by Phoebe Kate Foster

It all began with rogue condiments.

When she opened a cabinet, the packets of catsup, mustard and soy sauce you’d saved from years of takeout orders threw themselves at her.  “You’re a pathological packrat!” she snapped.  “As if that’s not irritating enough, you buy stuff and never use it!” She pointed at pantry shelves.  “What a waste!”  She checked the labels on the interesting things you’d found at the supermarket instead of the humdrum items on her list.

“Past their expiration dates,” she announced, and threw out your maraschino cherries, mock turtle soup, mushroom powder, marshmallow fluff, jalapeño dip, tamarind paste, lichee nuts and snack cakes.    

“How can a jar of cocktail onions get old?” you asked, as she tossed those, too.
“Nothing lasts forever.”  She gestured at the rooms beyond.  “Just look around!   Your old junk is everywhere.  You’ve never thrown out anything in your life.  Believe me, you’d feel like a new man if you did.”
After she left for work, muttering about anal-retentive people, you decided she was right.

Into trash bags you shoved your badminton equipment, backgammon set, ab wheel, stamp collection, Popular Mechanics issues, baseball cards, action figures, souvenirs from Disneyland and Graceland, Beatles posters, acoustic guitar, collegiate sweatshirts, clothes in sizes you’d never fit again, presents of apparel you said you liked, old letters, photo albums with faces you preferred to forget, address books full of people you didn’t actually like, and Mont Blanc fountain pen stand, a gift from her.  The intended dig was inescapable, in light of the debacle of your so-called career.

You suddenly realized there were many things you’d wanted to throw out for a long time: pottery lamps, Picasso prints, coffee table books, crystal figurines, that collection of faceless dolls — they gave you the creeps — and vases of peacock feathers.  The thought of bare-butted birds deprived of both plumage and pride depressed you.

Finally, in the bedroom, you emptied a bureau, closet and nightstand, and hauled everything out to the curb for the garbage truck.

It was done.  And it felt good.

At dusk, you stand at the window, waiting. A taxicab pulls up and she gets out. She stares, slack-mouthed, at the black Hefties lining the street like body bags after a bad accident. The wind catches a white silk chemise and waltzes it away with the debris in the gutter. Dazed, she circles the garbage, rescuing random items — a doll, a book, a necklace, a feather — and clutches them to her, as if to staunch a wound.

A dismal drizzle leaks from the darkening sky. Her eyes seek out the apartment window on the second floor. Her upturned face is wet. With rain or tears? You aren’t sure. She raises her arms to you. In accusation? Supplication? You shrug, draw the curtains and pour a celebratory Scotch.

Naturally, she’s upset, but you know she understands. After all, she’d be the first to say never keep anything beyond its shelf life.

Phoebe is an Associate Editor at PopMatters, an online magazine of global culture, and Assistant Editor at The Dead Mule, a literary ezine. Her short fiction is forthcoming in Prairie Schooner and Electric Acorn (Ireland), and has appeared in many online and print journals, including Eclectica, Flashquake, Slow Trains, Mid-South Review, Starry Night ReviewMegaera, The Distillery: Artistic Spirits of the South, Emrys Journal, and Tattoo Highway. One of her stories has been nominated for this year’s e2ink Best-of-the-Web Anthology.