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Still Life with Hairball

Story by Robyn Groth (Read author interview) July 31, 2017

Art by SmokeLong Quarterly

A straightened hanger lay in the sink, one end pointing to the ceiling, the other weighted by a bolus of hair and muck, grease and gravy, sauces to make bland things palatable, bits of whatever was unwanted—mushy peas and slimy mushrooms—the final plum of sink fruit Beth had gathered from the pipes, then dissected, searching for her wedding ring. Across the floor, splattered on the walls, gray slime and globs of everything that had slid down the drain and stuck there despite all the dinners they’d tried to flush it away with, things recognizable though fragmented and stained, miraculously hardy, but useless.

Amid farfalle, a corner of report card, shoved down the drain by her son—a rushed effort to hide another set of poor grades. Oddly, things hadn’t disintegrated that should have. Things that seemed thin and weak and easy to destroy, things she’d never wanted, they confettied the pipes.

A gas shut-off notice, a rotten tooth, the betas that had shredded each other, how it all got there could only be guessed at. Some things, maybe, had just fallen in, from the top of the fridge when someone pulled down the bread or an onion, from the counter beside the sink or the windowsill behind it. Some things, she knew, had been thrown down in disgust or despair. And how they survived this long, fermenting in the depths of the U-trap below the sink, was a mystery. Whatever the case, they had gone down, and now, blackened and moldy, they were back up.

Lumped together, encased in sludge, mementos of imagined homes: a piece of cactus-print curtain for their New Mexico adobe, a tiny horseshoe for luck in their tiny house—some place secluded, for the RV they’d drive everywhere, park nowhere, a shred of grass skirt from the dashboard hula girl, and on a slimy scrap of paper, a single word, tripas—guts—from a Spanish assignment completed before children and pets, before they were stuck in the states, in this state, in this house.

She hadn’t wanted to dig all this up, but while thinking of what had gone right and wrong over the years, and what was just gone, she’d grabbed for her ring to slide it on and off as she could do since she’d lost weight, and her finger was bare. She felt the emptiness in her stomach, and it ached. This morning, when she and her husband had performed their off-to-work hug, she’d thought she’d seen a glimmer in his eyes as they swept over her now-delicate wrists, but it was her ring in the sunlight, so she’d had it then. The dishes, she thought, the slippery dish soap, the sink.

She’d stood in the kitchen plunging, scraping, pulling up half a pill from when their dog had stopped eating, a button from a suit she’d bought before trading work for kids, a broken bulb from a string of white lights that’d hung in the backyard before it became a pit stop for flyaway trash. She had meant to leave this all in the dark and let it rot. She only pulled it up because she thought she’d be able to find her ring, to see it sparkling among the muck, a single beautiful thing intact, unblemished, impervious to damage and decay, only in need of resizing. She’d thought she could save it, but it was gone.


Notes from Guest Reader Scott Onak

I enjoyed the way that the contents of the drain, these memories and (forfeited) dreams, drift toward the fantastic. It also raised questions for me: where do we put our lost times and unrealized hopes? Can they ever be truly obliterated? The narrator feels helpless in this moment of reckoning with the past, and with the sadness of her present.

About the Author

Robyn Groth has an MA in linguistics and writes short fiction and poetry. She lives in the MIdwest with her husband, three sons and three cats. Her work has been published or is forthcoming in Blue Monday Review, The Tishman Review and Vine Leaves Literary Journal.

This story appeared in Issue Fifty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Seven

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