The Unavoidable Dilemma

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She didn’t mind washing dishes but she hated what it did to her hands. Then again, she always hated her hands. She could be fresh from the hair dresser, wearing her favorite tweed skirt and modest — but flattering — heels, and her entire confidence would combust after a brief glimpse of them. With each year, they more closely resembled rudimentary art projects, her varicose veins and arthritic fingers held together by Elmer’s glue and popsicle sticks. Unbelievably, these hands became even more monstrous after a dishwashing session, where their already mangled appearance putrified after thirty minutes of soap and water.

Needless to say, “The Aging Process,” as her books liked to call it, had affected her skin before her hair. She saw the physical embodiment of death’s approach in every wrinkle, every liver spot, every segment of dry, scabby skin. The occurrence of such deterioration framed by a mass of healthy, strawberry blonde hair unnerved her, for the contrast made her look even older than she was, like someone’s ill grandmother wearing a desperate wig.

“Julia, you shouldn’t be so hard on yourself, this is normal. And I still think you’re beautiful. I’ll always think you’re beautiful,” Bill would assure her.

“Thank you sweetie, I needed that,” she would respond, wondering if a human could strangle one’s own neck with one’s own hands.

But those were the harder days and today had been a relatively painless one. Bill was out playing golf so she spent a productive morning at the beauty salon. Her place was a traditional one, the kind that won’t be around after her generation is through. Where women stay for half a day, worrying about health and husbands and their grandchildren’s moral compasses.

“Julia Julia!” the owner always greeted her. She liked that the place existed in a vacuum.

After the salon, she was in a good mood. With hair coiffed and set, she made a quick stop at the grocery store on her way home where, driven by a spontaneous bout of contentment, she bought some sunflowers. Her pleasant mood continued to the check-out line, where she almost succeeded in trying not to fixate on her rheumatic hand against the bouquet.

Once home, she put everything down and headed straight to the kitchen. The atmosphere was slightly colder in this room, and she noticed that all the dishes had been cleaned and piled on the drying mat next to the sink. When she left earlier that day, they had needed washing.

“Bill?” her voice drew out.

No response.

Hadn’t Bill said he was going to play golf until about three or four in the afternoon? He must have stopped back at the house at some point, though she didn’t understand why he would feel compelled to do a chore.

The tinkering sound of ceramics brought Julia out of her thoughts, and she caught movement by the sink. It was a clean white plate, traveling on its own towards the drying mat. It slowly glided along until it landed facedown on the counter. Julia was struck but the scene continued, and from beneath the plate crawled out an animal — a thing — completely new to her.

It was an ovular creature, about three inches long and covered in wiry fur or bristles. One might think it was a mouse, but further examination eliminated that as a possibility. Firstly, the creature was incredibly ugly, shiny, and colored somewhere between a black-brown and a sickly green. More tellingly though, it was without eyes and joints, like some kind of bacterial mass. It perched on the edge of the sink, as if preparing to descend, but it sensed her presence. The creature nodded at Julia, then continued on its journey.

Quietly walking so as not to disturb it, she approached the sink, inside of which she saw the little force in action. It rubbed its body all over a dirty bowl of cereal like a sponge, and left a perfectly clean trail in its wake. Julia was amazed at how well it cleaned grime. It approached hardened food by scraping it off with teeth that appeared to consist of only miniature molars. After removing this rough material, it shimmied its body once again, and the dish looked perfect. The creature then propped the bowl on top of its boneless body, capturing it like a pillow, and carried it up to the counter, where it dropped the bowl off amongst the other clean dishes.

After completing this task, it did what it had done before: stopped at the sink’s edge, acknowledged Julia’s presence, and then slid down to the bottom of the sink. The bowl had been its final project, and with nothing else to clean the creature wiggled into the garbage disposal, where it would settle until needed again.

For many minutes after its disappearance, Julia looked out the window above the sink. She saw her neighbors across the way, parents returning with their two kids from school. It must be at least 3 o’clock she thought.

Realizing Bill would be home soon, she ran the water and turned on the garbage disposal.