A small jar of mayonnaise and a can of tuna clunk down on the cheap linoleum cashier’s desk. Making an attempt at small talk I comment about the size of the jar.
“I didn’t know that we carried mayo jars that small, it’s sort of cute.” I say.
“I can’t afford a regular jar and I can’t stand tuna without it.” Grunts the lady on the other side of the register.
I actually look at her now and realize her homelessness. She is not unkempt or extremely dirty, but I can tell because of the mismatched clothes, threadbare, and the veneer of dirt that covers her palms. Her dull eyes, the color of the lake before a storm, peer coyly from under eyelashes free from makeup. I finish ringing her up.
“That would be two dollars and seven cents please.” She thrusts the coins into my hand.
“Have a nice day.” I say as she exits the convenience store.
By the time I get home I am still thinking about her. Something about her, she’s so interesting. I want to know more about her.
A few weeks later she comes back to the store and buys the same thing. For some, compelling reason, I ask her out to dinner.
“I’ll pay.” I rush out at the end of my proposal.
“Juniors, corner of College and Main street.”
“Okay, see you at six then.” She chirps.
That first dinner went well. It’s our one-year anniversary and I can’t wait to make another proposal to her. We’ve been living together and when I got promoted to manager of the Gas Mart I hired her in my old position. With the extra money from the new position I was able to buy a double wide trailer on the lake with a small bedroom loft.
She arrives right on time as usual, drawing me back to earth.
“You look handsome today.” She says as she flashes a seductive smile.
“So do you,” my eyes rove over her red clad form. “Your dress is amazing, I’ve never seen it before.”
“Just got my paycheck, just bought it.”
“Nice” I smile.
“You look nervous. What’s wrong?”
“Oh, nothing. Just… actually, never mind.”
“Aww, come on, tell me.” She says, intrigue infusing her voice.
“Okay, you asked for it.” I put my linen napkin on the table and kneel before her. “Would you like to marry me?”
I let out a sigh of relief, smile at her, and slide the ring that I bought at the pawnshop downtown onto her finger. It fits perfectly.
Later as we walk down the boardwalk near the lake, water on one side and green lawn on the other, I can’t help but notice the way her auburn hair curls against her round cheek, or how the plain ring I gave her sparkles on her slightly chubby fingers. When she looks up at the full moon, her eyes glitter in its silver light.
I realize that I want to get married to her immediately.
“Okay.” Her calmness strikes me as funny and I let out a hoot of laughter. She looks at me oddly, brow furrowed, but I ignore the look and begin leading the way up the hill from the lake into the city where we can find a church.
We’ve been married for a few weeks now and I am beginning to notice something different about her. Something changed in her eyes. I fear that someone else is taking her over and I don’t know what will happen when they do.
I wake up with an odd feeling in my stomach. The bed beside me is cold where she normally lays. Footsteps sound in the dark hall, and I figure she just couldn’t sleep so she got a cup of tea or something. Grumbling, I flip over and slip back into my dreams. That pit in my stomach I felt, it’s still there, even in my dream. So I decide I’m up and will stay that way for a while.
I head downstairs to get a cup of coffee and maybe start working on some taxes, but a clatter in the living room makes me change direction. My wife stands in the middle of the room, frying pan in hand, swatting at the air and occasionally hitting the sofa. She caused the clatter when she beheaded the the lamp with her frying-pan-of-death.
“Kam!” I yell at her. “Stop that!”
She looks at me with recognition in her eyes. She flies at me with her pan and attacks. I try to push her away but she knocks me out with the force of her blows.
I wake up on the shag green carpet, body covered in bruises and possibly a few broken ribs, and groan with all my might.
“Oh honey, what happened to you?” Kam bends over me with the most angelic expression of concern written on her face.
“Ergumf.” I don’t feel like talking.
“Did you fall down the stairs?”
Wait, she doesn’t remember what happened last night? With another groan I sit up, and nod. No sense in telling her what happened and causing another episode. She gets me a bag of ice and then we head to the bus station to get to work.
