Friday, April 21, 2006

Immaculate Housewives

When her body was found it was pretty obvious that this had been a suicide. Except for a slight flattening to the front of her hair, her hairdo and makeup were flawless. She looked like she had just come from the salon. The Chanel suit she wore was her favorite dark aqua marine with the very subtle sparkling silver threads woven into the fabric. The oven door was open with a small pillow inside. She was sprawled on the kitchen floor in a some what awkward position, face down with her limbs in disarray, which seemed to indicate there may have been some last minute thrashing about before the gas did its job. The house was closed tight, cleaned to perfection and nothing was out of place but Joan, a beautiful heap on the shining kitchen floor.

The cause of death was apparent but the police were still required to investigate unattended deaths. It took several days for them to piece together the forces that had pushed Joan into the oven.

Her elegant corpse had been discovered by Maid when she arrived for her regular weekly visit first thing Tuesday morning. Husband had been away on one of his frequent diving trips with Son and they hadn’t been able to get back to the house until late that afternoon. Joan had long since been removed from this domestic tableau. There wasn’t much of a scene to process or clean.

Husband descended into a state of deep shock on seeing his perfectly coiffed wife laid out in the county morgue. He seemed unable to manage more than the vaguest perfunctory responses to the police for several days and didn’t notice the slight alterations in his immaculately staged home. Every thing seemed the way it always did, just perfect.

The investigation encompassed Joan’s large circle of friends, mostly ladies from her cooking club. They gathered every week at a different member’s house to share their recipes and serve up a scrumptious luncheon. The police hoped that they may get some clues to Joan’s unfortunate end from the ladies group while they waited for Husband to stabilize. He appeared completely baffled, bewildered and lost, searching in his own way as to what may have gone so terribly wrong with Joan.

None of the women had much to say that seemed out of the ordinary, just the usual aches and pains of a certain age category, the regular gripes of a solid fifty year marriage to Husband and the kids of course. One of the detectives found it odd however that all the ladies seemed very eager to say that all was well, almost like they needed to prove it.

Gardener arrived the next day at his regular time and the detectives spoke with him as well. He too said there wasn’t anything unusual that he had seen or heard and just talked about the last conversation he had with Mrs. Tucker the previous week. They had their semi-annual fussing about the house plants conversation. There was always something wrong with the house plants it seemed, too wet or too dry, too tall or too small or another one about to die of neglect. This time it was the bugs again. Now she had ants in her plants.

This circular conversation which never had a satisfactory solution for Mrs. Tucker ended as it always did with a strong suggestion for fake house plants that didn’t need the care and attention she was unable to provide a living plant in an open construction house in a tropical bug filled environment.

Gardener and Husband had been through this for years and each knew his place in the dance. Husband silently moved the plants in and out as requested for water baths or sun or treatments for bugs. A plant cemetery of the half living was located on one side of the house. Gardener replaced the dead and dying when their time was up and a new victim was needed for a spot in the house.

The detective had heard this same story from Maid. Joan had complained to her too about the ants in her plants.

Joan’s Battle with The Bugs had been a source of tension for years. Like many housewives from the mainland who landed here, they held on to the notion that any bug was a bad bug and that they all must die. In the tropics this was a futile battle, but old ideas and old ways of doing things can be hard to change despite a new reality.

Gardener kept pointing out that she spent hundreds of dollars a year on regular pest control service with poor to no results and that it was insane to continue. He tried to explain that the regular non-discriminate preventative application of pesticides actually made her problem worse by throwing the natural system out of balance. In the absence of their predators the sucking bugs like scale, aphids, whitefly, and mealy bug multiplied astronomically. It didn’t take much for one of them to find its way inside to one of Joan’s house plants where they could multiply some more under a similar care regimen as the pictures on the wall.

Joan was not to be deterred and stuck to her have someone else kill them all philosophy. Husband and Gardener grumbled and complied.

Several days had passed since Joan’s gassing and Husband made his way to her desk for the address book and phone numbers to begin planning a service. To his astonishment he found she had written her own obituary and it was placed neatly inside her formal journal sized address book along with instructions he was to follow for her memorial. In bold capital letters one of his wife’s achievements in life was listed as President Emeritus Immaculate Housewives. The instructions made clear that no matter what anyone may say this title must stay in her obituary for the newspapers.

