Dottie considered the pile of apples in front of her. Freshly washed, their red skin glittered like a mountain of rubies in the early afternoon sunlight. With methodical hands, Dottie inspected each apple, her sharp eyes searching for any blemish or bruise. Dottie Klein only used the best ingredients in her baking; anything less than perfect would go in the compost bin. Her husband didn’t understand why she would toss out “perfectly good” food as she did, but Dottie knew. They weren’t perfect if you took the time to look closely. That was true about more than just apples.
Once Dottie found ten apples that met her standards, she cleared the castaways from the counter and picked up a pairing knife. Her hand was steady as she peeled the skin from the juicy meat beneath, red ribbons curling around her wrist as she worked. After undressing the apples, she sliced them with a surgeon’s precision, filling a ceramic bowl with perfectly uniform chunks.
With her hands busy, her mind turned towards her husband.
Marty Klein was a glutton, the kind of man who not only wanted more and more of everything but felt he was entitled to it, that the world owed it to him. He ate seven-course meals at the most exclusive restaurants, filled his multi-car garage with luxury automobiles, and got drunk on whiskey that cost hundreds of dollars—all without being completely satisfied.
Early in their marriage, Dottie thought his gobbling was a testament to her skills in the kitchen. She would watch with pride as
Marty shoveled her food into his mouth, the buttons on his shirt straining against his distended belly, beads of sweat blooming on the top of his balding head, his breathing heavy as he ate bite after bite. He would have seconds, thirds, and even fourths of whatever she had spent the afternoon making. He devoured her meatloaf, pork chops, pot roasts with the same fervor, but his absolute favorite was her apple pie. Marty could polish off the entire thing in one sitting, leaving nothing but a pie tin dusted with crumbs.
They weren’t married long before Dottie realized her husband’s other appetites were just as insatiable.
As Dottie kneaded the dough for her pie crust, she fought back a wave of nausea. This part of the baking process always made her a little queasy; handling the doughy balls of butter reminded her too much of nights with Marty. His skin had the same color and consistency as uncooked dough, and both activities left her feeling tired and unclean. But she did enjoy slamming her mound of dough on the flour-coated counter and flattening it into a beautiful circle with her rolling pin. That was where the similarities stopped; there was nothing enjoyable about sharing a bed with Marty.
Outside of the bedroom, Marty’s appetites skewed toward the bourgeoisie. He liked things that were flashy and luxurious without being impractical or unorthodox. It was why he had pursued Dottie in the first place. She was petite with blonde hair and blue eyes and came from an upstanding family. In just about every respect, her mother had prepared her for her duties as a model housewife. Dottie knew how to starch a shirt, remove red wine stains from shag carpet, roast a turkey, all things she had learned from her mother. It was the things that happened after dinner that she was unprepared for. But what mother could prepare her daughter for what Dottie had had to endure for the last four years?
Behind the closed door of their bedroom, Marty Klein was a man with an… unusual appetite. In the inky blackness, he transformed, not unlike a werewolf. He became cruel, biting and pinching, leaving Dottie’s skin covered in bite marks and purple bruises. He hissed the foulest things into her ear, things she couldn’t dream of repeating, not even to a priest in confession. When he had finally exhausted himself, Marty would flop off her, falling asleep almost immediately. Dottie would lie awake for hours, her pillow damp with tears, staring at the beached-whale form of the monster she had married.
She had heard other women refer to this disgusting act as “making love.” But with Marty, there was no love involved. How could there be when it always ended with Dottie sore, bruised, and ashamed? What was loving about that? No, Marty Klein did not “make love.” Like with everything else in his life, he took what he wanted from Dottie, only stopping when he’d had his fill.
Dottie sprinkled the apples with cinnamon, sugar, salt, and flour, adding the secret special ingredient she had picked up at the supermarket earlier that morning. She combined all the ingredients with a rubber spatula, taking careful measures not to splatter anything on herself as she poured the filling into the waiting pie crust. It took her longer than usual to braid the lattice crust; her hands had started to tremble just the slightest. But eventually, the pie was ready. Even to Dottie’s scrutinizing eye, it looked perfect, just like all the pies she had made for Marty over the years. She wasn’t sure why she was worried; Marty never looked too closely at anything before he swallowed it up. But Dottie found solace in striving for perfection. And this wasn’t just any pie; after last night, Dottie had decided to tweak the recipe.
Because last night, Marty had finally crossed the line.
After four years of being slapped, choked, and spat at every night, Dottie had decided she had earned a break. Her friends had once giggled and shared strategies for dodging their husband’s advances when they weren’t in the mood. Dottie tried to hide her shock as they talked about feigned headaches and menstrual cramps or adding an extra shot or two of whiskey to their husband’s nightcap. She didn’t think she had the nerve to try any of this with Marty but looked at her friends with newfound respect. They had done something she had never thought to do. They had said, “no.”
So, when Marty began his pawing last night, Dottie decided to try it. As he started tugging on her nightgown, trying to remove it in his usual clumsy manner, she put her hand on top of his and pushed it aside.
“Not tonight, Marty,” she had said, trying to make her voice sound firm despite her nervousness.
He gave her a confused look before he put his hands back on her body. She shoved them off, with more force this time, to show she was serious, not just playing coy.
“I said no.”
Dottie had a moment to register the rage in her husband’s eyes before his fist connected painfully with her face, knocking her unconscious. Marty was snoring peacefully when she came to, and when she got up to get aspirin for the throbbing in her skull, there was a familiar soreness between her legs. Her nightgown had been ripped; the buttons dangled from threads, exposing her chest. It was clear Marty had taken what he wanted once again. She ran to the bathroom and vomited into the toilet. As she washed her face, blotting away blood from the bruises already blooming under her eyes, Dottie devised a plan.
That night, after she had cleared Marty’s dishes, his plate practically licked clean, she went into the kitchen and cut a large wedge from her perfect apple pie.
“Oh, darling, you made my favorite,” he said when she placed it before him.
She sat opposite him at the table, sipping a glass of wine, and watched him scarf down his dessert.
“Aren’t you going to have a slice?” Marty asked, indicating the empty space in front of her.
Dottie shook her head, trying to hide a smile.
“I’m watching my figure,” she said.
Marty shrugged and went back to shoveling food into his mouth. Dottie gladly cut him a second and third piece, watching each bite her husband took with renewed pleasure. When they were first married, she had watched with pride as her husband ate the food she had cooked, happy he took such delight in her meals. Now, she watched him with satisfaction, knowing each bite would lead him closer to his last.
As Dottie buried the empty pie tin in the bottom of the garbage can the following day, she marveled at how well cinnamon covered the taste of rat poison. Marty hadn’t suspected a thing; he ate the whole pie, leaving nothing in the tin but a dusting of crumbs.
Marty Klein had always been a glutton, and it had finally killed him.
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