This piece was a finalist in the Gather Short Fiction Competition (2005).
Click here for the original, Portuguese version
Came the Monster
I throw three eggs in the frying pan to cook with bacon, the sizzle and the
scent mixing between my ears and my nose, producing a nausea that ends at my
forehead, a pain that is unlikely to disappear soon. It is impossible to avoid
seeing that faint expression on the monster’s face, one of relief and
consolation, an almost unavoidable smile upon hearing the ingredients submerge
into oil. I serve the meal with just a single bread roll even though I know
in advance that this will result in a painful thrashing. Carefully cursing
under my breath I offer my own roll as well and, finally, we sit down to dinner
I’m tempted to ask again, but the monster does not tolerate interruptions
while eating, and before any words can leave my mouth it grabs some peanuts
lying on the counter nearby and safeguards them jealously on the floor. I scratch
my fork noiselessly against the empty plate, biding the time. A horrible chortle
escapes from the monster’s mouth.
I’m not certain when I first discovered that this monster, this creature
who consumes my house at will, is the only one capable of helping me. With
regard to everything I desire to know, the secrets guarded in that insatiable
belly, the monster never permits me to speak. Our relationship remains strained.
It has never been easy to find common ground with this monster. In any case,
the creature demands very little—only food—and when it is finally
satiated, the monster promises to reveal the reason why Janice left me.
We eat a copious platter of almonds.
The monster knows so much more than it cares to tell me. Not
that long ago, but for a considerable length of time well before she ever met
me, the monster had lived with my wife. What it learned while it was with her
at all clear, but I know for certain that it dwelled inside her heart,
deep within, in such a manner that only when Janice left me did I have to face
the monster. I arrived here that night all soaked with rain after an exhausting
day at the police station. The love of my life had fled, locking everything
inside the bedroom, including the bed where we would make love, even the
message pad where she could have written me one last note. Instead she
left only the food in the kitchen, and her monster.
I did not want to allow the creature to stay; I longed for
that well-deserved solitude of an abandoned husband, but—and this remains
never comes alone. Soon the monster threw me against the wall, locked
the front door, and sat itself down in the kitchen. Hardly do I remember what
unfolded next, but when I recovered once more it was hanging above me,
smoking a cigarette, and demanding that I give it food. It has been the
same ever since.
Every woman has a monster. This fact won’t surprise anyone,
although I for one never wanted to admit the truth until my own wife abandoned
me. And the fact that she left me her monster to take care of is not
so strange either. Whether it is a token of love or a sinister memento,
certainly Janice never intended to leave me completely alone. In spite
of her, I take meticulous care of the monster. This is merely a question
of fidelity: in marriage just as in my police work I have always strived
to afford a certain loyalty to others. That includes my wife and, by
extension, her creature. It is curious that in this we are speaking
of a quality that Janice never demonstrated towards me or her monster.
I don’t like the monster; that should be obvious. At times it reigns as an insufferable tyrant, it beats me down mercilessly; it humiliates me. And despite the one-sidedness of our relationship, it is the monster who shows the greater scorn between us. It treats me with contempt and complete disdain, acting out with total malice, attributing the hunger it feels inside with the faults it witnesses in me. It is the monster that is dissatisfied, that never ceases to act intolerably annoyed. The monster complains, it shouts, it throws me to the floor. All this I manage to sustain in silence, of course, but what really hurts is all that which I am unable to defend against: the accusatory glare of the monster, the snickering, the raised eyebrows, and even worse the way in which it hardly suffers my justifications. Inexplicably, those moments when the monster ignores me completely are the ones that injure most.
The situation is rather different than how I imagined it would be before I married. At that time I thought I would have a woman who would take care of me. I would arrive home to a kiss, a casserole, and a cold beer. Together we would spend our nights out, dressed up for the town, and enjoy one another happily. I don’t know, maybe I’m simply a romantic. But instead of this ideal, and no matter how hard she tried, my wife was an altogether different creature. Janice didn’t have the faintest idea how to handle the housework. Moreover, she was lazy: she spent hours in front of the television, she gossiped with the neighbors, made costly long-distance phone calls to her mother. She would go outdoors only to smoke cigarettes. Indolence is not attractive, it even makes ugly, so much so that Janice lost much of the beauty that she had before the wedding. Her eyes blackened, the loose skin around her neck extended. Over time discoloring marks stained her once smooth face, her chin slackened, and her mouth spread thin. And she ate. Janice ate without stop.
