“Blanched”

As an infant, Penelope spent a few nights in Saxon County hospital.  Her mother, Janice, feared mold like the plague, filling the country air with ammonia and bleach.  When Janice wasn’t cleaning the house, she was cleaning Penelope, and the poor baby suffered from chemical pneumonitis.

Cleanliness of the body and mind is the first step to perfection for a Saxon debutante in training.  Teenage Penelope belonged to the country club and bible study group.  She participated in pageants, which took more work than her hated advanced statistics class.  With the right contouring of make-up, no one noticed her sleepy left eye.  Janice always made sure Penelope’s kinky brown hair was straightened and her upper lip waxed.  No matter how many times she rubbed her face raw with depilatory cream, she still had darkness above her lips.  Janice zeroed in on that darkness as she did with all imperfections.  Like a crazed, rich housewife beating a difficult stain out of an expensive Persian rug, Janice would make silk out of a sow’s ear or kill the pig.  That’s why Penelope started throwing up; she wasn’t heavy, but Janice needed her to be the thinnest on the cheerleading squad even though Penelope wanted to play basketball.  Not brilliant, but Janice bullied the counselors until Penelope made valedictorian.  Not into boys—however, the son of the wealthiest man in Saxon was future marriage material; it didn’t matter that Penelope thought he was strange.  Janice didn’t believe in marrying for love.  She and Penelope’s father were still married and living in the same house, but he’d checked out a long time ago.  He found his jollies out of the presence of Penelope and Janice.

Penelope made it through college with a CPA license and a need for an anti-depressant.   Janice, still in control, got Penelope hired in with Saxon County Construction owned by Big Daddy Gubar, the father of little Gubar, the strange county prize previously mentioned.  Little G, as they called him, didn’t have to work too much, gracing the office as the official claims coordinator, a job title usually given to women, that paid a little over minimum wage.  Little G spent most of his time with guys riding Motocross.  Excruciatingly thin, Little G would rather race dirt bikes than eat, study, or date.  But he soon developed an appetite for Penelope, and she tolerated him.  She tanned her freckled hide and bleached her perfectly straight teeth from years of wearing head gear and braces.  Polite and as polished as a whore in Sunday school, Penelope introduced Little G to boobs and blow jobs.  One boob drooped a little lower than the other, but he didn’t notice.  He wore thick glasses, and those were the only ones he’d ever seen or planned on seeing anyway.  She didn’t want him touching her down there.  She told him it was fear of getting pregnant, so they’d wait until their wedding night.  In the meantime, she’d fill her mouth with him, go home depressed, and binge eat until she purged him and the calories.

Weak from crash dieting and the exhausting circus show wedding her mother orchestrated, Penelope couldn’t think a way out of vaginal penetration on her honeymoon. Too tired to fight it, she and Little G, protected by two Trojan prophylactics, consummated their marriage.  She decided that night that there was no way she could stay with Little G. No man nor job was worth undergoing the horrible pounding she’d just endured.  She ran to the bathroom and threw up the fancy wedding cake.  Fuck French fondant.

There was no luck convincing Janice that Penelope needed a divorce.  As Janice sat naked in her ceramic tub with her hands tied behind her back and her big mouth shut with electrical tape, Penelope held Janice’s boning knife in her hand.  She didn’t go to work that day for Big Gubar.  She told little G that morning that it was over.  Electric surged through her; or at least it looked that way with the state of her hair—not straightened or swept back neatly in a wedding bun as Janice called it.  Kinky and natural headed, she’d also failed to wax her lip or shave her arms.  She looked like a wild Frida Kahlo; the dark hair rose up on those long arms as she stabbed Janice with the 6’skinny Victorinox Semi-Stiff knife.  Penelope didn’t pierce deep enough to immediately kill her.  She needed to see Janice suffer.

“I had to endure all 6 inches and more for months.  No more, Mummie!”

Janice whimpered under the tape.  Dark mascara settled in the creases under her lower lids.  Penelope turned on the water to watch her mother’s blood run down the drain. She remembered the same crimson dripping down her leg on her wedding night. Janice began to convulse.  She sucked in the black tape and chewed to free her mouth.

“Stop!”

Before she could say more, Penelope reached for the bleach, twisting open the top like she was pouring a club soda.  She forced the cleanser down her mother’s throat.  Janice gagged and squirmed like Penelope felt on the inside when she performed in pageants and in her marriage bed.  “I never liked waxing.  Feel the sting, Mummie,” Penelope said as she doused Janice’s wounds with the remaining bleach.   Janice turned as white as the asparagus she’d taught Penelope to blanch—a little gourmet detail that a good Saxon County wife should bring to the table.

Deana Nantz

About Deana Nantz

Deana Nantz holds an MFA from Eastern Kentucky University’s Bluegrass Writer’s Studio where she teaches modern drama and Appalachian literature. Her book of feminist poetry, Fits of Wrath and Irony, published by Finishing Line Press is available on Amazon. Her fiction, poetry, nonfiction, and literary reviews have appeared in The Southern Women’s Review, Appalachian Voice, Fiddleblack, Fried Chicken and Coffee, Jellybucket, and other literary journals. Her flash fiction piece, “Keeping it Clean” will be featured in Night Train’s Firebox Fiction.