“Bitch!” The words stumbled across his teeth like clumsy elephants, sliding over his lips and struggling through sour bourbon breath.
She assumed the usual position: fetal, head covered, waiting for the blows. They came as sharp kicks to her ribs. She felt relieved that Frank was wearing his sneakers instead his pointed cowboy boots. She focused on peaceful thoughts as he kicked: sunny meadows, beaches, sunsets. It was a technique she had learned as a child when her parents were drunk and angry. Focus on a pleasant memory and dissolve into it. She often imagined that these escape mechanisms were visible to onlookers as gleaming glass globes in orbit around her head – beautiful scenes of tranquility playing inside each one for the world to behold.
“And get that garbage disposal fixed by the time I get home!” he said, delivering one last kick to her buttocks.
She closed her eyes and listened. She heard the apartment door slam. Then blam, blam, blam, blam, blam came the sound of his feet on the stairs outside. Then the jingle of the keys, the roar of the engine and the chirp of the tires as he gunned the big buick away down the street. She stayed still for a few minutes and then began to sob. Emotions boiled up from all directions, mingling together like a mad concoction from some chemist of misery – rage, humiliation, desperation, anger, with river of deep and profound sadness flowing through everything. A pool of tears collected around her cheek and formed a salty puddle on the cold linoleum floor. She stayed there for about an hour and then slowly pulled herself up, gingerly pressing on her ribs, assessing the extent of the damage. She shuffled to the kitchen counter, grabbed a handful of paper towels and dabbed her tear-stained face. She looked out the kitchen window and saw an enormous black raven perched on a wire. It stretched, extended large black wings and arched its beak skyward.
I’d give my soul for that kind of freedom she thought and felt a wave of jealousy wash over her. The black beast folded its wings back against its body, cocked its head to one side, and looked straight at her. Did it wink one eye? One gleaming red eye? She stepped back, startled, and the bird took flight in a flurry of black feathers. A moment later, the door buzzer screeched.
“Who are you?” she said, staring at the man in the doorway. He had black hair, a pointed goatee and swarthy skin, and his coveralls were pitch black. Dark eyes gleamed from within deep sockets, framed by thick black eyebrows. He grinned, showing perfect white teeth and when he spoke, his voice seemed to resonate from everywhere, deep and warm with an accent that was vaguely latin, but with a hint of german or nordic sprinkled throughout.
“I’m Sam, from Johnson Plumbing.” He smiled and lifted his toolkit, revealing the company logo.
“But, um, I didn’t call yet, I don’t think…” she said, managing a nervous smile.
“Is this not apartment 237 at 3477 North 33rd?” The man pulled a scrap of paper from his pocket and unfolded it.
She nodded. “Yes this is…”
“And are you, uh, Ta-ra Mag-nu-son?”
“Yes, but I…” she leaned in and looked at the paper.
“Well, according to my notes, you called yesterday for a garbage disposal repair. If this is a bad time I could…” Sam said and took a step back.
“Okay, well, I just don’t recall.” she shifted her gaze to the sink. “Wait, since you’re here, I actually do need my disposal fixed.”
“Perfect!” Sam smiled and walked past Tara to the sink. She smelled a hint of smoke as he passed. Not cigarette smoke, but some other smoke. Something more acrid, more complex. Sulfur?
“How much will this be?” Tara asked.
“How about you let me have a look and assess the damage. Then I’ll give you an estimate. Sound good?” Sam smiled. Did he just wink?
