Finger in the Pie
fiction by Sara-Mae Tuson
Britt opens the fridge to get the butter. She pauses, considering. The severed head is at an oblique angle, leaning on the bread. Squashing it. She frowns and grabs the end of the loaf, yanking it out. The head, with its dark hair and yellowed eyes, sags onto the open tub of cottage cheese. Taking the butter out, she yells, “Ando? You want peanut butter or that new marmalade?”
“The one with the ginger?”
She twists the jar towards her so that she can see the label. There is a smear of red on it. “Yep.”
Ando loves ginger.
She goes over to the kitchen drawer and opens it. She has to flick aside two fingers to get to the knife. Sighing, she wipes her hands on the front of her jeans. They always feel so cold and clammy. As she waits for the toast to pop up, she rubs her head.
It’s bad today.
When she’d gotten up this morning to wash her face, the bathtub was full. The tap dripped into a pool of red water. A wave of nausea passed over her as she stared at the headless torso, unable to look away.
“What’s the matter, sweetheart?” Ando came up behind her, wrapping his arms around her waist. He smoothed her hair behind her ear with a warm hand. She usually tried not to let him catch her frozen like this. He moved around and looked down at her, blocking the bathtub from view.
“What is it, honey? What do you see?” He swallowed painfully. “It’s okay, you can tell me. I won’t be angry.”
She remembered the breathing exercises the doctor had taught her. His anxious smile dimpled at her.
“Nothing. Just having an absent moment.” He hugged her tightly, and she felt the strength in his arms. He was so good to her, so good and strong. He put up with so much.
She closed the shower curtain over the bath and resolutely began to brush her teeth, while he padded over to the toilet to relieve himself. He smiled at her over his shoulder as she finished up at the sink. She licked over the smooth, clean surfaces of her canines. She had to concentrate on small pleasures like this, even as her symptoms got worse.
The first time she had one of her visions was over a year ago.
She and Ando had been married six months, although she was pretty sure he would never have gone through with it if he’d known what a nutcase she’d turn out to be. Instead, he’d stuck with her through sickness and mental health.
She’d come home early, hoping to surprise him. He was a carpenter who made luxury furnishings, an artisan with clients all over the world. His workshop was in their garden and he’d often work late into the night. She wasn’t supposed to disturb him, but she just couldn’t wait to show him the lingerie set she’d picked out in Lindex Grenson. She remembered staring at herself in the bedroom mirror, hoping he’d like what he saw. Her honey blonde hair was ruffled up the way he liked it, with glossy tendrils falling over her shoulders, the red ribbons from the black balconette bra falling over her stomach. I could definitely be more toned, she thought, sucking her gut in. Still, she was satisfied with the effect. Ando loves my curves.
That was when she heard a noise, the scrape of a chair downstairs. She giggled in anticipation. Tiptoeing over to the staircase, she looked down into the hallway by the back door. Ando was drinking a beer, his white vest discoloured by sweat and dark stains. The stains looked an awful lot like…blood?
“Ando! Are you okay? Did you hurt yourself?” He jumped, dropping the bottle.
“Damn it, Britt! Look what you made me do!”
That’s when she saw the woman’s hand lying on the floor near his boot. The fingers veered out in distorted angles, as though broken. The wrist ended suddenly and blood seeped from the ragged chunks of muscle below it.
“Ando? What…what’s going on?”
He stared up at her, as though surprised. “Never mind, babe, it’s not a big deal,” he said. “I’ll clean it up.”
He walked calmly into the living room. She took a few steps down the stairs. I have to get out of here. Something bad is happening. Just as she stepped onto the cool tiles at the bottom of the stairs, Ando came back from the kitchen. “Sweetheart, no!” he barked, dropping the dustpan and brush. He grabbed her and lifted her up. So strong.
“Let me go!” she screamed.
“Britt! Calm down, there’s glass on the floor! I don’t want you to cut yourself.”
He picked her up and swung her over his shoulder, her flailing hands twisted, trapped under his arm. Kissing the side of her hip, he chuckled. “Red lace, huh? Did you have something special planned for me?”
She stared at the hand as it lay on the floor by the door. Has he killed someone? Why? None of it made any sense. And now he’s going to kill me too!
“Don’t worry, as soon as I clean up all the glass I’ll be right up.” He tossed her onto the bed and winked at her. Then he locked the door behind him.
“I’ll be back soon.”
That was a year ago. She pinches the skin between her eyes and tries to concentrate.
She’d called the police and they’d searched the house. They hadn’t found the hand or any other body parts. Admittedly, they hadn’t looked very hard once Ando had told them about her mental health issues.
She’d been put on suicide watch after her father had died. It was still there, she imagined, in some file somewhere. The words that damned her as being “unstable,” “delusional,” “hysterical.” Ando talked to the police in a hushed voice. “She’s been under a lot of pressure at work lately. It’s no wonder she… but I can’t believe that she’d say those awful things. I mean I’m not perfect, but…” He broke down, sobbing. She saw the cops turn their heads to look at her, standing in the doorway. Ando tried to cover up the signs of his distress, scrubbing his eyes with the back of his hands. “Sweetheart. It’s okay. They get it; it was all a misunderstanding. Wasn’t it?” When he came towards her she screamed and screamed.
