Roast Beef and Antifreeze

Submitted by Najwa Zandlo to Contest #31 in response to: Write a short story about someone cooking dinner.... view prompt

I don’t even like roast - I feel the need to stress that. I hate it, actually. I hate the way it smells. I hate the way the meat tastes after cooking in its own juices for hours. I hate the vegetables - the carrots get soggy and the potatoes turn into mush. I hate that it takes all day to cook a good roast. I hate the way people turn a roast into a week-long meal, using the leftovers for everything from soup to sandwiches, knowing that it tastes like shit after the first day it’s cooked. I hate that it was my husband’s favorite meal, but he only liked the way his mother cooked it no matter how many different recipes I tried. I hate that he requested she make it for our wedding, and all of our friends and family sat there with juice dribbling down their chins like toddlers, praising the roast - her roast - as their new religion. 

I met my husband the old-fashioned way - in college, at a party, when we were both too drunk to say our own names, much less hold down substantial conversation. We slurred into each other’s faces like stroke patients for a few hours before retreating to his room and falling asleep, tangled like sticks on the ground. When we woke up, sober and hungover, we went to a breakfast buffet and laughed over cold coffee and burnt toast, skipping class that day to spend a little more time together. By the time we said good-bye, the contract had been signed - he was going to be my husband. We both knew it when the first kiss ended, fulfilling every cliche from every romantic comedy that’s been written since the dawn of time. 

Our romance was quick, and it turned everything and everyone around us into a blur. His friends and my friends turned into our friends, and they were sickened by the way we held hands in public and snuck off to restaurant bathrooms for a “quickie.” School took second place to the time we spent together, and we both scraped by with half-assed work and degrees we hadn’t really earned. The wedding came just after graduation, in the dead of summer, and we spent our honeymoon sipping cocktails at the beach, barely making time to dip our toes in the water between the bouts of marathon sex. It was picture perfect - something stolen from a Hallmark card or pulled straight from Cupid’s bag of tricks - and, like all picture perfect things, it weathered into something barely recognizable and ugly. 

You hear all the warnings - the first year of marriage is the hardest, the newlywed stage will wear off and reality will set it - but it all sounds like white noise at the time. You look at the person across from you, and you can’t imagine a world where they aren’t the most wonderful person in it - until it happens. Until the day you wake up, just like any other day, and you see them there, sleeping soundly, and you want to put a pillow over their face.. You think it’s not going to happen to you, that you’ve somehow gained immunity from the pitfalls of marriage, that you’ve done it right, until you find yourself taking the long way home just to get a few extra minutes of peace before the chaos ensues. You think you two are mavericks - true pioneers on the plains of “love” - and then you realize you aren’t. You’re just like every other shitty couple in the world that has to fight and work hard - harder than you’ve ever worked - to make the marriage last. Love isn’t so much a blessing as a debt you take on together, in front of friends and family with roast juice on their chins, and you have to pay the price daily - the toll being a constant fight over who will give up their sanity. 

I loved him, sure, but love is only one piece of the puzzle. It’s true what they say - that love alone isn’t enough to make it work - but neither of us really thought that part through. We foolishly thought our love was strong enough, and we were wrong. Our marriage dissolved like sugar in water, but the resulting cocktail wasn’t nearly as sweet. The word “divorce” came up on our one-year anniversary, and it became a household staple by the second. When our third year of marriage rolled around, it seemed like we were staying together out of spite - just to prove we could. 

I don’t want to say we didn’t try, but we definitely didn’t give it our all. He was a good man, but marriage didn’t look the way either of us had planned - full of sex and whispered proclamations of love at three o’clock in the morning. Instead, our marriage quickly started to look like a video for what-not-to-do. We fought on our best days and stayed silent on our worst. The fights always started small - over laundry or trash or whose turn it was to pay a bill - but they would escalate to monumental proportions within a few rounds. Suddenly an argument that started over moving clothes from the washer to the dryer in a respectable amount of time turned into a fight over which of us did the most around the house, which turned into an argument over who worked harder or who had more work ethic. Then we would just start listing grievances at each other like we were in a town meeting, shouting our complaints and counter-complaints like angry citizens arguing over potholes and parades and whether or not to allow Mr. Thomas to paint his fence an obscene shade of yellow. 

