A Most Agonizing Death

CARL CONRAD

K-A-R-E-N…  Even her name was like fingernails dragged across a chalkboard to me.  When someone said it, all I could hear was an inglorious mixture of whining, bragging, lying, platitudes, excuses, phobias, and subversive agendas.  There was nothing remunerating about her, nothing to offset the shallowness of her thoughts, the pettiness of her criticisms, and the selfishness of her attitude.  It was all just a self-reflected glare.  She was the centre of the universe, and everything else was just there to complete her world.

This was the woman my son had chosen to marry, and now they lived with us.  But, it wasn’t as easy as all that. They didn’t just live with us. Because of her, they penetrated our lives like parasites. What we ate for meals, what we watched on the television, what was an acceptable hour to go to bed or when it was ok to move around and make noise in the morning, these were all considerations sanctioned or prohibited by K-A-R-E-N. Because she went to bed exceptionally late and slept in until nearly noon every day, those of us who kept more normal hours had to tiptoe around in an ever-cautious silence lest we disturb the sleeping beastess.

One morning, for instance, I was putting away some pots and pans that had been washed in the dishwasher and were now dry. I was merely putting them back in the cupboards where they belonged, but they clanged and echoed in a way that must have seemed like they were being beaten with a wooden spoon on New Year’s Eve. Of course, I wasn’t apologetic about it because I knew the only one it would disturb was K-A-R-E-N.  She was the only one still sleeping.  It was 10:30 in the morning, so I thought a little noise would be permissible. But you should have heard the indignant clatter that soon ensued in response.

As she emerged from her bedroom, which was to the side of the kitchen, the bright morning light shining through the windows spattered against her face in such a way that she cringed and squinted like Dracula exposed to a glistening cross.

“What’s all the noise?” she asked in disgust. “Is there a fire somewhere, and we have to escape?”

Of course there wasn’t a fire. There was only the indelicate sound of my trying to put things away so that we could start the day earlier than noon, but that motive was lost in the litany of invectives that were hurled ingloriously in the air like leaflets from a plane:

“…no consideration for those who went to bed late!  …no regard for others!  …deliberate attempt to wake me up!  …lack of understanding!  …making it difficult to sleep!…”

There was a whole cacophony of complaints that spewed from her mouth like vomit from a possessed demon. Then she looked me straight in the eyes with that scrunched up squint of hers, tossed her hair back indignantly, turned away from me with a huff, and stomped back into her bedroom, not to be seen again until an hour or so later.

I was frozen by the brashness of her attack, but filled with an instant desire to rush into her room and strangle her or stab her repeatedly with a sharp knife. I could even picture in my mind her head exploding as I wound a ball of duct tape around her head then stuck a small stick of dynamite between her lips and lit it. BOOM! it would resonate. But the job would be done, and my world would be rid of its chief menace.

If hate is the strongest word humans can feel, then I must invent a new one because my disgust and revulsion go much farther than that. I not only hate her, but I wish to KILL her!  And now I think I have a plan.

The city was cutting down trees in our neighbourhood, and they were using a wood chipper to mulch up all the loose branches.  If I could just get her close enough to it while it was in operation, then somehow slip and push her into it while it was grinding tree branches into pulp, maybe I could do the world a favour and grind this human curse into a much more delightful sow’s ear.

The city work crew was only a few houses down from ours today as they started.  They were topping trees as well as trimming dead and low-hanging branches all along the curbside.  Karen and I were the only ones home at the moment, and I told her that she would have to move her car so the crew could trim some branches from in front of our house.

Of course she squawked and complained about it, but she got her keys and went outside.  I followed her then, after she parked her car out of the way, I asked her if she would help me haul a small bush from alongside the house, and toss it into the wood chipper?

“What?  You can’t just throw things in that machine,” she answered.  “The workers won’t let you do it.”

