This story is by Marie Ryan and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
“Vete a la mierda!” (Go to hell!) she was saying to herself. As she got the ironing board out and dropped it on her toes, she actually said it aloud, “Mierda!” as she went around the house doing her chores.
However, she wasn’t complaining about the housework. She was picturing herself confronting her dear husband with this short, sharp statement. She NEVER swore. It was really the worst thing she could imagine herself saying and she relished the image she had conjured up in her mind of his reaction when he heard her.
They had met in London not very long before. He was foreign, living in London like so many other Spaniards and was studying English. She was just an ordinary English girl, but fell madly in love with his language and with the idea of getting away from the drudgery of her boring life on the outskirts of the metropolis. She had sort of fallen in love with him too, she felt at the time.
In a whirlwind of promises, they simply got married one miserable morning in Camden. Soon after, they escaped the dreary British climate, setting their sights on a brighter future on the sunny coastline of his home country.
All good so far, or so she had thought.
Vete a la mierda! She got an enormous satisfaction from pronouncing such vulgarity. She had never used bad language in her life. This certainly wasn’t like her at all. And it sounded so much more effective in another language than in her native English, for some reason. In fact, she had always prided herself on never losing her temper and always being able to control her language – unlike him.
It was only a few months into their marriage when his temper began to emerge. The gentle, shy foreigner in London turned into a different personality on his home ground. Was it the confidence his native territory gave him? Was it the knowledge that she was at his mercy, away from her family and friends and isolated by his dominance? Is this what he had intended all along?
After only two, perhaps three weeks in their new home in the sun, his intolerance of the most insignificant issues became the pivot on which their relationship turned. He would shout and swear at her when she had forgotten to lower the blinds at midday, making the room too hot for him to have his siesta when he got home from work. He would rant and rave at her if she didn’t mop the apartment every day.
She had to listen to all sorts of insults and vulgarity directed at her bad housekeeping, bad cooking, and frumpy figure. She always listened in silence until the barrage of fury dies down and then feebly retaliated by trying to justify why she had forgotten to lower the blinds or why she had moved the linen basket from the bathroom. Or indeed why there was still a bit of fluff behind the bathroom door when he had seen it yesterday. So now, when she was alone in their home, his home, in hishouse, cleaning for him, ironing for him, cooking for him, she would get some morbid pleasure pronouncing in all sorts of tones and inflections, these terrible obscenities, something she would never DREAM of letting anyone hear her say. “Vete a la mierda…Vete a la MIERDA …VETE A LA MIERDA!”
Strangely enough her greatest satisfaction came from ironing his shirts. It was the collars she enjoyed the most. She always started with the collars and she loved to turn the steam on high and begin the attack on the neck! At each stroke of the iron, she would start : “Vete a la Mierda!” and from then on through the ironing session of the seven weekly shirts she would repeat “Vete a la mierda!” in hundreds of different ways, until finally she hardly noticed she was saying it.
As she got more confident with this new-found expression, she began to take more liberties with it, as though testing to see how far she could go. She began by writing VTALM (Ve Te A La Mierda was the code she chose) in the corner of shopping lists and on her notebooks she used for learning Spanish. When he came to see what she was doing, she hurriedly scribbled down the initialism in front of him as if it was part of her work. It was bliss!” He didn’t even realise. Whenever she heard the expression on the TV as they watched it in the evenings, she looked at him furtively, to check that he hadn’t realized that it was now her expression. (For it was hers now.) She felt a mixture of relief but also a trifle disappointed because he just didn’t seem to realise that it was meant for him.
As time went on she became more daring with her little secret. Before she handed over his mail to him when he came in from work, she would pencil in the corner VTALM . Of course, now he had begun to notice. He questioned her about it, but she evaded the questions as best she could, elated that she was insulting him and he didn’t even know.Oh yes, she was subtle, more subtle than he could ever be. Much cleverer. She was GREAT!
Suddenly she heard the key in the lock and her first reaction was to look to make sure she had already lowered the blind. It was too early for him to be home. Only two-thirty. He never came home at that time. He was early for lunch but she managed to prepare his favourite meal, lentils with beef and chorizo, followed by cod fillets and salad.
He ate the meal in silence. But he often did, so she was not suspicious. At the end of the meal, he rose from the table to leave the kitchen where they had eaten in silence. She stood to take the plates to the sink to wash.
The pain flared through her body, and engulfed her being.
He had kicked her with fury that only madness can arouse.
The moment was short and sharp, but the raw pain sauntered through her mind for a while, darting here and there, searching out an explanation.
He said “Not enough salt in the lentils.” And left.
Back to the ironing, and she was getting the ironing board out when it fell on her toes, again, as usual. And so with throbbing toes and blaming him and his shirts for that, she laid into his neck with the steam on high and began her litany. Then the shoulders… the arms, the cuffs, the backs, using all her strength pressing down, enjoying the hissing of the steam.
Vete a la mierda! He never told her anything. Vete a la mierda! Resenting him not ever telling her anything…Vete a la mierda, he treats me like a child. Vete a la mierda…She steamed her way through the rest of his work clothes, hating him and everything about him, with every puff of steam.
The telephone rang. It was the hospital informing her that her husband had been taken into the Burns department with severe steam burns to his neck. They warned her that his condition was extremely serious and she must be prepared for the worst. No, they couldn’t establish yet how the burns had occurred. He was unconscious so could not give them any information. They were investigating now, and speaking to his workmates. They had told the police he had complained that he was suffering an irritation on his neck all morning. The irritation had become progressively worse during the day and he had left the office at two to go to the doctors. They had also spoken to the receptionist at the local clinic who had said about 3 o’clock the ‘incident’ happened. He had been sitting in the doctor’s waiting room when his shirt seemed to heat up inexplicably and the skin had peeled away from his body, as though burned off by steam. Some other patients waiting also had been terribly affected by the sight. He had been rushed immediately to hospital.
She asked when she could see him and she only see him through a screen for the moment. She thanked the doctor and hung up the phone in a daze.
She had to be seen to do the right thing now. She would take pyjamas, toiletries, water.
She took the iron, turned the steam on high and began her invocation of all things just and fair.
She smiled to herself triumphantly as she laid into the pyjamas, with all her strength, knowing that this would finish him off.