Drabblecast cover by Melissa McClanahanWeirdness is in the air at Drabblecast as we bring you an original story about spousal life and home ownership by author Ao-Hui Lin.

“Hey babe, where did the closet go?”

The Hubby, Victor, gives me a blank look, like the word “closet” is Swahili for “bratwurst”. He neither understands the question nor the purpose of the question.

“The closet. It used to be here, through this door, under the stairs. Now there’s just a pit and bite marks on the door jamb.”

More silent incomprehension.

I let the subject drop. After all, who uses the under-the-stairs closet anyway? I don’t even remember if I ever put anything in there, and if I did, it would have been stuff I’d never planned on seeing again. High school journals, SAT study guides and shoeboxes full of bad poetry to that guy I had a crush on during junior year – Tony? Toby? Tory? I’ll find someplace else to put the vacuum cleaner.

By Ao-Hui Lin


“Hey babe, where did the closet go?”

The Hubby, Victor, gives me a blank look, like the word “closet” is Swahili for “bratwurst”. He neither understands the question nor the purpose of the question.

“The closet. It used to be here, through this door, under the stairs. Now there’s just a pit and bite marks on the door jamb.”

More silent incomprehension.

I let the subject drop. After all, who uses the under-the-stairs closet anyway? I don’t even remember if I ever put anything in there, and if I did, it would have been stuff I’d never planned on seeing again. High school journals, SAT study guides and shoeboxes full of bad poetry to that guy I had a crush on during junior year – Tony? Toby? Tory? I’ll find someplace else to put the vacuum cleaner.

The next time it happens, I get a little more upset. It’s another closet, but now I’ve lost that set of luggage that my mom gave me. I loved that luggage. Teal with a racing stripe down the side. Totally me, and my mom is going to be pissed if I show up at their house without it. I complain to Victor, but he points out that traveling to my parents’ place is really inconvenient right now.

“I thought we were going there for my Mom’s birthday?”

He gets that look in his eye, the one that tells me he’s trying to be patient but I’m being a little slow. “Hon, you know we have to cut back on expenses. And you hate Florida in the summer.”

I don’t, not really, but when I protest he reminds me of all the times I’ve complained about the humidity, the mosquitoes, my mom’s nagging. It’s my fault for griping, and I resolve to be more positive from now on. I know he puts up with the annual trip as a gift to me, but he’s been talking about my spending for a while now, and maybe staying home without a fuss can be my gift to him for a change. Still, the missing room bothers me. The edges of the space are all jagged and chewed, and sometimes there’s a rotten egg smell that wafts out if I forget and open the door.

I tie a ribbon on the door handle to remind myself to keep it closed.

It goes on like that for months. But whatever’s eating the rooms in my house is sticking to the little spaces – the stuff that doesn’t matter. Mostly it’s storage space, and I learn to make do with what is left. I’ve become the Queen of Decluttering.
It gets easier when Victor cancels the credit cards and we go to a strict cash system. That Dave Ramsey guy really knows his personal finance stuff. Now I’m all about the envelopes. I don’t even mess with the bills anymore because Victor takes care of all of that. He simply gives me my envelope at the beginning of the month and I make it last. Victor tells me we’ll be completely out of debt by this time next year.
That’s why I don’t realize that the office is gone until I go in there to look for a pencil.

“Vic, sweetie, how long has our office been missing?”

He looks up from his crossword and frowns. “I do the bills at work now.”

“OK, but, the whole office is gone. No desks. No chairs. Something ate the telephone in there.”

Victor hesitates, gives the newspaper a pained look. I know he doesn’t like being interrupted during his crossword time. “Never mind, it can wait.” I’ll talk to him later, when I’ve got his full attention. I shut the door and tie another ribbon on another handle.

I need to talk to Victor about moving. It’s a delicate subject because he loves this house—truly, deeply loves this house. He was driving by when he saw the For Sale sign and, in the only impulsive act of his life, went in and bought it on the spot as a surprise for me. A month later I came home from work and found the apartment cleaned out; I thought we’d been robbed. I couldn’t believe it when Victor showed up and told me he’d moved us clear across town in a single day. When I go out with my friends I always tell them what a romantic my husband is, although we don’t get together much now that we live so far apart.

I spend the whole day cooking Victor’s favorite meal, and I even pop out and blow the last of my cash on a bottle of my favorite wine. When he gets home I’ve got music playing and candles lit on the table.

