Tough Meat

by Amanda Lynch © 2002

“This meat is tough,” Clarence said, exaggerating his chewing to show Denise what he meant in case she didn’t hear him.

She heard. “Mm hm, sorry dear,” Denise said, looking up at her husband across an immaculate spray of late season red and pink roses and two perfect hunter green tapered candles perched in brass holders. A soft sprinkle of snow began to fall outside beyond the double-paned insulated windows containing the supposed warmth within.

“You used to make such good pot roast,” Clarence continued, smiling. “That’s when you weren’t wrinkled and old honey, remember those days?”

“Oh Clarence,” she said, responding in the usual way. It was the same every night. Had been the same for the past 31 years. Their daughter, Emma, and son, Mark, always asked her why she let Dad be so mean to her. ‘That’s just his way’ was Denise’s standard response. ‘He doesn’t know how to express himself, just says any silly thing that pops into his head.’

These empty words now felt like scissor blades slicing away at her spirit. This beautiful home filled with museum quality things was no comfort.

“Damn kids’ll be ringing the bell anytime unless you shut that damn light off,” Clarence said, turning to look out the front window. His body shifted into a physical groan when he saw the light was indeed on. “Damn it Denise, you forgot to turn the light off.”

Denise’s leg muscles pushed her up out of the chair and across the room to the front door before she could stop herself. Old habits die hard. She could hear Clarence chewing as her slippered feet brushed the Oriental foyer carpet.

“Kids eat too much damn candy anyway. Trick or treat. Ridiculous holiday. Too dangerous anymore anyway. Parents don’t know how to parent anymore. Just laziness. One of the things that’s ruining this country,” he said, talking himself in a typical Clarence-logic circle. He brandished his fork in Denise’s direction as she padded back to her chair and sat.

“Your hair would look so pretty if you would just dye it again, you know the original color, that beautiful black,” he said, taking another bite of the tough pot roast. “Where’s the Worcestshire sauce? This meat needs something, it’s too dry babe. You were always such a good cook too.”

Denise massaged her right temple as her eye began to throb.

“There’s aspirin in the cabinet out there. I can’t finish this, it’s too gamy. Where’d you get this Denise, the deep discount drawer at the store? What’s for dessert?”

Denise stood and watched Clarence sip his water. “Would you like coffee?”

“No, not tonight.”

That wasn’t the only change in the ritual, Denise thought, her mind brimming with anger and years of withered aggression. She walked over to Clarence, smiled down at his upward gaze, took his plate of almost finished pot roast and started toward the kitchen, but not before he whacked her ass a good one.

“Always did think you had a nice ass babe,” he said, looking around with a momentary confusion, as if he just realized he lost something.

Denise was afraid she would break the plate her grip was so tight. If he thinks he’s getting a treat tonight, he can think again. She turned the corner out of his sight, set the plate down and started preparing the pumpkin pie made with a fresh pumpkin, at Clarence’s insistence.

“Hey Denise, I haven’t seen Bullet since morning. He outside?”

Denise smiled, her teeth glinting in the shallow orange glow of the kitchen nightlight. “No,” she said loud enough for Clarence to hear.

“Well big dogs his size don’t just disappear.”

“It’s quite a trick,” she whispered, plopping a dollop of whipped cream on each pie slice. “Happy Halloween asshole.”

x x x

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