The Septic

Her anxiety jumped into high gear when she glanced at the clock and realized she’d underestimated the time she’d spent reading. She loved to escape into a good book but now she’d catch it for sure. He’d be home in ten minutes and she hadn’t even started dinner. She slid the paperback into the quart storage bag and slid it behind the cleaning products under the kitchen sink.

He’d never find it there.

She washed her hands, counting to twenty-five as she did. Not long enough, but she didn’t have time. A pound of ground pork was thawing in the fridge, she opened the package and let it drop into the frying pan, sprinkling cumin and garlic in for flavor. She wrapped a loaf of French bread in foil without bothering to cut it first and tossed it in the oven.

A quick glance out the window told her he wasn’t home yet and she grabbed the jar of spaghetti sauce from the back of the bottom shelf of the cabinet. He hated her to use store bought, but he complained when she served homemade. It didn’t taste right, he always said. She poured the sauce in the pan, peeled as much of the label off as she could, rinsed and tossed the jar into the recycling.

She didn’t quite make it. The door opened before there was enough water in the pot and she was caught at the sink.

“Dinner late again, Catherine?” he asked. “I will never understand what you do with your time all day. If you were any lazier…” He shot her a look of total disgust and carried his briefcase upstairs to his bedroom.

Catherine put the water on to boil and went to the fridge to pull out the salad. At least she’d done that right, prepared it after lunch. She set it on the table and grabbed the salad dressings and croutons. She set the sunflower seeds next to her own plate and went and got the hard boiled eggs he liked in his salad.

The butterflies in her stomach fluttered when his steps sounded on the stair. His dinner wasn’t ready yet. She stirred the meat and willed the water to boil.

“You’re a mess. Go get changed and put some makeup on for God’s sake. You look homeless.” He shook his head at her. “You really are hopeless.”

“I can’t right now. I’ve got to watch the food.” She stirred the meat and sauce pots and peered in at the water willing it to boil.

“I’ll cook. You always burn it anyway. Go get changed.”

“I only burn it when you’re watching,” she muttered under breath. “You make me nervous.”

“What did you say?” he asked.

She could feel his breath on her neck.

“I’m going,” she said. “Don’t forget the bread in the oven.”

“I’m not the one that burns the food.” He laughed, delighted at his own joke.

She hurried passed him, but she wasn’t fast enough and he grabbed her breast and squeezed as she went by. One of these days she was going to grab his package as he was going by and squeeze that. Maybe then he’d realize how horrid it made her feel to be handled like that. Like the pork she’d dropped in the frypan.

She took her time upstairs, carefully choosing her clothes and makeup, not to please him, but so she could be justified in taking as much time as possible. It was quiet and cool in her room. If only she could rid herself of this feeling of dis-ease.


At dinner she remembered the phone call, and watched him for a good time to bring it up.

“The septic people called, our leach field is too old to redo. We need a new system. Do you think we should ask them to convert the old tank into grey water? It would create less stress on the new system.” She deliberately raised her voice at the end of that sentence hoping to generate some enthusiasm in him.

“I’m not paying a thousand dollars for a new tank when we’ve got a perfectly good one in the ground. They can get off their butts and move the old one.” He cut the spaghetti noodles into tiny pieces and forked them into his mouth.

“They didn’t recommend that,” she said. This is where things could go south. If he didn’t like the message he was likely to verbally abuse the messenger. “It costs just as much to move the old one as put in a new one, plus they’d have to have it pumped out first, plus it’s already isn’t draining. We should start fresh.” She didn’t really know if that last part was true but it sounded good. Like the sludge could contaminate the new septic.

“I’m going out to look at it after dinner. It’s wasteful to buy a new tank when we have a perfectly good one. Costs as much to move it as get a new one? There’s nothing wrong with that tank. You’d let people rob you blind Catherine.” He smiled what he probably thought was a kindly smile, but all she saw was contempt.


Good to his word he stomped out to the barn, empty of all but junk and tools, the animals she loved all sold ages ago, and grabbed a shovel. She watched him through the window as he hacked at the ground covering the current tank until he had uncovered the lid, the dirt he’d removed creating a ramp from the road down to the opening. It was large enough to swallow a full grown sow. The smell was overwhelming as she approached. What did he expect to find in there?

“Don’t leave that dirt there, will you? The dog could slid into the tank and drown.” She looked at the hole he’d dug. It was too shallow to be a grave, but that’s what it reminded her of. A grave with an opening into hell in the bottom. She’d rather go to hell than to fall into the stink that lived in there.

“It’s perfectly safe. If your dog isn’t smart enough to stay away then you’d better keep it inside.”

“The neighbors have…”

“Our neighbors have farms to run, they don’t spend their time strolling around.” He thunked the top of the tank with the shovel and peered in.

“A new puppy,” She finished, but he didn’t hear.

She could have told him the neighbors didn’t walk this way was because they didn’t want to have to stop and chat. The last time they’d come by he’d spent thirty minutes foaming at the mouth about the neighbor who’s horse had gotten loose and left hoof prints in the drive. Like that had hurt anything. She’d been pleased to see the animal on their property. He was so beautiful and reminded her of her own ponies, all gone now.

“The Women’s Club is meeting tonight,” she said. “The president asked me to come. The kitchen’s clean.”

“Last time you left a dirty pot on the stove and I had to see it there, all evening.” He sounded like a child. An ill-tempered whining child.

“They’re all clean. The kitchen is clean. I’ll be back in two hours.” She turned away, heading for the garage. For freedom.

“Look Catherine,” he called to her, “I’ll prove this isn’t unsafe.”

She glanced back to see him climbing the dirt pile to the road. “Hurry,” she said to herself. “Hurry now.”

She heard him call “Watch!” but she didn’t. She might have heard him yell, a splash and a faint “Catherine!” but probably it was just her imagination. She drove down the hill, a feeling of guilty pleasure building. The Women’s Club hadn’t invited her, would never invite her to a meeting. Catherine didn’t mind, she was going to the movies.

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