Caitlin Levison McGuire
If You Want To Destroy My Sweater
It was only after dinner that Howard's wife began to unravel. She'd made a fine dinner beforehand: roast beef, the center the most perfect pink, scalloped potatoes, fresh summer greens, and martinis, the gin so well-chilled by the metal shaker that her hands quaked for a half hour. And for dessert, a lemon bundt cake just big enough for the pair of them, ice frosting glistening on top.
When he'd finished his half, Howard leaned back in his chair and loosened the knot of his tie. His wife cleared the dishes from the table and was on her way to the kitchen when Howard reached for the hem of her dress.
"Sit, stay a while."
She piled the plates in order of size, bowl on top of plate on top of platter so that they occupied as thin a splinter of tabletop as possible. She fiddled with the tassels at the end of the runner. "How was work?"
"Work was good." Howard brushed at her collar, which was buttoned neatly to her neck. He ran his fingers between the plackets of the dress, popping open the first three buttons, and pressed his fingers lightly against her clavicle.
She smiled and said, "Carson's on in five minutes, dear."
Howard looked toward the TV in the living room. "Right, right."
His wife sat on the floral couch she'd upholstered the year before in fabric covered with roses and peonies, while Howard crouched in front of the set, turning the dials until the low buzz turned into the face of the opening act, and then sat next to his wife. He put his hand around her shoulder, snaking back through her collar. When the opening act left the stage, a commercial for a new and improved broom took its place.
"Well, that's interesting," said Howard's wife, lacing her hands together in her lap.
"Yes," he said, stroking the hard angle of her clavicle. His fingers brushed against a strangeness. He pulled his hand back and peeled back the collar.
"There's a –" He pointed at her chest where a thin white hair perched on the tip of her bone, right under her neck. "There's a something there."
"My goodness!" Howard's wife felt around for the strange hair, her fingers glancing over the tip of it but never quite catching it between her fingertips.
Howard held his hand around her hand, guiding her. She pinched the hair between her nails and tugged, her collarbone coming undone as she pulled, the hair stretching longer from her skin.
She unraveled her hair first, the thread making its way around and around, from the tip of her forehead down the length of each curl, then uncircling her eyes and cheeks and nose and mouth and chin. After her head was in a knotted pile in the lap of her skirt, she pulled slightly faster on the string, her dress disappearing, along with the body inside it, spooling the thread between the index fingers of her hands, twisting faster now, her entire back gone, her legs one at a time, connected back up to the knitted fabric of the dress over her stomach. When her body was gone, her arms twisted themselves around themselves until only her hands were left, her left unknitting her right, her right unknitting her left, and then her fingers and then her fingertips. And then: just the frayed end of a string.
Howard looked at the kitten's nest of his once-wife laying where his wife's feet had just been. It was a shame that she hadn't yet bought the better broom. Maybe he'd stop over at the convenience store later. After Carson, though. After Carson, he could sweep her up.