Punishment, Inc.

Martin Cloutier Click to read more...

Martin Cloutier has been published in Post Road, Tampa Review, (forthcoming) Story Quarterly, Natural Bridge, Upstreet, SmokeLong Quarterly, New English ReviewThe Bryant Literary Review, The Portland Review, Bombay Gin and The Southeast Review.  He teaches film and literature at Brooklyn College.

It wasn’t that she hated her husband; she just wanted something bad to happen to him. Nothing too drastic or heart-wrenching. For example, she didn’t want his new Harley Davidson to flip off the highway and impale him with its handlebars and kickstand until his body was a Swiss cheese. She didn’t want his new girlfriend, in an unbridled rage, to cut off his penis and serve it to him on a plate of wilted spinach. No. She would be content with some small mishap, something between anal leakage and cancer. Though, the more she thought about it, anal leakage was really too good for him. So she called Punishment Inc. We even the score, said their advertisement.

They had separated a few weeks before their fifteenth anniversary. Now, every weekend he came back to the house to take more things over to his new girlfriend’s place. Last weekend, he tried to remove the wall-to-wall carpet. “I paid for this carpet,” he said, jabbing at the floor with his crowbar. But she laid herself across the Saxony plush and refused to move. Unfortunately, while she was at the hardware store purchasing a new deadbolt, he returned to take the chest freezer, which was stocked with her homemade ice creams. She imagined the disgusting things he and his new girlfriend would be doing with her pistachio almond nut butter.

“How much would it cost to break someone’s finger?” she asked the cheerful girl on the phone.

“Index or pinkie?”

She pictured Daryl dipping his finger into her Pumpkin Swirl and licking it out of the girlfriend’s ear.

“Oh index, definitely.”

“Index breaks cost seventy-five hundred. A pinkie is five thousand. Thumbs will run you about ten thousand before tax.”

One finger didn’t really seem enough for all he’d put her though these last fifteen years:paying for his air conditioning repair school, Saturday afternoons at the NASCAR track, fifteen years of wiping dribbles off the toilet seat.

“Do you have something more emotionally devastating?” she asked.

“Psychological packages start at fifty thousand. Our Karma is a Bitch package includes melancholia, diminunition and erectile dysfunction. Our Wheel of Misfortune package features chronic depression, obsessive compulsive disorders and kleptomania. And, our Divine Justice Deluxe package involves deep-set suicidal ideation.”

She imagined all the ways Daryl might kill himself. He could hang himself in the attic
with the belt she’d bought him for his forty-fifth birthday, the one with the turquoise stones he said made him look like a “cheap casino Indian.” He could lock himself in the garage with the motor running on his double-axle pickup truck, the one he insisted on buying instead of a second honeymoon trip to Hawaii. Or, he might take his father’s shotgun, which he was saving for the son they never had, and blow out his brains in the bathroom. She hoped he would have the good sense to do it at his new girlfriend’s place, but Daryl was inconsiderate enough to spatter his brains all over their marriage bed. She pictured his blood soaking into the raw silk comforter.

As appealing as these thoughts were, she couldn’t afford them.

“Too rich for my blood.”

“Some of our clients who want psychological effects try to achieve them through physical means. It can be less expensive. We have a very reasonable hair-loss package.”

She thanked the girl and told her she needed to think about it. While thinking, she remade the bed with old percale sheets and an army blanket, then replaced all the bathroom towels with dishcloths. Just in case she won the lottery.

***
The next weekend, she looked out her window and saw a strange man on a ladder in her garage. When she came outside, she realized it was Daryl. He was completely bald.

“My god. What happened to your hair?”

Daryl had a screw driver in hand, unscrewing something from the ceiling. “Don’t know. Woke up last Tuesday, and all my hair came off in the shower. I think it might be something in the water.”

“That’s a shame.” She looked down at an oil stain to hide her smile.

“Good thing Lorena likes bald men.”

The mention of the girlfriend’s name sent a stitch into her gut. She pictured Lorena rubbing his scalp with her rum raisin coconut ice cream.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

“Taking the garage door opener. I paid for it, you know.”

She gave the ladder a small kick, and hurried inside to make a phone call.