Uh, okay, I guess.” Tara glanced back out the window, looking for the giant raven but he was gone. When she looked back, Sam was on his hands and knees beneath the sink. She noticed something funny about his shoes. They had the wrong shape. Were the toes too wide? Or perhaps the heels were too narrow. There was also something strange about the way his coveralls fit his buttocks. It was as if there wasn’t a gap where there should have been. Instead, she noticed a small ridge
protruding from between his buttocks, as if he had a deformed tailbone, or maybe…
“Okay, ma’am, the bad news is I think your old unit’s done for.” Sam stood up, adjusted his coveralls and wiped his brow. “The good news is, I have a special on my top replacement unit, the Dispose-All 5000. It’s 50% off this week. The boss wants to clear the inventory and this baby’s got all the bells and whistles. Mountains of horsepower too so it can destroy everything you can feed it. And I mean EVERYTHING!”
“How much?” Tara stared at Sam’s shoes. They really were oddly shaped. The toes were too wide and they went up in the back in a strange manner.
“As much as you can feed it!” Sam smiled.
“No, I mean, how much does it cost, you know, with labor.” Tara massaged her bruised rib.
“Oh, yeah, lemme see. About an hour’s work plus parts, let’s just say $50 bucks.”
Tara’s face lit up. “50 dollars? Wow, is this replacement some cheap piece of…”
“Oh, no way, ma’am. The Dispose-All 5000 is one serious hunk of hardware. I mean, there’s nothing it can’t handle. Nothing at all on this earth.” Sam grinned and stroked his goatee.
“Is there some kind of warranty?” Tara crossed her arms.
“Well, you can add one for just five dollars. And that’s a life time warranty. Forever.”
“Forever, huh?” Tara grinned. “Ok, how long will it take?”
“Forever’s a mighty long time, ma’am.” Sam said, gazing out the window.
“No, I mean how long for the repairs?” Tara said.
“I’d say I’ll be out of here in hour. Now if you’ll just sign your name here, then we’ll be all set.” Sam pulled a black clipboard with a form attached from his toolkit. “It’s just for the, uh, warranty and the labor. Nothing special. Standard stuff but I do need a signature before I can start.”
“Ok.” Tara started to scrawl her signature on the black line near the bottom of the form. She paused. At the bottom of the page she noticed some extremely small print. It looked like something in another language, but it was too tiny to really understand.
“What’s this, Spanish?” Tara pointed to the almost microscopic text.
“Oh, no, that’s the warranty. The unit’s made in Germany so the warranty’s in german. You know, precision manufacturing and that kind of thing. Nothin’s made in the good ole’ USA anymore, right?”
“Yeah, really, everything’s Chinese.” She finished her signature and handed the clipboard back to Sam who smiled and placed it back in his toolkit.
“Allright, I’ve got laundry to do so if you need me, just holler.” Tara said and walked down the hallway to the laundry room. She could hear Sam’s tools clanking as he began the repairs. Was he humming a tune? What was that song? Something from an old movie?
Tara had just finished loading the washer with clothes when she heard a knock on the doorway behind her. She turned to find Sam, toolkit in hand.
“All done, ma’am.” Said Sam.
“Really?” Tara wrinkled her brow. “But it’s only been…” she looked at her watch. What the hell? An hour had passed yet it seemed like just five minutes. She grabbed her cell phone to verify. There it was, an hour later.
“I just need to show you a few operating tips before I go, If you don’t mind.” said Sam as he turned and headed back toward the kitchen.
“Ok.” said Tara, following behind. Those shoes really look weird, she mused.
“There’s just few things you need to know about this unit.” said Sam. “The first rule is ALWAYS run the water whenever you use the D-5000. You must run the tap to operate the blades.” Sam reached out and turned on the faucet. The water swirled and gurgled down the drain.
“Now the second thing is the MOST important rule. NEVER get near the D-5000 when it’s running. That’s why the switch is across the room.” Sam pointed to a red switch across the kitchen on the opposite wall, next to where Tara stood.
“Turn it on and wait until the blades finish grinding. You’ll be able to tell by the sound. Then turn it off. DO NOT go near the unit while it’s in operation. Got it?” Sam raised his eyebrows and smiled.
“Yes, I think so.” said Tara.
