I couldn’t remember if it was my husband or I who had placed the tomato on the windowsill, but I’m sure the intention had been to let it ripen past rigidity. We had brought it home for some pasta dish or sandwich topper, probably, but neither of us would use it now. It was lush and plump, moist innards swollen against taut skin. I picked it up, glossed it against my chapped and parted lips, then returned it to the sill.
Sometimes it glistened in sunshine, but mostly it looked dull and waxy, in the artificial light that escaped the dense moth-thicket of the fixture. I didn’t look out the window, but saw light slinked upon voluptuous, red flesh. It was rotting, but slowly. Surprisingly slowly, and I’ve been waiting and waiting for dark patches of decay to lace their way to the surface. After a week of waiting, the tomato had only grown larger. A hydroponic freak. Tomorrow, I tell myself, maybe tomorrow.
I have to pass through the kitchen to get to the bathroom, and that’s probably the only reason I cared at all for that fruit. For the past week, I have barely eaten, barely slept, barely given the foam in the couch cushions a chance to recover from my ass print. But still I piss.
Bodies can survive for quite some time by taking in only the bare minimum, but they always find something to expel. I’d wait until the urge tugged and cramped, then I’d run to the bathroom as the trail of acrid warmth began to drizzle down my leg. I’d check for signs of rot on my way back to the couch.
There’s still a piss spot, dark and obscene, on the bedroom carpet, but I’ve stopped trying to get it out. Spraying and dousing and knuckle-scratching scrubbing have failed, so it must have leached into the padding beneath. The other day I tried sleeping in the bed, but I broke down when I walked into the room and realized the air freshener was finally working. I sobbed and gasped and rattled because the air smelled like lilacs instead of stale piss.
It was only ever in that one spot. I tried closing the door, tried placing tinfoil down, even sprayed repellent, but the dog would find a way in, and hunch over to saturate the carpet as I stood watching. I shook my finger at him and tried for sternness, when I said, “Shit, no. Stop that,” but I could never bring myself to hit him. Then he’d shove his nose, cold and damp as a garden slug, against my leg, and I’d give him a rawhide because he seemed to love me.
Oh, how my husband would yell! He’d chain the dog outside, cursing and hollering, and I’d sneak him back in when my husband had settled to his paperwork. That dog hated to be outside, and he would bark in the worst high-pitched way, that was impossible to ignore, until we let him in. He was a horrible creature, and he ran away to chase the geese and pissed in the house and spilled the garbage onto the floor. But I brought him in off the streets and I loved him and I murdered him.
They say killing is easier the second time around. Death becomes nothing more than a final exhalation. The thing about breathing is, without the next breath, and the next breath, there is nothing. So much dependency! And I hated dependency, and that’s why I would never have a child, no matter how much my husband begged.
Like all the worst tendencies, it becomes habit, killing does. Second-nature, and unrepentant. For some, the best, an addiction. At least that’s what the crime shows say. Interview of a Killer and The Mind Behind the Crime and When Love Bleeds Red. These mindless, trashy shows play all day, and I’ve been unable to pull myself away from them. I’m just trying to understand myself.
Oh, how he begged me for a child! Like it was all that mattered in the world, and I was nothing without a bawling infant in my arms. He knew I didn’t care for them, that I couldn’t stand the thought of sucking snot from a tiny nose or having my fingers covered in shit. So small, babies were, so easily hurt! Finally, I said we’d try, but I made sure it didn’t happen. He’s the kind of man who needs to be shut up.
My husband tells me I stink when he comes home from work and finds me un-showered, face blotched with zits, mouth like a cotton ball, twirling my knotted, greasy hair, and surrounded by crumpled tissues. He’s stopped kissing me, and looks angry, and I think of how I’d do it. How I’d kill him and how it would feel, for us both. Then I think no, no, what a horrible thing to wonder! Maybe rat poison, maybe blunt force. I’m so tired, too tired to decide.
