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November 27, 2023
"Mes de los Muertos"

Out with the Trash

By Sand Pilarski

Chapter Twenty-two

The top center drawer of Mark's desk was locked, and Emily did not have a key. She did lift every piece of paper, pull out every drawer and examine its backside (hadn't she hidden the duplicate keys on the back of one of her desk drawers?), look through all the cabinets in the den, under the furniture cushions, and flipped through every volume on the shelves (within reach). Nothing. Even the file drawer of the desk was innocent, holding only invoices from the magazines Mark ordered, and some folders with copies of student papers from years gone by. Should I be relieved that I found nothing? Why am I not?

"You shithead," she said to the latex glove on her hand as it caught when she was closing the den door. She clicked the door open enough to free her hand, then closed it again. How do crooks have the patience for this? She re-locked the door and headed upstairs, checking her watch, noting that Mark would still be in the air.

Now for the Holy of Holies. What is the Holy of Holies, anyway? I'll have to look that up on the computer, too. Her recollection of the term made her think that it was a place in which people thought God lived; and hadn't she pretty much worshipped her husband all these years, bowing to his whims, accepting his judgments? She opened the door of Mark's bedroom slowly, her heart beating rapidly at her temerity in violating his privacy. How she would hate it if she knew that he was exploring her office and bedroom as she was his! She paused, the door only half-open, re-thinking her choice of action. I never locked my office and my bedroom to him until just the other day. Never in all these years. I never had anything to hide, except my journal, and that was only because I didn't want to appear foolish or dreamy. She pulled the wooden spoon from her pocket, gripped it by the handle near its bowl and told it, with anger beginning to surge again, "And I never had a photo of another man in my desk, and I never made plans to leave him, either, now did I? Thank you for your consideration!" She gave Spoon a last choke and stuffed the implement back in her pocket. Damn Spoon is going to be a shoo-in for sainthood before I'm done.

Emily pushed the door open the rest of the way. As usual, Mark's bed had been neatly made so that there were no wrinkles in the gray bedspread. The top of his dresser was spotless, with no coins or pieces of paper or pieces of candy at all. The fax from Michigan was gone. His bathroom door stood open, past the row of his shoes that just peeked out from under the far side of his bed.

Focus. This is where you have to focus. Emily knew that she had to pay attention to the order of Mark's belongings. He was not just nitpicky about the property, he also had a set little order in all the things he did. Everything had a place in his world, and if things were out of place, he was disturbed. He would remember where he put all his possessions, so she had better remember where everything was, too, if she wanted to keep her exploration secret. She decided to start with the bathroom.

She edged into the small room as though she expected him to jump out and shout "Boo!" at her. The shower door was closed; she opened it and took stock of the bottle of shampoo, the bar of deodorant soap, the two curly hairs on the floor of the shower, probably from the gray and dark fuzz on his chest. A flash of memory assailed Emily, of the first time she had run her hand across the hairs on his chest, of how the feeling of his hair on her palm had aroused her, of her wonder that such a talented man was interested in her body and her company. What happened to that feeling? Steeling herself, she opened the drawer of his bathroom vanity. There was a pair of tweezers in there, and a nail file, and clippers. Athlete's foot ointment, and Preparation H. Okay, this is already more than I wanted to know about my husband. A thermometer and thermometer covers lay in a shallow cardboard box that served as a drawer organizer, along with a plastic bottle of ibuprofen, and another of aspirin. A new toothbrush in its packaging, the directions for the use of his new shaver, a moustache comb, some toenail clippers pushed to the back of the small drawer, and a tube of hydrocortisone. How does he get by with so little?

She shut the drawer and opened the door of the vanity. There was a scouring cleanser in there, and a johnny brush, a sponge and a shower spray along with a pumice stone for tough hard-water build-up. The upper shelf revealed a bottle of body lotion, his jar of vitamins, and some sunscreen. She straightened up. That's it? She backed out of the bath without touching any of his things.

The stand beside his bed was a simple one, holding only a phone and an empty notepad. She pondered taking the side of a pencil to it, to see if any impressions had been made. But if the FBI became involved in an investigation, wouldn't they do that? And what if her clandestine nosiness ruined some crucial clue that might lead to the apprehension of Edith Weber? She moved on to his dresser. Opening each drawer, she removed the clothing from them, one piece at a time, looking to see if there was anything hidden. Underwear drawer, socks drawer, casual shirts drawer, casual shorts and pants drawer; sweater drawer, sweats drawer -- once again, nothing. Nothing in any of them.