“Good. It’s very important that you follow these rules because this unit is extremely powerful. Safety must be observed at all times.” Sam picked up his toolkit and walked towards the door.
“And if anything doesn’t work, call me right away. You have a lifetime warranty that covers any problems.” Sam paused at the doorway. He smiled and handed Tara his card.
“Ok.” Tara said and put the card in her pocket. “Thanks. Oh wait, I almost forgot, here’s the check.” Tara handed Sam a check made out to seventy-five dollars.
“Well, that’s mighty thoughtful of you ma’am. Thank you very much!” said Sam as he walked through the doorway.
Tara watched Sam walk away down the hall. She could hear him humming that strange tune again. What was that song? A song from the sixties? The Stones perhaps? When he was gone, she locked the door and returned to the sink. OK, let’s try this thing out she thought and pulled a large plate of left-over chicken breasts from the fridge. She carried the plate to the sink and set it on the counter. She picked the largest hunk of chicken and dropped it into the disposal drain hole and turned on the water. Then she walked across the room to the switch. She stared back at the sink and flipped the power on. Immediately, the lights dimmed and the metallic whine of large spinning metal blades filled the room. A loud grinding sound rattled the cupboards. It shifted pitch for a half-second as the blades engaged the chicken and then returned to a smooth metallic whirring hum. Tara flipped the switch off and walked over to the sink. The chicken breast was gone. Not a trace remained in the sink.
Tara grinned and stuffed the rest of the meat into the drain. She left the plates in the sink and walked back to the red switch. Flick, grind, and grind and grind, louder and louder and then whirr. Tara flipped the switch off and walked back to the sink. Everything was gone. Even the plates had been sucked into the disposal and destroyed.
“Wow!” Tara said out loud. A flood of exhilaration filled her soul as she rushed to her boyfriend’s room and gathered a mountain of football trophies in both arms. She was giddy with revenge, sweet and diabolical, payback for all the beatings and abuse she had endured. She hurried back to the kitchen and dumped the gilded statues into the sink, piling them high, well beyond the capacity of the small stainless steel basin. Grinning, she flipped the switch. Instantly, a flurry of black metal mechanical arms encircled the mass of trophies, lifting and spinning them in the air like a robotic juggler, feeding all to a central array of circular blades which spun just above the drain. The arms manipulated and twisted the items, systematically sending each piece into the whirling slicers and then down the black drain hole which expanded and contracted, like a giant camera aperture, to accommodate the chunks as they fell. The Dispose-All 5000 consumed all of Frank’s trophies in about 5 seconds.
Tara clapped her hands in delight and hurried out of the kitchen. She returned dragging Frank’s Laz-E-Boy recliner across the linoleum kitchen floor. She squatted down and heaved the chair up onto the counter top, balancing it across the sink. With a gleam in her eye, she danced across the room to the switch. Flick, whirrrrr, grind and voila! Frank’s prized recliner was gone. No more “get me beer!” with legs up and a bag of chips on his lap. No more sleeping through the last innings of the Yankees game, snoring like a buzzsaw in the living room.
Tara stared down into the drain. It looked so normal, so unassuming. Slowly, the black cloud of an idea began to boil around her head. A way out. An escape from the abuse. She grabbed her keys and left the apartment. Her brain crackled with excitement. This was it. She had a way to put everything behind her. To start over. To erase a life of abuse that had started with her drunken father and a string of bad-decision boyfriends and ended with Frank. She practically danced down the stairs and out the door.
She waltzed through the oppressive heat and humidity of the New York City heatwave. She hurried across the street, weaving around the crowds along 33rd and ducked into Sal’s corner market at the end of the block. She grabbed a bag of ice and a six-pack of Frank’s favorite beer.
Back at the apartment, Tara dumped the ice into the sink and arranged the beer cans in a neat circle. Then, she sat down at the table and waited.