For the first few weeks, he brought me takeout, which I’d barely touch. For the past few, he’s been going out for dinner, coming home with smoke clogging his pores, and slur in his words. He still asks me to come, and I tell him, “Just give me some more time. I’ll get over this.”
Sometimes, I apologize. “So, so, sorry.” I can’t stop crying. “So, so, sorry! Bear with me.”
I know what he is thinking: “He was a fucking dog. Get over it! No more barking, no more piss, no more barefoot – crunch of shattered eggshells, shaken from the trash!” My grief is a relief to him. He never said so, but I know.
I can’t tell him the truth, that I’m sitting here filled with thoughts of life-taking, and that I hate him for having held my dog as the poison slicked through his unknowing veins and congested his heart. I hate him because I’d had to make that choice, because he wasn’t man enough to sign for the decision, and because I should be able to cope with this, and I could not. Because it should have been me in that cold, white, desperate room.
He’s stopped saying things like “There’s nothing you could have done.” He calls me unreasonable. Like I’m being dramatic. I just feel so heavy all the time. My nose is chapped and cracked and raw. My eyes are raisins, and when he opens the blinds, it feels as if they’ve been fucked long and hard by sunshine.
I want to hurt something else. Maybe not kill, but maybe! I was learning so many ways. Embracing the primordial. My mind was fixated on rot. I thought about worms entering flesh, wet bodies gliding over bones, penetrating eye sockets, festering under skin like infected splinters. How everything I ever loved would turn to dirt. And damn it, that dog had hated to be outside, but I hadn’t thought of that when I’d checked the Take Body Home box on the consent form at the vet’s. The death- contract. No, all I could think of was his burning body in the incinerator, his skin peeling and shriveling, and now I thought only of rot. Flames are kinder than worms, but I didn’t know it at the time.
* * *
The first sign! A tiny black dot has appeared on the bottom of the tomato, all sneaky, like I wouldn’t see it. But I’ve found it. I stroked the bloated contours, scratched off a dry shard of stem, not touching the blackness, for fear it would rub off on my finger.
We’d awoken to him breathing hard, moussed saliva curdled his lips, and he was thrashing and rolling on the kitchen floor. He was gagging but bringing up nothing, and I thought maybe he’d eaten some cleaning powder. It was before sunrise, the sky bled blackness, and the emergency vet clinic was almost an hour away.
Waiting. We sat in cold plastic chairs and sipped on bitter tea and pretended to read magazines while we waited. Waited for that stray mutt I had picked up from the side of the road. The television showed scenes from a horrible traffic accident, but echoed no sound. I longed to hear the cars snap like wishbones, the metallic ping of something worse than this.
He had been covered in bald spots with oozing skin, damp with infection, when I first saw him. He’d been rummaging through a trash bag on the side of the road. I’d rolled down my car window, and called to him. His ribs and hip bones were protruded, and his eyes were too small for his face, so I coaxed him with a stale piece of bagel, and brought him home, because nobody else would. My husband was furious, but I told him it would teach me responsibility. I had never cared for another living thing, and I said I should practice.
More chairs, different room. Shoulder-clutching chill.
“See here and here,” the vet said, pointing to an x-ray. “The stomach has twisted, and gas is trapped, and we will need to perform emergency surgery.”
I said, “Of course.”
My husband said, “Now wait, how much are we talking? What are the odds, here?”
I said, “Honey, we have to,” as I salted the immaculate floor with human fear.
The vet cleared her throat. “The surgery starts around three thousand, but with complications, it may go upwards of six. There’s a high chance of tissue necropsy, since so much time has passed. I’ll get you the forms.”
The only mercy in that place was when she left the room.
“Jesus Christ, we can’t afford that!” my husband said.
“I’ll get a second job. We don’t have a choice.”
“We do! There is no way. What next? How much do you have wrapped up in his other vet bills? Hundreds of dollars! He’s not a young dog, even.”
“Dr. Joe said he’s around seven,” I said.
“This is ridiculous. I’m attached to him too, but you’ve done enough. It’s his time, baby. It’s his time.”
