Imperfect Routine – Sean Tate

Imperfect Routine


     The house was filled with the sound of aged pipes rattling as fetid and fresh water flowed back and forth to its destination. The walls, still unsure of themselves, creaked and groaned as the house continued to set after countless years spent within the concrete foundation. Sunlight cut through the dust covered windows and created muted applause as miniscule particles were dislodged.

     Despite all this activity, a silence hung heavily between the two occupants: a mother and son called Mel and Elijah. Unspoken words and feelings had been buried deep within the crevices of their minds. After all these years, expressing unsaid emotions would have had a positive effect. Mel and Elijah knew and feared this.

     They had built a relationship on numbness and felt close because of it. Why change the imperfect routine that works? Why should we dare change at all? This they thought collectively.

     In the mornings there was no exchanging of words, just a brief glance as the table was set for breakfast. Sitting at opposite ends of the square table on unsteady chairs, their eyes would connect briefly before they each focused their attention on the food and condiments in front of them.

     The tomatoes in a bowl were comfortable and were quite pleased with the snug arrangement in which they were set. The mustard, salt and pepper stood side-by-side and would have gladly mixed if not for the glass barrier that separated them.

     Mel reached for the tomatoes. Her hand made circular motions over the bowl and caused the loose flesh of her arms to sway gently. Making her choice, she gave a tentative bite. Satisfied with the tomato she took her knife to it and cut it into uneven slices before placing them on a piece of hot toast.

     Elijah looked at the hypnotic motion of her aged muscle and skin and grimaced as she reached for another tomato. His appetite had almost left him, but not before he observed the fatty mass of butter on a tea saucer. He licked his thin lips. The wooden chair groaned beneath his heavy bulk and threatened to give way as he reached for the blond spread.

     With knife in hand and butter by his side, Elijah sliced into it and placed an overly generous amount on his toast. Crumbs, lucky enough to escape the approaching mass, fell to the table with some even rolling to the floor below. The toast absorbed all it could before it could take no more and began to sag in the centre. Elijah sucked in the greasy liquid from the base of the toast before it could leak through.

     Oily drops, that didn’t make it into his cavernous mouth, left a shiny trail as they travelled down his chin and fell to table. Elijah was unaware of this and helped himself to another heavily buttered slice of toast.

     Mel saw the drops falling from the corner of her eye and reached for the pile of blue, paper napkins that lay across from her. Taking one in hand, she made an attempt to rise and wipe away the slimy mess that glistened on her son’s chin. Halfway out of her chair she stopped and sat back down. Looking at the napkin she snorted loudly, scrunched it up and threw it away as she suppressed her maternal instinct.

     Elijah continued to gorge himself and was soon lost in the automatic action of spreading and consuming. He closed his eyes as he chomped down. He began to emit moans of pleasure as the now fluid toast glided down his throat to the vast expanse that was his stomach.

     Mel’s eyes bulged at the site of the glutton before her. She balled her fists and pressed them to her ears to block out the animalistic grunts that were filling the room. She smiled to herself but peace was short lived. Her fists were not enough, the pleasurable groans found a way through. Mel pushed herself away from the table with such force that the salt and pepper fell over and spilled out across the green table cloth. The white and black granules mixed together and let out a sign of relief as they became one. She ignored the mess and made for the back door.

     Elijah opened his eyes for a second when he felt a subtle wave of warm air spread across his back from the slamming of the door. He paid it no mind and helped himself to another slice.

     Outside Mel was breathing deeply and tugging at her unkempt hair. Her overgrown toe nails clawed at the dry soil and left unsteady indents in the ground. She paid no mind to the dirt that had gathered beneath her nails. She paid no mind to the strands of hair she pulled out. These she stared at absentmindedly before letting the wind gathering the strands up and sending them wherever it thought best. 

     Mel flicked her toes and dislodged some, but not all, of the soil. Tiny particles of dirt, that chose to remain behind, clung beneath her nails. It grinded against the unexposed skin as she walked towards the cucumber plants in her vegetable garden. She could feel warm droplets of blood pooling and securing the microscopic specks in place. It was almost soothing for her. Almost.

