I walked into the kitchen and I thought I saw a glittering. I crouched down and lifted up the grill wrapped in foil, thin, the kind of thing you might see on a propane grill, except it was on the floor of our kitchen, reflecting light and fairly glittering, and bigger than an actual propane grill on somebody’s deck might be, so I had to bend down to unlatch and lift it, and I drew my neck back. Below the grill, which made a crinkly chip-bag sound when I opened it, was what appeared to be a melted mannequin, half at least, in a burned-out box, or crate, whatever word that isn’t coffin, which is what it was, it was some kind of fireproof coffin containing melted plastic the color of sand at sunset, so I could see through the holes of the plastic, or what I thought was plastic, which had hardened but at some point had been human-shaped if not an actual human, the holes in and around the area where a torso might have been, where inches of ash had accumulated on the bottom of the box, or crate, or fireproof coffin. Shelley shouted to me, That, that’s my mother’s, we just had her done, over from where she stood in the kitchen, over a cutting board, engaged in some thoughtful knife work, done, in this case meaning what, it looked like a cremation, or at least some kind of ritual involving fire, which now the burned-out smell of plastic and metal made sense, it smelled like I imagined a horrific car accident would smell, plastic and metal and fire burning for a while, for however long it might take an ambulance to get to a crash on a packed highway, but long and bright enough to get every rubbernecker to stick their phone out the window and get a picture and post the picture and warn the public. It was with that sort of nonchalance that I said to Shelley, Your mother’s what? and she said My mother’s what? and I said Yeah, what you said, that box, or crate, or whatever it is, something of your mother’s, and she set her knife down over the bright produce rendered in a thoughtful brunoise, and briefly gripped the towel she had draped over one shoulder, probably getting whatever juices from the produce off her hands, I couldn’t see what she was dicing but maybe it was peppers, hot ones again, and she didn’t want to repeat what had happened the last time she was dicing hot peppers and didn’t rinse or at least rub the juice off her hands, from which both my crotch and one of our cat’s eyes became inflamed, separate incidents in the same night, although it wouldn’t be unlike Shelley to do both at once, and I could handle it, time in a Mexican restaurant when I was twelve prepared me for this particular kind of heat, but the cat couldn’t handle it, and we had a fight Shelley and I, and I slept on the couch with a scorching crotch all night from of all things pepper juice again, again, twice in a lifetime already, not that I was counting, and even though it was my cat, I brought it along when I moved in with Shelley, I could’ve killed it, for its yowling and the preferential treatment it was getting from Shelley, which was infuriating since it was my cat to begin with, and my dick was on fire and then I could’ve killed Shelley too, though it was just the pepper juice talking. But now she was rubbing the juice off her hands so that she could grab a glass of white wine and clarify her earlier comment. That’s my mother’s model, she said. I drew nearer to the box and peered in and it definitely looked like there had once been a face, and a body, and a whole person, except it was so deformed, so warped, so plastic that I couldn’t tell if that person had been real or fake, and clearly Shelley wasn’t distraught, or if she was, her grief was taking the form of fine-dicing vegetables with intermittent bouts of sipping wine, so I thought it’d be okay if I wasn’t distraught either, just curious, which I was, because what the fuck was this thing doing on the kitchen floor, in it, actually interred. I said So, a model of what, or was the box her preferred model of box, devastating humor, I was killing it, killed Shelley with a sneer, except she was the one who could’ve done the actual killing since her knife was within reach, and I stopped the sneer, which I didn’t even mean, it was just part of killing it, since I didn’t want a repeat of what happened the last time she was dicing something and I’d made a devastating remark and she’d thrown the knife at me and started crying without making any sound, which is the worst kind of crying, and I had what I thought was a gash but in reality was only a scrape, because I panicked and tried to catch the knife, the number one thing you’re not supposed to do with sharp objects that are also airborne, and I missed and panicked again when I saw blood on my hand, and dinner was ruined, that’s what Shelley’d said, Dinner is ruined, but ruined had one syllable and she said it in the way an old-school butler might’ve said Dinner is served, all stately, which was funny, considering the devastation and the blood, and I’d laughed, although nothing else was funny about the situation, nothing at all, except the funny butler tone she used, and I was bleeding and laughing, which was actually a horrific sight, to see somebody appear to be cackling at the sight of their own blood, but I wasn’t cackling at the blood, it was at the way she canceled our dinner plans, and she was crying and left the room. This time she ignored or pretended to ignore my attempt at humor, took a sip of wine, and reclarified: That box in the floor belongs to my mother, and inside of it is a life-size model of her body, as though that were the most