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  • Writer's pictureMarie Smysor Watson


We need to keep it clean. Please.

Me to him - to his back actually - as he and I were technically not speaking when I found the thing in the walls. Mostly because he was being an asshole, because he didn’t want to do what I was asking him to do, which was to keep from making the biggest mess possible. He always made such a huge mess.

The renovation was not going well at all. We had decided to stay in the house while we fixed it up. Mainly to save money, so we didn’t have to keep bleeding at the edges. We’ve never had enough money. We’ve never had a clear vision. We never should have started it, but once the first hole was knocked into the wall, what choice did we have? Like everything else, we had to press forward. All I can say is that gutting is a bad word.

We stood in what used to be our kitchen. No stove, no running water. Refrigerator in what he insisted on calling The Den, although everyone knew it was a family room. We didn’t have a family, unless the two of us counted as one. Hard to say most days. Having the fridge there made it convenient only when we wanted something to drink. Otherwise, there was no reason for the eyesore. It made so much noise when we were trying to watch television - usually cop procedurals because they didn’t require much effort on our parts - that we resorted to using subtitles.

Never should’ve started it, he said, parroting my thoughts. He swung the sledgehammer over his head in an exaggerated move. It bounced off of the cabinet with a thud, barely cracking it. He tried again, same result. Gravity did nothing for him. Third time he raised the head to his shoulder and let his arms do the work. The cabinet hung askew; one good pull brought it down.

The kitchen was yellow which we both agreed was a terrible color for a kitchen although neither of us could say why. The wallpaper border near the top was peppered with sunflowers. It made me angry. Because of the fields my grandfather used to grow which were so beautiful in flower but whose sole purpose was to attract doves for killing. Not even for eating, because there wasn’t enough meat on a dove to make it worthwhile to dress them. Beautiful birds, mourning doves, but they died just like anything else did when they were hunted for sport.

I wanted them gone so I climbed the ladder and began pulling the border down. It was stuck in places, but I ripped and tore it anyway. For the pieces that held tight, I could wet them down and scrape them. Then I’d be rid of them. We’d be rid of them for good.

Shit, he said, a low growl. A hole bigger than my head and his head put together gaped in the plaster. The lathe at the edges splintered like fragile bones. I scrambled down the ladder, mad.

Be careful! We’re trying to save the walls, remember? I sounded weary rather than angry. Our few years together had blunted the edges.

Right, he agreed, shrugging and pointing to the hole. After a big sigh, I pulled out my phone which I kept handily in the strap of my bra. Left side, as I was right handed. The waves cause cancer, my mother-in-law had cautioned me once, her eyes bleary from alcohol and sadness. I started putting it in my back pocket to humor her, until the day I broke it with the curve of my ass. I decided to take the chance on the cancer waves and back it went to my bra strap. I didn’t have to explain my choice. She was dead by then anyway. Not from cancer, either.

I shone the light into the hole and then down. It was just a hole, which was by definition a hollow place, an absence of something, a space for nothing.

Something glimmered. Two points of light spaced evenly apart. Eyes. I screamed.

Something’s in the walls, I gibbered. He nodded, squeezed my shoulder in solidarity. Motioning for me to stand back, he swung again. No! I yelled, but he couldn’t stop the swing and it crumbled the spot where it hit on contact.

The walls, I moaned. I did not want any more work. I did not want to patch anything else. I d

did not want to grow sunflowers. I did not want to hunt doves. I did not.

It fell out and stayed where it fell. It was not alive and could not hurt either one of us, but me in particular. I was defenseless, with only my phone. He had a sledgehammer.

A baby’s head. Not a real one. A doll, its blonde plastic hair fully painted on in wisps. It’s soft body had probably disintegrated over the years but the head remained. How many years? Impossible to know.

Ugh, Jesus, he whispered, though he wasn’t the whispering kind. He bent his own blonde head low, poking at it with the blunt end of his weapon. The cowlick on the crown of his head swirled like the eye of a tornado. Hair patterns are dominant traits, I knew from high school biology class. Any child of ours would most likely inherit it.

He dropped the hammer down on top of the head and it cracked and crumbled, brittle as it was with age and neglect. My phone buzzed against my breast, a soft tinkle of a melody like a lullaby.

Time for the shot, I said. He swept the deformed pieces neatly into a pile with his foot before stepping into the family room - The Den if he had his way - to retrieve the medicine from the fridge, where they lined up like little plastic soldiers waiting for their one chance to be heroes.

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