Husband had never heard a word of this group from Joan in all their years of marriage and was puzzled as to what this meant. In a private note to him she explained that she loved him and thanked him for the wonderful life they shared. The Immaculate Housewives had voted to rescind her President Emeritus status despite her near perfect scores and years of service because of repeated violations over the years for the bugs in her house plants. The ants in her plants were the final violation that had tied the group’s hands. She could not bear to live the rest of her life with this disgrace and shame to her reputation and would die before they had a chance to remove her title. Husband called the police. While he waited for their arrival in the living room he noticed for the first time that all the house plants had been replaced with lush artificial replicas.

The cooking club it turns out was a cover for the weekly rotating inspections of the member’s homes to see if they were up to the high cleaning standards of the Immaculate Housewives. When confronted the ladies admitted that Joan was about to be demoted for the infestation of ants that was found in one of her palm tree plants.

Joan was dead and her battle with a tropical climate filled with an endless supply of bugs had been her undoing.

The chastened and saddened ladies attended Joan’s memorial and though frightened by guilt they could not help but compliment Husband for how splendid she looked. The simple tiara he made for her with the strands of a diamond necklace and her favorite broach that went so well with the Chanel suit she had chosen was just stunning.

The broach was a large four inch long jewel encrusted dragonfly with gossamer wings fully open for flight. The wings rested on Joan’s forehead and the tail pointed skyward. Husband didn’t want to explain that the dragonfly had been found stuck into her forehead when she was unfolded from her awkward pose on the kitchen floor. It must have come loose from her suit jacket in the tumble from the oven and when her face hit the floor the sturdy pin of the broach pierced right through her skull.

When she had bought the broach and shown it to him he was a bit surprised. He told her that it was an insect and didn’t understand why she of all people would wear such a thing. Joan informed him that this was no insect. It was much like the Griffin, a mythological creature and her broach was a bird from ancient times. So be it. From then on Joan’s dragonfly broach was a mythological bird.

Husband however knew what it was and enjoyed the symbolism of his bug killing wife wearing one of the finest insect predators around. He had decided to leave the broach just where it was found. It was only appropriate he felt to send her off into the next world crowned Queen of the Bug Killers for her years of dedication to the war on bugs.

She always had such High Hopes for finally winning. She had high apple pie, no bugs in the sky, Hope.

Photo © Copyright 1999 Troy Bartlett.


christin m p in massachusetts said...

This story hits awfully close to home for me. That obsession with having everything in perfect order, "sparkling clean", and germ-free can do all sorts of damage. A few months after a separation, I wrote a free verse piece to my good friend and former fiance, as an apology for wasting precious time on being an "immaculate housewife". (What I wouldn't give now to have his disorganized drawers and closets back...) When I asked him if he understood what I was trying to say in it, he got teary-eyed and replied "Yes, that was us." I hope you don't mind if I print it here, because I think it connects with your story. This is it:


I don't know where you came from, but it must be the same place I came from,
you said.

I haven't looked away since.

Sorry I can't go see your band play tonight, Sweetie --
My hair's not quite right.
Poor guy, you fell asleep waiting up for me again
It must be the hundredth time...
One of the shippers showed up at the end of the shift--
I just couldn't leave all that work undone.
Come on, let's get you tucked into bed --
I've got to do the laundry now.
I promise I'll be in to join you in a couple of hours...
(Let's just relax today, you say?)
But we can relax when everything's organized
When all the bills are paid
When enough money's saved...
(Sigh...) It's just another boring day -- the usual grind
But that's okay, 'cause we'll have fun when we retire (in twenty-seven years),
I said.

James, please come back for good --
I'm ready now.

Christopher C. NC said...

If we only knew back then what we know now. Today is a new day and can be lived just for today from now on. We will never be finished cleaning, planning or saving. We just tread water. I think it is time to lay back, float, go with the current and enjoy the view and sensations of being supported by a much bigger force.

christin m p in massachusetts said...

Thanks Christopher:)) especially for helping me "enjoy the view."

whistlestop caboose said...

You'll also find the Immaculate Housewives club mentioned here:

whistlestop caboose said...

I'm wondering if I should start to worry about those ants...

Christopher C. NC said...

You are welcome Christina.

Thanks Ellen, I am going to need to work on getting some links into my posts.

Long day today.