In hindsight, I don’t blame him for cheating on me. I don’t blame myself, either. His infidelity was simply a reaction to our aggressive and draining environment. His mistress was younger, still in college, and she didn’t bear the same battle scars as I did. They hadn’t torn each other apart for weeks on end during arguments that had no resolution. They hadn’t spent weeks alternating who would sleep on the couch. They didn’t barter sex as currency in exchange for relief from chores or as a way to avoid yet another fight. What they had together hadn’t turned sour yet - the way ours had - and he wanted the fresher meat. Who could blame him?

I was sitting at work when I got the email. It had been sent from a fake account - something like dolphinsblow69@gmail.com - with a subject line that read, “DO NOT OPEN AT WORK.” I was going to delete it, thinking it was spam or a virus, but something compelled me to open it anyway, despite the warning. In it, I found a message from his mistress, revealing the sordid details of their affair, along with attachments of emails they had shared, pictures they had taken, and screenshots of messages they had sent to each other. In her confession, she explained that she knew my husband wasn’t going to tell me about the affair or leave me of his own volition, so she had taken matters into her own hands. However, this wasn’t an admission of guilt or a surrender. They weren’t going to end their affair - that much was clear - she just wanted to iterate that when it came to divorice, I would have to make the first move. 

It was a brave letter - full of direct and honest language. She was serious about my husband, and she made it sound as though he was serious about her. I thought about our own romance, how sure we had been, and I laughed to myself. I wanted to write her back, explain to her that the man she had been sleeping with behind closed doors during their clandestine meetings wasn’t the man she was going to spend the rest of her life with. Instead, she would be signing herself up for the same man I had - with a little more wear and tear and a lot less money in his bank account. She would sleep in bed next to the man who refused to move clothes to the dryer until they were sticky and sour with mold. The man who thought his job at the insurance agency made him something of a god and relieved him from duties like taking out the trash or picking up after himself. The man who would drink himself sick at nice restaurants ordering wine he couldn’t pronounce, and who would drunkenly tell her over-and-over that her mother was the reason she was such a “bitch,” as though it was a fact that she needed to be made privy to. I wanted to tell her that she would probably be on the receiving end of a similar email after a few years of marriage, when someone newer and fresher and shinier came along, but I didn’t. 

I went home that night and pretended that everything was normal. I busied myself with “paperwork,” but I was really sitting on the couch next to my husband, reading the emails he sent to his mistress while he watched a basketball game. I realized that my husband may have loved me, but he never loved me the way he described his love for this college student. They didn’t miss each other - they pined for each other. They didn’t have sex - they fucked like rabbits. They didn’t want each other - they craved each other. I turned to look at him midway through my findings - he was completely oblivious to what I was doing - and I felt my stomach turn in knots. She was right, of course. He would never leave me willingly. He would stick this out, maybe to the end, and he would fill his empty holes with this woman or other women or whoever or whatever else he could find. Our home would be nothing more than shelter from the rain, with his needs having been met long before he pulled into the driveway. 

When we laid in bed that night, I couldn’t sleep. I could hear him snoring, and it made me sick. How could he sleep so soundly knowing that he was cheating on his wife? How could he go about each day, each kiss goodbye and each “I love you” said on the phone, knowing that they were empty compared to the cup he had been drinking from? I looked at the throw pillow at the foot of the bed and, at that moment, I wished he would press it against my face instead of the other way around. I wished he would hold it over me until my lungs burned from trying to breathe and my body went limp and everything turned to black. He might as well - he had already done the equivalent to our marriage. It only made sense that I should be the next victim. 

I pondered my options over the next couple weeks - divorce, confrontation, acceptance. They were all valid in my eyes, even the last one. I could turn a blind eye to his indiscretions - maybe pursue a few of my own - so long as we didn’t have to admit we failed. My pride wouldn’t let me admit that level of defeat. I didn’t want to be another in a long line of statistics that said college sweethearts usually succumb to divorce. I didn’t want to face the embarrassment of finding a lawyer and explaining that my picture perfect life had turned into a soap opera in a single email. I didn’t want to give them the satisfaction of being together - really being together - by allowing our marriage to end and giving them the avenue to take their relationship public, making me the topic of happy hour drinks and conversations between our friends. 

I’m not proud of the decision I made - it wasn’t easy to come to, but I didn’t see another option. The thing about poisoning someone is: you want to make the crime scene look such a way that poison isn’t even a probable cause of death. If you poison someone sitting at the kitchen table, and the police find them there, slumped over with no visible injuries, they’re going to get suspicious. You have to set it up in such a way that the cause of death looks obvious, so they don’t call in a medical examiner and request an autopsy that could reveal the poison or point them in the direction of foul play. No one looks at the body of someone hit by a piano and thinks they were poisoned, even if they were. I was running low on pianos, but I had plenty of antifreeze in the garage. 

