I murdered the clock. It was not a pretty sight. It felt worth it, though, in the silence that followed. I laughed until I cried, then cried a little (a lot), sitting on the floor like a malleable old doll with my legs stretched out, hands palms-up, resting on the floor. A-huh-a-huh-a-huhhhh, I cried, my mouth in a robot smile.
Cleaning up the carnage, I danced with the broom between sweeps. I even joined the bristles in a festive refrain: cht-cht! cht-cht! I picked up the bag, heard the clinking chorus of defeat; the crushed pieces plinking and squinking together in the bottom of the bag until finally: silence. Lively toe-steps carried me and the bag to the trash can outside.
I stopped. Kissed the air while examining the bag out of the corner of my eye. Tink, something said. I hustled back into the house, refused to get on my creaking knees as I dug around under the sink, grunting and groaning as I reached with great strain of my neck, finally succeeding in harvesting three more bags. I placed each bag around the dead clock bag, knotting each one with a clench of my teeth. Only distant, muffled sounds reached my ears. Satisfied, I held the bag up to my face. “One can never be too careful in times like these.”
“What?” my husband called out from the other room. I grimaced in embarrassment for having forgotten all about him.
“Talking to myself!” I yelled back.
“Need any help?”
I made the appropriate face. “Help talking to myself?”
I shook the bag in his direction, went back outside. Smashed it against the house a couple times before throwing it in the can. “Sleep tight!”
Listen, listen, listen, listen, I say to the health insurance turd on the phone an hour later. By the time I’m done with that fourth listen, I forgot what I was going to say. The turd takes the opportunity and goes all in. “I can’t change the rules. I can’t change the bills. There’s not even anything wrong with you,” he says.
I take a gulp of air, place a hand at the base of my throat. “That’s the nicest thing anyone’s ever said to me.”
He lets out a relief laugh with a long ahhhh at the end. A small air bubble climbs up my throat, escapes with a croak, reminding me how little this turd knows. “Let me ask you something, Doctor—” We both know I know he’s not a doctor. He sighs a sigh that wonders when this will ever end.
“It’s really the suspense,” I smirk, “that makes us feel like this.”
Click. Click-click-click. Click. He disconnects. I wish him a long and difficult life.
I finger the remains of a brown muffin on a saucer. This gross machine never takes care of itself. The chewing goes on longer than it should, gummy clumps wedging into valleys of my molars, the weird ridges in the roof of my mouth. I stop, stare at the saucer. How many years have these crumbs been sitting here?
A kid screams outside. I flinch. Overhead comes the steady clomp of my husband’s shoes, the smooth roll of his desk chair as he works upstairs. I look up, put a hand beside my mouth and scream in a whisper: “This isn’t going well!”
I have to pee. Again. I groan sitting down on the toilet. My ass makes a clunk as it hits the plastic seat. Clunk. Who can claim any kind of comfort or self-respect clunked over a hole in the floor, the hollow, then tinkling, then hollow streaming sound of whizz ringing out from the bowl—waiting, waiting, waiting for the sound to be done? The edge of the toilet paper’s hiding in there somewhere. I let my other hand join the search. My nails scratch around the roll, rattling the plastic holder as it spins. The end-sheet finally reveals itself. I let out the breath I’d been holding since beginning this adventure; sometimes things do workout for the best. I groan with a flourish (higher pitched at the end) standing back up, prep for yet another flush. I clap my hands together like a beefy football coach: Let’s do this shit!
I clench my hands in bony fists, arms bowed at the elbows in a case of invisible lats. You’re gonna turn a no to yes. Failures are the stairs you climb to success.
I stumble back. The cold toilet bowl slaps the thin skin behind my knees—they bend to run away, I grab the blinds to keep from falling, sending up a cacophony of terrified slats plinking and clanking which I join with screeching demands to know what in the living fuck is happening.
I’d been assaulted. By my face in the mirror. Eyeballs sucking around in their sockets. Teeth creaking up and out to where they want to be—the spitting image of a gopher. A pointlessly long, pale hair sad-tromboning out and down from the side of my chin. That’s the last time I ever get positive.
I’m lying in bed with the fan aimed at the wall staring at the shadows on the ceiling. But I can still hear the squeal of my ringing ears, the click in my husband’s throat that accompanies his slumbered breathing. Outside there’s an ambulance siren fading; tires screech, an endless car alarm meeps. Even still, lying in the dark with my arms crossed over my rib cage, it’s difficult to believe I am not the only person in existence. If I’m lucky, there will come a time in the not-so-distant future when this will be the last thing you’re doing. Then there will be no one left. Now, it’s practice for what’s coming. That’s what they say about thoughts or dreams or terrifying stories that drain your blood and fill your ears with a round, hot silence.
Amanda Anderson is a former public and private librarian working on her first novel. Her fiction has appeared in X-R-A-Y, The Sissyfuss, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two old dogs.
image: MM Kaufman