“What’s the special occasion?” He sits at the table and eyes the glass of wine I’ve poured for him. He doesn’t pick it up.

“Nothing special. You’ve been working really hard and we’ve been so good about staying within budget, I thought we could use a treat.” I slurp my own wine, and the tang of it flows down the back of my throat and into my spine, straightening it. I head into the kitchen and open the oven to take out the roast. I slam the oven door shut.

“That smells good,” Victor says. “Is it ready?”

“Um…” I take a deep breath. Maybe it’s for the best if Victor sees first-hand how the back of the oven looks like a half-eaten potato chip, ridged in burnt brown and traces of fluorescent green. Maybe then he’ll understand why we have to move. “I need some help getting it out of the oven.”

He comes over, dons a pair of kitchen mitts, and takes the roast out without a word.
Over dinner, I ask him if he noticed anything about the oven when he opened it.

“I didn’t want to say anything, but, it could really use a cleaning.” His reproachful look causes my dinner to congeal in my gut, and I take another sip of wine to loosen it up. He goes on, “I know when we bought this house it was a real bargain…” and I think, well, at the rate it’s disappearing, the per-square-foot price keeps going up and up, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t make an effort to take care of it.”

“I do take care of it!” I plunge forward, willing myself not to be distracted. “Honey, the rooms keep disappearing. Something is eating them. I think we need to move.”

“Maybe it’s a vermin issue.”

“Vermin?” Incongruously, I have this mental image of lice and ringworm gnawing away at the walls, until they are so fat they can’t move, then setting themselves on fire like those Indian widows throwing themselves on their husbands’ funeral pyres. Maybe that accounts for the stink. “How could vermin be eating our rooms?”

“Hon, you have to admit that you’re kind of a slob. Try cleaning more often, and maybe it’ll stop.”

“But how could vermin be eating our rooms?” I don’t know why I repeat myself. It never works. Once Victor chooses to ignore a question, it stays ignored.

“I think it will stop if you spend more time cleaning.” See what I mean?

He continues, “I’m embarrassed to bring people over, it’s a pigsty.”

Ouch. I didn’t realize it was that bad. The heat flushes my cheeks. “I’m sorry, honey. I’ll work harder to keep the house clean.”

He smiles at me and reaches out to touch me. For a second I think he’s going to pat my head like a child, but instead he rubs my cheek and nods. “I’m sure it’ll get better if you try harder.”

After dinner I make sure to tie a ribbon on the oven.

Right before Thanksgiving, my cellphone spontaneously combusts. That’s not a euphemism for a bad software update or the battery overheating. The sucker literally catches fire on the kitchen countertop and burns until it is a pile of smoldering ash. Victor sees it and asks if I’ve taken up smoking again.

“Of course not. That was my phone.”
He gives me a look over the top of his glasses. “I thought we agreed that you would give up smoking.”

“I did! I haven’t touched a cigarette in months.” I point to the pile of ashes. “That doesn’t even look like cigarette ash.”

“Maybe one of your smoker friends left it there.” His mouth turns down at the corners in a grimace, as if he can taste the ash on his tongue.

“Ha! No,” I counter, triumph in my voice. “I haven’t seen any of them in months either, not since you told me that you could smell it on my clothes whenever I went out with them.”

He ponders, tapping a finger to his cheek. “I suppose you’re right, I haven’t smelled smoke on you in a while.” Then he smiles and leans over to kiss me. “I’m sorry honey, I’m being paranoid. I’m sure you wouldn’t do anything like that to upset me on purpose.”

He turns to leave and I grab his arm. “But, what about my phone?” He peels my hand off of him and shakes his head. “Sweetheart, we can’t go buying you a new phone every time you misplace it. You know our budget is tight right now.”

I do know. The last couple of envelopes have been half of what they were in the summer, but Victor and I agreed that since there was less to do in the winter, it made sense to cut back and focus on saving. I’m secretly hoping that once we get out of debt, we can sell this damned house, but I don’t want to say that out loud.

“I was going to call my parents for Thanksgiving. I haven’t talked to them in a while.”

“No problem. You can use mine.” He whips out his phone and unlocks it–it’s one of those new ones with the face recognition–and tells it to call my parents. He hands it to me with a grin; it’s a running joke between us that I’m so technopathetic that I can’t figure out how to make it dial. I’m a little annoyed, but I hide it, no point in starting a fight. After about five minutes he whispers, “Sorry, the office doesn’t like too many personal calls on the phone. Can you wrap it up?”

