Marisol stared at the dirty plate and single set of flatware in the sink. Yesterday had been Jerry and her first anniversary, one year married after a whirlwind six month romance. Her friends said they made a perfect couple, no doubt secretly cattily dismayed by the brevity of the courtship. Her mother was ecstatic, no doubt secretly relieved of the fear of having her only daughter turn into a lonely old spinster because she was too busy wasting her youth on a pesky career to find a man. Marisol was happy.
Yet while she couldn’t exactly say the honeymoon was over, that plate grated on her nerves. She had made Jerry an elaborate and romantic dinner the evening before, complete with candles and a cheap bottle of wine she’d picked up on a last minute’s inspiration, from the convenience store down the street. Jerry hadn’t drunk any of it, but he seemed pleased enough with his meal, and afterward, she had cleaned up, done the dishes, and they cuddled on the sofa for a bit. Then a quickie, and off to bed. Thank you, ma’am.
Tonight Jerry was in the den, in the recliner watching TV, and the dirty plate in the sink was mocking her. She had already made dinner and washed all the dinner dishes, along with Jerry’s breakfast dishes. Today had been particularly busy at work; Marisol was a paralegal for their town’s most prominent lawyer. Her boss was the closest thing to a local celebrity the town had, and though Marisol never divulged much, even to Jerry, she found out much juicy town gossip working in that office. Who was divorcing whom for cheating, who was on probation for drinking and driving. Who had a TRO for domestic assault or was being sued for back child support.
And though Marisol was aching to sit down and maybe have a glass of that cheap wine from the night before, she had done all the accumulated laundry, made dinner, and even had time to run the vacuum through the small ranch style home. She’d hopped in the shower and finished up just in time to greet Jerry with his meal. She’d felt satisfied, as if she’d had a fairly productive day, and she was ready to relax.
But that dish rankled her. It was a wart marring the face of her immaculate kitchen, but more than that, it represented more work to her. And Jerry was on the couch watching TV.
Of course he deserves a break too. He just got off a work, Marisol told herself.
So did I, but I made dinner and then I did all the dinner dishes. Why can’t he wash his own damn dessert plate, instead of leaving it for me to do? she answered herself, in what she had come to think of as her Other voice. This was the voice she heard more often now, although she tried to quell it. That voice was trouble. It was an argument waiting to happen, and Marisol hated arguments, though she and Jerry had never actually had a significant one to speak of.
It’s not a big deal, she told herself, not worth nagging over. Marisol didn’t want to be one of those wives that nagged. She wanted that even less than she wanted to argue.
But the Other voice persisted. It’s not a big deal. Not by itself. Unless you consider all of the other ways he takes you for granted too.
It’s a not a big deal, she repeated patiently.
No, but if you bottle it up, these things add up until it is a big deal.
She had nothing to say to the Other. She just stared at those dishes, dismayed in the recognition of the first tiny seeds of resentment. Her lip curled unconsciously at the chocolate drying to a blackish crust on the tines of the fork.
Just then Jerry came into the kitchen behind her. He was heading to the cabinets, no doubt to rummage for another snack, and only seemed to notice she wasn’t actually doing anything, when he had to walk around her idle form.
“What are you doing?” He sounded slightly annoyed; why that should be she didn’t know. He’d been sort of sour ever since he had gotten home from work.
That note of annoyance in his voice sparked her own. She opened her mouth and a bit of the Other came out. Yet even that was tempered by her desire to keep the peace. When Marisol heard herself speak, she was irritated at the supplicating tone of her words. “Nothing. It’s just, well, I finished all the dishes, and it would be nice if you could wash your own dessert plate so I don’t have to later.”
Pain exploded in her face in a white hot flash, and when it subsided and she could see again, she was sitting on the cold linoleum. Through watering eyes, see could see Jerry looming over her, his face calm but hard.
“Don’t tell me what to do, Marisol.”
Her mouth hung open and she sat immobilized, vaguely wondering what would happen next. Jerry stared at her a moment longer before wordlessly helping her to her feet and then walking out of the kitchen.
Marisol raised a hand gingerly to the her lips, which were already swelling. Still, when she withdrew her hand, she stared at the blood on her fingers a moment before the full realization of what had happened descended upon her like a black wave. She felt a creeping numbness spreading up from her feet and down from her neck, so that her bruised face was the only feeling of which she was aware. The voice of the Other was whispering ceaselessly in her ear, but she couldn’t make out the words. Marisol went to the sink and retrieved the dirty plate. From the dish drainer, she took cast iron pan in which she had cooked that night’s meal. A few beads of water still clung to it, shining like black eyes on the matte surface of the pan. Her mind felt strangely blank and she stared at those tiny black eyes and walked calmly to the den. She did not expect Jerry to beg forgiveness, and he did not. He didn’t even look away from the TV. She brought the pan up, and with as much strength as she could muster with one hand, swung a vicious arc at his head. The sound of the pan hitting home was like nothing she had ever heard, a hollow and unforgiving sound. Marisol dropped the dirty plate on his still chest. She turned back to the kitchen and, on legs that felt as numb as her mind, she went to the phone on the wall, picked up the receiver, and called her boss at home.
Note: this story started out as a single moment in my mind, along with a question; “What would it feel like in that moment (of complete shock) when a woman is hit by her abuser for the first time?” Somehow, though, the story morphed and took on and even darker tone. I blame Stephen King. Darn his subversive influence.