Excerpt: American Housewife by Helen Ellis
Author and poker player Helen Ellis has penned a delightfully unhinged collection of stories set in the dark world of domesticity.
The stories in this wickedly funny collection range from 500-words to several pages long. And they reveal what really goes on in the lives of the housewives of America.
The women in these stories include murderous ladies who lunch and the best bra-fitter in the Deep South.
They smoke their eyes and paint their lips and channel Beyoncé while making breakfast. They host book clubs, redecorate and are willing to kidnap, or even kill, when required.
In this excerpt from one of her longer stories, The Wainscot War, Helen Ellis introduces us to two of the women of American Housewife.
Hi neighbor! Thank you for the welcome gift basket you left outside our apartment door. My husband and I don’t eat pineapples because my life coach has us on an all-protein diet, but we appreciate the gesture. We gave the pineapples to the super, who said he’d ask his wife to ask you for your recipe for pineapple-glazed ham. Apparently you make one every Easter that makes the elevator shaft smell like a barbeque. WOW!
I’ve returned your basket to our shared mail table, which I believe is an antique toilet. Might I take this opportunity to discuss remodeling our common hallway? Here’s an idea: wainscoting!
Dear Ms. Chastain-Peters,
The former resident of your apartment, Mrs. Giles Everett Preston III, and I remodeled our common area two years ago. I am sure you recognize her name from her generous endowments to public television and the Feline Rescue Society. She was a woman of impeccable taste. She imported our vintage wallpaper from France and the art and antiques were from her Pennsylvania estate.
When she passed away on your kitchen floor, she willed me the contents of our hallway. Needless to say, I am sentimentally attached to these treasures, especially to my sewing machine table that you have mistaken for a commode.
Co-op rules dictate that residents of both apartments must contractually approve common area changes. In honor of my dear departed friend, I wish to keep the hallway in its current condition.
Hi Gail! Call me Angela! Let’s do away with the formalities and antiques that 100-year-old socialite widows like Mrs. Preston held so near and dear! Just because life-size oil paintings of Biblical slaughter are framed in gold doesn’t mean they’re in good taste. Our hallway looks like a room at the Met that makes schoolchildren cry.
As I’m sure you know, Mrs. Preston left every room of our apartment lined with wallpapers like the flocked purple damask in our shared hallway (along with MOUNTAINS OF CAT HAIR to which my husband is DEATHLY ALLERGIC). What you might not know is that wallpaper PEELS. I gave a corner above your door a tug so you can see how easily it comes off.
Mrs. Preston had tacked every peeling high corner in our apartment with balled up Scotch tape. As our realtor told us, it’s no wonder she fell off a stool and broke her neck.
Anyhoo, now all our walls are painted with what Benjamin Moore calls “New Beginnings” beige, and isn’t that name apropos of yours and my burgeoning relationship? I have a few pails of New Beginnings left over—so that will cut down on our shared remodeling cost—and my husband and I feel so strongly about wainscoting that we’re willing to pool our dual income from Smythe & Peters to foot that expense too. My life coach says that money can’t buy everything, but two lawyers in one family can convince people it can!
Case in point: when we modernize the design of our shared hallway, you can take Mrs. Preston’s art and antiques to enjoy in your own home! That vase could hold loose change. And while you’re at it, why not put the sewing machine table to use and spruce up your wardrobe? Forgive me for being less than tactful, but long gone are the days of Dynasty shoulder pads and madras plaid.
Why don’t you come over for a drink and you can see the wainscoting we had installed in our apartment for yourself. With a glass of Chardonnay and a tour I’ll bet I can sway you! Shall we say tomorrow night after my husband and I get home from work around 7:00?
Dear Ms. Chastain-Peters,
Thank you for the invitation, but I must decline. I do not drink and I cannot be swayed. Moreover, in my home, 7:00 p.m. is feeding time. Along with the vase and paintings, which are indeed museum quality, I inherited Mrs. Preston’s foster cats. I myself am widowed twice and Wynken, Wolf Blitzer, Dodo, and Fred offer me great solace and companionship as long as I adhere to their feeding schedule.
It breaks my heart to hear what you have done with my dear friend’s showplace. Mrs. Preston had character and the only thing with less character than Chardonnay is wainscoting. Mrs. Preston always said that wainscoting is the first sign of new money and an interior designer’s most efficient way of inflating a bill.
Believe me (despite the financial benefits that come with sleeping with your boss and somehow getting that boss to break up his marriage to marry you), once you are widowed you will understand the value of saving a dollar. Imagine coming home from your husband’s funeral to find yourself forever alone, bereft, and pacing circles within your wainscoted room while clad in dungarees so tight I’m surprised your legs don’t ignite when they rub together. It is not a pretty picture, is it? It does not make my paintings of pyres and snake pits look so bad, does it?
Regarding your vandalism, I expect you to hire a professional contractor to repair the damage done to my wallpaper within the week. When I am satisfied that it has been restored to its original pristine condition, I will return your doorknob and number.
You stole our doorknob?
I will not tolerate loud parties, the decibels of which are drifting out of your apartment and into our shared hallway at this very hour of 10:35 p.m. on a Thursday. Wainscoting is not soundproof and I am a woman who needs her eleven hours of sleep.
Moreover, your entertaining is disrupting the sleep schedule of Mrs. Preston’s foster cats. Believe me when I tell you that these are not animals you want to run into while you and your inebriated guests are spilling wine onto our shared carpet and you yourself are drawing a moustache on St. John the Baptist and what looks to be male genitalia next to the exquisitely tortured mouth of Joan of Arc.
If you think your defacement of Mrs. Preston’s paintings will make me take them down, you are mistaken. Mrs. Preston always said that you teach a dog not to make a mess by rubbing her nose in it. Or you get cats. You, madam, are no cat.
To quote your graffiti: Suck it.
Hi Gail! Me again! Guess what? Thanks to our last e-mail exchange, which was “randomly” monitored by my law firm, I’ve been suspended from practicing law due to my use of “unprofessional language” and “questionable personal conduct.”
Anyhoo, the good news is: I’ll be home much, much, MUCH more than usual and I will refocus ALL of my efforts into convincing you that a hallway renovation is not only wanted by my husband and myself, it is WARRANTED. My life coach says that it’s easier to ask forgiveness than permission. So please forgive me for taking a shit on your sewing machine table.
Gail, what have you done? I cannot believe what I’m seeing through my peephole are cats. They are WAY too big to be cats. One of them has so much fur I can’t see its eyes. The brown one is DROOLING! They are sniffing my doorknob hole. I can feel their hot jungle breath on my bathrobe! If my husband comes home right now and survives his third heart attack from the shock, he will die from the cat hair! He is going to have to take the SERVICE ELEVATOR! How you’ve managed to keep those things from smothering you while you sleep is a miracle. It’s amazing that the city we live in allows “pets” that belong in a sideshow, but makes it illegal for me to have a switchblade. Well let me tell you something sister, you are living next door to a lawbreaker. Get those cats out of our hallway and then get to vacuuming every stray hair that has clung to your high-piled carpet and god-awful wallpaper, or I will slip my hand into my pantie dresser drawer and pull out the silk pouch that doesn’t hold potpourri. Tell me, which beast is your favorite? Wynken, Wolf Blitzer, Dodo, or Fred?
Please excuse typos as this was sent from my iPad
Dodo is the one that ate Mrs. Preston’s face.
To read the rest of the story and see if Gail and Angela managed to resolve their dispute you’ll have to buy a copy of Helen Ellis’ American Housewife.
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