He’s Not At Home ~ A Short Story by Allen Kopp
(Published in Slit Your Wrists eZine.)
Spencer Noggles came to the breakfast table in his bathrobe. He hadn’t shaved or bathed and his sparse hair stood out all over his head in wild disarray. He slumped in the chair, slurped his coffee loudly and picked up the newspaper and began reading an article about the mayor’s wife who ran away with a gas station attendant half her age.
Spencer’s wife, whose name was Audrey, set a plate of food on the table in front of him containing bacon and scrambled eggs. Spencer didn’t seem to notice but kept on reading. Audrey’s cat, Obbie, smelled the bacon and jumped up on the table. He was about to pick up a piece of bacon in his mouth and run with it when Spencer saw what was happening and pushed Obbie roughly off the table with the back of his hand. Obbie hit his hip painfully on the table leg and ran into the other room.
Audrey had witnessed Spencer’s unkindness toward her cats on more than one occasion. She believed the one unforgiveable act is deliberate cruelty, especially when directed toward animals. She wasn’t going to tolerate such behavior in her house. She picked up her old cast-iron skillet that she had just washed and hadn’t put away yet and went up behind Spencer and hit him in the side of the head with it, wielding it like a baseball bat.
Spencer fell off the chair onto the floor. His skull was cracked and he groaned pitifully. He was trying to understand what had just happened to him. His eyes opened and closed and then opened again. He was making little wah-wah-wah sounds with his mouth, trying to speak but not being able to form the words. Audrey took him by the arms and pulled him out away from the table and laid him flat on his back in the middle of the kitchen floor. Then she went into the other room for a moment and when she returned she was carrying a pillow from her bed.
He looked up at her. His eyes seemed to be appealing for help but she couldn’t be sure; maybe he was too far gone for that. She regarded him without expression, utterly devoid of feeling. She knelt down and, straddling his chest with her legs, put the pillow over his face and smothered him. In a minute or two she knew he was dead. She was barely winded.
Luckily for Audrey, Spencer was a small man, weighing not more than a hundred and fifty pounds. She dragged him easily across the kitchen floor and opened the door to the cellar. When she had him in position at the top of the stairs, she gave him one good push. He tumbled down, head first, like a large rag doll, and came to rest on the floor of the cellar.
In the cellar was a large freezer shaped like a chest. Audrey raised the lid and looked in. She hadn’t used the freezer much in recent years so it was only about one-quarter filled. There was plenty of room to put the body of one smallish old man.
She pulled Spencer by the arms over to the freezer. Then she took a deep breath and picked him up and laid him carefully on his back inside. She straightened his arms and legs and arranged the cuts of meat and packages of frozen vegetables over him so that he was mostly covered. She closed the lid and placed a large potted fern in the middle. The old freezer made an excellent casket.
Audrey’s first act as an unencumbered woman was to go to the animal shelter and adopt two more cats to go with the three she already had. She chose a gray-striped male and named him Wally Cox; also a not-quite-full-grown, black-and-white female named Ann Darrow, after the screaming girl in King Kong.
She knew she wouldn’t be able to leave Spencer in the freezer forever. Something might happen that would lead to his discovery. She would rather not have people know she killed her own husband, no matter how much he deserved it.
The trash was picked up once a week, on Mondays. Audrey always put all the trash for the week in one plastic bag and tied the top neatly so nothing could spill out; she would then set the bag at the curb to be taken away.
Using a meat saw, she began cutting off one small part of Spencer each week and hiding it in the middle of her bag of trash, where no one would ever find it. One week it was one foot and the next week the other foot; then the ankle, the knee, the thigh, and so on until all that was left of Spencer was his head.
Feeling sentimental, she wanted to keep one small part of Spencer close at hand. She buried his head in the back yard and planted a flowering crabapple tree over it. The tree would be lovely in the spring when it bloomed. She couldn’t keep from smiling as she imagined the worms eating away the meat of Spencer’s head until all that was left was the crazily grinning skull; then the roots of the tree entwining themselves through the eye sockets. It was too jocose.
Now that Audrey was living alone and could do as she pleased and spend money as she saw fit, she decided to have the walls of her kitchen painted a soothing green. She engaged a painter named Julian Monroe, soft-spoken and immaculately groomed. He was a widower, he revealed, and had no children; in fact, no family at all. When Audrey asked him if he liked cats, he said he loved cats and had two of his own. They slept with him in his own bed under the covers at night in cold weather. As if to demonstrate his assertion, her own five cats rubbed themselves on his legs and purred madly as he worked. He didn’t make a move to push them away.
Copyright © 2013 by Allen Kopp