Feminism Will Be The Death Of Me
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That morning, the hall clock struck seven. Just like it did every morning, signalling washbasins and stockings and hot tea. The clock had been there longer than she had, collected at auction, perhaps by her husband in the days before they were married. It didn't matter who'd put it there though; all that mattered was that the seven booms cut through the each early morning like blows. She was the wife of Frank, and Frank certainly made sure that she knew that. And not in the way he had promised in his vows.
Each morning, she woke to a strict regimen under the critical eye of her unforgiving husband. Everything he wanted was to be done in a crisp and concise manner with no room for error. Today’s New York Herald and no other was to be folded perfectly, such that the headlines could be read at a glance. Not to mention his English Breakfast that was to only be heated to a minimum of two hundred and eleven degrees and a maximum of two hundred and thirteen. The Fahrenheit of acceptability. And the punishment for not completing her morning checklist did not bear contemplating. She was tiny, and her husband had two hundred pounds on her.
She knew that Frank was a different person when he was with his students. He was a pillar of society in front of those children…a handsome, silver-tongued devil in corduroy, complete with patches at the elbows of his jacket. It was as if the mighty Mount Vesuvius lay dormant while the sun was up, but exploded with rage during the night. It certainly wasn’t the tender relationship that her romance novels promised.
At times over the years, she had tried to talk to Frank about the possibility of her getting a job too. Maybe she could teach alongside him? However, she only had to look into his stormy eyes for her unspoken hopes to be crushed. It was only one morning when she was folding his paper that she saw it. Stenography. It was as if the word itself possessed a gravitas that she so longed to encompass within herself. The thrill of learning and the independence that her own, if meagre, income would offer was enough to prompt her to write down the employer’s phone number on the blotter, and tuck it into her sleeve.
The small savings that she had accumulated through household economies for the past months were just enough to pay for the instruction course that she saw in her dreams, and on the corkboard down by the local church. And her dreams were to soon become a reality. There was something balletic about seeing the curly letter Q and sitting cross-legged with a spirally scroll sprawled across her lap. She didn’t know what it was, but there was some sort of eloquent independence in the life she envisioned for herself, the one that did include a job and didn’t include Frank.
As Frank left for his philosophical seminar, she left the ‘church group’ she’d supposedly gone to that morning. She caught a taxi downtown to the State Library, a heavenly paradise on Madison Avenue. The fact that she was given her own membership card to the library gave her shivers. It bore Frank’s last name, as did she, but still. Small steps towards independence were steps nonetheless. As she was lead over to the stenotype she’d be using, she couldn’t contain her eagerness to work, to learn, and to live for something else other than Frank. The minimalism of it all was beautiful. As her index finger gently caressed the plastic shorthand byes, she felt that she would be freed from Frank’s grasp one day.
That night, Frank was making love to his tonic and gin with more fervour than usual. Passionate love. She could actually see the saliva accumulating on his lips after every elongated sip. But she knew that everything was normal when he hollered at her to bring in his meatloaf and bacon. She was just plating it up for him when the phone rang. Unusually, Frank got up from his lounge chair and made the strenuous journey up the hallway to answer it himself. That was odd. Why hadn’t he just hollered for her to answer it?
She knew who it was: the library would be calling to tell her whether or not she gotten the job. Frank picked up the receiver, barked into it, and then listened, his face paling. After a couple of minutes, she thought that the caller must have either hung up or lost the connection. But her optimistic thinking was brought to a halt when the phone dropped from Frank’s stubby hands.
He turned on his heel and marched towards her, his hand primed for a strike and his face a rich deep purple. His hand was rising towards her face, but for some reason she was happy. She knew she must have gotten the job, but she didn’t know if she would make it through the night. She clenched her eyes closed as he drew closer. But nothing happened. Frank’s hand fell to his side, and the next thing she knew, his enormous body was strewn on the floor at her feet, a mixture of saliva, froth and gin dribbling down his chin from his mouth.
Moments later, she nudged his face with her shoe. His lips stretched into the grisly semblance of a smile under the leather. At least people would see him at his funeral with a smile on his face, she thought. At least in death, he could maintain the illusion of an archangel. Or a courtly devil.