Back in 2012 my short story, Murdering Elegance was shortlisted in the FreeFall magazine prose and poetry contest and in spring 2013 they published it. My rights have reverted back, so now I can share this story that the editors at FreeFall called, “hilarious,” with all of you. Enjoy!
I knew one day I would crack like a jar of baby food dropped on a grocery store floor. Pop. Sweet potatoes oozing between shards of glass. Losing my mind was different than I thought it would be. I thought it would resemble a child’s temper tantrum— screaming, jumping, flailing. Instead, I turned off the vacuum cleaner and sat down. I’ve been sitting in the same spot for an hour watching mayhem unfold like a toddler version of Lord of the Flies.
My three year old, Lily, is shoving her sister’s pacifier into the DVD player. Two year old Rose screams and stomps her feet, while eight month old Fox waves his arms and giggles over the scene. Fox, the result of my X-Files phase, isn’t really mine. They mixed him up with another baby at the hospital or perhaps he’s an alien. In any case, he sees through my good mother act. He looks at me like “what the hell?” When is the real mom going to show up—the one who knows what she’s doing?
It’s funny what sent me over the edge. Hilarious. It wasn’t my husband’s request for a morning quickie after getting up with Fox three times in the night and having him nurse until my nipples cracked. It wasn’t Rose throwing a fit over her cereal and dumping the bowl on the floor. It wasn’t Fox filling his pants so full that it leaked all the way up his back into his hair. No. It was my vacuum cleaner. Elegance Kenmore.
Who names a vacuum cleaner Elegance? Who are they kidding? Is the name supposed to make me feel like I’m not just a maid who doesn’t get paid?
This morning I stopped the machine to pick up a toy and it fell backward against the wall, leaving a long scuff mark. Snap.
I’m afraid to move for fear of what I might do. The ball of angst churning in the pit of my stomach demands blood. I have no choice; I’m going to have to kill Elegance. I walk to the DVD player, pluck Rose’s soother out of the hole, and shove in a Doodlebops DVD. Good moms read and sing to their kids, they don’t plop them in front of the television.
I grab Elegance and heave her over the baby gate to the top step of the basement stairs. I hold her high and then let her drop. She lands on the fourth wooden step and then topples end over end, cart wheeling down the stairs before smacking into the cement floor.
Smiling, I dash down the stairs. Is she dead? I yank the cord out of her butt and plug her in. The moment of truth. I flick her on and she hums. Damnit. Other than a few scratches and a small crack in her purple plastic shell, she’s fine.
I thread my fingers through my hair, grasping handfuls. Tears sting in my eyes as I inhale a deep breath and hold it in. I grind my teeth. I need to get a hold of myself.
I climb the stairs and return my children, who are still fascinated with the Doodlebops. Fox cocks his head to the side and looks at me. He knows what I did. I ease myself down to the floor and sprawl on the carpet. Rose rolls over to me and tucks herself into my side, Lily is too enthralled in the TV to move, and Fox crawls onto my stomach. I stroke Rose’s soft blond hair and sneak a kiss to her forehead. My beautiful children, if only they had a better mother. What they will tell their therapists when they grow up?
I have so much I could be doing: baking, dishes, laundry, my kitchen floor is sticky from milk that spilled three days ago. I feel like someone’s handed me shovel and asked me to relocate Mount Everest. I lay there, riddled with guilt, until the end of the show.
I go to the kitchen and cut up cheese and apples, strap the girls into booster seats, and fasten Fox into his high chair. I’m on the home stretch; the most wonderful time of the day is almost here: nap time. I lean against the counter and knock back some teddy grahams and a cup of cold coffee while I watch them eat.
I can see my neighbour ladies through the kitchen window. Today is scrapbooking day. I used to join them. We would sit for hours with our scissors and colourful paper, letting the kids run helter-skelter around the house, and gossiping about our husbands and other moms. I screwed that up too. I was a little overwrought after I had Fox. I showed up to scrapbooking day with black paper, a print out of The Scream and oodles of pictures of my kids crying. Nancy and the others thought it was “disturbing.” I thought it was reality.
