Clean Conscience


When I finally got home from work, Mexican takeout boxes squealing to break the bottom of the plastic bag whose handles chafed my hand, nerves in my back holding up strike signs and my boss’s perfect little red lips stuck in my mind’s eye like an obnoxious song, I opened the door. I was immediately greeted by an unwarranted CPR thrust complete with clawed paws and partially digested turkey-delight breath. Understandably, I screamed, not at the dog, but at my husband. “Darryl!!!! Edison is hungry!” My lazy ass of a husband never feeds that dog until I come home and force him to budge his sweatpants. “You never do anything, you lazy ass!”

The dog began gnawing eagerly at the already-tenuous plastic handles keeping the takeout bag around my wrist. I set the bag down on the floor, not caring if the food got cold. Anyone who could ignore an executive order with my delivery style was either impudent or wearing earbuds, and Darryl never cared for music.

I flounced down the hallway at a breakneck pace, Edison slobbering graciously at my heels while trying to trip me. But when I heaved the door to the bedroom open, Darryl wasn’t there. Instead, I found a little pink post-it note he’d pressed onto the cover of my Zen coloring book lying on my night table. On it he’d scribbled: Last minute work party tonite. Wont be home till late. C ya.

Well that’s awful considerate of you, Darryl. I thought of the Burrito Grandioso we usually shared, now shivering alone inside its foil in the bag on the floor by the front door. I guess I can just take $3 out of the anniversary present fund. Not that you would notice if I bought you a watch or tie that cost $3 less.

I was looking for that sexpot pad of pink post-its, digging through his disaster scene of an office corner, when I realized Daniella hadn’t come running to meet me yet. Usually, the first-grader was delighted when one of us was finally home to feed her and spend time with her. But both she and Edison were suddenly missing in action.


I found her in the bathroom with the door wide open. But she wasn’t trying to make a poop or anything humiliating like that. Instead, she was busy painting the walls, mirror, sink counter, and floor from corner to corner with sparkly jade-mint toothpaste.

“What the – what are you – what the fuck are you doing?!?!” I buy the finest of all toothpaste to prevent her from getting cavities that need filling, and this is how she decides to use the stuff?

Daniella cast me a look of perfect serenity. “I’m putting the toothpaste back in the tube,” she said gravely.

“What are you talking about? Honey, you’re putting the toothpaste out of the tube, not in it.”

“I know,” she replied in that annoyingly calm voice she uses whenever I’m angry. “It’s an experiment. This is the set-up. Ms. Mollie taught us today that ‘you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube,’ but I wanted to see for myself if she was wrong or right. So I have to get it all out of the tube first. Then I’m going to see if I can put it back in.”

“Are you retarded??? No one can put a colloid substance back through the neck of a tube, that’s physically impossible. Do they not teach you guys physics in school these days? What kind of crap – ”

A clamorous whoosh alerted me that Edison had crashed into the file cabinet in the corner. Limping apprehensively out to peer at the bathroom, he started barking, apparently at the unfamiliar green slime that coated its every spare surface. Almost at the same moment, Daniella’s bug-eyes fixated on a particular spot in the empty jacuzzi, where a lopsided crown of jade-mint goop adorned the drain.

It took me a moment, but I too noticed the reason for all this animal/child attention: an army of lumps no bigger than small warts was bubbling up from the drain’s crown. Rings of the bubbles radiated out from the center and around to all edges of the jacuzzi while still blanketed by toothpaste, so I couldn’t see whether they were ladybugs or dismembered soldier figurines or what. I just stood there in a state of suspended motion as the lumps shot up like grisly skeletal fingers, creating a cage all around the bathroom’s main appliances: the jacuzzi, shower, sink, toilet and Daniella, wrapped up in the palm of an unseen hand still gloved in  dripping clean jade-mint slime.

“Daniella?” I yelled shakily, as if she were a world away between those wispy bars. “What’s happening?”

The coating of toothpaste slipped off the prison bars like skin off a rotting cadavre, and I saw that what I had thought was one giant skeletal hand holding my daughter was actually a Stonehenge-like congregation of long tar-black arms sticking up from some underworld beneath the bathroom floor, each one knobbed with an elbow and a few thorns, and capped with a hand that pulsated like a tar-encapsulated squid. Fingers seemed to point at me from all angles. Daniella opened her mouth, but I never heard what she said because the arms suddenly shot towards me all at once, opening like freaky squid ready for sex. I expected a sharp beak to materialize between the noodling tentacles, or some hard hand to slap my face. However, all the horrid things stopped a millimeter away from my face. Without touching me, each open palm struck me with the piercing gaze of a single, sour-sparkling eye. One more strange detail: in lieu of eyelashes, these particular eyes were framed by rows of serrated teeth.

Fingers curled around my neck gently and I was lifted to my tiptoes.

I realized I was probably about to be obliterated in some horrible fashion. I’d better say something to Daniella, so the last remark she could quote from her mother in later interviews would be something a little better than an un-PC accusation of stupidity.

But the flexible fingers swished around my mouth, and when the pinpricks of their fingertips released, a tight band remained, immovable as an inch-thick rubber gag. No sound would come out of my mouth. The scent of toothpaste wafted up to my nose, sickening, acidic, like some mutated onion I was chopping beneath my eyes without knowing it. Tears poked at the corners of my eyes as the world began to darken around me.

I never did tell Daniella that it was okay to cry. Not once in her life. I don’t think she needed to be told, but I’ll never know if she cried for me or not. I think I know what her experimental conclusions probably were, though.


Image credits in order of appearance:

By Miami U. Libraries – Digital Collections –, Public Domain,

By Anne Worner – BoogeyMan, CC BY-SA 2.0,

By James Sant –, Public Domain,



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