“You are diseased,” the oven said to her. It was a massive white metal design of masculine engineering, an accomplished anchor to chain a housewife to. Her purse on the kitchen table was rattling, full of white plastic pill bottles. Some were effective for sleep and others were ineffective for living. Sylvia liked the ones that tasted like fake oranges best but her doctor had stopped prescribing refills for those. Now the new ones tasted like old shoe leather.
She tried to think loudly and clearly, making her voice loud with false bravado. “I hadn’t realized that you were a certified doctor.”
“The only one who is certified here is you,” it spoke, not unkindly, and with a slow grumble from within. Sylvia had left the oven door open a crack so she could feel the heat rise from within. It was trapped in the kitchen, with the doors sealed shut with tape and blankets. “Have you taken your antidepressant today?”
Everyone liked asking her that question. Her mother, her doctor. Even her oldest child had started parroting the phrase at her now, making her feel uneasy and unkempt beneath layers of navy blue emotions. “I did,” she admitted to herself as she considered the chalky taste of regret on her tongue. “Don’t ask me personal questions like that.”
The water pipes were gurgling now, matching the noise of the babbling fridge. At some point in the past few days it had become empty so she had placed an Oxford dictionary inside. Now it choked on syllables whenever it tried to speak up and it was better that way. She could never starve as long as she had the English language pressed to her tongue, knotting her vocal cords into pretty bows.
She was curled up on the floor in a nest of failed suicide notes and stunted poetry while her oven talked to her, words caught in the breath of a burnt roast she had failed at cooking two weeks before. Sylvia had spent hours with the narrow windows open trying to rid the apartment of the scent of her domestic failure. “The hospital had kinder windows,” she told the oven. If she didn’t keep talking to the oven, the can opener would start to pitch in with that awful, tilting voice that made her head ache. “They were painted shut but it was a better illusion.”
“The hospital was a safer place,” it agreed.
She thought about the bright lights in long hallways and the headlights at night. Her mind seemed to run on a loop of attempts alone and the moments spent afterwards. “Safer than driving a car.” The memory of swerving made her laugh shrilly because she was so safe in her apartment now. She could make a list of failed suicide attempts the way housewives could list off groceries.
The oven made a clicking noise from within and she decided it was laughing with her. She tried to mimic it, clicking her tongue off of the roof of her mouth. They sat together, a shared space of heat and failed poetry. The chaotic glee that she had savored for a few moments shrank when she heard a child’s movements from within the walls. Suddenly her mood has punctured and she’s sad again, thinking about hospital stays and cotton candy hair, the taste of rubber between teeth. Hospital beds on wheels had made a nasty sound sliding across long white hallways. “I felt less real in the hospitals.”
The tea kettle whistled at her, angry and sharp. She flinched at the noise. It seemed to quiver from where it sat on the tabletop.
“All feminists think that hospitals suppress their rights,” the oven told her and the fridge incoherently agreed with it. “They all say that they’re factories meant to break down their gender. You’re just hysterical, dear.”
Sylvia doesn’t like the oven anymore. It is seated across from her, a twist of red hot coils burning away with superiority. She’s only a girl turned disorder, framed by a lackluster bell jar. “Hospitals are not safe spaces for sick women.”
“Safer than burrowing under the ground, vomiting up pills?” the can opener said from the drawer. The voice made her shriek, yanking at her hair. A month ago she had attempted to open up a can of peaches with it and had made such an awful jagged mess that she sliced her fingertips. The can opener had been thrown into the drawer along with the set of knives that chattered at her too long over breakfast.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” Sylvia said to the muffled voice that spoke through the wooden drawer. “We don’t need to talk.”
“You ought to get your affairs in order,” the kettle pitched in from where it sat bright red on the countertop. “Consider brewing yourself a cup of tea and take a moment to think.”
Sylvia thought about the over-brewed cups of tea she had drank throughout her life and pressed her lips together. Instead she reached for the white pad of paper, the pencil behind her ear. Pressing the tip to the page she tried to sort words out. The air was orange from heat and it was difficult untangling the broken bits of sentences she had running around her skull.
“You’re diseased,” the oven reminded her. “No one expects poetry from you now.”
“I’m good at poetry, though.”
“Adequate,” it told her.
Sylvia frowned, waiting for the tea kettle to speak on her behalf, for the knifes to pitch in about her own worth or maybe for the fridge to stop choking on a dictionary. No one disagreed though, and she felt a bit lost in the silence. “People might say nice things after I’m gone.”
“Everyone says nice things about a dead person.” The oven groaned, looking tired as air danced from heat. “They’ll hate you but they always respect a dead person more.”
“I might be alright,” she said as loudly as she dared, starting to scratch out a list of complaints against the oven. By the time she finished the list she felt worse. Smudged grey irritation about talking appliances. Instead of folding it up neatly like she intended to, she erased the words away.
Sylvia thought for a moment that she should write a note to her mother or maybe a doctor. There were a lot of people that she could address her final words to but none that she wanted to.
“Are your sure your doors are sealed well enough?” the tea kettle asked, voice high and pitched as it rose about the hot air. “You ought to think about your children. Have you thought about what your husband might think?”
“They’ll be fine,” she said, thinking about the layers of towels and blankets she had pressed to the doors. “They have to be fine. He’s gone now, anyways. You don’t need to worry about him. Everyone will be fine.”
“Maybe they will,” said the can opener. It spoke more clearly now, despite being locked away. Sylvia wanted to throw it out the narrow window, narrow enough that it was impossible to fling herself out. “Don’t you worry that maybe your children will just inherit the wrongness that you feel?”
She clicked her tongue but she wasn’t laughing this time. “Maybe you ought to shut up. Try and think less about them.”
“Try and think less about Daddy,” the can opener told Sylvia in her own voice. “You’re a damn train wreck.”
“No,” the oven said with a long suffering sigh. “She’s diseased.”
The fridge was rattling out the alphabet as she got down onto her hands and knees, pulling the oven door down. It felt uncomfortable kneeling against the wall of heat against her skin, lips drying out and eyes squeezed shut. Sylvia imagined it a little bit like praying, fumbling words around in her mouth until she could spit them like bloody nails.
The can opener gave a loud screech and Sylvia gave a sigh.
Rachel Small is not small. She crawled out of the void one night and began to demand justice for Shirley Jackson.