THE MUD ROOM • by K. A. Patterson

At midnight it seeps. From the cabinets, the broom closet, the washer and dryer, mud flows. Like lava from an active volcano, it pumps from every crack and crevice in our small utility room”” drips from the overhead light socket. It’s odorless. Not as gritty as you’d expect. It never overflows the utility room to invade the adjoining kitchen.

Each morning we wake and I go down to assess the new spillage. Lizzie and Eric slurp their juice and crunch mouthfuls of cereal, then they ready themselves for school, slinging on their book-bags and jackets.

“Mom, more mud.” They giggle. Neither offers me a sympathetic hug.

Matthew fetches the morning paper from the stoop. He peruses the headlines and stock market projections while he nibbles on a jelly-laden bagel and sips his coffee.

He sees the mud. “Goddamn plumbing. Thirty-five thousand for a house and you’d think we’d have a decent sewer system. You call a plumber yet?”

“Not yet,” I say.

How can he not see the mud dripping from the utility room cabinets? Or see that it has spewed down the sides of the washer, coating it mocha brown?

The paper gets folded and left on the kitchen table after Matt checks his wristwatch. He gives me a quick kiss on the cheek and squeezes my tush. I watch him stride down the hallway; hear him snatch up his car keys and briefcase.

I hear the front door open, close.

I’m left alone with the mud again. I’m left to clean it.

I pour myself more coffee and click on the kitchen’s mini TV.

***

After the Today show I set to work. I shovel the bulk of the mud into a 50-gallon rubber garbage can. I mop and scrub up the rest. It takes me hours to get the utility room clean again.

By noon, the mud in the garbage can vanishes. I wonder where it goes. I wonder why only the mud in the can vanishes and why the rest, if left alone, doesn’t?

***

After dinner, once I have tucked the kids into bed and I’ve read them a story, before kissing them on the head and wishing them a goodnight, I creep back downstairs. I hear the TV on in our bedroom.

I pour myself a glass of wine and stand in the kitchen, staring into the shadows of our utility room as I sip.

At ten to midnight, I set the egg-timer. I position the empty garbage can beneath the cabinets of the utility room. Then I wiggle out of my blue jeans and sweater; slide my hands along the silky-smooth Spandex of my favorite floral swimsuit.

I close the utility room door.

Smiling, determined, I climb into the garbage can. I wait in the darkness, listening. When the ding sounds, I feel the mud flow over me. It’s warm and wet, delightfully thick.

When it slows to a trickle and then a drip, I tie the utility door closed with a bungee cord, attaching the hook of the free end to the side handle of my garbage can.

Savoring my mud bath and the quiet darkness, I wait for noon.


Kay Patterson lives in the outskirts of Pittsburgh. She is the creator and senior editor of AlienSkin Magazine. Her tales have appeared in numerous print and online magazines, with her most work appearing or upcoming in Murky Depths, From the Asylum, Apex Digest; and in the anthologies, Read By Dawn with Ramsey Campbell, Black Box, and FlashSpec II.
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