Expunction  Aaron Hellem



              She remodels the living room to help her forget that I ever lived there. She paints the kitchen and buys a new dining room table. Some kind of stained oak. She says it's finally big enough to host a holiday dinner. I don't know what she's done to the bedroom yet, but I'm sure she's probably changed it so you couldn't tell that a man ever slept there. She's probably hung lace in the windows and burns smelly candles in there to hide the smells left behind. The clothes all in a hamper and her make-up spread on top of the dresser. She's probably changed the sheets and made it so it doesn't smell like cigars anymore. "Do you like it?" she says. She sets down a tray of finger foods on the coffee table. There's champagne, too.

              "No," I say.

              "It smells nice, doesn't it," she says.

              "It smells like you killed a gingerbread man," I say.

              "Cinnamon," she says. "It inspires ambitious rumination."

              "I suppose I can't smoke in here anymore," I say.

              "You're not allowed to do anything in here," she says, "unless those actions are consistent with those of a guest." She pours herself a glass of champagne. "The color in the kitchen was the most difficult," she says. "At first, I wanted pumpkin pie, but then it dawned on me that it would be seasonal, and I didn't want to limit myself with an annual autumnal ambience."  

              "What did you do to the bedroom?" I ask her.

              "A leitmotif," she says.

              "What the hell is that?" I say.

              "The house represents a spring garden," she says, "thematically, of course. Maybe next year I'll have the time for the flowers, but that will have to wait until next year. Have some champagne," she says. I pour some champagne. The glass is tall and skinny. The champagne has lots of bubbles in it. "A French man recommended this kind to me," she says. "The French are very adept at selecting wines." It tastes like carbonated air. "Try some pâté as well," she offers.

              "I don't like pâté," I say.

              "But you've never tried it," she says.

              "I've never liked pâté," I say.

              "You've always been like that," she says.

              "I don't have to know what it tastes like to know I don't like it," I say.

              "You assume too many things a priori," she says, "without ever trusting the scientific process."

              "I could go for a beer," I say.

              "There isn't any beer," she says. "Not anymore. I dropped it off at the Goodwill, along with the rest of your things."

              "I figured as much," I say.

              "It was part of the remodeling," she says.

              There are papers and attorneys' fees and scheduled hearings and accusations and lost consortium and the necessity to determine retribution. She will tell me what to do, and I'll do it until I'm finally invisible and I stop calling altogether.

              "There was a time when you looked at me fondly," I tell her.

              "I assure you it wasn't conscious," she says.

              "Sometimes, even lustily," I say.

              "Women describe them as though they were comas," she says, "and their waking from them is tantamount to a religiously transcendent experience."

              "You've always been good at forgetting," I tell her.

              "I wouldn't dare insult any of my company by offering them a beer," she says. "Or a brew. Or a brewsky. It's uncouth."

              "What did you do to the bedroom?" I ask her.

              "One should never serve their company anything they cannot offer in a pleasant manner," she says.

              "It's all right if you burned the sheets," I say. "I never liked them much anyway."

              "For this reason," she says, "one should never offer their guests potato chips. Or fiddle-faddle. Or crunch-and-munch. Or any alcoholic drinks whose names are lascivious."

              "I don't care if you changed the curtains," I say. "Hell, you could've done that years ago. The blankets and the pillows, too, they don't matter to me, either."

              "Menus are dictated by the ease of their recitation," she says. What worries me most is her confidence. She subscribes to magazines that will teach her how to say it in French and suddenly it will become a crusade. There will be codes associated with it: an honor code, a dress code, and a code of conduct. It will teach her appropriate feminine responses to typical masculine propositions. French phrases and abnegation of binary oppositions. Re-appropriation of central focus: viviparity shall be supreme law. And no doubt this new datum begins in the bedroom.

              "The blankets, the sheets, the pillows, the curtains, the carpet, the artwork, I don't care about any of that," I say, "but don't tell me you got rid of the mattress."

              "Successful remodeling," she says, "depends on the completion of drastic change."

              "You got rid of it, didn't you," I say.

              "I gave it away," she says. "Also to the Goodwill. They do tremendous work for those infected with destitution."

              The mattress had my imprint on it and was the last evidence of my existence in this house and in this life. She might as well have donated my shadow. "You take everything away," I tell her. "And then you forget. The perfect forgetting machine."

              "The goal is to erase your presence completely," she says, "literally and figuratively."

              The mahogany dressers topped with doilies. The doilies topped with rose petals. The bed covered with a canopy. The canopy covered with puddle shears. Pink membranous puddle shears. The room's edges softened with pink and egg shell and Feng Shui. The bedroom without any indication that I'd slept there for years, next to her in a colorless uncanopied bed.

              "I can't let you do this," I say. I stand up and run for the stairs.

              "Where are you going?" she yells and pursues me. The coffee table is overturned and her carpet is covered in champagne and pâté. "You're not allowed up there anymore," she screams. I take the stairs two at a time, bounding toward the bedroom. Her pursuit, though, is dexterous, and halfway up the staircase she catches ahold of my pant leg. She wraps her arms around my legs, and suddenly we're falling down the stairs together, turning and tumbling. Briefly, in our descent, we're together again – that is, until we hit the bottom of the stairwell where I'm there to break her fall. We regard each other, rubbing the sting out of our respective noggins. There's still laughter in us, after all is said and done.

              She sits up, sits on her feet. “I didn't mean to hurt you like that,” she says.

              “I could always build a good fire,” I say to her.

              “A fire is pure ambience,” she says.

              “Who's going to change your oil?”

              “The garage down the street.”

              “Who's going to mow the lawn?”

              “The neighbor boy.”

              “Check strange noises at night?”

              “There will always be strange noises.”

              She gets up and goes into the living room. I hear her right the coffee table, pick up the pieces of broken champagne glasses. I look at the front door, only a handful of steps away. From there, it's four steps down the porch, forty more to the corner.

              "What will you do without me?" I say to her.

              "I don't know," she says, "but I'll find out soon."