Tunnels enticed Tracy, especially ones that were pitch black and looked like they led nowhere. She supposed that feeling had taken root during the follow-up office visit after her hysterectomy. The doctor had peeled off his latex gloves, saying, “You’re free to resume all activities. You’ve healed nicely.”

Tracy’s husband stood nearby, his arms crossed, rocking back and forth on his feet. “Hey, doc, do you think she weighs less without, y’know, some of her insides?”

She had squeezed her eyes shut against the humiliation and salty tears.

Enough of that, she thought now. The archway in the stone wall in front of her beckoned to complete what she needed to do, had to do.

Hoisting the canvas tote bag higher up on her shoulder, she ambled over to the tunnel that held promise–so dark and so secluded. Before she entered what resembled a monster’s maw, she took a deep breath, let it out, and then headed inside. Her eyes adjusted to the blackness and her nose to the stench of mustiness and dead creatures. Perfect.

Walking thirty paces into its depths, she crouched down against the cool stone wall and opened the zip-top satchel. She pulled out a red cloth and spread it on the dirt floor. Carefully, she took out small containers and placed them on the tablecloth. Napkins followed next, followed by tiny packages of wet wipes. She was always careful to clean up after herself, to avoid the prying eyes of her significant other. This thought made her laugh. Her husband certainly was significant. Significant in that his eyes seemed to follow her every move and everything she ate.

Reaching down into the depths of the tote, she pulled out a sharp knife, turning it slowly in her hand, admiring its sharp blade. She put the knife down and pulled out a book her husband had presented to her right after the surgery, as if offering a gift for a goddess. A full-figured goddess.

“For when you’re up and at ’em!” he had exclaimed, pat, pat, patting her on the head like the subservient wife he thought she was.    

She held the unused book in her hand, her lips slightly tilted up at the corners, mirth ready to burst forth again from her throat. With her other hand, she reached into her jacket pocket and grasped the lighter. With great ceremony, she flicked it on and gleefully watched the flame consume The Calorie Counting Cookbook as it rested in the dirt.

The fire sputtered out as she cut and slowly ate three chocolate chip muffins and two bagels with cream cheese. When she was finished, she cleaned off the knife, brushed all the crumbs off her jeans, and packed the garbage and tablecloth away. Then she dug a hole in the dirt, deep enough for the ashes of the book. But before she covered it back up, she reached into the side pocket of the tote and pulled out a small paper bag. Feeling a freedom she hadn’t known in a long time, she placed the bag into the shallow pit and covered it over with dirt. Never again would she be looked down upon by her husband’s baby blue eyes. They’d rot right along with the remains of his gift to her.

With a sense of exquisite relief, she stood up, shouldered the tote bag, and walked out of the dark empty tunnel that only seemed to lead nowhere.

Anne Skalitza is a freelance writer with many short stories and essays published in magazines and anthologies. When not writing, she can usually be found at the beach, wrestling her food away from the gulls.

Copyright © 2016 Anne Skalitza. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. 

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