There were four empty tins of peppermint Altoids in the cup holders in Mandy’s 4-runner. On her center island in the kitchen, an empty tin of cinnamon. On the back of the toilet in the en suite, another tin of peppermint. You could find one in just about every room of the house.
She wasn’t willing to admit that she had a problem. She just didn’t want her mouth to taste like shit. All of these people were walking around with shit-tasting mouths, but not her. Breathe in, minty. Breathe out, fresh.
The real problem was that Nic would not let the poinsettias die. That was the problem. The real problem. Not Altoids.
It was two months past Christmas and the poinsettias should have long been plopped into the trashcan. Mandy hated buying disposable plants like that, but what was one to do? Nic enjoyed a splash of color at the holidays and who was she to deny him that? Plus, she’d bought them on sale on Christmas Eve when she’d gone to the supermarket to exchange the turkey that had gone rotten in their fridge for a fresh one.
The turkey smelled like sulfur in the fridge and it took her the longest time to figure out which thing it was that smelled so. She threw out root vegetables, cheese, strawberries. Finally, she asked Nic, “You don’t think it’s the turkey, do you?” He didn’t think so but good thing she Googled it. It was the damn turkey. Rotting poultry smelled like what? That’s right. It smelled like sulfur.
She drove the carcass to the market in the way back of her car with the windows cracked, but even now, weeks later, the smell lingered, sulfur twisting up her nostrils.
After Christmas, Nic took over the care of the poinsettias, placing them in the sunniest room. Watering and pruning them. Some of the leaves browned and fell off, but mostly the things just thrived.
It was disappointing. She had moved on from Christmas and was looking toward spring. There was no place in spring for poinsettias.
She supposed that maybe the Altoids had been a reaction to the poinsettias. Maybe they were a passive-aggressive get back aimed at Nic. Whenever he found one of the empty tins he held it up and examined it as if he’d never seen one before. Then he placed it in his soft palm and eased his arm in her direction. “What’s this?” he said.
Mandy shrugged, frowned. “I’ve got to fold the laundry,” she said, or something of that sort.
Each time he found a tin, the same damn thing. She was running out of non sequiturs.
The next time he held a tin up to her she gave up the shrug, the frown and asked, “Is it possible to run out of non sequiturs?”
“The poinsettias are dying,” he said and lowered the tin so that he held it cupped in his hand. He brought her to the dining room where the plants sat three in a row on the table. Their leaves drooped, the red dulled of color.
Mandy touched one leaf with the tip of her pointed finger and it drifted away from the stem, landing without sound on the tablecloth.
“What happened?” She picked up the leaf, examined it, the beauty of its veins.
“Things die,” Nic said.
At the supermarket, they told her they would put the rotting turkey carcass in the renderer. They would take care of it, they told her. She felt some responsibility that the flesh of the bird be taken care of, that it be brought gently back to earth, to replenish, to renew. She remembered that when her mother died, hospice had said it was okay to send a personal item with her in the ambulance on the way to the crematory. She chose a fleece, duck-covered blanket that her mother had always snuggled under. That blanket was soft. It was so soft. When she thought of the flames, it was not her mother’s body she saw, but that blanket pushing toward the heat.