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After Dinner

The worn welcome mat under my feet that read ‘Home’ felt like more like

a silent question than a confident statement. The bouquet of daffodils gripped in my

hand slumped in disappointment. It had been an attempt, a $7.99 attempt, to fix the

growing tension of passive aggression that had buried its way into my marriage. The

fights had been long and inconclusive; filled with more sighs of frustration and creased

foreheads than any words. Accusation after accusation, attack after attack. A war I

definitely didn’t sign off on at the wedding altar. Even in the rare case I was home for

dinner her stares directed towards me were almost as unpleasant as the food on the

table.

The apartment was void of electric lights when I entered to see a collection of

white pillar candles dotting my path to the kitchen like distant stars. Soft music played

too softly for me to make out the words but something light that seemed to fit the

scene in front of me. The low wooden table was dusted in layers of flour and some

had migrated to heaps on the floor like a dusting of snow. Imprints of footsteps led the

floured prints in delicate circles around the kitchen like a dance.

Every bowl in the kitchen had somehow made its way to watch the baking festivities, some filled with abandoned ingredients and some left barron. Butter wrappers were crumpled into

greasy tumbleweeds. Whole raspberries stood in victory over the remains of the many

smashed and smeared ones. Granulated white sugar laid in suggestive grainy lines

and dark brown sugar mimicked wet sand. A sticky red substance gleamed at the

bottom of a bowl and dripped in slow blobs from a rubber spatula, pooling into a candy

apple red puddle.

There was a distant ticking nearby from the handheld timer stationed next to the stove and from inside the lead colored oven came a glimmer of marigold hue. As I examined the remains of a late night baking experiment I sighed in defeat. I was home later than usual and it was no surprise that my wife was nowhere in sight. She had failed to clean up the kitchen before she went to bed but in her

unmistakably loopy handwriting, she had left me a note.

‘Dessert?’ it asked, tempting, crooked and written on a left angle like always. The familiarity of the note felt like a peace offering I'd been waiting for. Though it often worried me that she had no

problem going to bed with the oven still on. As a heavy sleeper I would hate to even

imagine what would happen if a fire had broken out.

A loud alarm halted my worries and I looked to the timer nearby for an explanation. It remained quiet but realization set in as I recognised the noise to be police or ambulance sirens nearby.

An every night routine for someone who lived in a city crowded with constant crime

and tragedy. I relaxed my shoulders. I didn't realize they were hunched up to my neck

with tension. I tried to ease into my night. I breathed in deeply to smell the pie in the

oven, just moments from being ready.

The timer sounded as if willed by my mind

and I moved to shut it off. The handmitts barely fit my hands as I blindly reached into

the oven to grab the baking dish. My glasses fogged up instantly as I attempted to take a look. I shut the oven door with my foot and placed the pie back on the wooden table where it was first assembled. When the fog on my glasses eventually cleared I saw a sight that horrified me.

Amongst the carefully lacerated dough strips and the bubbly crimson berry filling, was a severed finger. Despite being dark, blistering and bubbling like the pie’s filling, it was still recognizable as a finger I knew well. My wife’s ring finger, with a diamond wedding ring still attached and shining. My body hit the floor with a thud as I became too dizzy to stand. Why, how, why, how, why, how, why,

how. The words flashed in my mind like red and blue emergency lights. My wife’s note

wasn’t innocent or an offer; it was a threat.

I don't know how long I stayed seated with my back to the still warm oven, with the faint music in the back and the slowly congealing berry pie most likely laced with blood. The floured footprints were smeared and replaced with my own; the delicate flour dance long over. Most of the candles had

died leaving me almost completely in the dark. One lone candle stayed burning,

flickering as it fought its inevitable end. I felt sick; the sugary berry air had been ruined

by its topping.

The rot was setting in or maybe it was in my head. I was shaking as I

attempted to move, crawling down the hall to the single bed room. The door was half

open and I pushed it with a shaky hand to find the bedroom empty. The silence was

unnerving, even more than the lack of my wife’s presence. Crawling to the made bed I

propped myself up on the bed enough to see an identical daffodil colored sticky note

like the one left in the kitchen.

Scrawled in the handwriting I had admired for years, I was presented with another message. As my eyes scanned the note, over and over again like a skipping record, I realized it was the last message I would ever receive from her. The note lacked accusation or apology; endearment, entitlement or

explanation. Two short words of finality, she was long gone.

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