This story is by Manasa Kanithi and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The sun whispered through the window, illuminating the curtains with an invitation to a new day. Carol rolled over in bed to empty silk pillows. Her husband had already left. Her tense muscles finally softened like ice melting on a warm day. She rolled back around in bed, and her eyes began to trace the outline of the sunlight and shadows. When she finally got out of bed, the warmth of the sunlit floor greeted her footsteps affectionately.
Carol hummed in rhythm to her hips as she made her way to the kitchen for some morning tea. In Carol’s mind, the mansion’s walls embraced her every curve without judgment, and with complete appreciation. It was a soothing comfort she rarely felt with her husband. Or even as a child. Sometimes she would talk to the walls of her mansion, which she longingly called Hillary. Hillary absorbed every conversation leaving nothing to an echo, like a true friend.
As Carol finished the last sip of her jasmine tea, the phone rang. Suddenly, like rainfall, a cold feeling drenched her body, filling her with dread. Her heavy stone fingers hesitantly reached for the phone.
“Goodmorning, Phil,” she softly said.
“Carol, hi,” her husband briskly responded. “You do remember our company charity event you need to be at today, correct?”
“Yes, honey. I’m getting ready now,” Carol said, still in her favorite bathrobe.
“Good. With everything going on, we must maintain a good image of our company.”
“Yes, Phil. I understand.” Carol said as she shuffled her feet nervously.
“Is there anyone you know that might be there?” Phil asked.
“I don’t think so. Perhaps, my cousin Linea might make an appearance, but I am not sure.”
“You know I don’t trust that bitch,” Phil responded, his voice now agitated. “She is no good for you, Carol. No good for us.”
“I understand honey, I- “
“Shut up!” he snapped.
Carol sealed her lips, instantly becoming an airtight vacuum. Decades of being silenced, yet hearing those two words still drained the blood from her palms. For a moment, everything, including Carol’s heartbeat, was utterly still as if she didn’t exist.
“Alright, Carol. I love you.” Phil spoke sternly. “I will see you later tonight.”
Phil hung up on her before she could respond. Her husband always had to have the last word.
The entire drive to the event, she felt like a ghost. Sometimes she imagined herself to be a clear plastic bag, cast away after use and helplessly being thrown around by the will of the wind.
It didn’t take long for Carol to grow bored of cordial greetings at events like the seasonal fund-raising charities held by local businesses in town. She watched from a distance as well-dressed strangers feigned enthusiasm to collect donations from tipsy do-gooders. Sometimes she would stare off and pretend she could erase people out of the room like a child erasing mistakes off a homework assignment. Imagining people vanish made Carol feel powerful. She felt like God even. Now and then, she would come out of her imagination to catch a random woman enviously eyeing her jewels.
Sporting bruises underneath diamonds, it was the price she paid for her marriage.
There was no word for it when she got married twenty years ago. Now she knew. Phil was a narcissist. When they were young, his confidence and authority set her heart racing helplessly. She grew addicted to the drama of grasping for his affection, even if it was mostly void. Loving Phil was exciting. Loving Phil was dangerous.
Growing up, Carol was a stunning beauty but otherwise painfully average in everything she did. She pursued new hobbies but rarely progressed. She was too much of a coward to cause trouble, so her parents never worried about her. They neglected her to focus on their aspirations.
When Carol married Phil, her parents stated marrying him was her greatest accomplishment. Finally, “boring Carol” could create a new life, maybe find new passions, as a wealthy woman. They cared about her even less after that. Adjusting to life with Phil was a refreshing break from her solitary upbringing. At first, being with him was an adventure worth it.
“Carol.” A voice called out to her, sharply ripping her out of her thoughts. A man approached and sat at the empty chair next to her like two unsuspecting friends briefly exchanging hellos. Carol sat still at her booth, looking ahead, her face expressionless. The murmurs of guests surrounded her while the clinks of champagne bottles continued.
“I have what you asked for,” the man continued avoiding eye contact. “You know where to find it.”
Carol slowly lifted her thermos of Jasmine tea to her lips, covering them. “Thank you,” she responded softly. “How much do I owe you?”
“Don’t worry about it, Carol. The document includes every illegal financial action your husband took through his medical practice from the past year. Whether you destroy or hold on to the evidence is your choice.” He paused. “I want no money from you. I’m finished with whatever game you’re playing with your husband.” With that, the man took off before more words could be exchanged.
“Fine,” she whispered to herself, satisfied. Sure, her appearance today made her look like a good wife. But, finally, her real purpose for showing up was fulfilled. The rest of the event was duller than before. To her relief and disappointment, her cousin Linea never showed up.
The skies began to lose their blues to orange, while Carol settled into enjoying her last moments of the day to herself before Phil returned. With her hand resting upon Hillary, she was recounting her day when the phone rang.
“Hello?” she answered.
“Hi, is this Carol Ithica? Dr. Ithica’s wife?”
“Yes?” she replied.
“Your husband has been arrested for a DUI ma’am,” Carol heard before panic devoured her body like slow poison.
The skies had given way to charcoal darkness by the time Carol paid her husband’s posted bail and brought him back home. Phil ran his marathon mouth the entire drive. He was obsessed with the sound of his voice. Usually, when Phil talked, his voice was nothing more than a muffled noise that failed to reach her while she remained deeply lost within herself. But tonight Carol didn’t notice him at all. All she could think about was evidence against her husband she got earlier in the day and how it was now anonymously delivered to the sheriff’s station.
The next morning when Carol woke, her husband, already out of bed, was shouting downstairs. Usually, that would be a reason to trigger her nerves, but today she couldn’t help but smile as she made her way downstairs.
“I can’t BELIEVE it!” Phil shouted. “Again?!”
“What is it, Phil?” Carol asked. Her eyes widened with fake innocence.
“The lawyer called. He got news of the cops receiving more evidence against me, complicating the case. I don’t know when this nightmare will end!” said Phil.
Carol walked over to her husband, a well-rehearsed face of concern on her face. “It’s okay, Phil, we will get through this. Do you -“
“They don’t understand. I’m doing what I need to do to keep the business growing,” Phil said, completely ignoring her. “I can’t lose everything I’ve built to those idiotic allegations and lawsuits, Carol! I can’t!”
“Shh Phil,” Carol said. She grasped his hands assuredly. “It’s going to be okay, honey. You won’t go through this alone. I’m with you, okay?”
Phil pulled his clammy hands away from her and continued shouting.
Carol had said and done her part. For now, she would disappear back within herself while Phil continued his tantrum and phone calls until he tired himself out with no one left to comfort him but her.
When Phil returned to Carol, his shoulders were collapsed in defeat and eyes bloodshot with fear. He reached out to hold her hand. She didn’t flinch like she usually would. This time he was vulnerable. He needed her, she thought.
With that thought, the grey shroud of loneliness that she always felt around her husband momentarily vanished. She brought him closer, helplessly drowning in his warmth, dissolving the cold from her insides. Growing up neglected, she dreaded loneliness, but moments like this renewed her hope for love and acceptance.
Phil tenderly peeled away from Carol and looked into her brown eyes.
“I don’t know what I would do without you, Carol. You do everything for me,” he said as the corners of his lips softened. “I love you, Carol.”
Carol embraced her husband again. She inhaled his scent, the angles of his body, and the sincerity of his appreciation for her.
“I know, Phil,” she said with her eyes closed “I love you, too.”
She felt peace in being needed by Phil, although she knew it wouldn’t last. However, the peace to come once Phil was behind bars, would be here to stay.