Cherchez La Femme

by K. Di Prima

The screen door opened with a rusty squeal just as the violins of Mozart’s Requiem soared to crescendo. Tom stepped into the kitchen, exuding the aroma of fresh cut grass overlaid with sweat.  At the sink, Kathryn stiffened.

“Smells great in here!” Tom said, as if his compliments still mattered. Then he grimaced. “What’s with the high brow crap? Alexa, play Tommy’s list.” Seconds later, a Motown drumbeat filled the room. “That’s more like it,” he said.

In two strides, his Timberlands met her fuzzy slippers at the sink. He pulled the faucet to him, and lathered from elbows to fingertips like a surgeon in pre-op. “Yard work’s done. That Lawn Boy’s worth every penny.”

As he bent into the flow, the stream sluiced away the dirt from his muscled forearms in brown rivulets. His skin glowed delicately pink beneath the curly arm hair, now flattened and darkly wet. Kathryn suppressed a shudder and averted her eyes. The white soap bubbles had faded to effervescence; bits of grass submerged and then bobbed up to skim the surface. She dipped her hand into the water and brought up the stopper, staring down at the grime-flecked eddy circling the drain.

Tom stepped behind her and closed his dripping arms around her waist, squeezing as he turned her into him. “How’d I get so lucky? Best cook, cleanest house, prettiest wife in the neighborhood.” He dipped his mouth toward hers.

Kathryn winced at the pressure against her still-tender ribs. Softly she uttered, “no,” and disentangled herself She moved to the oven and took out the pie, placing it on a wire rack on the kitchen counter. Without looking at him, she said, “Please take off your muddy boots before you go upstairs.”

He was alongside her again in a heartbeat, chest heaving, a white-knuckled fist raised to his shoulder. Like a doe sensing a hunter in the woods, Kathryn froze. What seemed like a lifetime later, Tom opened his hand slowly, finger by finger, like the petals of a rose unfolding in time lapse photography. With his open palm, he swiped at his forehead, then dropped his arm to his side, and retreated.

A muted thud sounded when his boots hit the floor, followed by the slap of bare feet on vinyl when he re-entered the room. His gaze radiated across the silence.

“Katie?” he asked, congealing his longwinded apologies and promises into one word.

She refilled the sink. The stairs creaked.

Kathryn brought out the mop. A shadow crossed the floor as she bent over the handle. She looked up and saw him, naked, in the doorway. Their eyes met. He smiled.

She gasped; his grin broadened. She dropped the mop and whirled toward the kitchen door.

He was upon her instantly. His right arm coiled around her waist and arms, pinning her to him. His left hand scrabbled at her skirt, ripping away the fabric. She screamed. He thrust his forearm beneath her chin, crushing her throat. She flailed her legs; the fluffy slippers flew across the room. He arched sharply backward. Her feet dangled limply at his knees.

 ∴ ∴ ∴

            Two years and a hundred miles later, the Katie Didn’t bobbed gently on the open sea beneath a canopy of blue sky and drifting clouds. In the end, Tom opted for a Blackfin 33 instead of the sailboat he thought he’d wanted, after considering the benefits of diesel power versus the exertion and skill required to capture the wind.

As he lifted his face to the sky, a scowl overtook his smile. He detected a whiff of burning metal around the edges of the salty breeze, as if he’d refilled the Lawn Boy when its engine was hot. He’d tightened the head gasket on the fuel line himself, after the asshole mechanic diagnosed the problem and provided an estimate. “You wanna fuck me, gotta buy me dinner first,” he’d told the mechanic then, and he mumbled it again now as he shambled over to the cooler jammed against the stern.

He raised a bottle of Yuengling in a salute to himself and the jury of his peers who had concluded the State hadn’t made its case. He tipped the bottle back, but set it down before the rim met his lips. Edging to the gunwale, he unzipped his shorts. “Here’s to you, Liberty National,” he smirked, aiming his stream into the ocean. “Motherfuckers thought you could cheat me outta the insurance money, didn’t ya?”

Louder, he said, “Still ‘merica, last I checked. Man’s innocent till proven guilty. Dumbass prosecutor couldn’t prove shit.” He stared into the bottle, shaking his head. “What pussy makes a man do. Guess I just loved her too much.”

He drained the bottle and tossed it overboard, ignoring the burnt metal stench that clung stubbornly to the breeze. He reached again and again into the cooler, and when he’d emptied it, he climbed to the flybridge, raised the anchor, and gunned the twin Crusader 350 engines toward the shore.

He opened up the throttle. A millisecond later, the roar erupted below him. A fiery wetness blanketed him, and he stared, disbelieving, as his flesh melted before his eyes. In the next instant the flybridge collapsed, and he plunged into the ocean. The salt water leached into his shredded skin like the collective sting from a horde of enraged wasps.

In agony, Tom thrashed desperately toward a splintered section of the stern floating toward him on the crest of a wave. He tried to grasp the jagged plank, but the remnants of his charred fingers failed him. The last thing he saw, before he slipped forever into the sea, were the words Katie Did.

Artist: tom schlaiss

K. Di Prima’s work has appeared in Flash Fiction Magazine, Rock and a Hard Place, Crack the Spine, the Broad River Review, Image OutWrite, and Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices from the Gay Bars. She has written previously for The Philadelphia Business Journal, The Philadelphia Lawyer, NJ Lifestyles Magazine, and others.