Maryanne Sutton Myers, former Miss Pittsfield of 1989, former Prom Queen of the 1990 Pittsfield High School graduating class, junior class president in 1989, captain of the cheerleading squad 2 years running and girl voted Most Likely to Succeed sat in an old chair staring at her sleeping husband. Her fingers toyed with the frayed upholstery as she listened to his resonant snoring. He had been on that faded couch all afternoon, sawing logs. It was where he could be found most days since being laid off at the plastics plant where he had worked as a tool and dye maker.
It had been four months since he had held a job and Maryanne was the one bringing home the money on which they lived. He believed that his unemployment check was enough. And it might be if he would just get off his butt and do something constructive with his time. She worked fifty-eight hours a week at two jobs to support him and their two children. Then she came home to cook, clean and do laundry. And he could be found either on the couch asleep or in his tired old chair flipping through the TV channels—if he was home at all—while the children ran wild in the neighborhood.
How she hated the sight of him. It wasn't as if he was getting fat. Somehow he had a superhuman ability to stay in fairly good shape despite his inactivity. And it wasn't his laziness that spurred her to this point of loathing. She had been willing to do anything for the man that had swept her off her feet and married her. She had loved him in those days. Like most women in love she was capable of giving all she had to her husband.
What caused this escalating sense of animosity was his lack of attention. As time went by he became increasingly distant. Maryanne was working her ass off for their family and he didn't seem to appreciate it. More and more she was feeling like a machine whose only function was to see to his comfort. He never touched her anymore. It had been almost a year since they had made love. He complained when his meals were late or the house was a mess. He bellowed at the boys but refused to parent them. And when he felt that he was not getting his demands met he would storm out of the house to sit in a pub with his buddies, swilling beer with money they could not afford to be spending. Sometimes he would be gone for hours. A couple of times he was gone all night.
With a grunt of disgust Maryanne vaulted out her chair to get her cleaning supplies. She had to be at her night job in 3 hours and that left little time for her to get her chores done. Upon opening the hall closet she saw the unutilized vacuum cleaner. With a malicious smile on her face she pulled the rickety old appliance out, plugged it in and began sweeping the worn living room carpet.
Before long her vindictive cleaning frenzy had its desired effect. Russ was awake. From the look on his face he was pissed as hell at being disturbed. "Turn that fucking thing off!" he yelled but Maryanne continued her task as if she hadn't heard him. He jumped off the couch and yanked the cord out of the wall socket.
She turned the switch on the vacuum to off as Russ returned to the couch. She quickly marched back over to the wall and stuck the plug back into the outlet. She returned to the sweeper and switched it on again. Russ flew off the couch again and grabbed the cord. He gave it a mighty yank, dislodging the plug from the cord and sending a shower of sparks flying into the air.
"Happy now?" he asked her.
"No," she stated flatly. "You're still here."
"I can fix that." He left the room. When he came back in he was wearing his favorite boozing shirt and ball cap. "I'm taking your car, mine's out of gas."
Normally Maryanne would have been angry with him for this but she just wanted him out of her sight. It meant that she would have to buy gas for his car but she decided that was a small price to pay. Besides, she paid for most of his gas, and everything else that he thought he needed so why should this be different. She wrapped up what was left of the sweeper cord then went to the fuse box to shut the power off. She removed the damaged plug from the outlet and tossed it in the trash. She decided the housekeeping could wait and went to look for her boys. She found them in the nick of time as they were about to spray paint graffiti on the back of the neighbor's house. A lesser woman would swallow a gunshot, she thought as she herded them into their tiny, rundown home. It was inconceivable that one eight-year-old and one five-year-old could get into so much trouble. She sent the boys to their room and dialed the number of their babysitter. Maryanne breathed a sigh of relief when she was told that Amanda was available.
After a soak in the bathtub Maryanne got ready for work. Jeans, plaid shirt and apron were the required uniform at the western-styled restaurant where she worked every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights as a waitress. She hoped that tips would be good that night. Bills were over-due.