In December we have people over for a pre-holiday party (thank goodness the downstairs guest washroom remains intact). Most of them are Victor’s friends and coworkers, and they tell me that they think the ribbons are adorable. Still, I can tell that they think it’s a little odd that I’ve tied Christmas bows to the doors, yet I don’t have any other decorations up. The basement disappeared a couple weeks ago, and I nearly broke my neck when I went to bring the tree up. All my special ornaments gone! It practically broke my heart.

When I showed Victor the smoking remnants of the cellar stairs and started to cry, he got even more upset than me.

“It’s all my fault.”

“What? No,” I was so shocked that he blamed himself that I stopped crying. “No babe, it’s not your fault at all.”

“If I were a better husband, whatever is eating the rooms would go away.”

“Babe, that’s stupid.” I regret the word as soon as it’s out of my mouth. It’s the one word that Victor hates. He says his mom used to call him stupid and now he doesn’t allow that word around him anymore.

“Oh, I’m stupid now too? Maybe that’s why I can’t take care of our house, because I’m too stupid.” When we first got married, I used to think it was sexy the way his emotions could turn on a dime. That night, with his eyes blazing, his anger had a little too much fire and brimstone in it for me to find it exciting.

So I told him it wasn’t a big deal; we could get a live tree. I’ve always preferred them anyway. But then Victor told me my envelope would be a little short this month because he had a lot of holiday expenses. I guess I’m stuck with ribbons on door handles this year.
While I’m serving the appetizers, Sue, my best friend, at this point my only friend, pulls me aside. “What’s been going on? I haven’t seen you in forever!” Sue has a tendency to exaggerate.

“Nothing. I’ve been doing a lot of fall cleaning.”

“You’re turning into a hermit.”

“Don’t be silly.” Truth is, even when I’m not cleaning, I’m afraid to leave the house.

What if I come back and the whole thing is missing? I keep checking the rooms that still exist to see if they’re there. “I’ve got a lot of stuff to do at home.”

“Victor doesn’t want you hanging out with me, does he?”

“What are you talking about? Of course not!” Although, I do know that Victor isn’t crazy about Sue. He thinks she’s kind of loud. He has a point. Even though she started out whispering, now everyone can hear her over the jazz CD that Victor chose for the evening. Victor is glaring at her. “Really, I’ve been super busy. But I want to hang out with you. Victor’s fine with it.” I cross my fingers behind my back at the last bit.

“Prove it. Come over for brunch tomorrow. We’ll go to that place by me with the bottomless mimosas.”

“It’s too far.”

“Take a cab.”

“Too expensive.”

“Call an Uber.”

“I’m not signed up and my phone is wonky.”

“Oh my god, is that why you never call me?”

I don’t say anything, and now it’s her turn to glare at Victor.

“Fine,” she huffs, “I’ll call you an Uber.”

I hesitate, torn between my fear of leaving and a desperate desire to escape. Escape wins out, even, or possibly especially, if it’s temporary. “OK, tomorrow. Early?”
That night in bed, I snuggle up to Victor’s side. It isn’t only affection that makes me rub up against him; my side of the bed is a mass of burnt goose feathers and twisty melted brass, half-falling into the bottomless hole on one half of the room. Victor refuses to get a new bed. He says he likes it that I have to sleep so close. “I thought tonight went well. We should have friends over more often,” I say.

“Eh.” Victor’s got a book open, but he’s not wearing his reading glasses. “I don’t know if that’s such a good idea until we get the house issues straightened out.”

I pop upright, straddling him. “But I spent all week cleaning.”

“All week? Really?” I can’t tell if he’s being sarcastic. “It’s not only the dirt. This whole thing with the rooms and the ribbons. It was just off.”

“I’ve been trying! You said it would get better if I tried harder.”

“I don’t think you’ve been trying hard enough.”

The frustration is eating me alive, like the rooms of my house. “What else do you think I should do?”

“If you were really trying you’d know what to do.” He reaches over and turns out the light, so that I’m left sitting up in the dark on his side of the bed. I slide down to the floor and huddle up there. I can see the blackened edges of the floor under the opposite side of the bed. Then his voice floats down from above. “Maybe you should stay home tomorrow and clean.”
Well fuck that.

