Competition: Short Story Challenge 2015, Final Round
A dying wish Character: A janitor
Original Illustration by
didn’t shave my legs or armpits today in honour of Seth.
I left the region between my legs
hairy too. He always liked me "primitive", and, honestly, I couldn't
be bothered. The last thing I need to be wasting time on is trimming
my pubes. Besides, my hard-done-by husband, Ben, doesn't even go
down there anymore, never mind a dead ex-boyfriend.
Instead, I could sit through multiple
episodes of Six Feet Under on HBO or watch the birds eat all the
seeds I toss out. Boreal and black-capped chickadees dot my back
deck daily. Sometimes a few red-breasted nuthatches appear, along
with sparrows and blue jays. The male hairy woodpecker has been
known to grace my suet feeder as well. I often say to Ben, "Now
that's one big pecker!" and he always rolls his eyes and refuses to
laugh, although I think he may have smirked the first time I said
I consider the birds my free
entertainment. I sit, cradling a cup of hot tea faintly flavored
with a few drops of milk and a dusting of sugar, and I watch their
robotic heads moving from left to right and their tiny, thin beaks
cracking and pecking their way to survival. Lately, mourning doves
have appeared, all grey and brown and plump. They plop down like a
spoonful of mashed potatoes on a plate and we just stare at each
I didn't know he was gone until I
heard it through the shitty grapevine that is my neglected Facebook
account. I don't really have physical contact with flesh and blood
friends anymore. Many have moved away; others are busy with
children, soccer games, dinners out and, oh yeah, happiness. I get
the occasional call and offer to pick up some groceries. “Amy, I am
going out anyway, it's no big deal," one acquaintance lies. I
suppose I should accept the help and stop being such a reclusive
bitch. Since Ben works long hours at the office they figure it's a
nice thing to do since he's got a nutcase wife and all; however, I
always say thanks but no thanks. There is a lovely little store that
sells local meats and vegetables, and they deliver. Besides, I ain't
But Seth is.
"What do you mean he died?" I wrote
in the comment section under the Facebook post “RIP Seth Goodwin.” I
had decided to log on after a particularly slow day with little bird
action, and what gloriously fucked-up luck it was to find that the
only person my heart kept pumping for was as dead as the fly one of
my cats ate the other day. All these people were saying he was a
great guy and blah, blah, blah. I hadn't been able to find him
on-line at all and believe me, I tried. I'd lost touch with my boy
whose tousled, dark bangs hung in my face as he lay on top of me in
the back of his father's Jeep, the same gentle young man who begged
me to leave Ben and start a life together somewhere else, the quiet
man who met me in Room 45 of the Border Motor Lodge one afternoon so
many years ago and told me he just couldn't do this anymore.
A woman we both went to high school
with, and who I remember to have had horribly crooked teeth,
in-boxed me after my comment. "Isn't it just awful? I can't believe
it either. He was so cute and funny and you two were so close. His
mother is bringing the body home to be cremated and there will be a
small service with just family or at least that's what I heard. Car
Oh shut up. You said “awful” twice.
And then in her next message: "I hear he was still single and a
janitor at a school."
Seth was single and … a janitor? I
know this sounds awful (shit, now I'm doing it), but that did soften
the blow a little. If he were a doctor or a lawyer I could really
pine about the good-looking, successful guy that ran screaming from
my life and married a big-titted blond. But if I can be disgustingly
honest, a janitor just doesn't go with the fantasy, the love story,
the imaginary life we shared in my dreams. It turns out he didn't go
off and do better and marry up; he was simply pecking away at seeds,
just like me. Maybe if I had run off with him he wouldn't have ended
up cleaning crap-stained toilets and puke off the gym floor. I did
this. Seth Goodwin died a janitor because of me.
A black crow lands on the red
Adirondack chair on the lawn as I walk to the car. With my hairy
legs, pits and bush, I am heading to the funeral home when it swoops
by my head of grey-peppered brown curls. I didn't try to tame the
locks all that much because Seth liked my hair that way. "Amy, such
a wild woman," he would whisper so softly into my ear after sex. His
presence now covers me like a warm hospital blanket; heavy and a
little awkward. I stop in my tracks and dig in my purse for a pill.
I refuse to feel the suffocation today, the invisible hands around
my neck stopping me again from taking a step forward.
I arrive 45 minutes early as planned.
It is quiet and creepy with no one around, and my eyes immediately
focus on the copper urn that sits on the low-lighted table
surrounded by death flowers and cards. I walk closer to it and hear
myself murmur, "You in there?" I stare at the eight-by-ten framed
photo nearby of a man who had taken up so much of my thoughts; my
wonder. I knew those eyes, brown and beautiful, but like me, his
hair became touched with grey in recent years. I bet he was a really
good janitor. I ache inside and out. My bones feel like they are
disintegrating under my skin and the familiar weakness and panic
begin to poke through. It’s the same feeling that caused me to stop
working, to not want to have children, to hide away at home for the
last five years. The decisions I had made in my life had led me here
to stand in front of this urn.
The true voice inside me had told me
when I first met him to go with my gut. But I wanted more. Stupidly,
I thought there was better. And now, I stand here, regretful,
fiddling with the ring given to me by a man who I'm not in love
with, staring at an urn that contains the dust and bone of what
could have been. Like the chickadee, my head pivots and I squint
through tears and swallow sobs as they attempt to escape. Without
reason or thought, I grab the urn and begin to unscrew the threaded
lid. Sticking my hand inside I scoop up what I can and dump it into
my purse. I bet I would have made an awesome janitor's wife.
The kettle boils and I smile. My
birds are enjoying the peanuts, sunflower seeds and cracked corn
spread outside. It's a simple task, that of making tea. But today,
along with milk and sugar, I add a third item to the mix. Seth. He
is gritty and it's much like drinking sand water if you don't count
the chunks. But it fills me up; warms me and I don't feel so alone.
I have felt alone for a long time now.
Ben is at work and the house is
still. All the laundry has been done and there are enough groceries
ordered for two weeks. I make sure the cats have been amply petted
and rubbed and their bowls topped up should someone forget to fill
them in the hustle of the next few days. I multi-task, holding the
full pill bottle in one hand; my cup with the other, slowly sipping
and watching as the mourning doves peck tirelessly and feverishly.
Their journey continues. And then I stand up, take one last gulp of
my tea, and let out a sigh of relief that mine will soon be over.
McCormick is a playwright and columnist who one day hopes to
publish a compilation of her short stories. She writes from her
farm in Nova Scotia, Canada.