This one was racing around in my head getting in the way of writing other stories. It’s decidedly tough subject matter, and people tend to either really, really like it or really, really dislike it.
As usual she showed up around a holiday. Thanksgiving this time - a time for family and friends. Of course. She knew it would be hard for us to deal with her. We couldn’t toss her out on the street in front of my mother-in-law. So she had a place to stay for a little while. Someone to prey on.
The Bitch just won’t leave us alone. It starts small – snide comments, impatient remarks. She acts like she somehow owns what my wife and I have built. She’s nasty to me and talks my wife down every goddam chance she gets. She picks on her relentlessly; she isn’t good enough, we aren’t good enough. And on and on and on. She’s there all weekend, gaining more and more ground. By the time all our other house guests leave, the Bitch is dug in.
Like a tick. That’s the right phrase here. A tick. A harmful diseased parasite, contributing nothing, taking everything. Drinking our blood.
And she would take everything if we let her.
She almost succeeded once.
At work on Monday, the secretary instantly picks up that something is horribly wrong. She’s a good person and damned good at her job. We see her occasionally away from work, with her husband and kids – at holiday barbeques and that sort of thing. They look happy together. She is very mature and professional. A couple of tentacle tattoos escaping down an arm from one sleeve and questing toward her neck from her collar, hint that she may not have always been so urbane.
She eyes me cautiously.
I’m always the upbeat one, the one that brings in donuts occasionally, the one that lets everybody out a little early on Fridays - if the week was a bit hard, or even if the weather is promising a good weekend.
So even though I feign good humor, she can tell. They all can. Her uncertainty will grow into a cloud that darkens the whole office. This is hard on everyone.
At least I have the chance to go to work to avoid the Bitch. My wife can’t get away from her at all.
I can see it on her, the constant stress; my wife hardly looks up and her shoulders seem permanently slumped. She rarely even makes eye contact with me for fear of sending the Bitch careening off on another hateful rant.
When my wife does make eye contact, I see fear and depression; she wants hope, but I only give a little support and wait.
I end up making the evening meals.
The Bitch doesn’t understand that this is how we secretly communicate right in front of her.
Monday is just a nice big salad full of the things my wife loves. The Bitch sees it and tells my wife I made salad because she’s gotten too fat. But my wife notices that I’ve slipped in her favorite crazy-high-calorie dressing. And she slips me tiny smile when the Bitch isn’t looking.
On Tuesday, I let my temper get the better of me and let my mean streak loose.
Thai Basil Chicken.
My wife loves it and she sits silently, perched on a kitchen stool, watching me work, entranced. Even while I cook, the Bitch nags on about how the garlic and hot pepper make her eyes hurt and about how the fish sauce makes the whole house reek when it bubbles in the pan. She misses that magic transformation when the handfuls of basil hits the hot mixture.
And the Bitch completely ignores a basic rule of life.
Never fuck with someone who is going to be alone with your food.
There’s a little extra hot pepper in the Bitch’s portion. Maybe more than a little.
The Bitch flushes scarlet when the fire explodes in her mouth, gasping for air and gulping ice water. Wrong move. That just moves that searing oil, that napalm heat around; it doesn’t help with the fire at all.
Milk, or caramels, that would work.
My wife watches with silent, bladed, mirth. She sees the bowl of caramels that will kill that burn sitting untouched six inches from the Bitch’s hand. She doesn’t say a thing. I catch a tiny moment of panic in her eyes as she suppresses a giggle. To laugh now would be a disaster.
The Bitch storms from the room and my wife follows in her wake, giving me a grateful look as she does. She knows that this was for her, that we’ll both suffer a bit for it, but at least we’re fighting back.
The next night is Chicken Parmesan.
I chose it on purpose because it rivets me to the stove for much of the evening. And the Bitch is a little wary of fucking with me in the kitchen now. She knows it can get her burned.
She sits there watching me like a hawk. We’ll be here for a while; the sauce is complicated, all fire roasted tomatoes, sun-dried tomato puree, diced vegetables, and spices. A splash of good red wine. And a lot of garlic. I ponder that for a long moment.
