I opened the refrigerator and saw the words. It’s not every morning you open the refrigerator, and beneath the milk, you find words unattached to an edible food, drink, or condiment. I picked them up, pulled them apart from their magnetized backs, and laid them out on the porcelain on steel counter. They stuck. I knew they’d help me compose something this morning, and free me from my messy mind. When I opened my email I found Tara’s post on a Thin Spiral Notebook, and from there I followed her prompt lead and found myself looking at Messy.
Saying yes to the mess
He never let anyone inside the kitchen. His love of baking was so intense, that he often dirtied every pan, every spoon, every spatula before he committed to clean the messy space. Messy is an understatement. It was gross, disgusting, hoard-like behavior. Batter splayed and dried on cabinets, crumbs feeding generations of rodents inside and out of his basement kitchen. He used to watch QVC late into the night when he buckled down and scrubbed, scoured and sanitized the stove, the floors, and the counters. But now Alexa, made it so easy. He spoke to her and ta-da, hours later the walkout’s doorbell rang and outside stood the delivery person employed by UPS, FedEx, USPS, or an Amazon subcontractor with a white van. They’d deliver more ingredients, and with that more time to avoid addressing the mess.
This was once both a glistening and repugnant space. It was here where the mortician would prepare the dead. Sometimes with an apprentice by his side, he would transfer the corpse to the embalming table, working it like a massage therapist, aspirating the fluids and pushing out its leftover gasses, odors which would creep out the window and resemble the same odors that still hung around Bubbly creek. No body was ever in too awful a state, no accident too grave, no ending to violent, that prevented the Murphy’s from a heroic attempt to make the dead appear in a state of grace. They were more than embalmers. Some people in the neighborhood swore Mrs. Murphy was a witch. She would finish them off, with her doctor’s bag filled with jars of flesh colored makeup and matte lipsticks and ruby rouges that dismissed the white sheet from every corpse’s face before it was positioned in its final resting place. Coffins were palaces, adorned with rosaries and floral sprays, praising the dead, as the best mother, father, sister, or brother. No one knew just hours before the catch basin filled with the body’s remaining fluids, and the undertaker pumped the corpse it full of magic that froze the dead in its happy place. Generations of families were prepped for death, waked, and their final procession started here and ended at one of the dozens of archdiocesan cemeteries throughout the Chicago metropolitan area.
Yes, not long ago the Murphy’s owned this block on the Southeast side, the funeral parlor, chapel, and pub. Eventually, they owned almost everything, except his grandparents’ bakery. But, the last 20 years were hard on the funeral business; wakes became shorter; burials became cremations, and families didn’t pay their respects like they once did. The funeral parlor is now a new age art gallery, owned by some social justice feminazis from out East. They also bought the adjacent chapel with its crumbling limestone facade where inside, they gather and plot to avenge injustices made by everyone. He can hear them through the vents. They don’t discriminate, everyone is an offender.
Today, the Murphy’s only own the pub. Alcohol sales are never depressed during a recession, and changes in how we bury our dead neither impact human consumption. Even though the hordes of Irish families, have since fled the neighborhood for fear of the non-freckled 21st Century immigrants, an empty bar stool can nary be found on any given night and singles from Billy Joel’s Glass Houses still emanate from the jukebox.
The lone Swedish bakery is gone; its customers not local anymore. Its baked goods still exist absent a storefront. Since he bought the basement and upstairs apartment, transformed it into a commercial kitchen and tidy living quarters, his baking has moved from sweet indulgences to practical accompaniments. Biscuits, all kinds, from the cheddar kind that guests fill their bellies with at Red Lobster, to the buttermilk ones that sit adjacent to a generous bowl of chili. Biscuit making is an art, that some businesses treasure, but simply lack the resources or cash, to fully invest in their production. So 1,000 biscuits a day he produces. His trick, is his glass pans, that his family brought with them when emigrated 100 years ago.
Yes, he had a deep love for making biscuits. And, a passion for cleaning was noticeably absent. The doorbell rang. He had not ordered anything. His heart dropped when he heard the words, “Health and Restuarant Inspector”. Maybe he should have said no to the mess?