This story is by Mireille C Crocco and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Oh no, my dear. Ten days to go visit your dad in the States? In the middle of summer? Nicholas needs you here for the business. It wouldn’t be fair for you to take off while he stays behind and works during the busiest time of the year. Don’t you think?”
I sat across from Lorraine on the living room couch trying to understand her logic.
It had been three years since I moved in with my boyfriend Nick and his mother. We were starting an organic farming business. Lorraine had the land for it and a spacious house nestled in the far corners of the English countryside. Nearest neighbors were five miles away. Nearest town, ten miles. Quiet, surrounded by fields and woodlands, it was paradise. Mother Nature’s refuge from the bustle of city life Nick and I wanted to escape.
Now, the quiet was more prison than paradise.
Her large hazel eyes searched mine, waiting. She didn’t really want to hear my thoughts. My thoughts were too loud, she said, too ridiculous, fanciful, vulgar. No, what she’s waiting for is for me to say what she wants me to say.
“You’re right. I’m here to contribute, not go on vacation. Thanks for keeping me grounded.”
She leaned in and squeezed my knee. “There’s a girl! Now,” she said hoisting herself off the couch, “come help in the kitchen. I need you to chop the onions for dinner.”
I took out the cutting board, the knife, the onion. I peeled it; began chopping. Wiping the stinging tears from my eyes, I looked down at the vegetable. How many of these had I chopped? How many pots scrubbed? Loads of laundry done? Trips taken to the end of the mile-long driveway with the bins? How much energy had I put towards bending myself to her whims, rules, standards?
A scarlet wave of anger engulfed me. The knife was suddenly white hot in my hands. I opened my mouth, uttered a guttural scream and ran towards Lorraine. She screeched as I plunged the blade into her. I stabbed, she screamed, gesticulating wildly, trying to push me away. Nick burst into the room; I launched myself onto him, screaming and stabbing. Blood sprayed onto the white walls, white countertops, white dishes on the table. The kitchen was a chorus of screams, a torrent of blood. My skin boiled. I stabbed and stabbed, alternating the blade between them, watching the condescension drain from their eyes. I am rebellion! I am power! I am-
I gasped, startled as Lorraine’s hand wrapped around my elbow. “Oh Amy, my dear, you are just not doing it right,” she said, gathering the onion slices in a neat pile and snatching the knife from my sweaty hand. “They must be even, see? Even cut, even cook.” She laughed, looking up at me with that too-friendly smile of hers, the kind she presents to people she deems lesser than herself.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I murmured.
“Right, hurry back! I need you to take out the trash before we eat. It’s starting to stink.”
She never asked Nick to take out the garbage. Where was he during dinner preparations? In our bedroom watching YouTube gamers on his laptop instead of managing the farm’s social media pages like he was supposed to.
I dashed up the stairs closing the bathroom door behind me with a soft click (Lorraine hates the sound of banging doors). The screams from my fever-dream rang in my ears. I sank to the ground, pressing my back against the wall, rubbing my palms against my closed eyes until a constellation of stars appeared behind the lids.
A few weeks ago, when Lorraine had asked me to fetch her an extra pair of socks from her dresser on an unusually cold summer evening, I found a stack of letters stuffed in the back of the drawer.
The letters were opened. They were addressed to me.
Confused, I had stashed them under my robe, brought her her socks and excused myself from Family TV Time feigning cramps.
I perused them on our bed all the while listening for Nick’s approaching footsteps.
They were correspondence from my friends, family. They were asking for news. How were things going? Why was I not more prominently featured on the farm’s social media pages? Speaking of, why had all of my personal social media pages disappeared? Was I ok?
One letter from my dad read:
I’m writing because I barely hear from you anymore. Your texts went from being fully formed sentences to just a few words long, if that. I went to see if you had posted a new political meme on your Facebook the other day and found your page didn’t exist anymore.
The Women’s March happened last week. Made me think of the first couple times you went before you moved and how empowered it made you feel.
This silence isn’t you, Amy. You’re not a recluse, you’re a strong woman. You have friends, you have family. You’re loved. You know you can always come home.”
Since finding the letters I was struggling to come to terms with the revelation that my social isolation had been more intentional than I realized. Lorraine and Nick made it impossible to snag a moment for myself. All activities outside of the farm or home centered around them, a self-absorbed duo hellbent on keeping me in their orbit. The only time I was excused was when I was unwell which didn’t happen nearly often enough.
Because I wanted to show my gratitude to Lorraine for giving me room and board in exchange for the opportunity to pursue this meaningful project (and be with Nick), I had unintentionally transformed into a yes-man. I worked every day, felt obliged to invest the little I was paid in farmer’s market prophets back into the farm, felt guilty for wanting to go visit friends and family. As for Nick, I became a personal maid that he occasionally had sex with.
Whenever I grew restless or glum, Lorraine would become the picture of motherly love and understanding, taking me shopping, to lunch. We’d have girly chats and watch girly movies in the living room where we’d tease Nick and tell him he couldn’t sit with us.
Lorraine’s love never lasted though. Nick barely tried anymore. Still, I continued to negotiate with reality: perhaps it’s all in my head, it’s not as bad as it seems.
My dad’s letter haunted me.
Why did I stay? Because I loved Nick. Because I felt needed, felt part of something greater than me.
I stayed because I had failed to see that they had orchestrated a feeling of helpless dependency in me: I had been conditioned to believe that Lorraine, Nick and the farm was all I had.
“Amy! Come take out the garbage!”
My eyes snapped open. The atmosphere glowed with a reddish hue; I could feel blood thudding in my ears.
Emboldened with this new sense of rage I shouted through the closed door, “Why don’t you ask your son to do it!”
“He’s busy, I need you to!”
I crashed my head against the wall. Stupid, stupid! Images from the past three years whirled through my mind. The hours of sweaty labor poured into the farm. The lectures Lorraine subjected me to whenever she thought I was being lazy or disrespectful. Every moment Nick was cruel towards me, said my ideas were stupid, that he didn’t approve of the shows I watched or books I read, that I could never do anything right. The overwhelming pressure to delete my social media pages; they thought I spent too much time online. Time, in their eyes, that would be better used to work.
I banged my head against the wall again. Stupid! One more for good measure. Stupid!
“Amy! Now, please, now!”
I let out a long slow exhale. It is never going to get better.
I left that night, got out of Family TV Time pretending to have a stomachache. I quietly packed a couple bags, slipped out the front door and called a cab.
A crescent moon adorned the sky. The air hummed with insect song; an evening breeze whispered through the trees.
The taxi glowed gold in the darkness at the end of the driveway. The driver stepped out and took my bags.
I stood for a moment, inhaling the sweetness of the summer air. My gaze fell onto the bins I had taken down earlier. Slowly, I walked towards them.
“One moment,” I said to the driver.
I stared at the bins. Before my meek conditioned instincts could take over, I kicked them. The bins spewed garbage over the road on their way to the ground landing with a glorious thud.
Satisfied, I climbed into the taxi and was whisked off towards Heathrow. In the shadows of the backseat, I pulled out my phone and texted my dad, “I’m coming home.”