I’ve used a bunch of garlic this week; garlic toast with the salad, a ton in the Thai dish, and now even more. Maybe that means something subconsciously. The Bitch is a vampire, an undead leech, and maybe down deep, this is another way to fight back.
Or maybe it just means my wife and I like garlic.
My wife watches too. It is her absolute favorite meal. The sauce simmers gently, and I can see her inhale the rich scent every now and then, filling her lungs, and then breathing out slowly.
The Bitch just grumbles about how the tomato sauce will spatter the stove top and maybe give her heartburn.
I trim the chicken breasts and pound them flat, filling them with mozzarella, provolone and shredded Parmesan, with just a bit of smoked Gouda, before folding them and breading them in a mix of spiced bread crumbs and grated Parmesan.
I make the pasta from scratch. Partly because it’s better that way, partly because it will drag the whole process out and make a bigger mess. If I’ve guessed right, that will be important.
The sauce needs more time to simmer anyway.
I blender more garlic in with the water I use to make the linguine. Who knows? Maybe it really will help drive the Bitch away.
The Bitch looks incredulously at the wreckage in the kitchen. Every gizmo and gadget in here has been used. She is offended, as if she owns this kitchen. She voices her objections, but stops when I tell her I’ll clean it up after dinner myself. That hot pepper is paying off a little, she lets it go. I can see my wife wants to offer to help, but if she does the Bitch will use it as an opportunity to needle her about how weak she is.
The meal turns out perfect. It had to, I can’t afford mistakes now.
We can’t afford mistakes now.
From my wife’s expression, she’s caught the subtle message, the question I’m asking. She takes an extra glass of wine, eyeing me over the rim. Her eyes are storm cloud grey, the color of steel, the color of gun barrels, a color I haven’t seen since the Bitch arrived.
We’re done with this Bitch. It ends tonight.
I clean the kitchen alone, most of the stuff I used can’t be washed in the dishwasher, so it’s almost an hour before it’s done. I could’ve cut the time if I’d have cleaned up as I made dinner, but we needed this pause, this time, for my wife to set the Bitch up.
Timing is important here.
I can hear them moving around in the bedroom as I head into the main bathroom, and take a shower. I don’t shave and I only put on deodorant, not cologne. Just lounge pants, no shirt.
By the time I get to the bedroom she is in bed. The only light is the harsh white top light on the alarm clock. I can see her lying in the center of the bed, on her side, facing away from the door. From me. She’s taking up as much of the bed as she can, and she’s wearing an old set of cotton “not tonight” pajamas my wife was planning on throwing away months ago.
I can hear the ceiling fan. It’s on medium which gets the bed too cold, and its making that odd sound.
The sheets have been changed to an old set of dark red silk sheets, the color of dried blood. They go with nothing in the room. My wife made a good choice.
I slide in behind the Bitch.
She’s awake, but she doesn’t move. My wife always turns her head for a kiss, even if she’s asleep. She somehow just knows I’m there.
Not the Bitch.
I can feel her hunch into herself a little. It doesn’t seem like much, but I know it’s about to begin. I raise up and kiss her neck. The Bitch wants to pull away, but my wife won’t let her. There’s a brief struggle, and her head tilts slightly, exposing more of her neck.
I smile. Not a happy smile; it’s the joyless smile of a soldier moving the selector switch from “safe” to “semi”.
I kiss her neck again, just at the hairline behind the jaw. Letting the edges of my teeth rake her skin, letting my unshaved skin grate against her soft skin. She shivers and goosebumps spring up instantly all down her neck. And further: I can just glimpse her nipples, incredibly hard against her thin pajama top. Her breathing shifts, shallower, but more rapid.
I can also see a rip in the collar of her pajama top, just below the hollow of her throat. I give a small, real, smile. My wife is a clever, clever girl. And the Bitch underestimated her again.
I force my left arm under her – between her arm and her body. I reach up with it and grip the hair on the left side of her head. All the Bitch has to do to stop this is say something. “Stop” or even “No”.
But my wife won’t let her talk at all.
.... There is more of this story ...