     Elijah reached for more toast but his fingers met only crumbs. Sighing and ignoring the mess, he raised himself from the table and headed for the stairs that led to his room.

     He waited at the bottom and scrutinised the steps carefully. Not all were safe. There were some he had to avoid because they could no longer hold his weight. These particular steps were marked with silver tape. Elijah stretched over those that were unsafe and bounded up the rest. Moans rang out as his heavy footfalls caused the safer of the stairs to dip down in the centre.

     He reached the top panting and gave himself some time to catch his breath and then entered his room which resembled a library more than anything.

     A crude mass of books towered in uneven piles throughout his bedroom and were the only form of furniture within. The frame of his bed had long since been replaced by a number of hardbacks on the topic of quail farming and his desk was made up of world record books from the year 1955 onwards.

     Elijah noticed a flicker of movement from the garden below. Pulling back the dust encrusted curtain he gazed out at his mother who was working on her hands and knees. His sweat covered brow creased in suppressed frustration at her gentle motions while she removed shrivelled, discoloured leaves one by one from the cucumber plants. She took her time with each leaf and allowed each one to pass across her wrinkled finger tips before she dropped them to the growing pile on either side of her.

     Mel paused in her pruning when she felt an unseen gaze burning into the back of her neck. She looked to the window behind her and noticed the stained curtain being shoved back into place. Sighing, she forced herself to her knees and went back inside. A thirst had formed while she worked beneath the sun and she sought to quench it.

     Elijah laid down on his make shift bed and tugged at his quilt that was held together by yellow stains. He closed his eyes and drifted off to the sound of the rattling water pipes.

     Mel drained five glasses of water before her thirst could be sufficiently quenched. Once satisfied, she began to make the preparations for dinner.

     The sterile light of the fridge hugged Mel’s overripe frame for the time it took her to remove the raw carcass of a chicken. She held it tenderly so as not to drop it and brought it over to the sink full of lukewarm water. Mel laid it down gently and washed the pale flesh as though it were a baby while humming an unknown lullaby to it.

     Next she removed a number of carrots, onions, and potatoes from the press below her. These she chopped up thinly and placed into a metal pot that was simmering on the stove. She brought her attention back to the chicken and removed it from the sink. Mel dried it tenderly with a fresh tea towel for a time before bringing it to rest in its boiling bath.

     Sitting at the kitchen table waiting for the stew to be cooked, Mel stared at the remaining mess from breakfast with a glazed expression.

     Elijah’s stomach rumbled loudly. He stirred but didn’t awake. But soon the savoury aroma of the evening meal hovered beneath his nostrils and caused him to salivate. This had the desired effect. He awoke from his slumber, swung his sleep laced limbs out of bed, and dragged himself downstairs.

     Mel was helping herself to a second portion of chicken stew when Elijah stumbled into the kitchen. He took his place at the end of the square table and, without a word, began to fill his bowl and eat hungrily. Mel followed suit.

     Amongst the wet sounds of slurping, a silence was forming at intervals. Soon the meal was finished and it was able to occupy the room entirely. Mel and Elijah sat staring and everything but each other.

     Unspoken words and feelings, buried deep within the crevices of their minds, tried to force themselves to the surface but were suppressed. After all these years, expressing unsaid emotions would have had a positive effect. Mel and Elijah knew and feared this.

     They had built a relationship on numbness and felt close because of it. Why change the imperfect routine that works? Why should we dare change at all? This they thought collectively.


Sean Tate is a graduate from UCD (University College Dublin) with a Bachelors degree in English and Linguistics. He’s reviewed YA literature and children’s literature for Inis Magazine and the Looking Glass. He recently self-published his first collection of short stories and poems entitled, COGS, which can be found on Amazon and Kobo. Tate has also had work published by Crimson Cloak Publishing in their horror anthology called Consuming Tales, and in their most recent publication, Crimson Timelines. His work has also featured on the Mysteries Abound podcast by Paul Rex and in UCD’s creative writing magazine, OTwo.