Piker Press Banner
November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

Out with the Trash 12

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twelve

Emily arrived home earlier than she had anticipated; she'd left Santa Cruz right away in the morning, hoping to escape the worst of the traffic. The front door was locked. Apparently Mark was not home. The house smelled damp and unloved, no cooking smells, no smoky smell of the fireplace. As soon as I check on the fish, I'm going to make a fire and then sit myself beside the hearth and think.

Paris and Oslo rose to greet her as soon as she approached the pond through the continuing light rain. She fed them pieces of food from her fingers, letting her mind rest on their sinuous, beautiful gliding shapes. "I missed you, fish. Isn't that funny?" I missed the fish, and I dread having to talk to my husband. Something is just not right here.

Back inside, she flipped on lights on her way to the garage with the dismembered dwarf. The house was so dark in the winter, so dark compared to Middi's house with all those wide windows. She put the dwarf's box on the top of the workbench; there was no point in hiding him away any more. How on earth would she broach the subject without Mark having a brain aneurysm? Not only was he going to be out forty thousand dollars, but all his satisfaction at the purchase of the collection was going to disappear into thin air, and he was going to look like an utter fool, as well. Emily gathered a basketful of wood, carried it into the dining room, and then decided to put her new treasures away before starting the fire. She took her overnight bag upstairs to her room, and unpacked and hung up the gorgeous pink silk lounging outfit. The pink and purple necklace and earrings she set atop her jewelry box. Good thing I do all the bills, otherwise he'd have a shit fit over the price of the pajamas.

She left the new pajamas reluctantly, and took the back stairs to the kitchen. Food and a fire, that's what we need.

Emily opened the chain front of the fireplace, laying some kindling and crumpled newspaper over the chunk of fire starter. The matches were gone from the mantle piece, naturally. Mark had a habit of absent-mindedly carrying them off in a pants pocket and not even bothering to empty them back into the kitchen drawer. After rummaging about in the cluttered mess of utensils and jar lids and string, Emily came up empty-handed as far as matches went. She checked every other drawer in the kitchen. No matches. How can there be no matches at all in a house? That's just stupid. What if the power went out in these storms?

She inventoried the house, all the places where things got dumped. There weren't many, because Mark liked to have everything in order. He was a window polisher, a white glove duster kind of man. Emily liked his cleanliness. She'd heard of husbands who were slobs, she considered as she climbed the kitchen stairs to her office. After checking all the drawers of her desk and coming up once again with no matches, she decided to check Mark's room, where he might ostensibly have emptied his pockets.

The door was locked. Emily tried the handle with three twists before she could actually believe that the door to her husband's bedroom was locked. Why on earth would he key lock his door? Afraid his New Year's Eve guests might come back?

Well, there was one other place to try, and that was Mark's den. She hoped that there were some matches in his desk drawer, because otherwise, if she wanted a fire this evening, she was going to have to go out in the rain and drive to the market. If that's the case, I think I'll opt for just going to bed and reading with a cup of hot tea.

When the handle to the door of Mark's den didn't turn, Emily felt the blood leave the area on either side of her nose with a tingling sensation. Two locked doors.

Having key locks on all the bedroom doors had been an interesting feature of the house when they bought it. Presumably the previous owners had a good reason to keep each other on the far side of a door, but Emily had never gone past speculation that the prior inhabitants had a flock of unruly teens, with perhaps a history of playing practical jokes on each other. The locks did give the Fatzers a sense of security when they held parties; at least their offices and bedrooms remained sacrosanct, though there had never been a need for their caution until New Year's.

Two locked doors. Normally, the keys were kept in the lock, mostly so that they knew where the keys were, and so that the wind might not accidentally slam a door that had had the lock turned. But unless they were dressing with people already in the house, or the weekly cleaning service was coming in when they were not at home, the doors were always unlocked. And then of course, Mark and Emily kept a backup set of keys in the kitchen pantry. Emily backed away from the den door, turned on her heel, and strode purposefully to the pantry.

No set of backup keys hung on the hook beside the door.

Now I'm justified. Emily went back upstairs quickly, and pulled open the drawer of her desk that held her stapler, ruler, staple puller, and calculator. She lifted the whole drawer out. On the very back, held in place by duct tape, was another set of keys, keys that she had made after reading a creepy book about a crazy husband. I told myself that I was a paranoid worrier, but now I'm justified. She pocketed the keys.

She checked the garage to make certain Mark had not returned while she was upstairs; his car wasn't there or in the driveway. She opened up his door and entered the den, flipping on the desk light. A large FedEx envelope and a letter lay out on the desk. The envelope bore the return address of Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Emily picked up the letter, whose letterhead matched the return address of the envelope, and read it. The tone of the letter was businesslike, but eager. The wording was encouraging, yet cautious. Dr. Mark Fatzer was being invited to interview for a teaching post in the Anthropology Department at the main campus of Western Michigan University. Emily put the letter down in the exact position in which she'd found it, and seized with a sudden itch, scrubbed madly at her right ear. What the hell was going on?