“I already asked them,” I replied.  “They said that as long as the machine was free, I could do it.  And I just have to get rid of that bush at the side of the house.”

She looked at me skeptically, but unaware of my more menacing plan.  We walked over to the bush then, as the workmen moved away from the wood chipper and began working on other tree branches, I saw my opportunity.

“Come on, Karen,” I said quickly.  “This is our opportunity.”

We both grabbed a side of the bush and began dragging it toward the wood chipper.  The trouble was that she was on the wrong side of the bush.  I slowed my pace a little and wrestled to get my side behind her so that she was between the bush and the machine, and I encouraged her to speed up.

“Yes.  We’re almost there.  Just a little farther.  The machine’s still available.”

We could hear the grinding whir of the blades as they spun in relentless circles, the strong, sharp, spinning blades ready to tear whatever was pushed into the entrance of the machine into powder and dust.

I maneuvered the shrub so that I was slowly but steadily pushing her back toward the machine.  She seemed unaware of how I was steering her toward the spinning blades, and barely realized how close we were getting to the machine.

“We’re almost there,” I struggled to say as I pushed and guided the shrub toward the opening of the machine.  We were almost there!  “Lift up your end… push it into the machine,” I told her as my heart beat more rapidly and my eyes focused only on the wood chipper.   Just a few more steps.

“Lift and…  push!” I encouraged.  Then I gave the shrub a hard and continuous push.  I heard her yell: “Heeeyyyy…  I’m st…”.  She stumbled, felt the bush being pushed forcefully toward the entrance of the machine, then she noticed the danger and my intended motive.

“Nooo!” she screamed.  But it was her last, anguished sound .  She was pushed into the opening of the wood chipper and diced like a coleslaw salad.  Blood sprayed everywhere from the opening of the chipper in a brief blast of skin and bones and shreds of clothing and hair sprayed in a steady stream onto the pile of wood chips in the back of the truck.  It was a gruesome ending, but thorough, immediate, and complete.

Quickly, the city workmen rushed around me, yelling instructions and asking questions.

“What happened?!!”…  “Grab that shrub!  Pull it back!” they yelled, but I continued to push it until all but a little stub of branches remained in my hands.  There was nothing left. No shrub, no Karen, only the buzzsaw hum of the machine.

“What did you do?” someone asked, accusingly.

“I don’t know…” I stammered in false astonishment.  “We were throwing away the shrub when…  when she must have tripped or something…  I couldn’t see…  I couldn’t stop…  Oh, how awful…  She was my son’s wife…  I’ll never be able to forgive myself…”

Through all the questions, explanations, accusations, and the horrified exasperation of those who talked to me about it, I maintained a contrite and helpless innocence that was convincing enough to obscure my more malevolent intentions.  No one was really aware of how deep my contempt and resentment went.  I always kept it to myself, only letting my true feelings foment in the hatred of my belly like poison.  Finally I had my retribution!

Because there was no direct evidence of premeditation, or even an extraneous murder weapon, all charges were soon dismissed against me.  No one could believe that a person like me who had an impeccable history as a family man, a community contributor, a man who regularly attended church, who was well-liked by the friends and neighbors who knew me, and who was never known to have threatened Karen, or even spoken harshly to her, could have intentionally, and gruesomely, been the cause of this incident.

But late at night, when everyone was in bed and everything in the house was still and somber, a wide, growing, unrepressed smirk of contentment covered my mouth like the blood a vampire must graciously brandish on its lips after feeding its lustful needs.  I felt alive and exhilarated, and wanted to laugh as menacingly and vindictively as I could.  But, I didn’t.  I only wished, deep in my heart, that I could have been the one to push her off a cliff into the depths of Hell!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!  Ha!

Carl Conrad lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and is a retired college Economics instructor who enjoys writing of all types.  He has published a children’s novel, a biography of a Christian southern gospel singer, many short stories and essays, and is now enjoying his days and nights as a freelance writer. 

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