Hashbrowns and Termites
by Jamie Good
It’s snowing and there is no power, which means there is no water. We have an electric pump in our well. But, thank God, it is snowing, so we will never, ever run out of water as long as the snow comes. The worst is when there is no power in the summer and I think for a moment we will have to collect water from the small stream on either side of the ditch on our road, and boil it to drink out of like dogs.
Three of my useless neighbors are over. I could write a book. I could title it “Tania and the Three Useless Neighbors” and read it to my children. The only neighbor that I like, a retired artist that my daughter calls “Uncle Jack”, is upstairs playing polly pockets with her. This is more for him than it is for my daughter. Him and I are having a competition to see who can hate Scott and Beth, the other two neighbors, more.
Scott has offered to make us hashbrowns. I can make my own hashbrowns, but I am pregnant and Scott wants to feel like he helped. They invited themselves over. His wife, Beth, came over first, with canned gravy. Canned. I asked her if the gravy was vegetarian and she faltered for a moment. “I suppose it’s not,” she said, doing the embarrassed laugh that drives me up the fucking wall. I didn’t hide my annoyance. She knows I’m a vegetarian. She doesn’t register my expression, either oblivious or choosing to ignore it.
“Scott’s going to make a hash!” she says, clapping. Scott leaves our ranch sliding door open when he is out on the deck fussing with the grill. Fussing is the correct term; I don’t think this man has ever successfully used a grill in his life. I keep shutting the sliding door shut; I keep telling him he’s letting out all the warm air and there’s no way to reheat my house when the power is out, and his wife said “Oh, you need a generator like we have!” and I tell her that’s fine but right now I have no generator so her husband needs to keep the door shut and she laughs. I get up and shut the door myself.
Scott comes back inside. “Just a few minutes longer!” he says, beaming. His wife looks up at him, beams harder. I think to myself that hash should only take a few minutes to begin with. He didn’t even use fresh potatoes–they came pre-shredded and frozen in a bag. I can’t stop thinking about how these adults are like children, overgrown. I wish I could drink wine. I think maybe one glass won’t hurt the fetus–how much of it will really even go to the fetus anyway–but then what if it is a really selfish fetus? What if the fetus drinks all of the wine and I get none of it and I’ve compromised the baby’s health for nothing? I have no idea if the fetus is selfish or gracious, so I don’t drink the wine.
Last Thanksgiving, Beth made raisin salmon patties. Raisin. It was disgusting. She stared at me with her giant, too-wide face while I dragged out cutting the salmon patty for as long as possible. It was my turn to be the child. The raisins were the size of grapes, no, bigger, the size of baseballs. They were so large I felt like I had to unhinge my jaw the way a snake does with a rodent, just to get some of the disgusting, half-deflated raisin into my mouth, soaked with salmon juice. I wanted to kill myself. The dog wouldn’t even eat it. I can only imagine what these hash browns will taste like. I wish my husband was at home instead of his business trip. The burden of entertaining these idiots would fall on him, the more courteous one between us. Why did she even bring gravy? Scott should have cooked veggie sausages or something to go with it. Or a grilled sandwich. We will look entirely ridiculous sitting around our table in the dark, candles lit, eating hash browns. I could have made myself veggie sausage and vegetable kebabs.
I do not bother to make conversation with these people. I am too pregnant. Not really, but when you are pregnant you can use it for any excuse you want. Beth tries to make small talk. I look at my belly, patting the fetus, asking it telepathically if it is a selfish or gracious fetus. It doesn’t answer. Is this because the fetus is aloof? Shy? There’s really no way of telling with fetuses. They like to be mysterious.
Scott returns from outside, holding a serving plate given to me as a wedding present. It will be a fucking nightmare to wash. They smell the same way a hot car does. He leaves the ranch sliding door open, and I bark at him. Not really. I wish I had. Instead I get up and shut the door loud enough for their attention to be drawn to it. Scott looks embarrassed, but otherwise the two of them say nothing. Why does his face look like that? Then I see it. He’s melted the black plastic spatula over the hashbrowns, like tar poured over gravel. Why aren’t they acknowledging it? He cuts into the hashbrowns, serving himself first. The serving knife struggles with the melted plastic, wobbling a bit. Scott is determined. Beth is served next. I haven’t seated myself at the table. I cannot. I’m waiting for them to acknowledge that Scott melted a plastic spatula all over the hashbrowns. They say nothing.
“Scott,” I say, slowly, speaking to him like he is a child. “I can’t eat this.”
Scott and Beth exchange wide-eyed glances.
“Just eat around the crunchy parts!” Beth says, smiling too much. She is confused as to why I still haven’t sat down. She’s set the table for us like we’re entertaining royalty. I could actually kill her. I think, for a moment, I might, but I’d have to kill Scott too, and I am too pregnant to kill two people. Who is going to clean all of these dishes? We have no power. I go upstairs to get Jack, who my daughter has made wear a tiara and monarch butterfly wings. In return, I see Jack has painted both of their fingernails a bright fuschia.
“Don’t I look stunning, darling?” he asks me when I walk in. He always calls me darling.
“Jack, I’m going to kill these people.”
“Hmm.” Jack sips his gin and tonic, eyebrows raised. His miniature dachshund, Fritzel, sniffs my pant legs.
“I’m busy,” Jack answers, intently studying two pairs of plastic high-heeled slippers Jamie is holding up.
“The green ones suit your eyes better, sweetheart.” He doesn’t look back up at me. I leave, Jack and my daughter laughing hysterically at something Jack’s whispered.
Downstairs, I find the ranch sliding door open. Scott’s muddy snow-slush shoe prints cover the surrounding carpets. They’ve finished eating, managing to get as many dishes dirty as possible. I know Jack will offer to help with the dishes, but really he’ll sit across the kitchen counter and drink wine and smoke and gossip and whatever else he can do to avoid dishes. If he wasn’t elderly and ill, I might be more annoyed, but Jack is charismatic enough to get away with anything.
The house is fucking freezing. I send Scott out into the backyard to get the firewood covered by tarp. He returns in less than a minute, without the firewood. More mud is tracked into my carpet. The ranch door is left open.
“There’s termites,” he says before I can say anything.
I explain to him that the fireplace has doors that shut, much like my sliding ranch door. None of the termites can get out and damage the wood.
“I don’t want them to burn,” he says.
“The termites?” I ask in disbelief.
“The house is freezing. I’m pregnant and I have a small child,” I speak to him slowly again.
He doesn’t move.
“I don’t care about the termites.”
Scott looks at me, horrified. I look at him, wondering if I could scream loud enough for my husband to come home, loud enough to induce labor so I can drink sooner, loud enough for these people to get out of my home, loud enough to kill him without it being my fault.
Jamie Good is a queer English undergrad at Western Washington University, where she works as the nonfiction editor for Jeopardy Magazine. Her work has been previously featured in small literary magazines such as “Sincerely Magazine.”