This story is by Kristine MacMillan and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Pam paused at the door to her new office and read the letters on the frosted glass out loud-
“Pamela Kitch, MSc, Therapeutic Counselling.”
She had been dreaming of this moment for almost thirty years. A space that was all hers, a place where she felt purpose. As she stepped into the room, she took it all in— the wooden desk, the framed diplomas, the furniture she picked up at last weekend’s garage sale hunt.
Her eyes lingered on the framed photo of her, her husband Bruce, and her son Johnathan. The photo faced the entrance inviting her to look at it. In it, Johnathan sprawled across their laps, hand to his ear, elbow on Bruce’s leg, making a funny face. He must have been eleven in that picture. We seemed happy then, she thought. She was smiling, and even Bruce had mustered a smile for the photo.
Pam shook the memory away and took a deep breath. She pulled out her phone- 9:42 am- plenty of time to get prepared before her first appointment at 11:00 am.
She looked over to the loveseat where her patients could get comfortable and share their darkest thoughts. There was something about being a therapist that gave Pam an immense feeling of control. She would know things that no one else would know. She would hear stories of shame, regret, resentment, and loss and help people make sense of it—make sense of their actions in response to their feelings.
She plunked down on the loveseat, imagining she was a patient. She assessed the large antique chair sitting across from her, where the therapist—where she, would sit. The chair looked like it had been pulled from the depths of the sunken Titanic and placed in her office. She briefly drifted off, thinking about the souls buried amongst the debris of the massive ship. Their corpses forever preserved in the icy waters of the Atlantic.
As she sat there, she caught a glimpse of her reflection in the framed mirror across the room. She took in the wrinkles that formed along her forehead and the skin of her neck, aged and leathery. The last ten years had been particularly rough on her.
She gazed back at the family photo taken one year before Johnathan died. He was riding his bike home from a sleepover when a vehicle hit him. The driver was never caught.
Pam had waited so long to have a baby; she was thirty-five when she got pregnant. Before that, she begged, she pleaded with Bruce to have a child. He always insisted it wasn’t the right time. It was never going to be the right time. Pam was on the pill when she got pregnant; she always figured it was just meant to be. Bruce, on the other hand, thought she tricked him.
Bruce despised children. It was a quality Pam was unaware of prior to their marriage. They were visiting her family in Newfoundland, and her younger nieces and nephews were playing games in the yard. After a few too many drinks, Bruce yelled at them so violently to “shut up,” several of the children ran off crying. Bruce and Pam had been married only 6 months. Much of Pam’s family was shocked when she announced their marriage. Bruce insisted they elope. Initially, Pam thought it was endearing—he wanted her all to himself. What he really wanted was for her to be isolated from everyone else.
Johnathan’s death shook them both. Bruce became more distant, and his drinking increased, while Pam started running more frequently. It felt like her only escape. She would put on a murder mystery podcast and run as though she was evading a raging psychopath. Her heart would race, and she could feel her sorrow seep out through her sweat. She had never grieved before, not really. Sometimes she would end up at the river’s edge on the outskirts of town. She would daydream of running into the water and letting the rapids carry her body away.
In the office, Pam looked at the wall where her degrees hung. She met Bruce two years into her graduate program. He had just completed his engineering degree when he was offered a job two provinces away.
After only six months together, Pam quit school to join him. She thought it was what she should do. She always meant to complete her schooling, but time and life got the best of her. She found herself working at the local grocery store and keeping Bruce happy was a job in itself. She missed her family and friends desperately, but Bruce had no intentions to move back, let alone visit.
Two years after Johnathan died, she went back to school. Bruce always seemed to turn the television louder while Pam studied in the kitchen. She was determined to finish, despite Bruce’s failed attempts to sabotage her.
She looked once more into the mirror. She was a new woman now. Her eyes were a brighter shade of blue, and even with the wrinkles, there was a certain youthful energy radiating from her core.
She bounced up off the couch and moved to her desk. She opened the bottom drawer and pulled out her favorite pen, with the inscription reading, Congrats, Pamela, on your graduation. Love Mom and Pa. She never would have dreamed of spending so much money on a pen, but it came in handy more than once.
Outside the office window, the cherry tree was in full blossom. She was so grateful for this space. Bruce insisted she find an office to rent downtown, but Pamela wanted her office to have a “homey” feel. Not to mention, rent downtown was outrageous. After several arguments, Bruce agreed to building a small addition on their home with a separate entrance for privacy. Pamela designed the addition herself, and Bruce begrudgingly signed off as engineer.
Pamela looked at the clock. She still had forty minutes until her first appointment. She wrote down some notes and looked again at the pen. She tilted her head to the side as she gazed at it in her hand. Memories began to pour over her; memories she had tried to bury deep down but occasionally would surface. She closed her eyes, not resisting the images as they came to her.
She saw flashes of the night Bruce disappeared. She saw as he walked towards her, the stench of alcohol becoming stronger with each step. He stopped in front of her at the kitchen table where she had been making a to-do list for the next day. The footings for the addition were being poured, and she wanted to make sure everything was in order for construction to go smoothly. Spittle came from his mouth as he yelled at her. She couldn’t understand what he was saying. His rage and yelling caught her off guard, but finally, she heard his words.
“You will never open your own practice. Do you think you are smart enough to be able to run your own business? You think people will actually come? You are a good-for-nothing Bitch. You couldn’t even keep your kid alive; I doubt you will be able to keep your business alive.” Pam froze.
After years of living for Bruce, moving for Bruce, playing house and wife for Bruce; after losing a child and the hope of ever having children again; after all this time—all the lost time she dedicated to this man who didn’t even respect her, let alone love her. Her rage could no longer be contained.
Bruce smirked and said, “Well? What are you gonna say?” He leaned in and looked into her eyes. Pamela watched as though someone else was in control of her movement. The heavy pen, so thoughtfully inscribed, moved from the table in her hand and into Bruce’s temple. His eyebrows raised in surprise. Then his body slid to the floor. Pamela looked at her pen drenched in blood.
Even now, she knew she was supposed to feel bad or guilty or scared she would get caught, but she felt none of those things. It was the moment she felt released from her prison, like a bird from a cage, she was free to fly.
To this day, no one knew what happened to Bruce. His car was found parked at the edge of the river near where Pam ran. Divers searched the river, but she knew his body would never be found.
In the office, Pamela heard footsteps on the concrete walkway outside. Pam smirked. After all Bruce had done to her, at least she knew he helped her build the foundation of her practice. He was literally built right into this place.
Her clients knocked at the door.
“Come on in! I take it you are Grady and Lisa? I know it can be a big step coming to couples therapy, and I am looking forward to working with you.”