by Mackenzie Gagnier

On Thursday night, when Carl’s mom was at some conference, he slipped quietly out of his bed and down the stairs into the kitchen, where he stared into the spotless, empty sink. Dim yellow light, cast from the small faux Christmas tree in the living room, illuminated his leaning silhouette as he carefully lifted away the strainer and placed it on the counter. The darkness of the drain was mesmerizing, appearing to extend deep below the house to who-knows-where.

It had been over a week since his last ritual, and Carl knew he couldn’t wait any longer. As he tried to fall asleep, he often imagined the whirling and grinding of the garburator, and the abyss waiting below its glinting teeth. Tonight, however, he could not be satisfied by his imagination, or by ruminating on his ever-expanding list of items for study. His sister’s heavy breathing upstairs had assured him that she was asleep—and if he didn’t wake her up tonight, he knew his experiments would become much more frequent.

When was she supposed to be home—midnight? he thought, stealing a quick glance at the microwave clock to his right. 11:05. Plenty of time. Still, better hurry though. The days-old, hard-boiled egg in his hand slipped around in his anxious grip. He still couldn’t believe Mary hadn’t seen him swipe it from her desk at lunchtime—but more unbelievable was the fact that he had even gone through with it. Sometimes, he had justified at the time, things just went missing—stolen away. Why should Mary expect any different?

It could have been that very same day that Carl had been chatting at recess with his new friend Michael, who had recently moved into town from Toledo—first time in Canada. Hesitantly Carl had brought up the garburator, as there was not much else he thought about, and not much of a risk that the new kid would tell anyone else. To his surprise, Michael had no idea what he was talking about. “You know, it blends stuff up to go down the drain better,” Carl explained. “And then it’s gone.” Michael thought about this for a second, kicking at a rock which was barely protruding from the layer of matted ice and snow beneath their boots. “Oh, like a garbage disposal. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve heard that one before. Sounds like one of those made-up words my dad would come up with.” The stone finally dislodged and went skittering across the school-yard pavement. “You sure it’s not a made-up word like that?”

Those words hummed in Carl’s ear as he cautiously began running the tap water on a low setting, ears pricked for any sounds coming from upstairs. He had suddenly come to the decision to peel the shell first and worked away shakily as the water ran. It took him much longer than he’d expected, and his nerves began to blur into frustration as the minutes ticked by. When he finished, he shoved the broken pieces deep into the garbage bin under the sink, making sure they wouldn’t be visible. The fingers of his left hand shifted gropingly to the switch below the sink, and his right hand hovered above the drain, open-palmed, the peeled egg jiggling lightly in time with his jitters, oblivious to its peril. It’s gonna be too loud, he thought.

“Carl?—What are you doing?”

Instinctively, he clasped his hand shut, crushing the egg, gelatinous green and white insides smearing through his fingers and lightly smacking against the metal sink-bottom. Wrenching his other hand out from the open cupboard underneath, he scraped his knuckles and let out an exasperated shout.

It was his sister. The scene unfolding in the gloomy kitchen had clearly scared her; she awkwardly stumbled backward and rubbed her eyelids as Carl shook his hand off under the running tap.

“Why are you awake, Maisie?”

She regained her balance and squinted. “I wasn’t feeling well, and I thought I heard Mom down here. What are you doing, Carl?” She held a thick book which looked like one of their father's old photo albums, and, with no small effort, gently placed it on the counter before switching on the kitchen light. Carl flinched and turned off the tap before briefly shielding his eyes from the light.

“I boiled an egg, but then I decided I didn’t want it,” he responded. He took a few steps back as his sister approached, refusing to meet her gaze.

He could sense her looking around—first to the cupboard where the pots were kept, then to the sink, then back to Carl. “Hmm. It smells really bad.”

“Yeah, it does,” he answered dryly.

His head was still down but in his periphery he saw her pink socks and snowflake-spangled pyjama bottoms shuffling closer. He sighed and put his arms out, letting her embrace him. “What’s not feeling well?”

“You know,” she sighed, rocking herself back and forth in his arms. The tap drip, drip, dripped.

“Yeah.” Of course, he knew. After a moment, he released her and looked at her sternly with a slight frown, placing his hands on her shoulders. Her hair was a tangled mess, and the whites of her eyes were laced with red. “You’re not gonna tell Mom, right?” Drip, drip, drip.

“Not if you stay up with me ’til she gets home.” She smiled mischievously.

He hesitated for a few seconds. “Want to see something?” He hopped back over near the sink, where the bottom cupboard was still open. He bent over and pointed to the garburator switch. “Do you know what this does?”

She sniffled and crossed her arms. “Yeah, it makes a loud noise like grrrrbbrg and gets rid of the bad food in the sink,” she said. “Mom said I shouldn’t touch it.”

Carl grinned and turned the tap back on, grabbing the faucet head and moving it in a circular motion to push the hunks of egg into the drain. “It’s called a garburator. Come here, take a look.”

Her eyes widened, and she hurried over to the counter next to him, propping herself up on tip-toes and leaning to get a better view. “That’s a funny word, Carl,” she said as the last of the egg fell into the drain. “You made that up, didn’t you?”

“Don’t get so close. Sometimes a little water will come spitting up.”

She wrenched herself back onto her heels and covered her face. “Is it scary?”

“A little,” he said. “Watch. You see the bits of egg down there?”

She gave him a quick glance before returning her focus to the drain, saying nothing more.

Carl flipped the switch. The abrupt noise made Maisie flinch, but her attention was held. They both watched as, in less than three seconds, every chunk of egg had been torn up and vanished.

“Just like that, it's gone from the world,” Carl whispered, switching the garburator off and once again stopping the tap.

“Well, it has to go somewhere, right, Carl? We just can’t see it anymore.”

He considered her words for a moment, closed the cupboard and took her hand. “Come on—let’s go back upstairs. We can read in my room.”

* * *

Christmas morning arrived a week later. Maisie had kept her secret to Carl and hadn’t told their mom about the garburator, although last night he could have sworn he heard her light footsteps sneaking down the stairs. He hadn’t had the inclination himself since that night, but he wondered with remorse, as she giddily tore open another present, if he had awoken that same fascination in her.

“Carl,” his mom said with a smile, perhaps noticing his lack of excitement. “Do you want to get into your stocking?” At this Maisie’s head pricked up, the pom-pom on her Santa hat jostling around delicately.

It had been family tradition to leave the stockings until last, usually filled with knick-knacks and small things like socks and candy. Carl feigned enthusiasm and pulled down his and Maisie’s stockings from the mantle; they were nearly overflowing.

“Maisie, don’t you want to go through yours?” their mom asked as Carl rifled through his gifts, lifting out one item after another.

“I’ll wait ’til he’s done,” she responded, without taking her eyes away from him.

Just as Carl was beginning to think that the stocking was endless and he would be in that room pulling out presents forever, his hand settled on something oval-shaped at the very bottom. He looked up at Maisie, whose eyes were wide and expectant.

He retracted his arm dubiously, and, after many long seconds, pulled out what appeared to be a plastic, blue egg—one of the ones their mom kept for Easter-egg hunts in a box in the basement. There was nothing inside it, but a large, expressive smiley-face had been drawn on the surface in black marker. Despite the lack of detail, Carl knew exactly who he was looking at.

“Thank you, Maisie,” he said, tears welling in his eyes. "Thank you."