MELINDA J. COMBS
"Why are you in here?” Madeline asked, not remembering the last time she saw her husband’s features in the light of the kitchen.
She already knew his answer.
“I wanna help you clean.” As Phillip shifted his weight back and forth on his bare feet, Madeline’s dark complexion grew pallid due to her husband’s close proximity. The rueful smell of him, so close to her, made her nauseous.
“No thank you. Too late,” Madeline turned away, then licked her index finger and rubbed the chrome faucet to a shine for the eleventh time that morning.
“Can I have some toast, at least?”
Because she awoke to another morning without Phillip fulfilling his household duties, Madeline aimed her chin at the front door and said, “Toast? Sure. Go find it yourself. But don’t bring another mess in this house.”
“When was the last time I made a mess, baby?” Phillip, with his wispy blue eyes, now leaned against the window, blocking the morning light. He looked rough, dirty.
Madeline sighed. She turned to put away the cleaned forks and knives, but not without rubbing her dishtowel over them one more time. And before placing the utensils in their little cubbies, she held each up for inspection.
They passed. They would forever please her.
But when Phillip stepped forward to pull a piece of bread out of the refrigerator, Madeline blocked him with her elbow and aimed a fork—with the thrust of a javelin toss—into his foot.
Phillip jolted forward in pain. “Fuck, that hurt.”
“Consider it punishment.”
“What the hell is wrong with you? Is this about the household chore thing again?”
Because of the pain, Phillip struggled to finish the last sentence: where the utensil made impact, its tines connected to his metatarsus, and the stainless steel of the fork leaked into the inner workings of his foot.
“Now it’s dirty,” said Madeline, shaking her head. Her black bun bounced from side to side.
“Dammit, make it stop!”
“Talk nicely, Phillip.”
“For Christ’s sake, make it stop!”
Within a few minutes, her husband’s hairy and fair-skinned foot slowly turned gray. The steel continued to creep up, into his ankle, winding around the protruding orbs of bone. His calf turned gray a few inches at a time. A second or two later, he fell on the floor, his knee glowed, and metal engulfed his tibia, fibula, and femur. Searing off each piece of hair one by one, both legs turned into a radiant metallic handle with an indented design where they fused together.
“I know you can stop this, you lun-a-tic.”
With a little sing-song, Madeline said, “Oh, it’s not going to stop now.”
“Sorry,” Phillip said with a raised eyebrow.
“Now, that wasn’t sincere, was it?”
In delight, Madeline clapped her hands together, watching her husband change. His legs began to shrink. Phillip howled while the lower half of his body lay rigid on the kitchen floor. His hands gripped at the rug, designed to mimic a lemon wedge. They bought it together on their fourth wedding anniversary.
When he looked down and saw the steel inching its way toward his genitals, he began to cry.
“Look, emotions.” Madeline pointed at her husband’s tears.
“I WAS NEVER this mean to you!”
The transformation and emotional deluge made Madeline smile so that her glowing white teeth reflected off the metal.
Phillip screamed, “I’ll do everything you ask. Everytime. Forever!”
His testicles now turned into stainless steel and his shorts disintegrated into bits.
When Phillip grabbed for her sharp ankles, his wife leapt away from his reach. His torso writhed around, twitching and tweaking.
“You win. You win!”
“Thank you.” Madeline continued to applaud the transformation, the telescoping.
“Can’t you make it stop?”
“No can do. Isn’t that what you always said?”
The stainless steel crept up his chest and his throat. His vocal cords had turned to metal; only inaudible sounds now came from Phillip’s mouth. When the steel reached his head, it popped and sparked and picked up speed. Turning from white to gray, Phillip’s teeth vibrated as they succumbed to the conversion. His eyes, once blue, now gray, dropped beyond the sockets, disappearing behind a cover of metal. Sparks flew and hissed as his face retracted into his body and silver engulfed his features. Accompanied by the scent of burning flesh, Philip’s head turned into four tines. His blonde hair disappeared into oblivion.
“Well, that wasn’t too bad,” Madeline said aloud to herself.
Phillip’s massively minimized self, now entirely stainless steel with his arms welded to his sides, rested on the linoleum. Madeline watched him for a few minutes, waiting for more sparks or pops or blasts. Nothing. She tiptoed toward her husband, and when she touched one of the tines, her finger didn’t burn, so she leaned beside him and started to polish. Then, she opened the window shade to make sure he sparkled in the sunlight.
And a few minutes later, he fit perfectly in her drawer.
Melinda J. Combs’ non-fiction essays have appeared in anthologies entitled Cat Women, Woman’s Best Friend, and Far From Home, all published by Seal Press. Her fiction has appeared in Inkblot, ISM Quarterly, The Rectangle, Urban Dog, Cleansheets.com, and Salome Magazine.