By Russell Richardson
“Did you fuck with my fruit?” my wife called through the open bathroom doorway. We had long ago abandoned the formality of shutting the door when doing our business.
But, yes, she had caught me. A new enamel bowl of fake fruit had spoiled the bathroom’s aesthetic. The damn thing made no sense. In protest, rather than removing the bowl, I began relocating one phony item to the cupboard beneath the sink every day. She noticed on day three when the plastic orange disappeared.
“You mean the fruit bowl?” I called from my office, wishing my door was closed.
“Obviously,” she said, coming out and zipping her pants. Her heavy tread indicated anger.
“What’s wrong?” I said, doubling down on playing dumb.
“You don’t know?” She entered my tiny workspace, essentially a closet. Her proximity made me squirm, which gave the game away.
“What’s that mean?” I asked.
“You haven’t taken the fruit?”
“From the bowl?”
Her eyes rolled. “Come,” she commanded.
I obeyed her beckoning hand while trying to maintain my clueless façade. “I have work to do,” I complained. Her finger shot to her lips to shut me up, and then pointed at the crime scene. “J’accuse!”
“J’accuse you. What’s the problem?”
She frowned. “Fruit is missing. Don’t you see?”
Feigning innocence, I touched my chest. “If any is missing, don’t blame me. Your mother visited. Maybe she didn’t approve.”
My wife regarded me with repugnance. “Firstly, who disapproves of a fruit bowl?”
“A fake fruit bowl,” I corrected.
Her eyebrows knitted with suspicion. “Secondly, who removes only one piece of fruit?”
“Fake fruit,” I corrected.
She glowered as if daring me to speak. “It seems to lack more like two or three,” I added.
“Ahh,” she said. “What a specific number.”
“I said, ‘or three’.” My boat was sinking. I longed to jump overboard and swim back to the city. Our marriage was barely surviving country living. I knew my mother-in-law’s recent visit was a rescue attempt. After three years of diminishing wedded bliss, I had figured out the woman’s tricks. She wanted her daughter back in the Big Apple. To tell the truth, after six months in this rustic, rural home I couldn’t recall what possessed us to move here in the first place.
“My mother drove all the way from Manhattan because she wanted to take some fruit?”
“It’s fa——” I started, but her stare silenced me. She crossed her arms. I decided to damn the torpedoes. “No, she came to see if you wanted to leave.”
I stretched my arms. “The country. Our little house. Me specifically.”
She groaned. “You’re starting that again?”
“Evidently, I am.”
“No, no, no.” Her finger wagged. “You’re trying to weasel out by playing a victim. No way, pal. Where’s the fruit?”
“You’re dismissing my feelings?” I raised my nose.
“Where’s the fruit?” she asked, tapping her toe.
Prolonging this conversation would be unwise. A smart man would confess his sins. Instead, I said, “I have work to do.”
Pink-faced, she trailed me to my office. “Where’s the fruit?” she demanded from the front of my desk while I retreated to my chair.
“A fruit bowl in the bathroom is illogical.” I rested my fingers benignly upon my keyboard. “Who eats fruit while taking a dump?”
“It’s fake fruit,” she hissed.
“Right!” I yelled, much louder than we expected.
She grabbed a cup of pens from my desk, held it over my head, and poured. Bics and Papermates showered me. I suppose I was lucky it wasn’t coffee.
I fumed for a moment. “Very mature.”
A maniacal grin distorted her face. She knelt beside the wall. Before I understood, my computer screen went black. I roared in anger while she dropped the plug.
I had a bad habit of not saving my work in progress. She knew that. We had fallen in love as coworkers at a metropolitan graphic design firm. Freed by technology, we had headed for the hills, striking out as freelance designers. The project I was developing on my computer that morning would have covered that month’s mortgage payment. As final straws go, losing that design layout was a top contender.
“That’s it,” I erupted. Stumbling, crashing out of the cramped space, I returned to the bathroom. She followed, curious to see my response.
My eyes darted about the room and spied a cosmetics bag atop the toilet tank. In a flash, I shook its contents into the toilet bowl and flushed before she could grab my hand. Rafts of lipsticks, mascara pens, and perfume tubes spun down the drain. She shrieked in my ear, and I turned to see her storming out.