The sun had disappeared about an hour earlier when she finally heard Frank’s footsteps on the stairs outside. Then came the jingling of the keys and the clumsy attempts to unlock the door. Finally, Frank stumbled into the kitchen.
“Haaaey!” He slurred. She could smell his breath. It reeked of bourbon and Budweiser. “Man ammm I huungarrree!” he said, brushing past Tara. He opened the pantry, grabbed a bag of chips and ripped it open, spilling handfuls onto the floor as he stuffed the crunchy morsels into his mouth. “Aaay, wha’s in the siiink?” Frank lurched across the kitchen. Tara watched closely. She had to time this just right.
“Haaaaey! My flavorite!” Frank leaned over the sink and Tara jumped from her chair and flicked the red switch on the other side of the room.
Nothing happened. No whirling blades, no metal arms. Just silence. Frank plunged his hand deep into the icy basin and dug out a cold beer. He popped the tab and opened it, click, hisss.
“Ooooh yeah! Ice cold baby!” Frank said. “Bitch, I thought I tole you tah fix that disposal!” He clenched his fists and lurched toward Tara.
“I did! I did!” she said, recoiling.
Frank raised his arm to stike and Tara covered her head. From beneath her arms she heard the door buzzer.
Frank stopped, mid swing. “Git the damn door!” he slurred.
Tara un-crouched and scurried across the room. She opened the door. It was Sam, the plumber.
“Sam, what, what are you doing…” Tara fumbled with her words, trying to compose herself.
“Ms. Tara, I hope I’m not bothering you, but after I left, I remembered that I forgot to install an important part of the system.” said Sam, glancing past Tara at Frank, who lurched drunkenly toward the door.
“You the asshole that didn’t fix my disposal?” Frank’s words sprayed from his numb lips as he pointed at Sam.
Sam stepped into the apartment, toolbox in hand. “Why yes sir, I was here earlier and…”
“Shithead! You didn’t fix SHIT! What kine of moron plummer can’t fix a disposaaall.” Frank tilted the beer can back and drained the remaining portion. He crushed the can and tossed it to the floor.
“Oh, I am so sorry, sir. I neglected to install a very important part. I assure you, I can have everything honky dory in 5 minutes.” said Sam, smiling.
“You are a shit plummer. You are as worthless as my shit bitch over there!” Frank pointed at Tara who was standing by the red dispose-all 5000 on/off switch.
Sam smiled and raised his hand above his head. He glanced at Tara and then snapped his fingers. “There, I fixed it. I just installed the kill switch.” said Sam.
Frank lurched across the kitchen, coming nose to nose with Sam. “What the hell are you talking about? You ain’t fixed shit, jack-ass!” Frank poked his index finger into Sam’s chest. “I wann a full refund of all my money, dickhead!”
Sam glanced at Tara. “Sir, why don’t you just go get another beer and let me show you how well your system works?”
Frank chuckled and staggered to the sink. “Okay, Mr. finger-snap plummer, I WILL get another one, but that doesn’t make you less of an ASSHOLE!” Frank thrust his hand deep into the chilled water of the sink.
Sam motioned to Tara who nodded and threw the switch. For a moment, nothing happened. Then, suddenly, the dispose-all roared into action. Metal cables tipped with black barbs shot up from beneath the icy water. One tore through Frank’s neck, one through his shoulder and another pierced his hand. Black blades emerged: whirling, synchronous metal meat grinders.
Frank screamed, pulling against the barbs as the cables tightened, drawing him closer to the spinning blades.
Sam smiled and walked over to Tara, her face was a mask of horror. She reached for the switch but Sam grabbed her wrist and shook his head.
Frank pulled back, straining against the cables, driving the barbs deeper into his flesh. Blood from the wounds dripped down, forming crimson puddles on the kitchen floor. He wimpered, one last pathetic plea, “help me!” before the cables pulled him into the blades.