As she waited for Amanda to arrive she decided that she needed to inspect Russ' car. He often left beer cans and even half-smoked marijuana joints in the vehicle. She didn't want to go to jail just because he was a slob and some cop decided to pull her over as she drove home after midnight. She grabbed a bag to toss all the trash in and aimed herself toward the carport, stopping for a moment to tell the boys to settle down in their room.
As she suspected Maryanne found all manner of garbage lying on the floor of his 1995 Chevy. With a sigh born of resignation she bent to the task of scooping the filth out of the interior. Four beer cans, six empty fast-food containers and two old newspapers later she saw something under the seat that left her cold. She pulled it out with her thumb and forefinger, holding it up in front of her. It was an empty condom box. And it was HIS favorite brand.
She stared at that inanimate bit of cardboard for several minutes. There had been no need to use them in their marriage since she had her tubes tied two years previous. She had cleaned his car out just the week before and it hadn't been there then. She thought of all those evenings when she sat at home alone or was forced to pay someone to sit with her children while she went to work. She thought of all the times when he came home without offering an explanation for where he had been. And she thought of the times when he hadn't come home at all. She had tried not to think that there might be someone else.
She dropped the bag of trash and carried the empty little box into the house. She dialed Amanda's number, just catching the girl before she left her house, and explained that her services wouldn't be needed that night after all. Then she dialed her friend's number.
After three rings there was finally an answer. "Kathy," Maryanne said. "I need a big favor."
"Sure, honey, what can I do?" Kathy was always there to help Maryanne and Maryanne really treasured her friendship.
"It's a lot to ask but could you keep the boys for me tonight? I have a problem and I have to work it out."
"Sure, Mare, anything you need. Is everything all right?"
"No, but I'll explain it to you later."
"Do you want me to come get them?"
"That would really be great. You're a good friend."
"Okay, hun, I'll be there in a few."
Maryanne disconnected and went to pack a few things for the boys. She informed them that they would be on their best behavior or she would give them an old-fashioned whipping. Then she called the manager of The Western Roundup and told him that she wouldn't be in due to a family emergency. She slammed the phone down while he was still screaming at her. When Kathy arrived Maryanne handed the kids off to her and promised to have them picked up by noon the next day. Then she looked at the empty prophylactic container.
The box looked new. There would be no arguing that it had been in his car for years because she was the one who cleaned the vehicle out whenever it was in dire need. She knew for a fact that it had not been in there longer than a week. She had to decide what to do. She had to try to figure out who he sneaking around with. All she could think about was the time several weeks earlier when she came home early from her office job. She was a block and a half from home when she saw Cheryl George driving toward her.
Cheryl George was a real piece of work. The woman had dated Russ before he met Maryanne. Russ had told Maryanne that the reason they broke up was because Cheryl was crazy. She was jealous and mean and he just couldn't stand to be around her anymore. But Maryanne could remember all the times when she would just HAPPEN to show up at the social functions they used to attend before times had gotten hard.
She scooped the box into a paper sack and stuffed it into her purse. The phone book revealed Cheryl's address, which Maryanne jotted down on the envelope of a past-due bill. She left the house with the intention of finding out for herself just what was going on.
It took a mere fifteen minutes to find the nicely built home of Cheryl George. In her driveway was Maryanne's red 1998 Saturn SL. It was a slap in the face of a neglected wife. It was too much to bear. She sat parked in front of the house for what seemed hours before a plan emerged.
Maryanne got out of the car and crept quietly up to the house. Peering through the front window she saw no signs of life. Her skin began to crawl. She walked to her Saturn and found the spare key on her key ring. It only took a minute to find the disposable camera she kept in the glove box in case of traffic accidents.
