Short story: Women’s Work

This story appeared in the Spring 1994 issue of Lock Haven University’s The Crucible, a literary magazine, during my second year of college (yes, I’m getting old). I was inspired to write this story after visiting a friend and watching her unhealthy relationship with a useless, abusive boyfriend. I took up my pen and conjured up Molly and Walter, and I enjoyed some fantasy revenge. Many people comment that this story is violent, though I must point out the violence is over before the story begins. This is one of my favorites, and I believe there is some dark humor here as well. See if you agree.


She hadn’t really meant to kill him. Frighten him, yes, shut him up for a while, maybe, but not kill him.

Molly sighed impatiently, tossing the smeared knife into the sink of scraped breakfast dishes. Well, now what?

She propped her stained fists on her hips, turning slowly to regard her sprawled husband. His right arm had knotted through the wooden slats of his chair as he slumped, and his stiff elbow lodged awkwardly into a mocking salute. His legs had doubled beneath him, a crumbling last effort to kneel–to pray? Too late.

At least she didn’t have to look at his face. His head dripped down his torn back, a broken puppet, one eye gazing sleepily at the greasy ceiling. A thick, bright mat of blood seeped around him, circling him, and his splashed handprints polka-dotted the kitchen table like large paw prints. His free hand curled tightly into his lap, hiding the colored fingers.

She wagged her head in disgust. “Damnit, Walter! You can’t even die without making a mess!”

It was just like him. She fished the limp sponge from the cold dishwater and slopped it across the table, suds freckling the top like spittle. Walter’s frantic, bloody fingerprints dissolved to pink streaks, watercolors.

Molly scrubbed the blurred bruises, circling the table until she glowered into Walter’s sagging, graying frown. “Cleaning up after you–again,” she mocked. “Isn’t that the story of my life?”

Even upside down, she swore his eyes could still roll jeeringly to the ceiling. Well, that was why she had left him only one.

She wrung the sponge in the flat dishwater, clouding the sticky bowls and cracked coffee mugs. Like a shark fin, the tip of her knife jutted from the tinted water, dulled and stained.

Molly knelt on the slippery tile, tiny warm tongues of blood sucking her bare knees as she rocked back and forth with the dripping sponge. Her dirty fingers were already crinkled, wrinkling and shriveling in the darkening puddle.

The sponge slapped her husband’s thigh, and his clenched claw shuddered in his lap. “That’s all right, Walter, don’t bother getting up,” she snorted. “Don’t bother lifting a finger to help, for Christ’s sake. Aren’t I used to that by now?”

She shoved his limp legs in disgust, stepping over him to the sink. Always in the way.

The water now smelled like rust and blood. She watched the ruined sponge sink, slow, settling lightly against the dishes. Damn him, couldn’t he have washed his own dishes before he died?

She dried her sticky hands on the front of her robe, squeezing past Walter’s lolled, broken head to open the refrigerator. Almost empty, as usual; but she was only cooking for one now. She snatched a can of cheap beer from the bottom shelf…Walter’s last one. Bottoms up.

The smell of blood was stronger. She buried her nose against the open beer can, fizz spitting her face. The table was tinted pink, and fresh threads of blood spidered around Walter’s legs, crawled from his folded lap.

“Go ahead, Walter,” she sighed. “Bleed all over my clean floor.”

Even dead, he was a slob.

She licked the stale beer, trying not to taste it as she sank onto the only clean chair. How could Walter drink this stuff?

She should do something with his body before she tried to clean the blood again. She never could get anything done with him around. Oh, and then the dishes. Then…then…

It would wait. She lifted the newspaper Walter had forgotten, still folded neatly to the sports page. She would finish cleaning everything soon. Later.

Molly glanced at Walter over the top of the paper. “A woman’s work is never done, you know.”

He didn’t answer.

She sipped her beer.

About TheSmirkingCat

I am endlessly trying to make sense of a world that has completely and unapologetically lost its mind.
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