***
Two weeks had passed and Daryl hadn’t come by the house. She was curious to see if Punishment Inc. had fulfilled its contract. She had maxed out three credit cards to pay them, and acquired a small loan from the bank. She called the repair company where Daryl worked and they told her he was off sick. She drove to Lorena’s apartment complex. His car was in the lot; she parked across the street and waited.

Finally, just as the sun was going down, she saw Lorena exiting the building, her jumbo thighs quivering in chartreuse stretch pants. It bothered her that Lorena was older, fatter and uglier. She could at least take solace if Daryl had left her for some pretty young bimbette. But to leave her for a fat old hag in a velour track suit made it seem he was fleeing by any means possible, as if she were some war ravaged country and Lorena was UNICEF.

Lorena lurched to her car and spread towels over the passenger seat. Then she held open the door of the apartment building and out came Daryl. She slumped down so they couldn’t see her from across the street. Daryl’s face was covered in boils. Big pus-filled boils sprung from his forehead and the top of his newly bald skull like scoops of cherry custard. Bubbles of red blisters cascaded down his arms, swelling his hands into pink oven mitts. She high-fived the steering wheel. Punishment Inc. had surpassed expectations.  Just to see his frightened marmoset eyes peeking out from his pustules was worth the small fortune she had paid.

Lorena guided Daryl by the small of his back as he walked stiffly to the car. She eased him into the seat, picked up his legs and tucked them under the dashboard. She brushed something from his face and kissed his suppurating lips. It was a protracted kiss, much longer than necessary for someone in Daryl’s condition and probably not doctor recommended. Then they drove away.

She sat in her car for quite a long time, replaying that kiss in her mind: the slow lingering on those lips, the touching of his nubby face. There was a time when she felt such tenderness toward Daryl. In his sleep, he’d sometimes yelp and twist. She’d look over and his red face would be constricted like an angry baby. Those were the times it seemed he needed her most. She’d curl her body into his and hold him until his breathing calmed.

Dark descended on the street, and still, she sat there thinking. She thought about love, about tenderness and devotion. And that kindly kiss on the lips.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Discussion

7 Responses to Punishment, Inc.

  1. I love a funny revenge story, especially one ending in tenderness.

  2. Amy Holman says:

    This is an inventively funny story, and I agree with Cezarija, made more delightful a revenge story for its sweetness at the end. It is a twist where we see for a moment the love between Daryl & Lorena, and are touched by it. Well done, Martin Cloutier.

  3. Taylor McPherson says:

    I thought that this story was hilarious. The strength of this story is the little details that Cloutier inserts, like the “wilted” spinach she wants to put his cut off penis on, the specific type of carpet he tries to pull up, the deliberation about which finger to cut off, and the ice cream motif of pistachio nut butter, rum raisin, and cherry custard. I also liked the edge of improbability that Punishment, Inc. straddled. I suppose there are probable ways to give somebody boils but it all seemed vaguely supernatural, and I liked the blurred lines. The note of tenderness at the end was just right.

  4. Amanda Newton says:

    Cloutier’s story successfully creates a tongue-in-cheek tale of marital revenge. The best moments of the story, however, come with the realization that these outlandish modes of retribution reflect a deeper emotion. What is just? How does one measure their own self-worth? Does love ever really dissipate? In just around 1200 words Punishment, Inc. addresses these fundamental questions.

  5. Beverly says:

    Three things made this story stand out to me.
    1. The constant return of the wayward husband to take one more stupid thing from the wife he left makes the reader dread every day and what more he can do to her

    2. The fresh take on revenge, with the breezy and imaginative packages the Punishment Company offers
    3. The use of ice cream as a narrative knife.

    Endings are always hard, but the author managed to add another layer by having the main character abruptly and very vividly describe both Daryl’s new look and the impact of that kiss. Well done, and a lot of fun.

  6. Robert ("Bob") says:

    What an excellent story this is: up there, for me and by approximate type, with Lore Moore’s “How to Become a Writer.” Cloutier’s story ends right where it should and on a perfect tragi-comic note — tragic for the “villian, comic for the reader. All the invented offerings by the revenge company are (literally) terrific: “anal leakage” and Lorena as UNICEF stand way out for me. In my opinion, this story should get the top award from SHENANDOAH.

  7. Pingback: The Monday Post: Links for Readers and Writers | A Vase of Wildflowers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Notify me of followup comments via e-mail. You can also subscribe without commenting.