This story is by A. J. Aisling and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Murder is not a viable option. Cock chopping will also end in jail time and is off the table,” she said to herself aloud. Both of those actions were well-deserved, it was just that she could never personally do them. It simply wasn’t on brand. She was sitting in her minivan in the parking lot across the street from her husband and his lover with the heat on, lights off, radio playing Patsy Cline. She lit a cigarette and delighted in the smell and taste she had forced herself to forego for the past sixteen years–also not on brand.
Years had been spent carefully constructing this persona. She found Jesus. Gave up smoking and public drinking. She stopped stealing in favor of giving money to the poor.
When she became pregnant at twenty-one she went against all of her instincts and married the father. She let herself love him, as much as she was able to love anyone. They kept having children and she kept setting aside her hopes, dreams, and desires to be the best wife and mother ever.
For sixteen years she was the nice church lady who served as a youth pastor. She was the mom who baked and coached her kids’ soccer teams. She helped her husband through med school and residency and starting his own practice.
She was kind, generous, giving, loving. She became meek and somewhat withdrawn so that the spotlight never focused on her but her husband, the head of the household. Far be it from her to be too much a Jezebel and have her own thoughts, her own talents. Now she was a joke. A weak, sad, husk of a person in a Barbie body wearing a Mary mother-of-Jesus mask.
It had been an exhausting endeavor. She hated it and she hated herself for hating it.
When their 16-year-old daughter saw the proof of his infidelity on his phone, she finally had an out. In their faith group, extramarital affairs were a perfectly reasonable excuse for divorce. She could be free. It was so cliche–wife gives everything to her husband to lift him up and he cheats on her. She refused to be a cliche any longer.
The first obstacle to overcome to turn things around was financial. She had never worked outside the home as a professional. All her energy had gone into their family and light volunteer work. Unless he died and she tapped into his generous life insurance policy, she would not be able to support her family alone.
Her second issue was that he was a pillar in the community. He had the kind of connections that would prevent her from finding gainful or meaningful employment if she left him. The best she could hope for would be a cashier at the Target.
She needed a solution.
She could drive to the Wawa, fill up a couple of cans of gasoline. Then come back to the tramp’s apartment, shower the windows and doors with gas and light a match. That would be very satisfying. There was a sort of poetic justice in ending their lives in flames. The more she thought about it, the more appealing it became. The trouble, she thought as she took a long drag, was that there were cameras at the gas station. She didn’t have cash, so she’d have to pay on her card. The security cameras at their home would show her exiting, and traffic cameras would show her driving straight here. She didn’t want to go to jail. Girls like her just weren’t built for prison. And there were the children to consider.
What she didn’t understand, and could never fully forgive was that he screwed her. That tramp with no brains, no personality. He was probably having unprotected sex with the woman who slept with everyone. That tidbit became evident after casually watching the woman for the past month. Her husband would leave and go to his office to shower and change, and then the whore would invite in another man who looked more on her level. Then that man would leave and another would enter. Her husband might actually be paying this woman for sex now that she thought about it, but it didn’t matter. All that mattered was that he was sleeping with someone else and he never wore condoms.
Murder was far too kind. She would have to find a way to exact revenge without becoming the villain in her own story. He needed to pay, and she didn’t want to.
The only solution that presented itself, as she exchanged the cigarette butt for the liter of vodka sitting next to her, was to force him to allow her to regain some agency in her life. She would make him pay for her to get a Master’s degree and get a professional job. She would make him pay for yoga and fitness classes. She would recreate herself–again.
That was it: she would stay. She would be a good Jesus-following, Proverbs 31 woman. She would forgive her husband and make him miserable with her sweetness. Forgiveness wasn’t really something she could muster, but she could try. Or at least appear to try. It wasn’t as though she had never imagined meeting an amazing, tall, beautiful, intelligent man and having the hottest sexual encounter ever–that part of what he’d done she could understand and forgive.
And then, when she was healthy, happy, and successful, he would fall in love with her again. Then she would leave.
Everything went according to her plan–sort of. Once she had the Master’s degree, the professional job, and an even hotter Barbie body, she realized her situation wasn’t better, it was worse. He loved her again. Now she couldn’t leave him for a different reason.
Now if she left, she would be the bad guy. If she found someone new and decided to be with that person, she would be the cheater and the marriage destroyer. If she left, she would be the one who devastated their family. The window to her freedom had closed. The thought of spending another twenty years with the man who devalued her and broke her heart made her want to kill herself.
Now she was sitting in a therapist’s office in a neighboring state so no one she knew would know she was there. This therapist was supposed to be the best in his field. Allegedly, he was a life-changing magician of sorts.
She looked around at the soft green walls and black and white prints hanging on them. The therapist wanted people to see the truth of who they were and be open to embracing change. They would see him as the person who provided a fresh start for them.
She wasn’t convinced.
“What are you hoping to get from your life? What needs to happen in order for you to move forward?” The therapist had templed his hands and gave her a look that was a mixture of concern and condescension.
“I was hoping to be happy. I was hoping that my husband wouldn’t sacrifice our happiness on the altar of his dick.”
She couldn’t believe he was asking her to do that. “Obviously there isn’t a hard and fast definition of happiness.”
“But what is yours?”
She had a Master’s degree and yet she couldn’t find the right words. She felt great happiness in her life many times. The birth of her children. Those sweet little smiles on their sweet little faces. Yet she couldn’t think how she would define happy.
“Is happiness really what you want then?” He pushed a little more.
Something clicked in that moment, sitting there thinking about happiness while staring at green walls and photos of models pretending to be real people. “No. I know exactly what I want.”
“And that is?”
“I’m sorry, sir. There is somewhere I need to be.” She rose and walked out.
The only way she would ever be happy was if she accepted that she was the villain. She needed to simply embrace that truth and stop pretending. She would become her true self, consequences be damned.
It didn’t take much. Some over-the-counter sleeping pills mixed in his nightly Old Fashioned. A final passionate sexual encounter with the man she once loved. She waited until he fell into a deep sleep. He was weaker than he let on–too busy screwing other women to hit the gym. So when she sat on top of him and covered his mouth and nose, he didn’t struggle much. He didn’t even know what was happening. Then, like a fairy tale, he was finally gone.
She checked him. Made sure he wasn’t breathing. She looked for any bruising or skin abrasions that couldn’t be explained by the sex. There was nothing. He looked sort of beautiful, laying there, dead.
She rolled over onto her side, her own sleeping pills kicking in, and fell into the first peaceful sleep she had experienced in twenty years.