The situation down at the station doesn’t help either. While I haven’t
much luck engaging in conversation at home, I find myself abnormally muted
at work too. It’s not because I have nothing to say, but rather because
I am afraid that anything I do say risks making the situation worse. The monster
has begun the habit of phoning me four, five times a day. The calls are not
about anything important really; it only cries and shouts in a language completely
incomprehensible to me. The other officers laugh at this, calling my repeated
caller the “police dog.” These jibes are not easy to accept. After
all, whether I agree with them or not, it’s my monster that they’re
I arrive to work late, I leave early, all so that the monster
remain alone too long. It eats so much, it has a hunger like nothing imaginable,
and worse yet it is hardly capable of taking care of itself. After work I must
attend to the shopping while the monster stays home in the bedroom, smoking.
It doesn’t plan to leave, doesn’t stop eating. It consumes
everything I am able to bring home, and when I arrive late, or if by
chance I forget one of the ingredients for dinner, it shouts and shouts
to the point of tears. And me? I cry and cry to the point of shouting.
For this reason alone, when Janice’s mother came to the house the other
day I should have been relieved. At first I attempted to explain to her that
my wife—her daughter—had gone. Having never before taken any consideration
of my words, however, my mother-in-law paid little attention. Instead she pushed
me aside—she is a woman of ample dimensions—and went directly
to the bedroom where the monster had closeted itself. I retreated back,
imagining a horrible scene in which my mother-in-law would be eaten by
that insatiable creature waiting on the other side of the door. After
a few minutes of indistinct whispers all sound ceased. Total silence.
I could hear nothing more coming from the room, not the shouts of the
monster, nor even the disdainful voice of my mother-in-law.
For better or for worse, my vision did not come to pass though.
It seems the monster and Janice’s mother got along just fine. The old
woman exited the room softly and came directly to the kitchen where I was already
preparing dinner for the three of us. In her dissatisfied expression
I could see that same anger and implacable disappointment that my wife
had inherited, a look of total condemnation before I had even the slightest
chance to defend myself.
She sat down in a chair and asked for some almond cake that was barely
visible in a breadbox on the counter. I served her three slices, all that
was left of the cake, on a large plate and put a fork beside. Her fingernails
extended, she captured the cake in her hands and consumed it ravenously.
The look in her eye was obvious, it told everything. Janice’s mother
had made common cause with the monster. On each point she sided with it, defending
every indignity the monster compelled of me, treating the creature as if it
were her own daughter. I couldn’t allow this to continue. I shouted,
I pounded the table, I reacted like a monster too. What else would you have
me do? Couldn’t this old woman differentiate between the daughter that
had gone and the monster that had taken her place? Janice’s mother
was confused. Not me.
Shaking her head with unbridled contempt, she refused to say another word,
ignoring all my spent explanations. Nothing was left but crumbs.
We speak little these days, the monster and I. We never leave the house, only
for me to work or to buy food for our dinners. My mother-in-law will not visit
again. The elegant dresses and suits remain in the closet consigned now to
distant and unreliable memories. It has been some time since the telephone
rang with invitations from friends. The neighbors, unmannerly all of them,
whisper rudely among themselves that I live with a monster. Not even the truth
should be so brutal.
Life continues in its inflexible way. We eat, my monster and I, and it throws me to the floor. Yet we continue, we survive one another, knowing that to live with a monster is better than to remain alone. Our dinners are mute, the silence broken only by the infernal chewing as I gaze hopelessly at this creature swallowing my food. It pays me no attention. I continue to wish desperately for my wife to return to me, to converse with me—that beautiful young woman I married only one year ago. Where has she gone? Say something!
© 2005 by b.z.