Fiction by Alex Antiuk
“You didn’t wash your feet!” was the first sentence out of Em’s mouth when I opened the screen door. I had spent the afternoon at the beach, and although summer was in full swing it had been a cool day with a harsh breeze. I was wearing a towel around my neck and a long-sleeve shirt beneath. These protective measures had also been under scrutiny, as early that afternoon Stevie J had begun to repeat, “You’re at the beach, God-Dammit! Get-Some-Sun!”
I took a step outside and turned on the faucet. The hose let out a stream of cold water over my toes and the sand trickled off my feet. I shook them dry and once again hopped up the single stair and swung open the door. Em reexamined my extremities. Her silence indicated they were now up to par.
It was approaching dinner by the time I showered and re-entered the kitchen. Em was leaning over a large pot, and when I asked what was for dinner I received a scornful laugh. It was seafood night, the only meal I truly loathed.
In response to the news, I decided to act. I informed her I would make my own meal. After the words trickled out of my mouth and I reached below the sink to grab a large pot, I realized I hadn’t bothered to prepare myself for her reply.
Stevie J had returned by the time I began cooking. He stood beside Em, breathing in the heavily salted seafood, allowing the fumes to consume his sunburnt nostrils.
Placing the pot on the stove, I felt both sets of judgmental eyes landed upon me. There was a brief quiet, but I knew it wouldn’t last.
“Don’t be a baby!” The voice echoed into my ear. I wasn’t certain who had said it, since both Stevie J and Em had remarkably similar, scornful tones. Both their glares had also begun to follow my every move. I frantically began to prepare my own dinner, but nevertheless, I knew their ridicule was inevitable.
Instead of continuing their critiques, they finished their own preparations with an excited haste. They set the table and placed their large pot in front of them. I finally had room to breathe in the kitchen. I yelled into the next room, “I’ll only be a minute!”
But Stevie J and Em didn’t bother to reply. I saw from afar that their hands were diving deep into the pot. They began to tear open oysters and muscles, soaking them in butter and gorging in silence.
Watching them feast, I felt myself begin to tense. But I decided I’d keep my eyes on my own doings. I quickly finished my dish and sat beside them.
Taking a large bite, I felt the buttery pasta warmly slide down my throat. I’d prepared the simplest of meals, but after a long day of eating only minuscule snacks and drinking copious amounts of beer, it was a welcomed treat. Unsurprisingly, Em and Stevie J didn’t appreciate my newly acquired happiness.
“Steve…This is so-o-o good!” Em yelled across the table. Her voice echoed off every corner of the room. Stevie J responded by taking a large slurp, and threw the empty shell into a bowl only an inch away from my own plate. He quickly repeated the process, before replying to Em, “But…Don’t you wish we had plain pasta instead!” A laughter erupted around the table.
Once their hysterics calmed, I realized they had already finished their meal. I still had a few more bites, but they didn’t hesitate to clear their plates. In a matter of moments I heard the sink turn on and militant order appear in the kitchen. Dishes were washed, quickly dried, and put away. Then, I heard the stairs creak and the smell of stale cigar smoke wafted through the house. Stevie J had retreated onto the deck.
Em was still in the kitchen when I entered. She was leaning over the breakfast table, scrolling endlessly through her phone. Headphones were lodged in her ears and I watched her head begin to bounce in a simple rhythm.
I placed my dish in the sink. In order to avoid any further ridicule I knew I needed to escape swiftly, but the moment I attempted to slip out the front door, Em snapped, “Do-Your-Dish!”
Turning on the faucet, I waited for the water to heat. Em had instilled in me that doing dishes in cold water was unacceptable. My eyes had just begun to watch her, when her head stilled.
Her eyes fell into the back of her head and her skull drooped onto the table. It was a rapid collapse, and it was followed by tears.
She began to repeat, in an unhinged cry, “No…No…No!” She said the word over and over, each time increasing its volume and hysteria. I turned off the faucet and left my dish in the sink. I hadn’t a clue what had overtaken her. I ran up the stairs towards Stevie J.
Smoking a large, cheap cigar, Stevie J sat proudly on the deck, overlooking the ocean. As the sky’s hue changed into a dimming orange, Stevie J became completely cemented. I informed him of what was occurring below. To my amazement he said, with the slightest hint of laughter, “Well, somebody’s dead.”
In disbelief, I decided I’d force him to hear the harrowing cries himself. I opened the screen door but the wind was too loud. It was all Stevie J could hear from his perch. He took another long, deep puff of his cigar, before he finally put it out, tossed it over the edge, and hobbled past me.
Waiting, I continued to wonder what had overtaken Em. Stevie J’s nonchalance was disheartening, but I knew his assumption may be correct.
The wind was harsh up on the deck. I’d shed my earlier layers, and was wearing only shorts and a beat-up t-shirt. I didn’t have the courage to follow Stevie J. The breeze pounded against me, until I developed a shiver.
I was delicate with the screen door when I returned inside. To my surprise the house was silent. I didn’t hear a single cry or reassuring word, only the ruffling of the wind against the house.
I descended with anxious steps. Stevie J and Em sat across from one another in the living room on two separate couches. Their voices were dormant, until Stevie J chimed, “Where’s the remote?”
His question broke the air. Em didn’t answer. I took the vacant seat beside her. Her tears had dried but her eyes were glossy and swollen. I desperately wanted to know why, but when I asked what happened, I was left perplexed by the unmoving line of her lips.
Stevie J stood and went to the kitchen. My eyes followed but the rest of me stayed with Em.
I softly repeated the question. I waited. Suddenly, in her prevailing harsh tone, Em said, “Your dish better not be in the sink,” leaving me to turn around against her wrath.
Alex Antiuk is from New York. Alex’s work can be found in Ink Pantry and forthcoming in Expat Press and Free Flash Fiction. More info here: https://alexanderantiuk.wordpress.com/
Photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash