Fifteen minutes later the room was clean save for a bundled up fitted sheet with a blood stain on it. Said sheet had been considered as a body bag or at least a tote of convenience, but proved too flimsy or too transparent to be either. Harris picked at the grit under his fingernails with his freshly polished knife, unconcerned about the fitted sheet as he'd never minded sleeping on a bare mattress. Elma was outside. Waiting.
He snatched up the sheet and trudged through the house toward the back door. There was a clear line through the dust on the unswept linoleum kitchen floor where he'd dragged out Elma. He made a note to mop and cursed at the thought of having leant his bucket to Marshall Dinkins.
Outside, the trees purred at the touch of the wind, letting go last season's brown crinkled leaves in preparation for the deep breath that was winter. Elma was lying on her back with her hands and feet bound straight up in the air inside a 250 thread count polyester/cotton duvet cover set on the back porch. Harris reached in his breast pocket for a dip of Kodiak as he stood on the porch staring at the lawn. Raking just then wouldn't have been worth a damn as there were just a handful of leaves clinging stubbornly to the brambly grass. Better, he reasoned, to wait till the lawn was near covered and then go over it with the bagged mower. He still had some of those leftover brown bags the town required for compost disposal. Come full autumn, they usually dropped off more.
Harris glanced back at Elma, little more than a protruding impression on the linens. Trussed as she was, she looked like a crippled Doberman that some cruel self-described pet lover had dressed up as a spook for Halloween. It wasn't quite right to pack her away looking so absurd. Besides, Elma had bragged to every man, woman and child about that duvet cover on the very day after the Christmas when her sister had given it to her and she'd slept her first night beneath it as if God Almighty was keeping her warm. The bags were better, Harris decided. He spat on the ground and walked around the porch to the cellar doors.
The must erupted out into the night air as he lifted the doors open. He swatted at an angry spider as he passed through its web on his way down the steps. At the bottom, next to a pile of old newspapers were the compost bags. He grabbed one and made his way back out into the night.
It was busy work, untangling the quick knots he'd made in the duvet cover to drag Elma off. The blood had started to seep through, leaving a spot on the porch that would require at least a sponging, at worst a mopping. He cursed Marshall Dinkins a second time.
Harris took the knife from his belt sheath and slit Elma's bonds. He was careful not to get any blood on his coat as he damn sure couldn't take it to the cleaners and he was afraid the colors might fade if he stuck it in the wash. After he'd loosed her and taken her out, he laid her on top of the duvet cover, so as not to sully the porch and thereby increase his cleaning burdens.
He niggled with the lip of the compost bag until he got his hand in and worked it open. The bag stood a full four feet tall. Elma was roughly five foot six or so. He went back to the cellar to fetch the saw.
When he got back to the porch, Harris realized that removing Elma's head would only knock off about a foot, which wasn't enough. He stepped around her and knelt down. Gingerly, he caressed her left thigh and then notched the teeth of the saw into the meat above her knee.
Before long, Harris was wiping sweat from his forehead as Elma's hide proved a little tougher than the logs he was used to. The blood dribbled out slowly onto the duvet cover and wasn't enough to soak through. Harris estimated rough time of an hour before the whole mess was over and done, less if he'd had the damned bucket.
An artery changed all that as his face was suddenly painted crimson. He flailed with the saw, almost slicing his own hand until he found the sense to cast it aside and set about choking Elma's leg. Somewhere in his mind, a levee broke and an unbidden tide of curses came crashing out into the night air.
After he settled down, Harris shoved Elma, half-dangling leg and all, over onto the middle of the duvet cover and wrapped her up in a bundle. The blood flowed freely now, soaking through the fabric as if it were tissue paper. Elma looked like some poorly made strawberry jelly roll in the soft moon glow.
With his coat ruined, Harris didn't give a second thought to slinging her over his shoulder and dumping her in the compost bag. He was tired of being careful and would just as well have done with the whole affair, even if it did mean his wife's jutting limbs making for odd company in the town mulcher.
Elma was a poor fit. Wrapped in the duvet cover, she was twice as bulky as she would've been and when Harris tried to put her in, the bag tore and he dropped her. Stood to reason, he figured. The woman had always been a poor fit and death was no cause to become cooperative. He went back inside to wash off his face and fetch a book of matches.
When he returned, the once white duvet cover was a saturated maroon. An opossum was pawing at it halfheartedly. Harris shooed it away with a stick and some fresh curses he'd held in reserve exclusively for animals. He dragged the bundle off the porch and down into the backyard, stopping about six yards out.
From his inside jacket pocket he pulled the silver flask Elma's father had given him as a wedding present. Its inscription read: "Apples don't fall far," a reference to Elma's mother. It was three-quarters full of a fine old Kentucky sour mash. The first quarter had been sipped not long before Harris had done the deed. The remainder, he regretfully used to douse the bundle that he less and less thought of as having been his wife of twenty-some-odd years.
The accelerant thus applied, Harris set about striking matches. On the fifth one, he got a light and dropped it onto the bundle. The fire burned for a few seconds and fizzled, but a sudden gust of wind gave it new life. The alcohol did the rest, coating the reddened duvet cover in a purifying haze of blue and orange.
Harris stood uneasily over the growing blaze. He was certain he'd have a burn spot on his grass and hadn't given much thought to what he might do with the ashes. Scatter them somewhere maybe, like husbands or wives were supposed to. He had no idea where he'd cast them given the circumstances, but it didn't seem right to just let the wind have them.
He stepped forward and nudged Elma with his foot until she rolled over. As he did so, she started to come loose from the duvet cover. He didn't stop her. The linen blazed on in the night, but she was free of it now and mostly unburned at that. Her wounds, it seemed, had either cauterized or bled out because there was nothing oozing from her body save a small bit of pus near her chin.
She stared sightlessly at Harris, accusing him of nothing, asking him for nothing. Still, he knew that God or the Devil wanted it one way and one way only and she wouldn't be gone until he did it so. And so he left her side and went back around to the cellar to get a shovel and bury her proper.
The sun crawled into the sky at around six-thirty, looking dull and disinterested in most everything it shined on. Harris Elks sat in his recliner dozing from the long night's work he'd concluded not one hour prior. Elma Elks lay in a mound out in the backyard, cut, cold and burned by a man she'd never loved and who'd never loved her. In the top drawer of her dresser was a Last Will and Testament she'd drawn up with her lawyer that had Harris' name on it and the words "Not one red cent" typed next to it. As to the event in their often contentious marriage that had led to Harris' decision to use his hunting knife for something other than flaying trout, it revolved around the discovery of the piece of parchment that lay folded beneath her will. It read:
I cannot believe that you continue on with that wretch of a man when I can give you so much more. He's worthless garbage and you would be best served if you just got rid of him and came away with me like we’ve talked about so many times. It's not that hard to get rid of a person, my darling.
As he'd fallen asleep, plotting how he would retrieve his bucket, Harris thought to himself that it was a hell of a lot harder than Marshall Dinkins supposed.
THE END(C) Diami Virgilio, 2006