Stories Tragedy

Behind the Wainscoting

When I’m gone, finally gone, our children will find this. Behind the wainscoting.

I remember you’d insisted on this—this tacky beaded white wall paneling, always insisting on what you thought you knew was best. Did it matter if I wanted the interior of our home decorated in rough sawn oak or weathered pine to create a distinctively rustic look?

No. Of course not.

See how easily I can tear off a tacky beaded white wall panel with this crowbar? This little brown steamer trunk will fit nicely into the crawl space. Behind the wainscoting.

Oh, they’ll find it.

You and your classic sensibilities. As if the fight we had over decorative wood paneling wasn’t as worthless as a glass hammer. Unlike that titanium hammer you had to have for what should have been a simple home improvement project.

I’m putting your exorbitant titanium hammer inside this little brown steamer trunk for them to find when I’m gone, finally gone.

What made you think you could complete a manly job like this? We had to hire contractors to fix your bungled botch of things. The hallway looked crooked for months. You said you knew what you were doing.

But you didn’t. You never knew what to do.

Like deciding to become an accountant instead of going to law school. As boring as you were, you could have been just as boring as an attorney as you were as an accountant. At least you would have made more money.

Ugh! An accountant! And not just any accountant—a tax accountant.

Oh, how I hated admitting that out loud. My husband is a tax accountant. Might as well announce to the world that you also have erectile dysfunction and an unchecked hedgerow of back hair. The memory of your pasty-white bony body covered in black coarse hair makes my gorge rise. Nauseating!

I’m putting your diploma for your Masters of Accountancy inside this little brown steamer trunk as well. For posterity. It’s getting full, but I’m almost done. The trunk will fit once I shove it back into its place. Behind the wainscoting.

We grew to hate each other in this house.

But the children adored you so, didn’t they? I was so jealous watching them rush to you when you finally came home after work—after I had watched them all afternoon.

Daddy’s home. Big hugs for daddy. None for me.

It’s as if they didn’t love me. Me. Their very own mother.

Someone had to be hard on them. Their rooms were seldom tidy when you were in charge.

With me? Spit spot. All the time.

You were too soft. Always too soft.

Of course they had to eat every last bite of food on their plate. I ate squash and cabbage, too, at a young age. And my mother kept me in line with wooden spoons and hair brushes and whatever else she could get her hands on.

“Spare the rod—” she’d say. And I didn’t either.

I taught them independence.

You could see it in our children’s eyes when they simply took care of things in high school. They got up on their own. They made their own lunches. They organized rides to wherever they were going—whatever sporting event or school play or other fool thing they were involved in.

Sure, you’d always show up for them. I wondered how you kept your job—your poorly paying job—since you were always running to school or some field or some event with the children.

I never had the time. Too much to do in keeping this house in order.

It’s amazing they turned out as well as they did. You know how you coddled them. Wasting time playing chess and checkers. Shooting hoops in the driveway. Showing them how to shave and how to make pancakes, leaving the kitchen a mess. Teaching them how to drive the car and taking them to get their driver’s licenses on their 16th birthdays.

I’m throwing your driver’s license in the little brown steamer trunk for them to find as well. You won’t need it.

Remember how you used to wonder what I did all day? I did plenty.

Let’s not forget I had to let the housekeeper in three days a week. And who was going to buy throw pillows for the new couch? You never noticed that the spices were alphabetized. Not that I needed to cook. Who was ever home for dinner?

I had to go to the gym to keep my health and my figure, which seemed to lose all its allure for you. What I can’t remember is when you stopped touching me. You never did that quite right either. And those knots in my neck that I complained about? I’m so glad I finally found a proper massage therapist who knew exactly how to relax me. Good thing, too, as the stress would have eventually killed me.

Especially when I found out that you had ordered a commercial grade grill with eight burners for the backyard patio. I simply cried when it was delivered, the big hulking silver monstrosity in the backyard. An ugly thing, but it proved useful after all.

Oh, the children loved when you cooked up hot dogs and hamburgers for all of their sticky-handed, grimy friends. There are still stains on the patio from their high school pool parties, but you don’t care.

And now there are new stains on the patio.

You were right about the titanium hammer, so lightweight. So much better than steel. It did reduce the recoil shock vibration when I used it over and over again.

I’m not sure what you were expecting when you told me it was over. It? You cannot have meant my life in this house with all of these things. It? You cannot have meant our marriage which ensured me that you would simply work, and I would simply keep this house in the manner I have been accustomed to. It? Just because our children were grown and only called you on your cell phone, we were still a family. My parents utterly despised each other, too, but they believed until death did they part.

And so do I.

But you were right about one thing. The eight burners on the commercial grade grill can really cook huge slabs of meat. If they are cut properly. I guess the band saw you bought for the wainscoting home improvement project really did come in handy after all.

So when I’m gone, finally gone, they can sort things out. They can let the housekeeper in to clean up this mess.

Spit spot.

Our children will find these, these ashy chunks. Fat that didn’t fully render. Bone that didn’t char. All tucked neatly into this little brown steamer trunk.

Behind the wainscoting.

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