Fox is playing the dropping game. Drop the food and watch mom pick it. The cheese lands on the vinyl floor with a splat. I pick it up to a wide grin on my baby’s face.
“Nummy cheese, Fox.” He drops it again.
When cheese is held in warm, moist fists it liquefies and can be smeared into the hair with ease. I wipe Rose and Lily’s faces and release them from their seats. I scrub at the cheese in Fox’s hair for a few minutes before giving up. The rest will have to dry on and come out in his bath tonight. Good moms don’t let cheese dry into their baby’s hair. I mix up some formula in a bottle for Fox. I put it in the microwave to warm it—another thing they say I’m not supposed to do. They. The experts who torture me with all their “supposed to’s.” How many rules have I violated today? The movie, the cheese in the hair, and now a bottle of formula when I’m supposed to be nursing him. My kids are screwed.
I tuck Lily into her toddler bed and put Rose in her crib. I pick up Fox and give him his bottle. His eyes roll back in his head as he lies back in my arms. I’ll bet he’s tired after being up half the night. I pull his favourite blanket over him and close his door. Time for plan B.
I drag Elegance to the garage. I toss the baby monitor on the passenger seat and back my mini-van out of the garage. After opening the rear hatch I lay the hose over the bumper and slam the hatch closed over the hose. I drive off my driveway. Elegance follows behind me like a water skier. Pressing the gas pedal, I round the corner of my bay. Elegance tumbles onto her side, skidding behind me. I grin. If only she was made out of metal so there would be sparks. My tires squeal around the next corner as I punch the gas pedal to the floor. Elegance bounces behind me.
On my third pass I see someone on the sidewalk waving her arms. Great. She steps onto the road to block the path of my speeding van. For a moment it seems reasonable to run her down. I slow the van, scrambling for a sane excuse for why I’m dragging my vacuum cleaner around the bay.
I hit the button to roll down my window. A saccharine smile alights on Nancy’s face. After the scrapbooking incident she started talking to me like I’m a child, her voice high and nasal. “Jenny, I think something fell out of the back of your van.”
I form a shocked expression. “Really?” I glance in my rear view mirror for effect. “How did that happen?”
“Is that your vacuum cleaner?”
“Hmm. You know, I think it is.”
Nancy crosses her arms. “How did you not know your vacuum is hanging out the back of your van?”
I peer into her shallow blue eyes. “Actually Nancy, it’s not a vacuum, her name is Elegance and she’s going to die today.”
Nancy’s eyes narrow and she steps back from my car.
I smile. “Have a nice day.” I roll up the window and flip her the bird as I hit the gas pedal. The tires screech as I race back home. Good moms don’t go around flipping off their neighbours.
I jump the curb, run over the front lawn, and skid to a halt in my driveway.
I run into the house to check on the kids. What if a fire started while I was gone? What if Lily got out of her bed, found a bobby pin, and stuck it in an outlet? What if Fox stopped breathing? I dart to the girls’ room and ease the door open a smidge. They are both fast asleep. And no fire. I run to Fox’s room. Holding my breath, I listen. I can’t hear him breathing. I watch his back. No movement. My heart rate climbs to panic level. He’s not breathing! Oh, wait. Yes he is. He’s okay. They’re all okay.
I go to the fridge. The Teddy Grahams are wearing off and my blood sugar is dropping. Nothing looks good except a wine cooler left over from the last time we entertained. We had some old college friends over and I ended up looking after their brats so she could get hammered. I told Mark to remind me to never invite them over again. I sigh and reach for a Diet Coke. Good moms don’t drink when they’re supposed to be looking after their kids. No matter how bad they need one.