Curiosity and dread spurred me after her. She reached the living room before me, and from there came a clang, a smash, a discordant crash. Rushing in, I found my acoustic guitar upon the floor, with my wife’s foot impaling its broken body.
“You monster,” I cried.
She dusted her hands as if we were square. We were not. I stumbled to the fireplace over which, on the mantle, lay a ceramic urn that contained her portion of her father’s cremains. My wife struggled to remove her foot from the guitar, but the strings had her tangled. Using both hands, I grabbed the urn.
“Put it down, or I’ll divorce you,” she warned.
I smashed the urn against the hearth. Ashes and ceramic splinters flew everywhere.
My wife’s scream shook the house. Finally freeing her foot, she clenched her fists. “You’ll pay for that.”
She meant it. While she huffed and cast around, an idea turned her scowl into a smirk. She bolted out the screen door. My stomach sank.
“Wait!” I begged, reading her mind.
Many factors precipitated our country move. The quiet helped convince us. Our nearest neighbor lived a mile away, quite a contrast from our previous stacked-apartment experience. The insects and owls were a more ear-pleasing cacophony than Big Apple traffic when we sat on our lawn on a starry night. We had a crabapple tree in our yard, a rolling pasture, and a white wooden fence around the property. Through our window, we would watch deer frolic amongst fallen apples on our lawn. I relished the driveway the most: a free place to park our cars. We owned two, a Honda and a Subaru, plus one I’d inherited from my grandpa: a mint 1960 Studebaker Lark, powder blue.
She planned to kill the car.
“Wait!” I yelled. I ran outside and froze.
She stood on the front lawn, poised with her arm drawn back and crabapple in her hand. The Studebaker was a sitting duck. The windshield gleamed in July’s sunshine. She savored my fear for a moment. Usually, this antique stayed under a tarp, but the day before I had lovingly waxed its body. The thing looked as vulnerable as a lamb encircled by wolves.
“Please,” I begged. Our eyes met. I saw doom. We’d gone too far, whether she threw the apple or not.
She threw it.
The apple pegged the windshield. A starburst appeared on the driver’s side. A second apple inflicted a similar wound, and then a third.
My wife was a mechanical marvel, bending at the waist, collecting ammo, snapping upright, firing like a robot in a jerky film loop. I might have admired her.
Instead, I took an apple, drew a bead on her ass, and threw. She howled and reached for her lower back, where my errant throw had hit.
“Stop it!” I demanded.
“You stop it!” A red orb nailed my chest. I gasped from the pain. Who knew my wife could aim? She could’ve pitched for the Yankees farm team.
Another apple knocked my glasses off. My brain rang. I roared. I fired one apple that missed her shoulder, another that found her boob.
She cracked me smartly upon my forehead, and daytime stars bloomed in the sky. Stumbling, I felt a crunch: my glasses underfoot.
“Damn it!” I cursed my fuzzy vision, my broken spectacles, and my wife.
I cursed her mother.
She cursed mine.
Through my near-sighted fog, I squinted and threw. She dodged an apple that dented the Studebaker’s door. Her derisive laughter filled the yard, a sound I silenced with a lucky strike to her thigh. She danced a painful jig.
We hurled apples until our shoulders hurt. Panting, we stood stooped, holding our knees, trading obscenities until we couldn’t think of any more. A car drove by, and we waved because our road rarely saw any traffic.
Then she led me inside and found my spare glasses. I took her to the bathroom sink and revealed where the fake fruit was hidden. We made love and laughed at our welts and bruises. We dozed in each other’s arms.
It had been too long since we had fought like that. We’re due another soon, I hope.
Russell Richardson has written and had published many short stories (Flash Magazine, upcoming; Crimeucopia, upcoming; 101 Proof Horror; Night Terrors Vol. 16; etc.), illustrated a book of poetry, and created children’s books to benefit kids with cancer. His YA novel, Level Up and Die! was published in April of 2021. He lives with his wife and sons in Binghamton, NY, the carousel capital of the world.