It’s been four years since that first episode and it became a nightly occurrence for her to attack with the frying pan. Every time I wake up to an empty bed now, I scurry for a hiding place where I sit and rock back and forth. I long since learned that she sometimes knows her actions because in those moments she purposefully hits me in places that will be covered by my clothes. I don’t want to divorce her because she needs mental help for the times when she does not know her actions. I also don’t want to divorce her because it would be so embarrassing for me to have to tell my family that I, the man, got beat up by my wife. A third reason for not divorcing her, I made her pregnant. The baby will be born in a few months.
We both have better jobs now, I work as an office clerk, and she as the manager of the Gas Mart. We decided that with the coming of the baby we would begin couples counseling and buy a nice suburban home for it to grow up in.
We started counseling because, aside from the beatings, we argue a lot and we want to be together at the baby’s birth. This counseling does help her, the beatings only happen once every three to four weeks now, but I am still fearful.
The baby came into the world yesterday! Our joy at her fills both of us up to the brim leaving no room for fear and beatings. We named her Sana.
Sana turned two today, and Kam beat me for the first time in years. She gaslighted me for a while but I didn’t think much of it because I am not very sensitive to my own feelings. Our toddler cried in the other room as she beat me with the frying pan. When she stopped she went to nurse Sana and the fear that she might hurt my baby girl filled me with such horror that I almost called the police on her but I decided to give her another chance.
I got home late today and heard Sana crying. When I got to her room her mother was cutting my baby girl’s arms with a kitchen knife. It left spiderly white lines where blood would well up a minute or so after she pulled the knife away.
“Kam, get out of the house.” I bellowed. Scooping up Sana, I ran to the car and took her to the emergency room. The police then arrested Kam and the court convicted her of child abuse but because it was her first offense and because of her psychosis, she got a fine and a restraining order.
The restraining order did nothing to help and the next day she abducted Sana and held her for the same ransom as her court fine.
This time she got 20 years in jail, no parole for good behavior.
Sana just turned six and her best friend, Ben, turns six today and my employer gave us the day off because half the employees came down with the flu and it’s not worth paying us if we can’t get anything done because practically no one went to work.
After picking her up from daycare, I bring her to Ben’s house, and then I go home for some peace and quiet. When I arrive, I feel that same pit in my stomach that I used to get before Kam beat me. But she’s locked up, the reasonable part of my brain said to me. The other half screamed at me to hide, but logician that I am, I ignored it.
After boiling some water (leaving it boiling on the stove for future cups of coffee) and pumping the french press in the blue walled kitchen I stumbled into the dark living room, exhausted. After slumping down on the crumb filled blue couch, I turned on the TV to the breaking news.
“INMATE ESCAPE” read the headline. Leaning forward I turned up the volume to see what happened.
“Today at Curling City Penitentiary two inmates attempted to escape. One was caught but the other is still on the lam. This fugitive is considered to be deadly so beware, she killed two guards on her way out of the prison. Look out for suspicious activity by auburn haired women.”
I started doing the math. 40% of the inmates are women, 6% have auburn hair, there is a very good chance that my wife escaped prison today. Then that pit in my stomach comes back. I realize the cause for it. My wife knocked over every lamp in the house when she beat me. Now every lamp lies on the floor but I did not notice this earlier because of the house’s perpetual state of disarray.
I scramble for the phone and when I finish typing in the number for the police I hear her footsteps in the hallway.
“That won’t work, I cut the landline.” Her calm voice echoes against the walls.
HIDE my mind screams at me, but I can’t move. Her voice hypnotizes me as it slowly draws closer. I realize, just before she rounds the corner from the stairs to the living room that I must hide. At least Sana is safe at Ben’s.
“I heard Sana is at her friend’s house for a birthday party. I guess someone will need to pick her up.”
No. She can’t do this to me. It’s not fair, after all that I went through to get custody and safety for both of us. I rearranged the house after she left in order to erase the lingering ghost of her from my life. I roll under the couch and seconds later her silhouette appears in the doorway. I breathe heavily but I don’t think she can hear it over the garble of the television.