I stand at my front window, sipping from the silver can, waiting for the caffeine to kick in. Elegance sits on the driveway—a little battered, but not too battered to mock me. I guzzle the rest of my Coke and bound up the stairs. Mark keeps a baseball bat under the bed. If Elegance has the nerve to start up when turn her on, I’m going to let her have it.
I plug her in, flick the switch, and she purrs like the day I bought her. I yank the plug out of the wall and stare her down. Elegance is a determined little pig. An ancient radio perches on the metal shelving in the garage. I turn it on and rotate the knob through the stations; only one is coming in today. It’s a fine day for the radio to be choosy about its broadcasting. That’s another electronic device that might meet an untimely end. I lift my eyebrows and smile—a knowing, devious smile.
I crank Simon and Garfunkle’s Cecilia. I want gangster rap, but this will have to do. “Making love in the afternoon with Cecelia.” Damn you Cecelia, setting the bar so high for the rest of us. Maybe sex and babies weren’t so inextricably linked for Cecelia as they are for me.
I walk around Elegance, swinging my bat at my side while scrutinizing her from every angle. I take my first swing. The bat bounces off her purple plastic shell like a baby on a trampoline. I think I pulled something—a muscle or what’s left of my sanity. I lift the lid that conceals all her attachments. Inside a tool called “a wand” is hidden. A wand. Like, maybe I’m a magical vacuuming fairy princess.
“Who are you trying to fool, Elegance.”
I take another swing and the door that hides the “wand” flies down the driveway. I jump up and down, waving my bat in the air like I hit a home run. “Wooo!”
I swing again. And again. Bits of her purple plastic flesh fly in every direction.
“Cecelia you’re breaking my heart, you’re shaking my confidence daily,” I sing so loud my voice echoes off the neighbouring houses.
My lungs burn as I take a few more swings. My arms are limp as warm cheese. Panting, I drop the bat. Pieces of elegance litter the garage floor. She’s broken, like me. A gust of laughter shakes me. I laugh until I fall over and hysteria overtakes me. The hysteria is delightful, blissful. But, all good things must come to an end. I stand up and survey the damage. How am I going to explain this to Mark?
I stalk back into the house. Fox is crying. I open his bedroom door to his see his eyes glassy with tears. He lights up in a smile the moment he sees me. I muster an uneasy smile back at him; tears are welling in my eyes. What have I done?
I lay Fox on his change table and give him a clean diaper to play with while I attend to the dirty one. “My good boy. Mommy loves you so much.” His two front teeth are exposed when another smile alights on his face. I pick him up and hug him close. “Mommy’s not crazy. I’m just tired.” He doesn’t look convinced.
I snag his blanket from his crib and settle onto the couch to cuddle with him. I smell his head—baby lotion and cheddar cheese. I pull in a deep breath that turns ragged as I let it out. Mark will probably drive me up to Selkirk and leave me there with all the other cracked jars of baby food.
In any case he won’t be buying me another $450 vacuum cleaner. I’ll likely have to settle for a Dirt Devil. I can respect that. There’s honesty in it.
Rose and Lily scribble on the underside of the coffee table with markers and Fox drools over a teething ring as Mark parks his car beside the curb in front of the house. I stare out the window at him. He hitches his hands on his hips and mutters something. Probably lamenting daycare costs if he has to commit me to a mental institution. Maybe I’m crazy or maybe it’s the sanest thing I’ve done in a long time. Like a dog wriggling free of its leash.
I shuffle out the door to meet him on the driveway. What does one say at an occasion like this? I bite my lip as I move closer to him. He looks away from Elegance—what’s left of her, and meets my gaze. Every emotion I possess rockets through me: fear, sadness, defeat, elation, victory, freedom.
I hold my breath as he opens his mouth to speak. “Did the vacuum offend you?”
I blow the breath out. “Deeply.”
He glances around the driveway again and chuckles. “Pizza for dinner?”
I nod. “Okay.”
Tears spring to my eyes. “Yeah.”