Tara closed her eyes and clung to Sam. Blood and bone swirled into the air above the sink. It hung there for a moment, evolving like a cloud of gore. Then, with a loud swoosh, the blades devoured the fountain of red that was Frank, sucking it down the drain, leaving no trace of Frank behind. Even the blood on the floor was drawn up and into the disposal.
Sam flipped the switch to “off”. Tara released her embrace, trembling.
“Oh my god, oh my god!” her voice quavered.
Sam grinned. “No, not quite. Think a little lower, my dear Tara.”
Tara stepped back, horrified. “You mean?”
“Don’t worry.” Sam smiled. “I’m not here for you.” he said and pulled a handful of papers from his toolbox. “This is the contract you signed earlier.”
Tara gasped and put her hands to her mouth, “Oh no, oh god no!” she said, backing away.
“I told you, I’m not here for you. This is a release for Frank’s soul.” Sam smiled as he scanned the contract. “You’ve suffered enough in this world. I see no need to send you downstairs to my domain for more pain. Besides, your ex-boyfriend was wrong. I’m not an asshole, I’m just Satan. You know, the Devil. My job is to weed out the bad souls and get them off the market, so to speak. Plus, I can’t very well afford to behave like an asshole these days, what with all the social media scrutiny and everyone so damned connected. It would just destroy my brand. Of course, haters gonna hate, but I guess that’s a good thing given my line of work.”
Tara recoiled as Sam’s entire countenance transformed in that moment. His clothes dissolved, revealing black skin and matted ebony feathers. A long black tail curled from between his buttocks, twisting back and forth as he spoke. His shoes retracted, exposing black cloven hooves and his eyes glowed red like two embers in a dark fireplace. His grin revealed a forked tongue that darted between pointed white teeth – in stark contrast to his pitch black lips and mouth.
“Its not like in those stories you’ve read, either.” said Satan. “I only collect the souls that deserve eternal damnation. You know, the ones that are so bad they don’t get recycled. No second chances for them. Of course, I do provide a little guidance along the path. Some healthy temptations for those less disciplined individuals – a little hand-holding, if you will.” Satan said, smiling. “Take you, for instance. When push came to shove, you wanted to save captain douchebag. Even though he’d been stomping you senseless for the last two years. Your soul is without compromise. And then there’s ole’ Franky there.” He said, pointing to the sink. “I just whispered in his ear for one night while he slept and he was convinced that the broken garbage disposal was the most important item on his bucket list. I’ve always found that the simple minds are the most malleable. You know something? I don’t think an eternity of suffering is nearly enough for all those nice things he said about me. What do you think Tara?” said Sam.
Tara was petrified. She stared at Satan, unable to muster anything more than a half-shrug.
“Unfortunately, as you well know, all good things must inevitably end. So I wish you the best of luck, my dear. I am off to attend to more pressing engagements.” Sam raised his hand and snapped his fingers again. In a flurry of black feathers and sulfur, he was gone.
Tara stared at the spot where Satan had been. She began sobbing and slid down into a crouch on the kitchen floor. Slowly, the sobbing gave way to laughter. Uncontrollable, hysterical laughter. She felt a warm glow spread through her soul, as if her heart had become a miniature sun, spreading rays through her body, filling the room with a golden wash of warmth and hope. Tears of joy slid down her cheeks. She jumped to her feet, giggling, and ran into the bedroom. The imaginary glass globes returned, in orbit around her sunny head – filled with scenes of white beaches, green forests, sun drenched picnics and happy children. The thought orbs spun and glinted as she stuffed a suitcase with her favorite clothes and darted out the door.
She danced down the bustling sidewalk, humming the Devil’s tune she had heard earlier, oblivious to the crowds and the stifling New York heat. She skipped all the way to the transit depot and boarded the first bus she came upon, never once considering its destination. “Pleased to meet you!” she sang to the bus driver who smiled and closed the doors. As she twirled down the aisle, she whispered to herself: “I hope you guess my name!”