After her husband, Bryan, calls her toxic and walks out for good, Crystal cleans. She dumps stacks of his mail and papers into a huge black trash bag, including his car registration, the one two weeks ago he claimed she’d thrown out. His accusation had kept her from sleeping and at 2 a.m., she’d risen to hunt for the paper and found it stuffed in the back pocket of his dirty jeans in the hamper. She’d woken him and shoved it in front of his sleepy eyes. “What’s wrong with you!” he’d growled and pulled the cover over his head. She moves to a shelf stuffed with his diet supplements – collagen, vitamin D, resveratrol, fish oil, selenium – and hurls them into the bag, then seizes the things he’s left lying around and dumps them — his old running shoes, tennis racquet, and android phone chargers. (Brian disapproved of iPhones. They were for lemmings.) “It’s passive aggressive bullying. Harassment!” he’d say when she demanded he’d pickup up his bathroom towel, flush the toilet, put the cap back on his toothpaste, rinse the tub. Crystal didn’t see it this way. She thought he was a thoughtless slob.
She sprays cleaner on the clanking radiator, again, allowing the fierce smell of ammonia to soak in and destroy any remaining vestige of her. The radiator under which a month ago, she discovered a pair of scarlet panties, a tacky adolescent style with a tiny gold key on a chain. The crotch was crusted with groin funk. He’d denied knowing anything about them. But she could tell when Bryan lied; his voice grew insistent, his eyes widened and struggled not to blink.
At the medicine cabinet, she tosses his old acne cream, the patchouli aftershave that made her sneeze. The pot gummies and Viagra are gone. She scrubs off the toothpaste from the sink splashboard. It was a pink vegan variety that splattered each time he brushed his teeth and sang along to “Final Countdown.”
Later she crawls into bed, exhausted. But sirens wake her. They’re far away, but their sound always scares her and she feels across the sheets for him, her flesh not yet caught up with her mind, then shakes herself fully awake. She remembers her sister Janet’s words the day he’d left and she’d driven to her home and cried like a six-year-old. Janet spiked her tea with whiskey, handed her a tissue and said, “You’ll be a lone penny knocking around that place alone.” But Crystal thought she’d feel better in her own place. Now she’s not so sure. She gets up, switches on the bathroom light and uses a scrub brush to lift the tub’s deepest grout stains and turns them white. They almost shine back at her.
Two man-sized, yellowish-brown footprints ruin the tub bottom. She runs the shower; its sound reminds her of their early days, when Bryan would take her under the spray, his arms encircling her, water cascading over them and he’d lift her into him. Afterward, he’d dry her with a soft towel and rub her feet, even her toes. She’d prepare his favorite smoothie with kale, before kale was cool. She turns off the shower, leans over, scrubs the foot marks harder, squirts Soft Scrub, something he’d never let into their home – too toxic. They don’t budge. She rinses away the cleanser. The stains look worse than ever. She studies them and wonders if it isn’t Bryan who is toxic. Perhaps all the supplements he downed along with his sweaty feet had seeped into the tub finish and eaten away at it.
She pours on straight bleach, waits, scrubs, rinses, and the fumes send her into a coughing fit. Her shoulders ache. Her hands bloom an angry, chapped, red.
His foot stains remain. She opens the battered window he’d promised to fix and never did. Flakes of peeling paint drop onto the sill and blow onto the bathroom floor. Cold damp air fills the small space. Outside a chilly rain pours down. She imagines him sleeping, on his back, his hands folded neatly under his head. Wonders if hethinks of her. Wonders if he’s relieved to be rid of her. Maybe she was too needy, demanding. She stops herself. Why is she blaming herself for his cheating? She splashes warm water on her face and tearing eyes, washes the cleaner off her hands and then spreads Jasmine-scented lotion on her rough fingers. It’s her favorite scent; it reminds her of Sicily, where she purchased her first bottle. She holds the back of her hand to her nose, inhales, imagines the azure Mediterranean, the winding paths where she picked fresh rosemary that grew like weeds, how happy she and Bryan were then. There’d been signs. After she’d spent weeks researching and then made an itinerary listing important historic sites and cathedrals to visit, they’d spent the first two days sightseeing but when they arrived in Capo Gallo, he’d announced that he wanted to spend the rest of their vacation at the beach.
Crystal looks at the tub, its filthy foot prints. She’d gone to Palermo alone for the day and when she returned, unhappy because she’d missed him, he’d criticized her, “Why do you always need me there to hold your hand?” She’d held her tongue, never spoke back. Dismissed it as his jetlag talking. But it had hurt. There were so many other times, too. She realizes she was always recovering from something Bryan had said to her.
Hot angry tears flood her eyes and cheeks. “He was a lazy, sloppy, selfish, sonofabitch. I ran around like a crazy creature trying to make it work. None of it mattered.” She places her feet on the footprints. The marks are huge and wide, like giant bear paw prints. She stomps on them as hard as she can. Her heels spark with pain.
Every morning, when Bryan’s feet thudded on the floor, the whole apartment trembled and shook her awake. She thinks about that sound. How she awoke each morning with a shudder. And then he left. Took a few things and left the rest for her to handle like a heap of trash. She looks back at the tub. Those huge feet. She knows now if he had stayed, she would have been crushed.
Andrea Marcusa’s literary fiction and essays have appeared in The Gettysburg Review, Cherry Tree, River Styx, Citron Review, Yalobusha Review, and others. She’s received recognition for her writing in a range of competitions, including Glimmer Train, Third Coast, Ruminate Magazine (fiction), New Letters (essay), and Citron Review (micro fiction). Since 2014, she has been nominated yearly for Pushcart Prizes. You can see Andrea Marcusa online at andreamarcusa.com and on Twitter @d_marcusa