As quietly as her well-toned waitress' legs would carry her she slipped around to the back yard. She looked first in one window and then another. It was the third window that revealed what she dreaded seeing. There was nothing between Maryanne and the two perverted lovers as the window was wide open. She could see and hear everything. Russ and Cheryl were having quite a good time. He was completely naked and all four of his limbs were tied to the corners of a very large bed. The woman was wearing a leather bustier, facing his feet and crouching over his groin. She was chastising him and encouraging him as she slowly raised and lowered herself on his penis. He was groaning and begging to be allowed to come.
Maryanne felt her stomach lurch as it threatened to heave. Anguish and rage washed over her and she thought that the sheer weight of emotion would knock her out. She forced herself to watch as her husband's thighs were slapped by the other woman with the leather strap she held. With cold determination in her chest Maryanne raised the camera up and snapped a picture. The flash went off but the two lovers didn't seem to notice so she snapped another. Without waiting for a reaction she dashed back to the front of the house and jumped into her Saturn. She took off at break-neck speed, heading to the one place where she knew she could get the pictures developed, no questions asked.
She went to the pharmacy where Kathy's husband Jack worked as the managing pharmacist. Maryanne knew that Jack worked most Saturday evenings so he would undoubtedly be there. When he saw her he met her with a jovial grin. The smile disappeared at the expression of horror on her face. He came out from behind his counter asking what had happened to her.
"Jack, I need a favor."
"I know the boys are at my house tonight. Kathy said you were pretty upset about something. You know that we'll do whatever we can to help. Just tell me what you need."
Maryanne handed him the camera. "I need this developed as soon as possible. Can you do it?"
"Sure. What did you get, or should I not ask?"
"I'd sure be grateful if you didn't. It's pretty bad and I just can't go into it right now."
Jack eyed her for a moment, seeming to consider whether to pursue the issue. He must have decided not to because he smiled fondly and said, "I'll do it right now."
After about twenty minutes and a raised eyebrow from Jack Maryanne had her evidence safely in hand. She drove swiftly home where she took the photos out of their envelope. She inspected the two pictures with rage. The cheap camera had taken some very clean, clear pictures and there was no mistaking to whom the two images belonged.
She stuffed the pictures safely back into their pouch and removed the negatives, which she tucked into her billfold. She decided that keeping them in separate places was best, in case he decided to try to destroy them. She was going use them to her best advantage.
With that nasty chore taken care of, Maryanne set out to put her house in order. She tidied up all the rooms, dusted and scrubbed the kitchen and bathroom. It was nearly midnight when she folded her last bit of laundry and put it away. Then she sat in front of the TV and switched it on. There was nothing on the three channels they could get since she shut the cable off. Money had been so tight over the last year and with Russ being laid off things had only gotten worse. She hit the off button on the remote and stared at the dark screen.
The man that she thought she knew, this man that she had loved was a complete stranger to her. He was father to her two children and had lived with her for more than ten years but she didn't know him at all. How could he have done this?
As she sat lamenting and ranting to herself she heard his car pull into the driveway. She shoved all the hurt aside as she smiled. She wondered what he thought when he left after screwing his mistress to discover that his car was sitting out front and the Saturn was gone. And Maryanne hadn't even filled the tank for him. He either made it home on fumes or was forced to stop and fuel up.
After what seemed a long time Russ finally made it to the front door. He opened it quietly and stepped carefully inside. He tiptoed to toward the hall and nearly jumped out of his skin when he saw Maryanne sitting on the couch smiling at him. It was the most frightening smile he had ever seen and he had the grace to look ashamed.
For a moment he stood and stared at her. She would have laughed at his timid expression had she not been so enraged. "Good evening, sweetie," she said in a voice oozing syrup. "Did you have a good time?"
He declined to answer as he walked down the hall toward the bedroom. She was behind him in an instant as he entered the room. "Russ, I've been thinking," she said in that same sweet voices. "You seem to really enjoy napping on the couch," she said as she carefully picked up the pillow upon which he slept. The smile faded from her face to be replaced by savageness. "So you can just sleep there until you find someplace else to live." She hurled the pillow at his head.