When ingested, antifreeze is sweet and odorless - that’s the reason so many stray animals poison themselves with it every year. It also causes slurred speech and impaired mobility, similar to the effects of a few too many cocktails at dinner. It’s a common household poison, having been used in many cases throughout history, but it’s extremely hard to detect unless it’s specifically tested for, and that’s where the importance of the crime scene comes into play. I didn’t really want to kill him, but I didn’t see an alternate option that I could live with. At least this way, I reasoned that no one could have him, and maybe the afterlife isn’t so bad, after all. 

The night of, I cooked him a roast. I spent all day in the kitchen, carefully chopping vegetables and portioning them into the dish, seasoning the meat just the way he liked it, and doing my best to make the au jus that would tie the whole meal together. I even called his mother to get tips - something that delighted her so much she wanted to come over and try it herself. He came home from work that night at his usual time, and the whole house smelled like his favorite meal. He was ecstatic. He ran to the kitchen, swept me into his arms, and planted small kisses along the side of my face as he thanked me for dinner. I hadn’t seen him so happy in months, and I almost started to regret my decision - almost. 

I had already mixed the antifreeze into his pitcher of sweet tea, taking a courtesy sip to ensure it wasn’t too obvious. It tasted sweet, but no sweeter than usual. We sat at the dinner table, pitcher in front of us, and he poured glass after glass as he shoved the roast into his face like a starving man.. The juice ran down his chin and dripped onto his shirt, making small brown stains that spiderwebbed along the thin fabric. When I noticed he was starting to sway a little in his seat, I decided the moment was right, and I told him that I knew about the affair. 

The sweet tea spewed out of his mouth and onto his almost-clean plate. He was absolutely shocked. He tried to deny it at first, but I already had the email pulled up on my phone, ready to drive in the final nail. I told him he couldn’t stay at the house, that he needed to find a hotel for the night, and he stood up from the table, shakily stumbling into the kitchen, mumbling about needing fresh air because he didn’t feel “well.” I tossed him his car keys, and they fell to his feet when he tried to catch them. I told him to leave - get the fuck out - and find somewhere else to stay. I told him I had already been in contact with lawyers about the divorce. His face was turning red from anger and embarrassment, and he fell into the doorframe as he tried to step outside. I pressed harder, telling him if he didn’t leave I would call the police. I needed to get him behind the wheel of his car, and I was worried that he might have taken too much too soon, rendering the entire plan useless. 

To my relief, I handed him the keys, and he took them without a fight. The tears were starting to fall down his face, and he looked pathetic. I wondered if his girlfriend had seen him cry yet. I wondered if she had seen any of his “bad” sides, or if she thought he wore suits to bed and woke up without morning breath and still looked like a man when he cried. When he opened the car door, I noticed a wet spot on the front of his pants, and I tried to hide my laughter at the fact that he had pissed himself in front of me like a toddler. He backed out of the driveway, taking down the mailbox, and I closed the door and took a deep breath. 

The police knocked within a few hours. He had crashed his car into a tree and died as they were trying to cut him out. I was brought in for questioning, where I explained that he had left the house in a blind rage after I confronted him about his affair. My tears were sincere, and they ruled the cause of death as drunk driving, presuming he had made a pit stop for liquor on his way to wherever he was headed, causing him to black-out and wreck his car - an autopsy wasn’t ordered, to my relief, probably due to the sad nature of the case. 

The day of his funeral, I sat on the front row - the young widow - and cried over his casket in front of our friends and family. I saw her in the back - the mistress - and she was crying harder than anyone else. She was young. She probably thought dead people just absorbed into the ground like shit and mulch and dead flowers. I went home that night and threw out the leftover roast, smiling as the trash bag thudded in the can.


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7 likes 3 comments

19:23 Mar 07, 2020

This story says there is definitely evil in this world and it is enjoyed by many. Perhaps as a parent if her children fail her she will kill them too.

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04:34 Mar 16, 2020

Love the blackness in this. It's definitely what one would like to do to a cheating spouse, and the involvement of the hated roast is a nice touch:)

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17:15 Mar 07, 2020

This was such an enjoyable read! You have a great talent for storytelling!

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