In his closet on the top shelf was a spare blanket and an extra pillow for when his back hurt and he needed to prop up his knees. An empty spot on the shelf was like a parking space where he always kept his suitcase, which he had taken with him to Michigan. Emily went through every pocket of every article of clothing hanging on the closet rod, noting that his pin-striped charcoal suit was missing, as well as his three best dress shirts. She helped him pick out clothing. She knew everything he had, from undershirts to cufflinks. How funny that he took his best suit along when he visited his parents because he missed them -- was he planning on going to church while he was there, and needed to impress the preacher?

Emily leaned against the wall beside the closet. For a moment she thought that she had been mistaken, misguided, over-anxious. But the letter from Western Michigan University had been real, and she felt a renewed determination to find out anything she could.

She walked to her office and got the emergency flashlight. Kneeling, she scanned beneath his bed. Shoes resided there, and a small zippered plastic bag with a bathing suit, a tropical pattern shirt, and a pair of thong footwear, his beach garb for the one or two days a year that the sun was out and the tiny beach south of Port Laughton was habitable. Emily sat on the floor and felt somehow defeated. She had not been able to unearth a single clue as to what her husband was up to. He's as blameless as I am, everything out in the open and open to scrutiny. Except for my journal, of course, stuck between my mattress and box springs.

In a sudden flurry of motion, Emily flipped the bedspread up and fished between the mattress and the box springs, moving rapidly to the depth of her armpit from the left side of the bed to the foot, and up the right side of the bed, near the stand with the phone, the side with the windows shining in the afternoon light. Something scratchy was there, by the head of the bed for her hand to collide with.

Emily pulled the packaging forth, and dropped it in disgust. It was a flattened box of condoms.

Batting her hands together as though to swat away contamination, she stood up. Condoms.

She turned and left the bedroom, the evidence of her exploration lying on the floor by the windows. In the hall, she leaned against the wall and let herself slide down until she was sitting splay-legged on the floor, ungraceful and limp. Her head sunk forward, chin touching her chest, and she wanted to die there, done with humiliation and falsehoods, weary beyond all telling of the things about her life that she had recently come to know. I can't go on. I can't.

Death ignored her like a businessman in San Francisco ignores the mendicant with one leg who holds out a can beside the entrance to One Market Restaurant before the management comes to run him off. The businessman can afford a seventy-dollar meal, but can't spare a quarter for the homeless, unshaven misfortunate. Death could swoop upon a movie star or a fat tycoon, but Emily, stricken to the heart with arrows and arrows of shock and disbelief upon disbelief was left sitting in her hallway, expected to live, expected to stand up and keep at her tasks, expected to draw another breath, and then another.

Eleven years had passed since Emily had been forced by health problems, non-cancerous uterine growths that caused her to bleed constantly, to have a hysterectomy.

There had been no need of condoms since the first few years of their marriage, when the arrival of an infant simply would not have fit with their goals. Then, the dynasty-building age upon them, they had not bothered with any birth control at all.

The non-productiveness of their union had sent them to their respective specialists, to find that Emily was loaded untimely with fibroid tumors, which while they caused no apparent heath risks, prevented a pregnancy. A dilation and curettement helped the engenderment of a little boy or girl not at all. Emily's womb was an inhospitable place of crags and scratching growths that would not allow a placenta to attach, a garden of bizarre sprouts, a labyrinth of un-welcome signs.

Mark had no reason to keep a package of condoms under his mattress. At least, no good reason that Emily could think of for him. If he needed condoms, it was because he was screwing around. Through all her anger at the secret picture of coy, adulterous Marcella Henderson, Emily had maintained a deep fantasy that she was mistaken in her suspicions, and that Mark was merely acting strangely here and there; surely upon his return from Michigan everything would go back to normal, and all her suspicions would prove to have been baseless. The letter from Western Michigan University would have been the result of a spur of the minute curiosity; the picture of Marcella the wake of a pointless crush; the trip to Michigan what he had said it was, a nostalgic visit to see his parents.

A large concrete casting of Reality thumped onto the hallway floor beside Emily. Its base scratched and marred the smooth beauty of the hardwood floor; it would impede movement from room to room during daily routines; it was cold to the touch and Emily edged away from its gritty, abrading surface. "Got the picture yet?" it asked rudely.

She drew her knees up, laid her forearms across them, her secret agent gloved hands dangling, put her forehead against her arms and gave in to sobs.

Article © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
Published on 2017-06-26
Image(s) © Sand Pilarski. All rights reserved.
1 Reader Comments
Ralph Bland
06:42:48 PM
He's not worth the effort or the tears. Unfortunately, there are a lot of these types running around loose in the world.Can't wait for comeuppance for this dude!
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