Latest Flash

The Clean House

It’s pretty well known that the only way two people can keep a secret is if one of them is dead.

In the Gutter, those numbers get skewed. But we ain’t exactly accountants....

The Clean House by Teri Skultety

“Elizabeth is dead.” 

“What the fuck do you mean, Elizabeth is dead?” 

“Did they change the meaning of dead? What the fuck does dead mean to you?” Sheila picked her cigarettes up from the table. “Fuck.” She threw the empty pack against the wall. 

“What happened?” 

“I don’t know. I walked up to the Quick Stop and grabbed some milk and some 7-Up, you know, for my stomach, and when I got back she was dead.” 

“She ain’t even supposed to be here!” Carl paced around the kitchen. “We gotta think of something. We can’t have Bobby blaming us.” 

“No shit, Sherlock.” Sheila collapsed onto the sofa in the living room. 

“Did you give it to her?” Carl said in an accusatory tone. 

“From where? No, it looks like she snorted it, must have brought it with her.” Sheila started fishing through the big ashtray looking for a long butt until she found a whole cigarette separated from its filter and lit it. 

“How can you smoke that?” Carl made a face. 

“You’re a pussy, that’s just wasteful to throw away a cigarette like this. How can I smoke this … sheesh. You better think of something. When Bobby figures out she ain’t home you know he’s coming straight over here.” Sheila coughed. “Good shit,” she said. 

“Bobby, damn. Why the fuck was she here?” Carl sat down and lit a cigarette from a pack he took out of his shirt pocket, which Sheila then immediately grabbed from him. “All you had to do was ask,” he said. “What was she doing here?” 

“Some trick she was afraid of or some dealer Bobby owed money to. Some guy, all right, some dude she said kept coming across the hall, knocking on the door and climbing out on their balcony, jerking off and calling her name. He broke in when she was in the shower or something. I don’t know. She was probably lying anyway. Look at her, she ain’t had anything to eat in a week, at least.” Sheila knotted her hands at her stomach. 

“How is it?” Carl asked. 

“It’s a fucking ulcer, that’s how it is. Don’t ask me that shit. You know I don’t want to talk about it. I’m sick, yeah, yeah, I’m sick, we know I’m sick. Shut up.” Sheila frowned. “Fucking bitch, I was going to put on my pajamas, smoke a fatty, drink a nice big glass of milk, maybe try to eat some bread and a cup of soup. I had my afternoon planned.” She looked at Carl. “It hurts a lot today,” she said. 

The thin walls of the little old house rattled at the slamming of the back door. They both sat still in the living room as Bobby’s footsteps thundered through the house towards them. Sheila had spent all morning cleaning. Since she quit getting wired she’d discovered that she liked having a clean house. 

“Where is she?” Bobby demanded. 

“I cleaned the house,” Sheila said, looking at the full ashtray. 

“Well a, you see, well, look man, we didn’t have nothing to do with it.” Carl looked at the floor. “Sheila went up to the   store and I was at work and…” Carl was a toothpick of a man, five foot eight at most and about a buck-ten soaking wet. Bobby towered over him, his biceps bulging under his shirt, fists like anvils attached to the ends of his arms. 

“Where?” Bobby said. 

“She’s OD’d in the back bedroom,” Sheila said, still trying to figure the full ashtray. Two different kinds of cigarettes, Elizabeth’s Camel pinks, and the Marlboro’s that she and Carl smoked. But everybody else they knew smoked those too. 

Bobby walked to the back of the house. Carl got up to follow him and Sheila picked up the heavy glass ashtray and nailed him in the back of the head with it, sending him lurching forward into the dining room and the edge of the kitchen table. Carl hit the floor and Sheila sat on him, smashing him on the side of the head with the ashtray again before he managed to fling her off.  Bobby grabbed her by her arms pulling her back. 

“He did it! He gave her the dope!” Sheila said, out of breath. “The ashtray is full of his cigarettes!” 

“What the fuck, Sheila? No, baby, no. I didn’t do anything. I wasn’t here!” Carl was hanging onto his jaw, trying to piece together what was happening, the look in his eyes one of total devastation at his girlfriend’s accusation. “I think you did it, Sheila,” he said. 

“Knock it off, both of you,” Bobby said. “I already know who did it. I didn’t want her dying DNA at my place. She was snorting more than she made. I had some shit to do.” He shrugged. “I figured you two could sit tight without killing each other till I got back. I should have let you both try to figure out what to do with the body, but I know that would only end up bringing me more heat since you’d fuck it up.” Bobby let go of Sheila who fell to the floor in a heap. He lit a cigarette, a Marlboro 100, like the ashtray was full of. “Looks like you two are going to have a long night sorting out your trust issues.” 

Bobby collected Elizabeth’s lifeless body from the back the house and left the way he came in.

Teri Skultety writes things romantic, Gothic, and noir. She is also a published poet, and has read for Lip Service West. Her work has been published with Juked, Revolt Daily, Thunderdome, Solarcide, Punchnel's, Phantasmagorium, and included in several anthologies. Teri lives in California with her husband and their ferocious dogs.