"Now, Maryanne," he said as he caught the pillow off his face. "Can't we talk? I know I fucked up but..."
A ceramic figurine glanced off his cranium and shattered against the wall. "Out," she said in a low, malevolent voice.
Russ left the room with his pillow tucked under his arm and his hand clutching his bleeding head. He heard the lock on the bedroom door snap shut and knew that he was out, at least for the night. He decided to make the best of the situation as he walked back to the living room. He picked up the remote and flopped down on the couch.
The next morning Maryanne was up early. She made her bed and got herself dressed. By eight A.M. she was on the phone with her father. Russ had no choice but to listen as she talked with the man.
"Hi, Pop," he heard her say. "Can you help me out?... no, no, nothing like that... the boys want to come stay on the farm for a few days. Will that be all right?... Yes, today... I know it's short notice... well, to be honest, Russ and I are having trouble... yes, I know, we should work it out... yes... but here's the problem, Dad. I caught Russ in bed with another woman last night and I don't want him around my children. He's not fit."
Russ jumped off the couch and ran for the kitchen. He was just about to grab for the phone when Maryanne held up a large carving knife, pointing it at his nose.
She continued her conversation without missing a beat. "So, do you think Mom would mind? I don't want to impose but I need to get them out of here... thank you, Dad, you're a life saver."
Maryanne disconnected and tossed the knife in the sink. She went to the back of the house and returned a few minutes later with a large suitcase. "Listen, asshole," she ground out. "You be here when I get back. I have a few things to say to you." And then she left the house.
It was nearly four hours later when Maryanne returned. She entered the house and tossed her purse on a chair. Russ was sitting quietly in the silent room and looked up when she entered. "Get off your ass," she ordered. "You want to have someone control and discipline you? Well try this on for size. Things are going to change around here. You get me?"
Russ slowly got off his chair, looking as if he was ready to do battle. "If you think that you are going to use this to..."
"Shut the hell up!" Maryanne reached up high on the bookshelf and remove the photo pouch she had hidden there the night before. She pulled out the pictures and flung them at him. "You do or say one thing that pisses me off and I swear I will send those to your holier-than-thou, bible-thumping freak of a father."
Russ was shaking as he picked the photographs of he and Cheryl. Maryanne knew that he was remembering all those beatings he took as a child for whatever infractions he had committed. He still feared the man. He was a vicious, cruel man that lived by the letter of the bible and interpreted it to mean that punishment should be doled out maliciously on his wife and children. For that reason Maryanne had refused to allow the man to have anything to do with her babies. But she would happily throw Russ back into the line of fire.
"Now you get it, don't you?" she glared at him for a moment. "Answer me!" she screamed.
"You wouldn't dare," he said unsteadily.
"Try me. Just give me half a chance and I'll see to it that vicious old man takes a bullwhip to you."
Russ looked truly terrified. His face went white and he sank back down into his chair, staring at the telltale photos. Suddenly he shredded them. He launched himself at her and tossed the fragments in her face. "Not much you can do about it now," he said, quite pleased with himself.
Maryanne laughed. "You really are as stupid as my father always said. I still have the negatives. And they are in a place you will never find. Oh, and since I knew you would probably pull that little maneuver I stopped and had more prints made. Jack was only too happy to do it for me. He even kept some copies for himself. Said he wanted to put them on his dartboard." She pulled another set of prints out of her purse and tossed them on the coffee table. "You see, Russ? You really fucked up this time. And you have just become my most humble slave."
Russ looked ill. Realization of his doomed fate was evident in his eyes. "What do I have to do?"
"You will do whatever I tell you to do. And you will do it with enthusiasm. First, I get to make all the rules and the rules will be changing. When I'm done giving you your orders you will call that bitch and break it off, you hear me?"
Russ nodded. He would do whatever she said.