woman. Obviously he did, if her sister-in-law really was pregnant.
No matter. The tension, the tightness in her shoulders was gone. Now she was unfettered by the anchor that was Matt. She could do as she pleased without worrying about whether she was pleasing Matt or not, always seeking his approval. She thought about how long that had been her concern.
She thought about Matt’s medical history and how his father and uncles and brothers had died. A disposition for clogged arteries and heart disease because of high cholesterol. To keep him alive that’s why she had served him fat-free meals. Until today, it seemed. He wouldn’t take cholesterol pills. “That’s for sissies. Little sissy pills. It sure didn’t help my brothers any.” That was true. But his brothers had acted as though they could eat anything because they were taking those pills. A free pass to the doughnut shop.
Did he appreciate her concern? No. He snuck off to the Perfectly Sweet Shop, Ice Cold Creamery, and, of course, the neighborhood bar. She knew that. She found the pastry and ice cream cone wrappers in the car shoved under the driver’s seat. Maybe he left them there to taunt her. To say “up yours.”
He didn’t seem to realize she was trying to save his life.
Maybe he didn’t care.
Well—now, neither did she care.
Let him eat that huge chunk of fat off the lamb. Let him gobble up pastries and ice cream, put mayonnaise on everything, and eat burgers and French fries and chocolate shakes, drink beer and eat handfuls of peanuts.
She thought about the lovely baby again. It could never be hers. Matt would never want it. Especially now that it would remind him of why his brother committed suicide. Beside Matt would have moved out.? Her sister-in-law was healthy as the proverbial horse, so she wouldn’t be dying in childbirth.
Maybe a little herbal tea. Selena ran through all the herbs she knew, thinking about the oleander bush.
Her sister-in-law was an orphan, had no relatives. She, Selena, was the most logical person to take the baby. That’s if its mother died.
She cradled the baby in her arms for a moment and felt its warmth against her breasts. She’d never be able to nurse it. Which brought her to another question. She wanted the baby to have its mother’s milk, so how long should that be? She felt dizzy.
Oh, she’d forgotten to eat. She’d better have something. Force the food down. She had things to do. She couldn’t play at being Elizabeth Barrett Browning just now.
The phone rang. She made no move to answer it.
“Matt, please, please, call me. It’s so important. I’m going absolutely crazy and you are the only one who can help me. The only one in the whole world.” A sob. “Please, Matt.” The latter said in a softer tone, a wheedling tone. Pleading.
Selena choked. A coughing fit overtook her. She ran back to the kitchen and turned the tap on full blast, the plate rattled against the bottom of the sink as though trying to escape the deluge.
Did Matt have guilt about cheating on her? Maybe only guilt because he’d been caught. Then guilt about how his brother had handled the knowledge.
She thought more. She knew where she could get cheap lamb chops. Cheap because they were so fatty.
If she gave him those every day, say with mashed potatoes whipped with cream and covered with butter and gravy, and a dish of ice cream, all the things he loved and she had denied him all this time, she wondered how long it would take before he’d have a massive coronary, a stroke, or whatever else could be wrought by the food. He had a desk job, never exercised, loved junk food.
After all, it really wouldn’t be her fault.
He’d really be committing suicide by eating all of that stuff.
She wasn’t force feeding him. He’d be so happy and less irritable.
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