Walt returned from work to find that his wife had exploded in the middle of the living room.
At ground zero was a great bloody starburst, and at its center were Molly’s slippered feet, blown off at the ankles. All around her, the walls and furniture were lashed with long tongues of gore.
Walt ran from the room, and fell back against the wall of the foyer, groaning, scrubbing his face with his hands.
Before they got married, the couples’ counselor had warned them that while Molly was improving, relapses could still happen. Recovery was a process, not an endpoint.
“Remember that Molly has a condition,” she told Walt. “If she has a setback, you must be there for her.”
Walt made himself return to the living room. Blood spattered the sofa, the windows, and the bassinet where their child lay crying. Next to Molly’s severed feet was the vacuum cleaner, still switched on.
How much of this was his fault? Walt wondered. That morning, they had gotten into a shouting match, because he had scolded Molly for working too hard, for not knowing how to ask for help.
“I’m fine,” Molly had said, as she always said, especially when it wasn’t true. “I’m fine.”
Walt unplugged the vacuum, rocked their baby back to sleep, then slunk out to the garage to get his gear.
The counselor had advised against wearing too much PPE, stating that excessive barriers would impede the healing process, but Walt still wasn’t ready to bloody his hands. He pulled on his galoshes and a pair of long rubber gloves and gathered his tools: a large metal bucket, a tote bag, an extendable squeegee, a hook on a pole, and a clawed trash picker with a trigger on the grip.
He squeegeed the blood off the walls and into his bucket, then used his trash picker to grab his wife’s feet. He found several bones knocking wetly against each another, trying and failing to put themselves back together. Walt placed them in his bucket as well.
Next, he found the hollow wetsuit of Molly’s skin draped across the back of the couch, and then, to his great relief, he found her head, which had landed atop the snake plant in the corner. Molly’s eyes were closed, and she appeared to be peacefully sleeping. Walt stowed her head at the bottom of his tote bag.
That’s when he noticed her right hand next to the planter, clenched around her cell phone. Walt heard a woman’s voice still yammering from the speaker. The caller ID read: “MOM (THAT BITCH).”
Molly was an only child. Her father had died suddenly years ago, which left Molly as her mother’s sole emotional support. Her mother would call her day and night, and Walt was witness to many one-sided conversations, hours in length, where Molly played the perfect daughter, endlessly placating.
Yes, mother. No, mother. Of course, mother.
One night, after an argument about the wedding guest list, Molly had blown up beneath the covers of their bed. It had taken both Walt and Molly days to steam clean the bedroom and replace the bloodied sheets, and Walt was terrified that the next explosion would be at the ceremony.
Every day, Molly would repeat a mantra: I will not go to pieces. I will not go to pieces.
She even had the phrase written on their cake, which she had commissioned from a bakery specializing in hyper-realistic desserts.
On their wedding day, Molly ignored her mother, exchanged her vows with Walt, and then the two of them cut the cake. The outside of the cake was white buttercream frosting—but the inside was a garish, fleshy red, shot through with white marbling, like a side of raw meat. A dark red cherry sauce oozed out as the knife sank in. Molly’s mother observed the scene in horrified bemusement. Molly just smiled and smushed the cake slice into Walt’s face.
“I wanted to remind her that I’m flesh and blood, too,” Molly said later.
Walt didn’t need any such reminders.
He found Molly’s liver attempting to disguise itself as a cushion on the loveseat, while her heart tried to stage a getaway, using her lungs as wet wings.
Her large intestine had looped itself about the blades of the ceiling fan — like a sleeping cobra; Walt lifted it free with his hook.
Satisfied, Walt stowed his tools and carried the bucket upstairs to the bathroom. The rest of Molly’s parts would come back on their own.
Here, he poured the blood and guts in the tub and stared at the mess, dreading what he now had to do. How easy it was to forget the parts that made up a person — the vulnerable innards, curled away from the world’s sharp edges, from the knives of expectation, from all those interpersonal barbs designed to hurt.
He undressed and climbed into the tub. Molly’s blood was still warm, vital enough to be returned to its source. Walt leaned against the back of the tub.
“I love you, Molly,” he said. “I love you.”
The blood rippled gently as Molly began to reassemble herself. Her organs climbed back inside her skin, which zipped itself closed around them. Her remaining bones clattered in through the doorway and jammed themselves into her arms and legs. Molly’s hands lifted her head and placed it atop the stump of her head with a lightbulb twist, and then Molly opened her eyes, shivering.
“Walt?” she asked. Her eyes roved his blood-spattered nakedness. “It happened again, didn’t it?”
Walt studied the face of the woman he loved. Sweet, beautiful Molly. She hadn’t healed, not yet. But she was trying. She was whole.
He wrapped his arms around her and she wrapped her arms around him. There would be time enough later to clean up the mess. For now, they just held on and listened to each other breathe.
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