A cautionary tale for forgetful husbands.
What to take and what to leave.
Pressured by time into a final decision, she grabbed the old green robe from the coat hook on the door, favorite leather slippers, Mama’s locket, underwear; mustn’t forget underwear.
The difference between heaven and hell was new underwear and, someday, she’d have the money to buy some. No more holes where the seams wore out after five years, or droopy elastic leaving a dropping-down-to-her-knees risk at crucial moments.
The whole national economy could probably be judged by the state of the cotton underpants market. Women’s, not men’s.
Dow Jones, phooey! Dow Jones probably wore boxer shorts...starched.
Times got tough, she’d made do, and only when the money was rolling in had she ever splurged on new underpants.
She’d had a wealthy cousin once...still did for that matter...who’d call up the store and order all the panties she wanted, twelve pair at a time. Wow!
Did Cousin Caitlin still have that wire-haired terrier...Bingle?
Bingo. Miserable mutt used to bite everyone within range and pick fights with the biggest, meanest...talk about language! In her poor-relation years, she’d been required to take Bingo for walks, and prayed from one block to the next there wouldn’t be another dog within snarfling range. That was the sound he made. “Snarfle!”
She’d thought that was hell ‘til she learned the difference.
When she’d escaped her by walking down the aisle, Cousin Caitlin washed away into a genteel past where the only four letter words had been repeatable ones. Like love, and work, and dumb.
In their place had come the foul litany whose name was Woman; blows from a verbal fist, her daily ration of abuse.
He’d never laid a hand on her otherwise. The threat had been enough.
Why was there no such litany for Man? she wondered, but knew better than to ask.
Looking at him across the dinner table like some strange ship passing in the night, her plea was desperate. “Do you love me?”
The answer was always the same. “I’m here ain’t I?”
She’d told herself it was enough.
When the first baby came, she’d hoped, and for one euphoric week it had been like courting days again, until reality set in.
Did the bartenders still laugh at her pleading calls and wink at him where he sat among the beer bottles? More likely they forgot within the week, along with him when his money ran out.
Out of habit, she looked over her shoulder before opening the sandalwood-scented territory that was his top dresser drawer.
Cocking an ear for wheels on the gravel, she drew out the polished wooden box. “My ace in the hole,” he said. But she knew he’d never sell it.
When he used the monthly mortgage money, she fast-talked the bank into an extension. Found a part-time job to make it up, then a full-time one.
Out of what was left over from paying the babysitters, she squirreled away enough cash to buy a knitting machine.
When he wrote a bad check for a fishing motor he didn’t need, he read her right. Sooner than face the shame, she used her savings to cover the check; and more than twenty years later, the anger still came up and choked her.
Glinting dull blue, it weighed surprisingly heavy in her hand. But then it should for what it had cost.
Shoving in the empty box, she slammed the drawer shut. Then she sat on the bed and looked down at the gun in her lap. Would she need two hands?
A long time ago, he’d taken her to the shooting range and taught her how to use it. Her equalizer, he called it, in case a burglar broke in when he was gone from home.
If any burglar came here, he’d probably leave money!
Setting down the gun, she rose wearily to finish packing her bag. Shoved it in the back of the closet for later, then took a last look around a room she’d never sleep in again.
She didn’t really hate him but she was so tired of the hiding and the fear.
The babies were long gone, along with the bounced checks for school lunches and thieving babysitters, but the unpaid bills and late-night collection calls had continued without missing a beat.
Yesterday, she’d checked the insurance policy again. The one she’d scrimped and saved for, finding the premiums no matter what. It wasn’t six figures but it would suffice.
And today was her birthday, at long last.
Sixty-two. The magic number.
While he was in the shower, she’d grabbed his key ring off the dresser and removed the one to the front door. The patio lock was broken and she knew he’d try that next.
She ran over her story again. Alone at three in the morning, afraid he was a prowler. By the time she called 911, he was already in the house.
Sweet little thing like her and such a devoted wife. Terrible.
With her monthly check from Uncle Sam and the insurance, the babies wouldn’t have to worry about supporting her.
Hell, she might even be able to afford new underwear.
In all their years of marriage, he’d never given her so much as a birthday card, let alone a gift.
In the early days, the excuse was “I can’t afford what you really deserve, sweetheart. That’s why I didn’t get you anything.”
After a while, he didn’t even bother to say that.
Well, this birthday was going to be different.
She hefted the gun in her hand and went downstairs to wait.
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