Refuse to See

Michelle Kaseler

Jada was elbow-deep in garbage. She’d already checked the office, the car, the recycle bin, and turned each pocket in the hamper inside out. If her husband had taken just thirty seconds to file the receipt away, it would be sitting in a crisp manila folder instead of God knows where.

Three days out of the box, and the TV screen was a mess of stripes. Their old flat screen had worked perfectly, but it wasn’t Ultra Def 4K or whatever Tom had insisted they needed. When they’d first gotten married, they didn’t even have a TV. Didn’t need one. Now she was stuck with an ugly piece of flickering, abstract wall art unless she could find that receipt.

Tom was at a sports bar watching televisions that worked while she sat next to a toilet, pawing through blood-flecked tissues. The man’s been shaving his face for twenty years and he still can’t do it right. She pushed aside cotton swabs amber with earwax. An empty bottle of that too-strong aftershave. Yards of dental floss. She smirked, doubting any of that was his.

No receipt.

That left the kitchen trash, topped with banana peels, coffee grounds, and a cluster of wilted spinach. Would it kill him to eat a vegetable? Her wedding ring clinked against a grape soda can. Is it that hard to remember to recycle?

She dug deeper. Tickets from the monster truck rally he’d gone to with his buddies last week. A bouquet of once-red roses turned crispy. Anniversary flowers, two months old and slick with salad dressing.

Grime seeped under her fingernails. Her stomach heaved. She should have worn gloves. He should have saved the receipt. She punched the side of the wastebasket and unleashed a torrent of trash.

The fish he’d caught last summer, now a string of brittle bones and vacant eyes, tickled her knees as they floated by.

She was submerged. Noseblind. Shredded carrot and egg yolks clung to her hair. She tied it back with a spaghetti noodle. Perfectly al dente. The man could cook, he just hadn’t since, since… she couldn’t remember.

She brushed away a pair of outgrown satin boxers. They’d looked great on him—five years ago. Valentine’s chocolates. No imagination. The itchy lace lingerie he’d given her for Christmas.

An overdue electric bill from his bachelor pad. He’d forgotten to shut off the power when they bought the house.

A takeout box from Magianno’s, where he’d proposed. It was the first and only time he hadn’t eaten his cannoli. His hands had trembled. Hers too.

Reflexively, she reached down to twirl her ring. Sticky barbecue sauce and bits of shredded meat covered the tiny stone. She rubbed it against her pant leg, revealing a hint of sparkle. Odd how something that used to make her feel so special had probably cost less than that damn TV.

Tilting her body, she breaststroked deeper.

Tickets from the state fair, 2009. Their first date. She’d thrown up after the roller coaster. Arm around her shoulder, he’d walked her to a picnic table and bought her a ginger ale.

Jada, I’m home. Where are you?” The words were garbled. Distant.

The stuffed panda he’d won for her: lumpy, lopsided, and missing an eye. She’d forgotten about Pan Pan. Blinking back tears, she held it close.

I’m sorry I lost the receipt. Can I help you look for it?” Stronger. Clearer.

Frog-kicking toward the voice, she toppled a stack of pizza boxes, scattering them everywhere. Just like his old apartment—and her living room every time she returned from a business trip. Always Fat Guido’s, famous for low prices and rubber cheese. Cartoonish chefs swirled around her. She could almost hear them chanting We toppa the pie!

She froze. Even though he knew it gave her indigestion, Tom had brought pizza home the night he’d bought the TV. I told you I’d be home late. I figured you’d eaten already. Unable to look at him, she’d stared at the box where a couple strips of paper were stuffed between packets of parmesan and pepper flakes.

How fitting. She groaned. Every box would have to be checked. A cardboard trail stretched as far as she could see. She tossed the panda over her shoulder.


Box after box contained nothing but grease stains and nibbled crust, but she knew what she was looking for was out there. It had to be.

She gives me hell about going out then she’s not even here.”

The voice grew fainter as she swam away.

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