It was as the sun beat down on her on the hottest day ever recorded in their small town, her sweat smearing her makeup even though she’d only been outside for less than a minute, that the wife decided to bake her husband. She stood out on her front porch that morning, watching her husband’s back as he walked down the driveway to the car to head to work, just as she did every day.
She spent her morning prepping the crockpot meal they’d have for dinner that night—a pot roast with carrots and onions—and then she went out back and into their manicured yard, where their air conditioning unit roared against the heat. She sawed into the cords that connected it to their house with her paring knife. Then she smashed into the hard plastic on the top with a hammer and swung into the metal fan until it was crooked and mangled.
“Must have been the raccoons,” she said when her husband came home from work. He asked her to call the repair company while he was at work the next day. She didn’t, but she told him it would take them a couple months to come out and fix it. When he suggested that they keep the windows open instead, she slashed all the window screens with her knife while he was eating leftover pot roast. She again blamed the raccoons. “They might get in if we leave the windows open.”
In the hot house, she began to give him massages after he came home from work. They were painful, full-body massages, where she dug hard into his moist muscle with the heels of her moist palms, for hours. She pushed and pulled the skin on his back, kneaded the soft flesh of stomach, squeezed at his limbs. After a while, she added yeast into her massages, telling him it would be good for his skin. She took handfuls of it and rubbed the grainy substance into him. Later, she included rosemary and thyme into the yeast mixture. She did it every day and then she would send him to bed in his red and white pin-striped pajamas and slippers.
It was so hot in the house now that the wife had to touch up her makeup multiple times a day after sweating it all off. But she saw the husband’s body as it grew softer and began to expand. He grew and grew every day. When the wife thought his torso and his limbs were about double their former girth, she brought home an iron bed. “It’ll be cooler to sleep on,” she told him.
They lay on their backs on the iron slab, a sheet covering them, but the wife didn’t sleep. As soon as her husband was asleep, she got up and went down into their basement where she’d been storing a series of space heaters. She carried them up one by one and pushed them beneath the bed facing up; turned them on. The iron bed grew warmer and redder and the husband’s back molded flat against it and became browned and dense as it singed his pajamas.
She left him to cook overnight. Then she went to their shed and took out her husband’s tools. She ripped out the front wall of the shed and she covered every square inch of the interior in aluminum foil.
When the wife returned to their bedroom that morning, her blue, knee-length nightgown was soaked through with sweat and she didn’t bother to touch up her makeup. The husband’s eyes shifted to her, but in his bloated, half-baked state, he could no longer speak or move. She scraped him off of the iron bed with one of their large, wide-mouthed shovels and then tied him to it with thick rope—carefully so that she wouldn’t deflate his still-soft top.
She heaved him down the stairs and pulled him out into their backyard and into the shed, where she would finish her bake. She removed the rope, which left horizontal scores on his belly, and pulled the shovel out from beneath him.
As the morning melted into afternoon, her makeshift oven became hazy with heat. The wife munched on leftover quiche lorraine and watched him as he began to rise even further, his features becoming even more indistinguishable. His skin goldened and became harder, but more brittle; cracked in places. His eyes yellowed under the heat, and the sweet, piney smell of the rosemary began to permeate the neighborhood.
The police showed up at her house a week later. When they asked her when the last time she’d seen her husband was, she said, “Who?”
They didn’t find anything in their search of the house except for bowls upon bowls of pinkish bruschetta in the kitchen. But in the backyard, they found what looked like a life-sized, human-shaped loaf of bread in the shed, still in red and white pin-striped pajamas that had torn when the husband had become too big for them. An arm had been cut away already, revealing the flesh-colored but porous interior. The police cut off a bloated, lumpy toe—had to saw through the hard exterior—and had it DNA tested which revealed that it was, indeed, the husband.
They took her into custody and brought her in for questioning. There were three men in the room who grabbed at the edges of the metal table in front of her, their fingertips growing red with the force of their grip, and asked her over and over, “What did he ever do to you?” She looked past their red faces, thinking, as she had a dozen times this week, about how the bread had turned out a bit too dry for her liking and if she should try to pair it with garlic butter or brie.
Notes from Guest Reader Michael Czyzniejewski
What’s immediately striking about this story is its single-mindedness, that from the first sentence to the last, it has a mission, attacks that mission, and never pauses to explain or apologize. I value that kind of tenacity, especially in a short, how this piece exists as what it is, using its momentum to keep the tension high, the details overflowing, and its effect maximized. Hiding in the background is the sweltering setting, like the entire story is a heatwave, a fever dream, a mirage.