Monday, May 31, 2010

The New Widow

Alison Stevens, still dressed in her mourning clothes, idly dusted the picture of her late husband. The picture lay on the mantel in the sitting room where Alison passed by several times per day. Should she sit in her favorite chair to engage in knitting, she had only to look up to see his stern face staring back at her.

After the dusting was done, she knew she would have to turn to scrubbing the wooden floors, mainly in the dining room where, try as she might, she could not remove a stubborn stain. Alison had tried several times, using a variety of products and techniques, but still it remained, and she was afraid to try a harsh chemical, lest it ruin the floor. As a result, she procrastinated over the dusting.

Henry had left her reasonably well-off - the house was paid for, and she had a legacy that would see to her meager needs - so she could have kept Bernice, their long-time maid. Indeed, had it come to it, either of her sons, both grown men with good jobs of their own (Leland had a job in the City, something to do with finance that she never quite understood, no matter how often he explained it to her), would have helped with the household upkeep. When Henry passed away, however, she thought she could not take Bernice's sympathy daily, and she believed that the housework itself would keep her mind occupied, lest she think too often about her husband's untimely passing. Indeed, so suddenly had she made that decision, and so eagerly did she want to implement the plan, that Bernice returned from her day off to find her belongings already packed and ready to be shipped, a packet containing two months' pay (for Bernice had been in the Stevens' service for many years) in Alison's hand, an apologetic look on Alison's face.

Rather than tackle the flooring directly, Alison decided to procrastinate by taking her dust cloth to the root cellar, where she could tell herself that dusting off the sealed jars was a worthy endeavor. She descended the steep staircase and pulled the chain that switched on the single light bulb. Henry had had electricity installed in '86 and, despite the glare of the bulb, Alison much preferred it to balancing the kerosene lamp as she made her way into the subterranean gloom.

The shelves groaned with the weight of the glass jars. Alison went to work, starting with the front row: vegetables - snap peas, yellow beans, turnips, and carrots - on top, jams - blackberry, boysenberry, and apricot - in the middle, and starches - potatoes and yams, on the bottom. Then she carefully removed these and gazed at the row behind. On the top shelf, an eye stared back at her. She wiped the jar with the rag and placed it carefully back in its spot. Several others held digits, both fingers and toes, and one held what she referred to as the "manly parts." Viscera went below, and the bottom shelves mainly contained bones, floating gently in a sea of isopropyl alcohol, each bearing the marks of the hacksaw used to make them small enough to fit inside the jar. Henry would have been so upset with her had he known how she used his hacksaw. He was fond of saying that most people had no idea how to keep the blades from going dull and, in retrospect, Alison could see his point. The last few she did were very difficult. Still, her sense of thrift did not allow her to throw away the now-dull tool, and it rested in a dark corner of the cellar.

The eye had an accusing look to it, so Alison replaced the jars of vegetables, keeping only some beans to take with her into the kitchen. Upstairs once again, she stared at the stained floor and sighed.

She remembered that day very well. Harry had been upset with her again because she had overcooked the roast beef. She could feel the bruises starting to form along her arms, her legs, and her torso - but not the face; never the face. She apologized for her ineptitude, went back into the kitchen to pour him another glass of wine, the first having been knocked over during his tirade, placed the glass of wine in front of him with as sweet a smile as she could manage, and plunged the carving knife into his back with all her might. His expression of surprise provided her with the greatest satisfaction.

Alison had little time to savor the moment. She changed into old clothes and placed an apron over her dress. The cleanup took longer than she anticipated and, in retrospect, though she spread newspaper over the area, cutting up the body in the dining room was a mistake. She moved the parts into the cellar, covering them temporarily with a canvas tarpaulin. (Though the small parts went into the alcohol-filled jars, she buried the skull and the larger bones that night beneath her newly-planted begonias. They bloomed like never before.) Only then did she notice the enormous stain on the wooden floor in the dining room, and tried for the first time to scrub it out. It then occurred to her that she would prefer that her maid Bernice not see that stain, so, though she was exhausted, she quickly packed Bernice's belongings and placed them by the rear door.

There was no use in putting off the chore any longer. Alison knelt on the hard wood and applied a new cleanser, the special recipe of one of her neighbors. As she rubbed the darkened area, she began humming a cheerful tune.


[Inspired in part by Amanda Palmer's video for "What's the Use of Wondrin'", as well as by my overactive imagination. - RJ]

4 comments:

HeadBurro Antfarm said...

Remind me never to annoy you...

Great tale brilliantly told!

Rhianon Jameson said...

Thank you, kind sir! And no worries, I'm entirely harmless...as long as I've been taking my medicine. Now where did I put that bottle of arsenic?

nishmip said...

Really enjoyed your story

Pickled privates anyone? :)

Rhianon Jameson said...

Thank you, ma'am! And yes, an entirely new species of prairie oyster. ;)