“Let's make this more fun. I’ll cut the electricity. Then neither of us will know where to go because I see you redecorated.”
She leaves the doorway as she goes to the transformer box.
“You know I dreamed about our reunion for years. You took away the childhood of my daughter, so now you will pay.”
I creep slowly to the window, but it's locked. Of course it is. The only thing that surpasses her IQ is her meanness. She escaped one of the highest security prisons in the area without anyone even knowing her identity.
“I’ll catch you eventually. Or I’ll just take Sana… either way you lose so you should give up now and save us both the trouble.”
I stay in hiding. If she leaves to get Sana I will escape and call the police from the neighbors house.
“If you want to play it that way I will just have to hunt you. You don’t even know how much fun this will be for me.”
Only the idea of her getting Sana keeps me under the couch. The fear roils in me. I press my face harder into the green carpet and pile of dust bunnies.
“Oh come out come out wherever you are.” She says in a singsong voice.
Her footsteps cross over to the couch. She picks up my cup of coffee and takes a sip.
“You always did put too much sugar in it.”
She feels the spot where I sat minutes ago. “
“I can feel your body heat. You were in this room recently, and you would never leave your sacred coffee for very long. Sooo, did you go to the bathroom? Hmmm. I guess you are going to make me check.”
She leaves the room closing the door. I know I need to move NOW but I don’t know where I can go. The dumbwaiter in the kitchen. Kam said she locked all the doors and windows but the dumbwaiter can bring garbage down to the basement where I could access the garbage chute. Deciding on this new course of action I make a dash for the door that joins the kitchen and living room while praying that she did not decide to go to the kitchen next.
I burst through the door, and she’s not there. Okay, dumbwaiter. I cross to area of wall between the stove and fridge. Lucky for me, the age of the house surpasses the age of electricity and the dumb waiter moves on a pulley system. I pull on the cupboard like door that hides it. DRING the bell inside rings. Crap. I forgot about that.
“Oh, how nice of you to ring me. Turns out you came to your senses and decided to do this the easy way.”
I realize I can’t ride down inside of it because a) I won’t fit and b) it moves to slow, she will find me.
“Are you… In the closet?” She yanks the door open sending an avalanche of boxes down on her. “Nope. Kept all my old stuff I see though. I really missed this scarf.”
Okay, that bought me some time… I look at the dumbwaiter and know what I have to do. I push it up enough that I can slip into the gap under the dumbwaiter into the shaft that descends to the basement. I swallow, the sound far too loud, she must have heard it. Creeek. The cadmium yellow door whines on it’s hinges as it swings open, as if it knows the monster that hides behind it.
“I know you’re in here. I heard the bell.” She still can’t see me because the open door blocks her view but once she steps into the room fully, I’m dead. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find you? Wow, living with a toddler must have made you even dumber.”
I grimace and look down the shaft one more time, I’m scared of heights. That’s the major flaw in my plan. I freeze up at the sight of them.
As I teeter on the brink of decision, she moves into the room. I’ve been made.
“Ahh, there you are. Time for some color to your face. It was always so pale. I mostly beat you to make you look prettier. Purple looked so good with your chocolate eyes.”
My eyes beat around the kitchen frantically, looking for another escape route, or maybe a weapon. The rack of knives are behind her. So are the rest of the kitchen implements. She draws closer to me.
“You know they always say that shared pain brings people closer together, don’t you think that’s true for us too?”
“No. I don’t. You never felt pain beating me.”
“Oh, but I did. I loved you at one point, but you were too weak. You needed some hardship. Do you know how much it hurt me to hurt you? It takes two to destroy a man.”
“Anyways, this is the big fight isn’t it. Challenge to the death.” Kam whispers. “And it’s a fair fight too. No weapons this time, though I do miss my frying pan.”
As she approaches me, the still burning gas stove lights up her face a chilling blue. My eyes widen as she takes her first swing. I duck and move closer to the stove.
“You were never a good fighter. Give in now and I will not kill you.”