natural thing in the world, as though I was supposed to just go along with it, as though I could just say Right, you’d mentioned that last week, you said your mother was going to come by and install this coffin in our kitchen floor and keep a burned-up replica of her body inside of it, how could I forget, and Shelley’d say, Effigy, she would say that, in my mind she was still correcting me, showing off in my mind, but of course it was unnatural, it was the most unnatural thing in the world to have in the kitchen, and done, that must’ve meant that the look of the dummy in the box was something they, the person who owned this box, something Shelley’s mother wanted done, as though a fashion choice of some kind, Oh make sure it looks like this, Shelley’s mother’d say, pointing to a catalog of mannequins in various stages of deformity. I said, going along with it, Okay, but why is it so fucked up and burnt and there’s actually a layer of ash coating the bottom of the box, the floor of it, is this some kind of like, statement of some sort, a comment on one’s twilight years, or what, this is disgusting, have you seen this, and I motioned Shelley over to the kitchen-coffin with one hand while taking a picture with the other, going along with it, Okay, look at this, the face looks just like Mrs. Doubtfire’s when hers gets run over by a truck, and Shelley said Is that what you wanted me to see, and I said Isn’t it the same face? and Shelley said I never saw Mrs. Doubtfire, which was a fucking lie because I knew we’d watched it together once, not even that long ago, maybe we’d had a bottle of wine and decided to watch something old and stupid and landed on Mrs. Doubtfire, that was the problem with all these streaming services, it was like shitty roulette, and we paid for three different services and rarely used them, except to watch old and stupid movies drunk, and even then only after we’d browsed all the possibilities, sometimes browsing for longer than some movies’ runtimes, but I remember she’d been with me when I last saw it, which was semi-recently, so it was bullshit when she said she’d never seen Mrs. Doubtfire, and she knew it, because she started laughing once I showed her the picture. Right? I said and Shelley said Right, and took a sip of wine and laughed while she sipped, this was something I loved about her, the multitasking, and she walked back to the lovingly rendered dice of beet or whatever it was she was cutting while I continued to probe the box. Like what’s with all this ash? Is this supposed to be fake cremation, is this art or, I said, looking through a hole in the shoulder of the dummy, What is this? and Shelley said I told you last week but I guess it wasn’t important enough for you to remember and I said or at least I thought What the fuck is going on, and Shelley continued, I said my mom was coming through and she was going to do this, she was gonna come here and put a little coffin in the kitchen, with her effigy inside the coffin, we discussed this, her and me and then you and me, although I gotta say I’m a little unsettled by how realistic it is, and I said Realistic? This isn’t what happens when you cremate people, what happens is their bodies get scorched even though the coffin, or vessel or whatever does not burn, those are fireproof, and when it comes out the other end, it’s just ash inside, and that’s what people get when they choose, or are ordered to cremate their loved ones, none of this was based in fact, in fact I’d never known anyone who dealt with or in cremation, and Shelley said The other end? What are you talking about? and I said Isn’t there like a conveyor belt? and she said You don’t know what you’re talking about, and I said That doesn’t change the fact that there’s a fucking deformed mannequin in a fucking coffin in our kitchen, and you’re saying your fucking mother had something to do with it, and with each fucking I’d pounded the floor with a fist. Shelley finished her wine, set the glass on the countertop, and said Our kitchen and I said What and she said It’s my name on the lease and I said Are you fucking serious and she said I’m just saying. I looked down and saw I’d gotten some of the ash on my knees, I was still crouched, I’d been crouched this entire time and upon seeing some of the ash on my knees I decided to stretch and move them around, so I stood up and brushed some of the ash off my pants and poured myself a glass of wine and looked at the cutting board, which was covered with mounds of fine-diced red onion that appeared to be the last ingredient processed for the cold pasta salad I forgot I’d asked her to make. I said What’s this, in the tone of one obviously feigning interest and obviously trying to change the subject and Shelley said You never listen, and I said or at least I thought What the fuck is going on tonight, and Shelley continued, But it’s okay, and that was partially true, because I still couldn’t figure out the coffin and everything else, how it happened, why her mother chose our place to stage this event, what was the issue with her mother, this was the work of a person with issues, some of which I knew about but none of which involved the partial cremation and interment of a mannequin with her likeness, her effigy, and how Shelley wasn’t distraught at all, even though she should’ve been because I never listened but it was okay, but Shelley said This is dinner, dinner is served.
Derick Dupre is the author of the chapbook Frail Shrines. His work has appeared in publications including Hobart, Spork, Fanzine, and Sleepingfish. He lives in Bisbee, AZ.