I should have argued harder, or cracked his head on the floor tiles, and dug out my credit card and left him there to bleed. But I ran out to the car and threw-up thin strands of instant waiting-room tea, yelling and choking on guilt as I pounded the hood.
I was learning so many ways, as I larvated on the couch and stared at this simplified, pixilated view of the world. Everything was clear. One killer, a woman, had taken her lover with an ice sculpture! She’d had it delivered for a party, and as he was stretched out in the hot tub, afterwards, she hit him over the head with it! Once, twice, enough times to erase the sting. When his body was found, the murder weapon had melted, never to be found. The dumb bitch had forgotten there would be record of the ice sculpture’s sale, and I laughed at this, in a tearful, phlegmy sort of way. I’d never make such a mistake.
Numbness, today, again. My hair is damp with oil, strands sticky and wadded together, and my scalp is buzzing with tingles. I don’t remember my husband coming in last night, or the night before, but I heard his car in the driveway this morning, I’m sure. I feel stale, and I bet that dog is getting pretty ripe in the ground, worm-feast now. I used to lie with him at night, and press my nose to his paw-pads, enamored of the salty earth-smell. He’d lick the drip from my showered hair, and I’d rub his ears that way he liked. He always acted so damned appreciative. So happy to have a home and food and warmth. He never suspected what I could do.
I was growing bitter towards the television, with its infinite noise and smiling commercial faces. I was bitter towards my husband for staying out when I needed him here. I needed him. Not to touch, or console, but to hover near, and share my sorrow. I was weak, but finally, I decided I must shower, before he left me for good. I itched and itched, and somehow still bled when I dug too harshly into my legs. I couldn’t stand the thought of being so alone, with no one to want me. I didn’t deserve anyone, but maybe I could make him think I did. I’d tricked him for so long, and even gotten him to marry me! But I felt terrible and worthless now.
I scoured and scrubbed the grime from my skin, until I was achy and patchy with heat. I tugged plastic bristles over my scalp and through thick clumps of mat, flushing pulled hairs down the toilet. I felt lively, but I would leave the balled-up tissues in the living room, because they held my pain, and I wasn’t yet ready to part with that.
I called my husband, and left him a message to come right home after work, because I was making dinner. What would I cook? My robe hung open, and my breasts felt heavy and obtrusive even though I’d lost weight. My mind was the static buzz of a wasp stuck between glass panel and screen.
I pulled on knobs, clunked and thudded drawers, and I could think of nothing to make. Christ, I was no chef. Maybe I’d call for takeout. Then, I remembered the tomato. I hadn’t had the energy to look at it since that first sign of rot. The slowness was torture, so I’d ignored it for several days now, staring at kitchen floor, searching for remaining shards of dog hair.
Oh God, finally! It was a pustule now, covered with downy white mold. It looked so comfortable. The blackness had coursed its way through the flesh, and was now a gaping, infested wound. I ran over to it, and stroked it, smiling. I’d waited so long for this, and I badly wanted to show my husband. He’d tried to throw it away days ago, and I’d screamed at him.
I picked it up with some difficulty, since it clung to the windowsill in a small puddle of what it had leaked. It required the most tender of touches so it would not turn to mush in my hands. It would be perfect, and I was sure we had pasta somewhere.
I plopped the ruined, sodden thing into a thick pool of oil, which popped and frolicked with the heat of the burner. The whole thing seemed to shudder and sink into itself. White and black and florid red pulsed together, and bubbled thick and succulent, like snot.
I watched as it broke down into a pulp and, on second thought, rummaged through the cupboard and scattered in whatever spices I could find. The sauce oozed and bubbled as I boiled the noodles and set the table for two.
Hours passed and my husband didn’t show. I’d been sitting at the table, watching the pasta turn clammy, and I had only fingered the sauce a few times. He’d never know. It was an unusual taste, but not unpleasant, and I still hoped we could enjoy it together. I was lonely, so lonely. So craving something warm, and I could not bear to think what I’d done to that beautiful fruit. If that man would make love to me now, I just may grant him his wish.
Photo By: Terry Dye