Revenge is a dish best served perpetually.
I drop my purse on the kitchen counter and exhale for the first time in what feels like a decade. I hope my tears were convincing. After the funeral, Helen hugged me tightly, then looked at me with a strange expression that made me wonder. The way her eyes locked onto mine made me nervous.
Did she know?
It’s not like she didn’t know we had problems. It’s not like she didn’t know that Johnny abused me.
After four, I lost count of how many times Helen visited me in the emergency room and begged me not to divorce her son. The first few times, I made the same tired excuses you always hear.
“Oh, this? I’m just clumsy. I walked into the door, Helen.”
As if walking into a door could break a jaw.
Then, in a lean-closer-I’m-going-to-tell-you-a-secret conspiratorial tone, “To be honest, I had been drinking, Helen.”
Usually, Johnny had been drinking as well, and he could handle way more than I could.
To be fair, I was usually quite drunk, but I’ve never been clumsy. I nearly qualified for the 84 summer Olympics to compete in the balance beam. But then Johnny happened.
I still remember the pain when my ankle shattered.
One stomp with his steel-toed boots ended my dreams of being an Olympian. After that, I was usually always drunk.
I want to scream now. I want to get drunk and poison Johnny all over again.
Yeah, I poisoned him, but it’s his fault.
Jesus, I sound like him, the gaslighting sonofabitch.
“Holly, you must admit, this wasn’t entirely my fault.”
How many times had I heard that? Yet every time, I caved. Hell, most of the time, I ended up apologizing to him.
“Just don’t involve the police this time, Hol. We don’t need them to resolve our problems. They don’t know how in love we are, baby.”
I pick up the fifth of Smirnoff and hurl it at the wall.
I forgot it was plastic.
It bounces off the wall, ricochets, and hits me in the funny bone.
Yeah, I poisoned him. But like I said, it’s his fault. I begged him to let me go. I cried, pleaded, bargained, and threatened. What did I get in return? A twice-broken jaw, numerous black eyes, and let us not forget the career-ending smashed lateral malleolus. I humiliated myself. I did everything I could to satisfy his depravity. It’s crazy to think that such abject self-humiliation would convince him to release me, but that’s what I thought.
I ran away once. When Johnny caught up with me, my I-miss-you-at-home prize was broken jaw number 1.
After my second attempt, I received broken jaw number 2 and two complementary black eyes.
I can still see the unmade hotel bed. I remember little details: how one corner of the bottom sheet had come untucked from the mattress, the rough texture of the carpet on my cheek, a stray ballpoint pen under the bed. It looked like a nice one. I tried reaching for it while Johnny washed my blood off his knuckles at the vanity. I howled in pain. Every fiber of my being was wracked with agony.
My crying stopped. Johnny hated it when I cried.
I swallowed every ounce of esteem or self-respect I ever felt and accepted in that Best Western (room number 13, good thing I wasn’t superstitious then, I’m superstitious as hell now) that I would never leave Johnny. That I was stuck with him forever; he would never divorce me; I would never try to divorce him again. We were together forever.
Two peas in a dysfunctional pod, a marriage made in hell.
Time to do this.
This stuff was expensive. I kept the tiny brown box the bottle came in. It looked so exotic with its foreign postage and stamps. The cardboard is a little worse for wear from its journey and my fussing with the box. One time I dug a hole in the background while telling myself I would bury it. Clearly, I did no such thing. Just ask Johnny. Ha.
I pry open the orange-red pill bottle. The brittle flakes look like an expensive herb. Technically, they are a herb, just not ones found in a restaurant kitchen.
I make myself a cup of chamomile tea. It tastes bitter, but I do what I can to calm my mind. I go into the laundry room for a bit. After I’m done in there, I make my way to the living room, where I lie on the couch and wait.
I slip into my dreams. It’s automatic now. At first, they scared me, but then I learned to embrace the fear, not give in to it. Courage isn’t the absence of fear. It is the refusal to concede to fear. Johnny taught me that. Thanks, babe.
I remember the books and Pascal then. The secret second life I lived. In one life, I was a penitent, meek, depraved whore for my husband. In my secret life, which took significant efforts to keep from Johnny, I was getting in shape, taking Jujitsu classes, and studying. Studying arcane things about herbs that only grow in the Amazonian rainforest. There were other classes as well. Classes that scared me so much it took every shred of strength to not run away.
Then I dreamt my favorite dream. In this dream, which is more of an embellished memory really, Johnny wakes up in bed and looks at me. I can see in his eyes, he knows. He knows I’ve poisoned him. Sadly, in real life, he never woke up. Johnny never knew it was me. I felt so robbed by that. After all that he had put me through, I wanted him to know it was me; I needed him to know. He never regained consciousness. He ended up choking on his own vomit and dying in his sleep. That was when I found Pascal, learned about, and enrolled in his school.
I wake as the backdoor window shatters.
What the hell?
I jerk upright on the couch. I’ve drooled on the pillow. But that’s impossible. I look again. There is no drool on the pillow. Of course not. How could there be?
He shuffles his way into our living room.
Ladies and gentlemen, please meet my beloved husband – in life and death, Mr. Johnny Monroe.
I scream and scream and scream. My throat will be sore tomorrow.
Sonofabitch couldn’t even do me the courtesy of staying dead.
He tries to speak. It sounds like it must be hurting him. Good.
He reaches to squeeze my shoulder. Johnny is strong. His grip could be loving or cruel. It hadn’t been the former for years.
I think shoulder, shoulder, shoulder.
It works. Johnny squeezes, and I feel something. It’s not painful. It doesn’t feel good. What I feel more than anything is a keen interest in this unfamiliar sensation.
