Compulsion

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Authors: Hope Sullivan McMickle
When she did go in the garage for anything longer than a couple of minutes, it was in the suit.  The only things she kept in the garage now was an assortment of old furniture, a large supply of firewood, and of course, Charlie, cocooned in layers of thick plastic sheeting and several tarps.  Blood and bodily fluids had leached out of the tarps for a while and she’d had to be diligent about cleaning it up, not wanting to permanently stain the concrete floor.  Fortunately, Charlie seemed to have dried up by July, and even with the heat and humidity, there was only a light, semi-sweet scent of decay, which was largely masked by the fresh pine boughs that she kept in two large ceramic pots by the door.
    Leah spent the next half hour splitting firewood, then carried it into the garage and stacked it neatly beside Charlie.  He would have simply tossed it into the wood bin, but he wasn’t in a position to complain about her need for tidiness and stringent organization now.  In fact, Charlie hadn’t been able to complain about anything for several months.  It was the longest period of time that they’d gotten along throughout their decade-long relationship. 
    “Watch the house for me, Charles,” Leah muttered with a quick glance in his direction.  She really should do something, anything, with him, but despite the turbulence of their relationship in life, she struggled to bid him farewell in death.  “I’ve got to go run some errands.”  Leah slammed and locked the garage door, and went out to search for gas.  And more bleach.
     
    ***
     
    The general store old man Higgins ran was no more than a couple of miles down the road, but Leah went the opposite direction.  His store was depleted, anyway.  Nothing was on the radio, and so she sang to keep herself company.  There were times when she missed Charlie’s companionship.  Her life now revolved around a cycle of continuous cleaning and the acquisition of cleaning supplies.
    “ Sittin’ on this barstool, talking like a damn fool, got the twelve o’clock news blues…”
    She downshifted abruptly, took the turn onto road 102 fast enough to make the Jeep’s tires squeal in protest, and floored the accelerator.
    “ Is it any wonder I’m not a crazy - is it any wonder I’m sane at all…”
    In fact, Leah thought, she’d been wrestling with the concept of sanity for some time now.  Considering that her daily routine of cleaning seemed to have gotten a bit out of hand, and of course, there was the minor issue of the dead man in her garage. 
    She sang until she couldn’t remember more words, and repeated the chorus as she stopped the Jeep in front of the library in Southwest Harbor.  The dampness inside the building concerned her - she wasn’t sure how much longer she’d be able to go inside and get books.  Books were what helped her get through the dark hours of night.  When she wasn’t cleaning.
    It was best to make quick work of it.  Leah wiped down the steering wheel, gearshift, and dashboard of the jeep with an antiseptic towel from a container of baby wipes she kept under the driver’s seat.  As she walked toward the back of the building, she slipped on a disposable mask and a pair of latex gloves.  It was Charlie who had forced the back door open for her, a week before he’d died. 
    Charlie had always been impulsive, careless, with a quick grin, a great sense of humor, and almost no sense of responsibility.  He was a charmer, and that was probably what had attracted her most to him when they’d started dating their senior year at Indiana University.  They’d gotten along fine when he’d lived in the dorms, and she’d had her own efficiency apartment off campus on 17Street.  It was when they moved in together that she discovered the fundamental philosophical differences between them in terms of household chores, organization, how the labels on canned goods lined up, how to fold socks, minor things like that which eventually grew

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