This story is by John Pink and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Clad in military uniform, with his light brown boots, camouflage pants and tan undershirt, Quentin’s feet stood steadily shoulder width apart, shaking from excruciating force. At the end of his right arm, his wife hung against the wall, struggling to scream. Their eyes were locked, but they were thinking different things. His wife, Amira, was thinking only of the amount of seconds left until her next breath, while Quentin thought on what to do next. Amira’s eyes were doing the screaming voicelessly for her, despite her only audience being the source of her predicament. Quentin’s eyes were fire, a steady flame that mirrored resolve; but a closer look revealed doubt in his conviction.
“What have I done?,” he thought. He observed the thick grip he had on his wife’s neck. In a few split seconds, Quentin weighed his options. “If I let her go, the marks on her neck will be visible, her voice probably coarse. She would display enough evidence for me to be convicted and I’ll lose my security clearance. I need my security clearance in order to keep my job. If this event comes to light, I will lose everything I’ve ever worked for, and all I’ve sacrificed would have been in vain.” His wife’s eyes went pale.
“If I keep at it for a few more seconds”― he pondered―“she would die. I could break some stuff, shatter a window, make it look like a forced entry. Blame it on a nameless Joe. I could dispose of some of our belongings in the middle of the night, make them disappear. I wouldn’t lose my job and I would be rewarded with sympathy, in lieu of guilt, as the man who lost his wife in an unfortunate manner.” Amira’s mouth filled with white saliva after she made an effort to breath.
The thick drool landing on his hand made him remember the childhood scene that triggered his reaction. He saw the bone white color of her spit turn ruby red and her face morphed into his as he thought of the past. Quentin was ten years old, his mother a single parent of five boys. All of them were burly and tough, so his mother thought she was always in imaginary danger from her own sons. She made sure that they respected and feared her, which was the only way she thought would ensure her safety. Her hands had turned thick like a rock after all the slapping and hitting. She would use ordinary household items to throw at her children if they were beyond arm’s reach. Anything would trigger her anger, even something as insignificant as not having enough ice in her iced tea.
Quentin had done poorly on a math test, one that his mother had warned him of the consequences. He tried to hide the grade from her, but she found out anyway. Not only was she angry because of the failing grade, but she was angry because he lied to her. “She was always angry.” She took one of Quentin’s volleyball trophies from a bureau in the dining room and threw it at him. The guerdon was small, but the plastic was sharp and shaped like a star. The arm of the star pierced his right bicep and made an ugly scar, still visible to this day.
Tonight’s events escalated in a similar manner. Amira wasn’t having it today. The soldier had his boots lying on the living room floor, instead of the closet. He didn’t clean the dishes immediately after dinner. He got home too late. Then, Amira started accusing him of sneaking around behind her back. She started badgering him about everything from the shows he watched to phantom lovers. Her husband tried to ignore her the best he could; he wasn’t confident in expressing his emotions. When she reached for the volleyball trophy Quentin held so dear from the shelf with the intention of grabbing his attention, the jerking movement transported him to his childhood, and he reacted the way he wished he had all those years ago. Now, instead of his mother, he held his wife by the neck. “Till death do us part.”
“If I let her go”―he contemplated―“would she forgive me? If I get on my knees and hold her tenderly against me, would she forget? Would she accept it was a mistake? Would she acknowledge that she had something to do with it, that I didn’t react like this out of the blue?” The answer to his questions seemed like a resounding no, but they merited consideration. “Would she obey my orders without question, or would she betray me?” Amira’s feet quivered trying to break loose.
“When I kill her”…a chill went up his spine when he realized he said ‘when’ and not ‘if’…“I would leave my daughter motherless.” Quentin suddenly remembered his 3-year-old was sound asleep in the next room. “I can raise her by myself,” he assured himself “,but am I strong enough to keep a lie like this for the rest of my life?” He thought of what the future looked like. He thought of a bleak sadness, a dark cloud weighing on his conscience for the rest of his days, a ball and chain that made him drag his steps. He thought of his daughter, of what he would take away from her. His wife was able to gasp for a second.
“Am I not trained to defend the weak? Aren’t the values I am supposed to uphold integrity and honor?” Quentin stared at the mother of his child, her face now blue, pushing to purple. “I’m not going to able to uphold them in jail,” he thought.
With that, he loosened his grip and his wife collapsed on the ground, gasping frantically for air. Quentin held her arms upward so she could increase her air intake. After she seemed to recover, Quentin splashed her with cold water to help her recover from the shock and placed a water bottle next to her for consumption. “You bastard,” she said in a strained voice. “You’re going to rot in jail.”
Quentin saw that the shape of his husky fingers were sculpted on his wife’s neck. It was evident that either choice he made, the consequences were dear. The action had already been taken, even if it was a split-second decision. Now, Quentin feared, there was no turning back; he’ll have to make the best of the choice he made. He used his shin to kick his wife in the ribs and knock her down once more. The soldier’s teacher had taught him that the abuser stops only when fear is seen in the victim’s eyes. Like mother, like son. He leaned over and whispered specific instructions that he thought would ensure his safety and preserve the current status of his family.
“I will do no such thing,” said Amira, still clinging to her dignity. “Do you think I can trust you after this?,” she asked in a hoarse voice.
Quentin pulled on her hair and leaned in closer. “Everything will go back to normal and you will do as I say. You won’t go to work for the rest of the week and you’ll keep yourself in this house until your wounds are gone. Is that clear?”
Amira’s damaged throat did not allow her to scream, and when she pierced into her husband’s eyes, she saw a man she didn’t know. A man transformed: a monster. After the second time, she understood that testing him a third would not end their conversation amiably.
“How long will we live like this? How long will we keep up this facade?”, Amira exclaimed, teary-eyed.
“As long as it takes”.