“You poisoned me, bitch.”
It sounds like he has a mouthful of wet rocks in his mouth.
“Yeah, I guess I did, Johnny, but that was only because nothing else was working to convince you to let me go. You have to see how this is partially your fault, babe. Right? Now, let’s not call the police, okay?”
His fury rises. I thought it might.
He attacks me with his heavy fists and elbows. It’s hard to keep up with them.
His right fist flies at my stomach.
I think abs, abs, abs.
His fist meets something that seems to satisfy him.
I cry and carry on as if he were hurting me.
“Johnny, you’re going to kill me. Please stop. I’m sorry.”
His left fist zooms at my chin.
I think chin, chin, chin, just in time to give him some tactile feedback.
Two quick jabs at my eyes.
I think eyes and wonder what they feel like to his fists.
My head flies backward with each punch.
I bawl; Johnny hates bawling. His fury doubles.
The fists and elbows fly so fast that I have a difficult time keeping up with them. This skill is a little like juggling.
Forehead, I think, and my head flies back from the impossible impact of bone on flesh.
That last one almost slipped through.
He falls back on his ass. I guess even the undead get tired.
He looks pathetic.
What did I ever see in this man?
“Is that all you got, babe? You used to be able to satisfy me. Well, we can try again after you’ve had a little nap. Don’t worry; it happens to all guys. It’s not a big deal, babe.”
Johnny hates sympathetic dialog more than crying. His eyes go red with rage.
He looks up at me; he sees me as I really am now. The rage gives away to some new thing.
He can’t even get the question out. My husband is confused.
He sits there, still wearing the tux he bought for our wedding. His mouth is open. He’s confused, alright.
“But you’re not…, “
“What, Johnny? Bleeding? Bruised? Crying? Begging for mercy?”
Like a child, he nods his head.
“Well then, hit me again, you stupid coward.”
He hates when people call him stupid more than anything.
Despite his confusion, he lunges at me, and the fists are flying again. I don’t give them anything to push against this time.
After several futile blows, he falls backward onto the floor again.
His punches all passed through me.
I can think and give myself some solidity, one of the many skills Pascal taught me. In my current condition, I’d say it’s a fine faculty to have mastered.
The idiot finally accepted that I was a ghost. But not after telling him. Even in death, the dolt couldn’t accept what I said as being true. He needed proof; it wasn’t until I showed him my body that he agreed, that, yes; I was quite dead.
I guided Johnny into the laundry room. Together we gazed down at my corpse, feeling very different things.
After drinking the tea, I’d had just enough time to lay back and compose myself. I had to admit, even in death, I was still beautiful. I wished I’d changed out of the black dress I’d worn to Johnny’s funeral, but I looked good in it.
I started talking then. Talking fast. Scaring Johnny. Finding all his buttons and pushing every single one of them. He is so stupid. But I had become a master manipulator. I convinced him he had to bury my body. I had him believing folks would think he’d faked his own death and had murdered me. I told him to think about his mother and how crushed she would be by this senseless crime of passion.
“You have to bury my body, Johnny,” I said, squeezing his shoulder with more force than he could ever dream of applying.
I’d tried to devise a way where I didn’t need this part of my plan to happen, but I eventually gave it up as impossible. Yeah, I could arrange my own death, devise a way that I could stay a ghost, but I simply could not dream up a way to bury my body.
He finishes burying my body.
“Come inside for a minute, babe.”
He is so confused he doesn’t know what to feel or say. Johnny stands there looking at me like an idiot.
I reach forward and scratch the air between us. Lines of light drip down my fingertip. The lines stretch away from my fingers but dissolve before hitting the ground.
He shuffles into our house.
The door shuts behind us.
I speak the Latin phrase that I’d spent months perfecting.
A grid of light envelopes the house from the outside. It is so bright it passes through the walls like they were made of paper. The light pulses three times, then disappears.
As I said, we’re stuck together forever.
I have some neat new skills to show my darling husband. Things I’m sure he will hate.
“What did you just do, Holly?”
The Latin phrase, a spell of sorts, I suppose, constrains him to never leave our little two-bedroom bungalow.
“Welcome home, hubby,” I say, scratching the air again. All 240 pounds of his undead body crash into the far wall.
He sits up, stunned.
“Oh, I’m sorry. I forgot the most important part, babe. Silly me.”
I recite a second incantation.
I have a feeling Johnny will not like this one very much.
“And?” he says.
“Oh, zombies don’t feel pain. Technically, you’re still undead, you goofball, but now you will feel everything as if you were alive. Neat, huh?”
I see his brain running to keep up with these rapid-fire developments.
“Here, let me show you.”
I gesture at the air before me again. Tendrils of liquid light drip from my fingertips and dissolve.
His body floats up toward the kitchen ceiling. He hovers there squealing like a hot kettle. He’s nervous. I’m just wanting to share how much I felt from all his wonderful love. What is his problem?
I flick my fingers sharply downward.
He is thrust into the floor with far more force than if he fell the eight feet between him and the tiles below.
He begins moaning.
“Oh, Johnny, I have such things to share with you. You loved me so deeply for so many years. It’s my turn to share my love with you.”
We are stuck together. Forever. I remember lying again on that floor in the Best Western, how the carpet felt against my cheek. I wasn’t sure what I was hoping for then was possible. But it turns out it was.
“Baby, no. Please, stop. I’m sorry, Holly. I’m sorry. Please stop!”
“Oh, Johnny. We are just getting started.”
He’s crying. I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of that around here from now on.
“Oh, don’t be a baby. You must see how some of this is your fault, right?”