Mrs. Knutson told her it was pretty common to hallucinate. When the antipsychotic drugs she’d prescribed had failed to work, Britt had just stopped taking them. It makes no difference, she thought dully. And besides, I feel clearer without them.
it happened about once every three months. She would find different body parts, from different women, all over the house. She hardly used the freezer anymore because it was so packed with limbs. Blonde hair, red, brunette, hazel eyes, brown, green, blue. She found fingers under the bed and in the closet.
Now she was numb to it. She went about her business and got on with things because when she didn’t, Mrs. Knutson threatened to have her committed, for her own good.
Once, she overheard Ando speaking to her therapist on the phone. “No, she still won’t…won’t be intimate with me. I know…is there no way, no other medication you can put her on that would help with that? It’s just…I miss the way she was. Sometimes she still looks at me like I’m a monster.” He sighed, and Britt went up and put her arms around him. It wasn’t his fault that she was like this.
“I’m sorry, love,” she whispered. “I’ll try harder.”
Tonight, she is making him his favorite: blueberry pie with clotted cream. He deserves it. He puts up with so much. She fetches the blueberry compote she’d made the night before. She pauses, her hand outstretched. There’s a finger in the mixture. The nail bed is stained blue. Wrinkling her nose, Britt grabs the plate and takes it to the counter. It’s not there, she tells herself. It’s only in my mind. She counts to ten under her breath, then takes the pastry out of the fridge, unrolls it onto the pie dish, pressing it down into shape, then trimming the edges that stick out over the sides.
“What are you up to in there?” Ando yells from the living room. She can hear the commentators yipping excitedly and the roar of the crowd. Norway vs Belgium in the Euros.
“It’s a surprise.”
He laughs. She waits for a moment, wondering if he’ll come in to investigate. Sometimes he gets a bit antsy leaving her alone in a room full of knives. She rubs the scars on her wrists. He’d always said they were proof of her strength, evidence that she was a survivor. Smiling, she picks up the dark indigo mixture and after a second or two, dumps it onto the pie base. Then she fishes out the finger and puts it to one side. It is slimy with sugary juices. After she’s placed the pie crust on top of the mixture, she takes the finger and plunges it right into the centre of the pastry case. Then she pops the whole thing into the oven and looks at her watch. Only 50 minutes to wait.
Ando pokes his head in the door. “I like it when you get all domestic on me,” he says, inhaling. “Blueberry pie!” he comes in and hoists her up in his arms, smiling. “There’s something in the bedroom I want you to see.” She stifles the feeling of nausea that overtakes her and forces a smile onto her face. “We can’t be too long or the pie will burn.”
“Oh, this won’t take long,” he says, with a wicked grin.
“You’ve got to realize what an impact this is having on Ando,” Mrs. Knutson said. It was a familiar refrain. “Now, you’ve been in this hospital before and I know how much you hate losing your independence. If you had any other family I’d give you the option of going to them, but there is simply no one else willing to keep an eye on you.”
“I can’t go back to him.”
Mrs. Knutson sighed, and took off her glasses, raking an elegant hand through her iron-gray hair. “Ando is not a killer, Britt. You know, most people would have left you here for good, after what happened.” Britt hugged herself as she stared out of the window. She could see him waiting for her outside in the parking lot. Leaning on his old Ford truck, his hands clasped together, grasping a wilting bunch of flowers. “It’s up to you. You can stay here in the hospital, possibly indefinitely…or you can go home and be with your husband.”
Britt closed her eyes. “Fine. I’ll go,” she said.
She felt Mrs. Knutson’s hand on her arm. “I think you’ve made the best choice, my dear. That man out there really loves you.”
The body is sprawled across the bed, one leg gone, the other bent at an odd angle. For once, the head is still attached to the body.
It is Mrs. Knutson, her iron-gray hair spread across the pillow. Ando picks up a small velvet box, which lay near her therapist’s pale, outstretched arm. He turns towards her. “Lately, it seems like I’ve finally got the old Britt back. You’ve been doing so much better. We…I thought we could renew our vows. Start over. I can take my work anywhere, after all. I thought we could move abroad. There’s nothing keeping us here. You can make new friends, maybe get another job. We can leave tomorrow if you like.”
It’s really hard to keep her eyes on him and the box. A normal woman would be grabbing at the winking stone. Giggling. The most she can manage is a weak smile. He sighs in relief, pushing the ring onto her middle finger beside her old engagement ring.
“It’s a sapphire, to match your eyes.” He kisses her, letting his hands slide down her body. If she angles her head just right, she can see Mrs. Knutson’s cold, dead eyes staring out at her from across the room.
That night she cuts off a huge slice of blueberry pie for him, ensuring that he gets the piece with the finger on it. The ring glints on the pale digit, the jewel sparkling in the light.
“Thanks, babe, this looks delicious,” he says, taking the plate from her.
When she comes to clear it away, it’s wiped clean. There on the table is the ring box; inside, the ring. She leans forwards and rubs at the spot of blood smudging the huge stone, then closes it with a snap.
Sara-Mae Tuson has had short fiction and articles published in a wide range of magazines and anthologies, including the Salt Anthology Overheard, the Emma Press Anthology of Mildly Erotic Verse, and was long-listed for the Short Fiction Award in 2014. She is a freelance editor and copy-writer, and is currently with the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, working on her debut novel, “a dark and riveting semi-dystopian young adult adventure.”
This article appeared in the Sept. 9, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.