, , , , , , , , , , ,

by Vineetha Mokkil

I put the knife back where it belongs. Blade soaped and scrubbed, clean as a bone. From the fruit bowl on the counter I remove a rotting peach, two mushy oranges, a dried-up pear, tougher than leather, harder than stone. With the dead fruit gone, the flies buzz off. They move on to other homes, to haunt other kitchens like hungry ghosts. My hands have scrubbed every surface clean. The floor is smooth as glass, spotless, stain free. Counters gleam like fresh-cut diamonds. Our centuries-old coffeemaker looks like a brand-new import.

The house is swaddled in a blanket of quiet. In the hushed night, snow tiptoes.

The kitchen is tabula rasa from this night on. A blank slate where nothing is written — no hurt or harm, no rash word or move, no rage, no regret.

I change the sheets in our bedroom upstairs. Tuck in the corners, throw on fresh covers, prop up pillows, angle them just right. The room looks like an immaculate set piece­ — a place where angels flock to make love, a place where heavenly creatures cavort. Lamps bathe the bed in a dusky glow. Curtains sway softly to a mellow beat.

The house is swaddled in a blanket of quiet. In the hushed night, snow tiptoes.

“How’s Joe?” The neighbors ask when we bump into each other at the supermarket in the brittle morning light. The sun looks down on us like a jaundiced eye. The breeze cuts right to the bone.

“Joe down with the flu?”

“Joe alright?”

“Joe not around?”

They mumble as they load their carts with cartons of juice, canned beans, cornflakes. A baby wails from the back of the store. He sounds furious, spent, sick of the December freeze.

“Joe’s fine,” I say, grabbing my bags and gliding past them to the counter. “He’s alright. Thank you for asking.”

Vineetha Mokkil is the author of the short story collection A Happy Place and Other Stories (HarperCollins). She was shortlisted for the Bath Flash Fiction Award June 2018 and was a nominee for Best Small Fictions 2019. Her fiction has appeared in Gravel, the Santa Fe Writers’ Project Journal, Jellyfish Review and Fictive Dream, among other journals.