“Never.” I grunt. I grab the pot of still boiling water and splash it on her face, blinding her. She roars at me but I dash to the dumbwaiter shaft, my fear of heights replaced with the fear of what she will do when she catches me. She is in such an enraged, crazy state that the boiling water only slows her down though. After shimmying myself down the rope I run to the other side of the square dirt basement. The garbage disposal hides behind a wooden screen. In the dim light filtering through the square dirty window on the other side of the basement I see that the metal door that keeps people from falling into the trash is stuck shut. Someone jammed it. Why can’t I have just a little bit of good luck?
Plop. She lands on the floor under the rope.
“Did you think I would let you get away that easy?” She yells.
I peer out from behind the wood screen and see that the water blinded her. She can still see, but not very well. Okay, a little bit of good luck. Finally.
“There’s no escape. You will die down here, I’ll bury you alive if nothing else.” Her honeyed voice rings out. I shudder at the thought of earth pressing down and suffocating me, just like someone from a Poe story.
I tug on the door to the garbage disposal, but it will not open. She advances slowly, stumbling a little on the uneven floor, her gait akin to the village drunkard. I look around for another escape. I see the window and a fire extinguisher. She’s a faster runner than I am so I make a lot of noise trying to open the garbage door and the moment she rounds the wood screen, I scoot out the other side, and sprint across to the window grabbing the fire extinguisher on the way there. I break the window and hoist myself up to the sill, squeezing my way through. About half way through I feel a pull on my pant leg and know she got me.
Glass shards scrape my hands and stomach but to escape death, I will do anything. I must save Sana from her mother. I kick Kam in the face with my booted feet and continue struggling out onto the green grass. I feel her let go and my stomach drops. She is letting me go. What could be waiting for me out here that she will allow me to escape?
I flop onto the grass, panting, and stare into the face of an orange clad person. This is why she let me go. This man, with tattoos decorating his entire body and an evil glint in his eyes.
I curl into the fetal position I used to occupy so often and let his blows rain down. He is not as good at hurting someone as Kam was, but I get the sense he is holding back. Kam probably told him to let her kill me for the satisfaction of it. My pain addled brain just thinks that only two prisoners tried to escape, and one was caught. In response to my unspoken questions tattoo’s grunts at me.
“I escaped a few days ago, while they were still flustered the other two tried to escape but they messed up. That’s why I’m not killing you. You escaped Kam, you can break my friend of jail.” With a blow to the side of my head, I pass out, but not before agreeing to help if he can guarantee Sana won’t get hurt.
I wake up with Tattoos’s rugged face looming over me.
“You agreed to help. Now put this on.” He thrusts a guard uniform into my hands. It’s show time. Confused I look at him, wondering who this person is and what he is doing here. Then the recent events flood back to me.
“Okay, but I want to know Sana is safe. She needs to be picked up from a birthday party right now.”
“Fine. Do that but if you try to pull anything at all, I will hunt you down and kill both of you.” Tattoos grumbles.
I stand up, run to my car and get in the driver's seat. The door next to me opens.
“No. You can’t come.”
“I know how to hotwire a car and you don’t have your keys. I also want some insurance and this is how I’m getting it.”
“Okay, but don’t scare Sana.”
“I won’t. Unlike your ex-wife, I value the life of children. I will only hurt her if you force me to.”
“Okay. Hotwire this and let's go. I’m already late.”
When we arrive at Ben’s house, Tattoos stays in the car and I walk in to get Sana. I also ask if I can use Ben’s mom’s phone. She says I can.
“911 how may I help you.” The receptionist chirps when I make my call.
“I would like to report the locations of two escaped convicts.”
“Okay, where are they?”
“One is at 34 Oak Street and the other is parked in an idling blue honda fit in front of 712 Lake Barrymore Rd.”
“Okay, we will be there momentarily.” I sigh with relief that this will be all over when they get back into jail.
I spend the rest of the time waiting for the police talking to Sana. When the police do arrive they tell me that my wife was captured. As they drive Tattoos away in handcuffs he yells out the window.
“I’m not done with you yet!”