Catsup

by Pat Hauldren


Devy wouldn’t be killing anything today.

She held the receiver to her ear. The caller had long since hung up. She stared out tall kitchen windows to the back yard. Yellow butterflies alighted on purple morning glories. A muddied wasps’ nest darkened a corner of the roof overhang on the north end. Gotta spray again, she thought, then quickly repented.

She shook off the impending lethargy, setting the phone on the counter. She had to go shopping today. That was something to look forward to. A few hours at the grocery would be good for Devy, stave off the gloominess.

Hubby would arrive home from a hard day at work and see no dinner on the table, no wafting aromas of stew or steak or even frozen chicken fingers, and never seemed to mind. He’d smile and grab her around her waist, giving her his little welcome home kiss, then they’d head out the door for dinner. How could she be so lucky yet feel so deprived?

Week after week, she’d drive to the store, determined this time she’d fill the shopping cart with bags and boxes, select the best cuts of meat, use her carefully clipped coupons wisely, yet she always returned home empty-handed. And depressed. She dared not talk to a professional, afraid she’d get locked up, told she was mental.

Her sister gave her pills. Somehow, Sis always had pills. Devy supposed that’s how her sister coped, how she led her idyllic life — PTA, monthly women’s book club, dinner for her husband every night, even weekend barbys. Pills seemed to work for Sis, but not for Devy.

After a few weeks, the medicated euphoria couldn’t dull her needs. She’d pace the house, cleaning until her fingers numbed. She’d jog, hoping exercise would suffice, and sometimes it did, most often, it didn’t. Strays still roamed the neighborhood. On the days she hit that jogger’s high, she found herself away from suburbia, further into town, where homeless stood begging on street corners. Sometimes, she get them to come home with her. She’d hail a cab, sweating and chattering all the way, happy to be a good housewife one more time.

Outside, a tabby rubbed against a corner on the patio. Devy watched it, eyeing its thick muscled frame, a tom with a few battle scars interrupting his furry streaks. She remembered when she had cats. Kitty One and Kitty Two. She’d raised them from kittens, given to her by her sister, who had a mess of them in cages in her garage. Guess Sis felt sorry for her. Sis said to breed them, but they didn’t last that long. Pets in Devy’s house didn’t last long at all.

Not that hubby ever noticed. He didn’t notice the cats when they were here. He didn’t notice them when they weren’t. He hadn’t paid attention to their dog either, a slobbery Rotty they’d rescued from the pound. He said it’d be a good watch dog, but Devy was the one doing the watching. Watching and waiting while it grew into a massive black and brown nuisance.

One day, the dog was gone. Devy remembered that day clearly. It was one of those rare occasions when she had cooked dinner for her husband.

A Texas cold front had set in with heavy bruised-bottomed clouds filling the sky. Not a lick of sunlight penetrated the bloated barrier. A chilly wind cut around corners and whirled down the chimney, stirring ashes she hadn’t cleaned in years. She was content to hide inside her ranch-style house, wrapped in her mother’s hand-crocheted afghan.

For weeks, they’d eaten at every restaurant and café within thirty miles, even done take-away. Hubby had entertained her with horror movies and popcorn, weekend trips to B&B’s, volunteered at homeless shelters and pet rescue centers, even toured a morgue at her request, but the dullness of winter crept into her soul. All she wanted was to be still, be quiet, be less alive long enough to ride out the cold front.

That day, the dog barked, and kept barking, on and on, at every little thing — the bluejay on the fence, the crisp brown leaves fluttering across the winter-hardy Bermuda, neighbors’ trash blown against the sliding glass door, flapping as if it wanted inside. The Rotty barked until she couldn’t stand it anymore.

That night they dined on lean shanks marinated in homemade sauce and broiled in the oven. Scalloped potatoes and broccoli with cheese sauce. Hubby had enjoyed it, praised it, and for a few hours, she was content. She’d done her duty as a loving suburban housewife.

Devy blinked back to the present. The tabby turned away from the back door flap, running off to its cat world. Too bad. Devy grabbed her purse, checking for her wallet. Shopping. She could do it. Wives did it every day. She fingered her keys out of the side pocket, gripping them tight till the edges cut her palm. Don’t panic. Stay calm. As much as she knew what she needed to do, she remained frozen, unable to leave.

She looked around the kitchen. The fridge beckoned, hungry to be filled. The stove bulged, threatening to open its oven door and suck her inside. She knew she should have replaced the oven bulb.

She swallowed a dry gulp. Blood oozed from her fist, collected and runnelled through the creases. Orbs of bright red fluid fell slowly, quietly, to the just-mopped linoleum. She laid her hand across the wood cutting board. A violent tremor took her. Tongue flicking, she licked her hand, then collapsed to her knees to lick the floor. Let hubby take her out to dinner. She wouldn’t be killing anything today.


Copyright © 2009 by Pat Hauldren

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