I get up early the next morning. Victor’s still asleep in bed. I figure if I hurry, if I don’t stay out too late, I can make it up to him. He usually sleeps in on the weekends. This one time, better to ask forgiveness than permission. I rush through the shower and come out of the bathroom still dripping, but when I open my closet, the interior looks like the inside of a bad Guillermo del Toro movie. Not a stitch in sight, nothing but charred walls and red ichor oozing down the sides.

I open Victor’s closet and pull out a pair of sweats and a t-shirt. I have to roll up the legs four times before my feet can stick out the ends. I can’t show up at a restaurant dressed like this, but maybe Sue will consent to brunch at a hot dog stand? Even that would still be better than staying home.

I bolt down the stairs and stop short. The front entrance is a fathomless yawning hole, a black La Brea tar pit of submerged obstacles armed with snapping teeth and hooked claws. I wonder if the neighbors can see it through the glass inset of the front door. My sneakers lie neatly on the other side, out of reach. I slip into the downstairs guest washroom (which is still whole), and clamber out the window. It’s not the most graceful of exits, but it will do. The window shuts behind me. Crap. I’ll need to bring something to open it when I come back.

When I get to Sue’s, she wants to take me to the police, but I refuse. “All I need are a couple of mimosas and I’ll be fine.”

“And where do you think we’re going to find brunch for a barefoot woman in stolen sweatpants? The Homeless Hilton?”

“Please?” I need a chance to regroup, that’s all. A little girlfriend time, a little Dutch courage, and I can go back and face Victor and get rid whatever is eating my house. The last thing I want to do is go to the police. Who would believe me? Even Victor acts like it isn’t happening half the time, and the other half he acts like it’s all my fault. And maybe it is. I don’t know anymore. All I do know is that I’m too embarrassed to tell some cop that an unknown thing is eating my house.

Sue sighs. “I know better than this,” she says, even as she mixes me a Bloody Mary and tosses me a pair of shoes out of her closet.

All during brunch, Sue keeps saying stuff like “You know I’m here for you” and “If you ever want to talk”, but it weirds me out, until I’m gulping mimosas and fiddling with the cutlery to avoid looking her in the eye. The waiter places an oversized serrated knife next to my plate, which seems unnecessary for poached eggs and Hollandaise, but is perfect for jimmying the window to my house. Added bonus: my borrowed sweatpants make sneaking out contraband easy-peasy.

A couple hours later, Sue drops me off at my front door and I wave her away with a promise to get together for coffee later in the week. I creep around the outside of the house to the washroom at the side, pull out the table knife that I palmed during brunch, pry open the window and climb back in. My plan is to go back upstairs, wake up Victor if he’s still sleeping, and beg him to get the hell out of there.
But when I exit the washroom, Victor is at the foot of the stairs.

“You left.” He towers over me, hands white-knuckled and clenched on the banister, blocking me from climbing the steps.

“I came back.” I hold my own hands out, open upward in supplication, the table knife laid across one palm as if it were crossed in silver.

“And you’ve been drinking.”

“A little. I’m not drunk.”

“I knew I couldn’t trust you.” Victor’s anger is palpable; I shrink back from the heat of it. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

A chill of fear runs through me. “You want a divorce?”

“No. I made a vow, ‘til death do us part, and I’m not breaking it, ever. But you keep disappointing me.”

There’s a movement at the periphery of my vision, like a tail flicking into view. I glance that way, but whatever was there is gone, along with the downstairs guest washroom. The panic rises in me, consuming me from the inside as quickly as I imagine a horde of demonic termites has consumed the plumbing.

“What can I do? What do you want me to do?”

“You know what to do. Try harder.”


As the knife slides between Victor’s ribs, it scrapes up against a bone and nearly stops halfway to the hilt. But I grit my teeth and do as he’d suggested, pushing with the last bit of my will, trying harder.

I close the front door with a thud, shutting away the scent of sulfur and the crispy, oozing remnants of wood, plasterboard and tile, still tumbling into the sinkhole that was once my living room. The big red bow on the door handle makes the house look like a Christmas present. When I sit on the front steps, the cement is cool under my butt and my bare feet. There’s a cigarette in my hand, the paper crinkled and worn under my fingertips from months hiding in a forgotten pocket, the tobacco smell of it stale and tinged with an iron tang. I light it up and take a drag as I wait for the sirens in the distance.