Self Agitation

“I swear, before this lockdown is over I’m going to take an axe to the whole bunch of you.”

The kitchen had pushed Martine to the breaking point. Every day it was the same. Walking down the back stairs and finding every surface covered with dirty plates, greasy pans on the stove, pots thrown in the sink. What made her scream was the dishwasher. When she opened it the drawers were empty.

She felt like a can of soda, a store brand cherry soda, passed hand to hand by wiry teenagers in a Death Valley parking lot, each shaking it until arm cramps set in, the last one shutting it in a battered Plymouth, its windows up, its interior 100% matte black vinyl, the can on the dashboard in the sun, pressed right up against the windshield.

Following the happy voices to the tv room, her pronouncement, shouted over the Mario Kart marathon that was in its third day, was met with hoots by her brother, Ben, his dim brood of three, and his sister-in-law, Lindsey, and her even dimmer brood of four. Her own children were wise enough to stay silent. And she had suspicions of what her missing sister-in-law and brother-in-law-in-law were up to.

“You don’t even have an axe,” said Ben, taking the controller from poor little Harry, eight and still going through a set of sheets every night.

“Is it the kitchen?” said Lindsey. Her short hair showed off the white cigarette tucked behind her ear. She knew better than to smoke it in the house, but she couldn’t help touching it as she spoke. “Don’t sweat it. Someone’ll get around to it.”

The sides of the soda can started to bulge.

“Mia, Noah, you two give me a hand.”

“Aw, Mom. I’m next!” said Mia.

Hands grabbed Martine’s shoulders. It was Crystal, all bright-eyed and grinning right in her face.

“How y’all doing in here?”

Aaron was right behind her.

“We’re going to the store,” he bellowed like a drill sergeant over the noise of the game. “To get stuff. Anybody need stuff?”

“Beer!” yelled Ben.

“Beer!” echoed the kids. They thought it was hilarious.

“An axe,” said Martine, shrugging off Crystal’s hands and pushing past Aaron.

As she cleaned up the kitchen a rare cloud drifted over that Death Valley car park, shading the Plymouth, making its body panels tick, allowing the energetic chain reactions caroming within the can to slow from the deadly exponential to the resolutely linear.

The dishwasher started its cycle, the counters were back to their pristine state. There was a small scorch mark on the stove she’d have to eventually scrub off, but she avoided looking in its direction. She dried her hands on the dish cloth.

“Mom! Mom!”

Mia, in socks, slid into the kitchen.

“Harry peed on the couch! And the carpet! And the cushions!”

She collided with the edge of the island to stop.

“Not the one from Morocco?” said Martine. It was made from the thinnest, softest goat leather. The smell of it still reminded her of Marrakech.

“Drenched!”

Time passes.

Rain, heavy and cold, the drops stinging her cheeks, drove her out of her chair in the backyard and inside before she was ready. She cursed the rain. She looked defiantly up into the black sky and cursed it.

Like the rain cared. Like anyone in the house cared. It made her grind her teeth the whole way through the kitchen, up the back stairs and down the hall to her bedroom. Whereupon it took an effort to unlock her jaw so that it could drop.

Sitting upon her bed, like a crown upon a red velvet pillow, was an axe. A beautiful axe. Its shaft pale and gracefully curved, its regal head hidden within a hood of raw leather. She picked it up. It had a pleasant heft but was not heavy. Popping the snaps that held the hood in place, she uncovered the polished edge. It caught the skin of the thumb she dragged across it, the subtle scraping like a whisper meant to catch her attention.

“It was the last one! Made in Finland!” bellowed Aaron from the doorway.

She jumped, almost slicing open her thumb. It was like being caught naked. She fumbled with the cover, trying to get it back over the head.

“Uh, thanks,” she said.

“No problem.”

They stared at each other, her with the axe across her lap, him with a beer in each hand.

“I’m just taking Crystal a beer. She asked me to bring her one.”

Martine nodded.

“Crazy times, hey? Crazy times…”

He faded out of the doorway. Martine lay down on the bed, first cradling the axe, but it made her feel weird, then with it lying beside her, a hand upon its shaft. She fell asleep to the muted voices and music rising through the floor from below.

Time passes.

A squeal was cut short as she sat up. The clock radio said 11:22. Her head was fuzzy. The cloud still lingered over the car park. The axe, she thought, belonged in the garage. There wasn’t even a single tree in their yard.

The smell in the hallway made her stop and tighten her grip on the axe. Cigarette smoke. She had told them not in the house. That squeal had been the smoke alarm. They had promised.

The cloud was gone. Poof! The sun moved closer, its sizzle almost audible. The interior of the Plymouth was on the cusp of glowing.

There was another smell. Synthetic, toxic, like melted plastic.

She stepped from the stairs into a kitchen littered with bags and food wrappers, the microwave door open, dark sludge spilling over the glass tray and onto the counter, spreading around the base of an empty bottle of bourbon. The back door was also open, and rain was blowing in, soaking the mat and puddling on the floor.

The sides of the can crinkled as they flexed outwards.

She was holding the axe with both hands as she followed the smell to the tv room, where the light of the bodies reciprocating on the giant screen danced in the smoke drifting around the room. She was aware Aaron was there, in the shadows, Crystal lounging across his lap, two red embers hovered in front of them. On the other side of the room Lindsey was draped over Ben, also smoking. But it was the black smudge reaching up the wall to the ceiling that made the can tremble. Beneath it, a hole in the couch with black and yellow edges of charred and melted foam.

The can bounced across the dashboard.

“Eww. Is this real?” said Mia.

On the floor, looking up at the tv with goggle eyes, were all the children.

The roof of a Plymouth, launched by a geyser of blood red soda, passed through the stratosphere at Mach 9 directly above an expanding cloud of debris flung from the crater that used to be a car park.

Time passes.

At the small ceremony in the backyard, Aaron, drunk, wept as he shovelled dirt into the muddy hole.

“She was so beautiful,” he sobbed as the soil drummed upon the box.

“Bro,” said Ben. “We don’t have to do this.”

“Her blacks were so black. She was seventy-five inches of OLED glory. She deserves our respect.”

“What the hell are you two doing to my yard?” yelled Martine from the back door. Somewhere another can of soda was being handed around.

The End

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