She turned off the light, relocked the door, and marched upstairs again. Unlocking Mark's door, she was grateful that there was still enough light to make her way around the room. She looked out Mark's window at the driveway and street, and could see no one. Her eyes traced over the contents of his room. Bed unmade, highball glass on the side table. Pants thrown across the arm of a dressing chair. Stack of pocket contents on the dresser, and some more papers, that's what she wanted to see. Along with some lint, some small change, a toothpick in cellophane and a mint, there were two packs of matches. Emily picked one up. He may notice that there is only one where there used to be two. She opened the matchbook, took out three paper matches, and put the matchbook back on the pile. The pocket detritus rested upon a fax, a fax requesting identification -- proof, as it were, that Dr. Mark Fatzer really did work at Port Laughton University -- a fax from Western Michigan University, dated two Thursdays ago, sent to Mark's office at school.

Thoughtfully, Emily left his room, remembering to lock the door. She walked down the hall to her office, and re-taped the two keys to the back of the drawer. Her mind was still numb as she took the back stairs into the kitchen. The man locked me out of his two private rooms. He's obviously inquired about a job with Western Michigan University. His parents live not too far from Kalamazoo, in Battle Creek. Why would he keep this secret from her? He kept a secret from me!

She got one of the tapers from the cupboard and turned on the back burner of the stove. When the burner began to heat, she held one of the matches to it. In a matter of seconds it flared alight, and she lit the long candle, then carried it to the fireplace. As Emily lit the fire starter beneath the grate in the fireplace, then ignited a crumpled wad of newspaper to heat up the chimney flue, her mind darted about like a sparrow accidentally caught in the garage. He's going to leave me. He's getting ready to sneak off in the middle of the night and dump me for some younger woman. Only when had he had the time for another woman? Emily knew almost to the minute how long it took to get from the University parking lot to their house, and Mark always called when he was leaving the campus to give her a heads up for having dinner not quite ready, but just about so that he could unwind before assaulting his finicky stomach with food. Maybe he's been carrying on an affair with someone at work, and they've decided to run off to Michigan together. But who? Not the flashy blonde -- Mark complained about her running around with the lesbian from the Psych Department, and said she had a mouth like an open sewer to boot. Besides, at the barbecues Emily and Mark gave for faculty in the summer, she always greeted Mark as though he was an insect, which made him wig for ages afterwards. His secretary, Margaret? Not likely. She wasn't pretty (though not ugly, either, mind you) or sexy -- actually Emily liked Margaret a lot, and enjoyed chatting with her when they could. It was just that Mark didn't think palling around with a secretary was a good idea. Gave the wrong impression. No, not Margaret Wills.

A graduate student? But Mark had made it known many, many, many times how he despised Middi for "going after" such an older man, would it be possible for him to fall for a young woman? After all his bitching about me losing an inheritance to Middi, why would he chase after a young thing with no money? Emily was dreamy and uncomplicated, but not stupid. She knew that Mark was hoping for a large legacy when her father died. Well, I'm not too stupid. But I can't figure this one out. I know Mark has his eye on the Dean's job, why would he want to leave? And why would he want to leave and apply for a job and talk to people about interviews without saying a word to me?

Satisfied that the fire had caught, Emily returned to the kitchen and put some water on the stove to boil with a chicken bouillon cube and a pinch of parsley. Comfort food on the way, ramen noodles, hot and salty. She was in need of comfort. He kept this a secret from me and locked me out of his rooms so that I wouldn't find out. What should she say to her husband when he returned home? Should she fly at him with the Michigan letter in hand and yell, "What are you doing behind my back? By the way, you've been robbed! And I'm not going to tell you where I hide my secret keys to your private rooms!" No, not a good move.

What if he is leaving me? What would that be like? Would she sob and wail and wonder what on earth she would ever do? What on earth did she ever do with her time now? She kept the house, cooked the meals, planned the parties, paid the bills. She kept the house the way Mark liked it, cooked the foods that Mark considered palatable, invited the people that Mark liked to keep in contact with, disbursed the money that Mark earned on things that Mark approved.

They'd never been tremendously sexy together, not like Middi and her father, who looked at each other as though they'd both burst into flames at any moment. So it wasn't like she'd die of horniness if he left. He didn't like sleeping with her, anyway, on account of her snoring, and she'd actually felt a sense of relief when she set up her own bedroom.

Her mother had told her when she was a teenager that the Hollywood vision of love was a false one, that love was patient and kind, love was taking care of someone as though they were made of crystal, love was a willingness to sacrifice, over and over. "Being kind to one another is what makes a marriage last," she'd said. "Not hormones and body parts." Emily had believed her, and marriage to Mark had lasted all these years. Mom would be so disappointed to see me now, Emily thought, and then stiffened. Why would her mother be disappointed? Because she'd sneaked into Mark's rooms to figure out why he was acting weird?

You don't want to admit it. You're hiding from what you really feel. Emily rubbed her hands over her upper arms, feeling chilly. There were indeed things she didn't want to pursue in her mind at this point, not with all the things that needed to be done to try to bring that counterfeiter to justice. She decided then to let the Michigan letters go, and give Mark a chance to tell her in his own good time. They needed to work together when they went to the police. So many things to think about on my own. When am I going to find the time to think?

The door to the garage opened, and she could hear Mark jingling his car keys. Damn. He came home.

Oh, shit, where did that thought come from?

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-04-17
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
03:31:16 PM
Okay, now I'm wondering what's happening inside this house. Who's guilty of something and who isn't? Good cliffhanger with a dash of suspense going here, and I certainly don't want to wait another week to see what is going to transpire.
Your Comments

The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.