This story is by Janelle Spiers and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
The world’s richest woman had a fight with her husband again, and it was decidedly not her fault. Had he been a reasonable man and listened to what she wanted, she would not have been so angry, but it was the third time he had said no to her this week, so she, Muriel Traves, decided that she must take action. She could afford to.
It had all started in discussion of the governor’s banquet, an annual affair which boasted the best of society. The world’s richest woman was invited, but her husband simply refused. He would pick neither the red nor blue tie, and neither would he shine his shoes. Instead of going to the tailor’s to be fitted for a new waistcoat, he scolded her on wasting resources and the malicious conversation of her friends. He did not approve of her sparkling parties and extravagance, and she was simply fed up. They saw eye to eye on nothing, complete opposites in every vice and virtue. The world’s richest woman knew that if she were to have any life worth living she would have to take drastic measures.
Muriel never read the paper — that was her husband’s concern — so it took her a bit of shuffling and fidgeting to find the advertisement her friends had gossiped over. They called it miraculous, truly and utterly glorious, and all the ladies from her luncheon encouraged her to be the first to try what the papers named, “The Dream Team.” She scheduled the appointment a week from Saturday, with full promise that for a price, her world would be a living dream. She relished the thought.
On the appointed day, she took a cab to a stark building on the corner of 2nd and King Street. With a quick, deft hand, she tackled the paperwork and scratched her signature on all the proper lines. Phrases like, “…Spouse’s consent…” and “…cannot be undone…” did nothing to deter Muriel from scratching away. Only the line, “I solemnly swear to hold full responsibility for my own actions” made her shudder as she signed. She loathed responsibility.
The world’s richest woman was led to a large round room, white from floor to ceiling. On the wall opposite the chair she had been given, a large screen flickered to life, and Muriel caught her breath. A picture of her husband appeared on the screen, and Muriel laughed at the sight. He was just how she left him: reading the paper in his dull, book-filled office, smoking a pipe.
Over the speakers, a voice crackled to life. It spoke of the wonders the company could perform, and what they could do for her if she was willing to pay the price. “Tell me,” the voice said, “what kind of man do you want your husband to be?”
“Ah,” Muriel said, with a race of excitement, watching the image of her husband flipping the pages of the paper. “He’s far too serious. Even during holidays, he can only think of his business. He’s always saying no to outings that would put him in high society. Oh, and he says I spend too much, which is hardly fair of him. I wish Pierce would become outgoing and abundantly generous — maybe a dash romantic? — and that he would forever agree with what I have to say.”
“I am required to remind you, Mrs. Traves,” the voice said, “Life, once altered is forever changed. Shall we continue? Do you want us to help you create the man of your dreams?”
The world’s richest woman laughed again. “Of course! I want a man who approves of my comings and goings and doings. I want Pierce to join my circle, my little world. He’ll thank me for it someday.”
The picture on the screen began to shift. Her husband faded away.
“Thank you for your business, Mrs. Traves. You should find your husband completely according to taste.”
The world’s richest woman wasted no time in getting home. She felt giddy as a schoolgirl, and she nearly strangled her handbag as she wrung it in anticipation. What would she find when she went up to his study? Would he scold and shake his head when she told him what had happened, or, perhaps he would say nothing at all upon the matter?
Muriel burst through the door and hurried upstairs. She gave a quick rap at the study door, but to her great surprise, Pierce rounded the corner from the other direction.
“There you are, Gorgeous. I couldn’t wait for you to get home,” he said, as he strode towards her. To her further astonishment, he caught her up in a warm embrace and kissed her gently. “I need your opinion, Darling. What are you wearing to the governor’s banquet tonight, because I couldn’t decide if the red tie would look better with your dress, or if I should choose the blue one?”
“Why, Pierce,” Muriel stammered, “you told me you weren’t coming.”
“Of course I’ll come.” Her husband laughed. “You asked me to, and I can’t say no to you, Dear.”
Muriel Traves was decidedly the most beautiful woman at the banquet that night. Her hair and gown were inherently exquisite, but all the women from the Bridge Club agreed that there was a happy glow in her face. Her smile was a blooming rose, and her eyes shone with something like starlight. The world’s richest woman became the center of every circle of gossip, for not only was there a beautifully shining Mrs. Traves, but her husband was out in public, and what’s more, his tie matched his shoes, and even complimented his wife’s apparel. Some thought such an occasion was a sign of the end times.
The sensation aroused by the Traves was not soon abated. At least twice a week, the world’s richest woman continued to appear in high society with her handsome husband at her heels. He simply doted on her, as if they were freshly back from their honeymoon. It was apparent to all who observed that Muriel was denied nothing, and her husband had become the model of what every wife wanted her husband to be.
However, it came about that the world’s richest woman could flash her smile in public, but once at home, the glow had faded. For months bills and notes flowed in and were soon followed by late-fees and dues. The business called and demanded resources, and the pressure had nearly suffocated the rose.
“Pierce, why don’t you pay them?” She asked her husband.
“Because it’s dull,” he replied, sipping his drink, “and it’s such a bore. I hate responsibility, Muriel.”
Neglect and frivolity threatened to have the gas turned off or the house sold from underneath them, so the world’s richest woman buckled down to set all to right. It was clumsy and painful at first, and as quick as the books got settled there was another bill to pay. Pierce wasted nothing but money in the pursuit of belonging to every gentleman’s club he joined. Hats had been purchased, suits redone, and there had even been talk of a pony, until Mrs. Traves had to put her foot down.
“Pierce, be reasonable,” she clucked.
“Of course, Dear, anything you want. I say, there’s an opera next week. Would you come with me?”
The world’s richest woman sat alone in the cigar-scented study her husband used to frequent, struggling in the waning light to pay the newest expense of an opera ticket and a set of gloves. As she scratched away at the business affairs, she allowed herself a sad laugh. She realized suddenly how her whole world had been traded with her husband’s. Here she was, taking responsibility, plugging away at the accounts and the business while he was out, attending galas and operas, sparkling in the light of society and scandal. A pain beat in her heart, and Muriel felt the pen slip away from her hand. She stared vacantly at the dormant books on the shelves. She had meddled so far into her husband’s world, that it had melded with her own. She had changed them both, for better or for worse, who could be the judge?
When Pierce came whistling through the door, returning from the excitement she once craved, the world’s richest woman ran down to meet him. She threw her arm’s about him and whispered, “Pierce, tell me no, just once more. Say no to me, darling.”
“Why would I do that, Dear?” Her husband asked, kissing her warmly. “You know I can’t say no to you. I want what’s best for you, Ducky. Come to think of it, you ought to go out more. You’ll thank me someday.”
And so it was that the world’s richest woman never had a fight with her husband again, and it was most decidedly her own fault.
Vanaja Shankar says
An interesting title, a dreamy story laced with humour and a subtle message about the absurdity of trying to change others.