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Tea Tree


by Jamie Sughroue


The pungent, stinging stench of tea tree oil diffuses rapidly in the stale air of the cramped apartment. I study the little bits of stray matter highlighted by the ray of sun beaming through the window, imagining them choking and coughing on scent. Is it possible to die from a smell? It's supposed to kill lice with its antibacterial properties; does that go for all insects? I'm going to have to Google that. 


The steady hiss of the shower abruptly shuts off. I hear whistling and the vinyl snap of the shower curtain being flung open, and then the slap of wet feet hitting the linoleum floor. He must have shoved the bathmat against the door again.


I shove the comforter off and roll out of the bed. The dog shifts, curls up in the place I just abandoned, capturing my residual body heat with her own pudgy body. I scratch the little indent in between her closed eyes, a place she can never reach on her own. She depends on me to scratch that particular itch; I depend on him to reach that spot right under my shoulder blade where my bra clasp always rubs. With a huffed grunt and a wayward lick on my hand as I pull it away, the dog resumes her slumber.


I stand, naked, in the closet, pulling together some semblance of an outfit for the day. When you have two choices for a top and a bottom, what does it matter? Red shirt, khaki pants. Limited potential for individuality. I step back out of the closet, and head to the bathroom — my turn in the shower. He's toweling off, singing some song I don't recognize. I get a slap on the ass and an air kiss as I side-step him in the cramped room. I turn the faucets back on, turning the hot water knob repeatedly — hotter, hotter, hotter. I stand under the shower head, and wonder if a person can drown standing up.


That fucking tea tree shit is overwhelmingly saturating the sweltering, cloistered air in the tiny shower. I can't breathe. I slather my hair with cherry blossom conditioner, but its delicate scent is no match. I peek through the flower petals adorning the translucent curtain — he's gone. I gulp in some fresh air, and can just hear him babbling to the dog in the living room, nonsensical baby-talk. We don't have kids. He fastens the leash to her collar. His key in the lock, click. They're gone.


My skin turns a rosy red hue, its defense against the pelting drops of water. I plop down in the tub, sprawl out. I don't want to leave the recesses of my sanctuary yet. We fight, or we're silent. There's rarely an in between anymore with us. We used to have an easy, comfortable amiability; I would recline on the couch with my latest find from the library, feet in his lap on the other end as he watched Man vs. Food.  I nudge my razor with my toe on the bathtub ledge.


I hear the apartment door slam shut, and the tinkle of the dog's tags as she jauntily prances to her water bowl and laps her fill. I stand, shut the water off, and grab a towel. I run my finger across the foggy mirror, drawing a circle and a line through my blurry reflected image.

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