A work of fiction by Abbeyrose Gelsomina. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental. Written and copyrighted February 15, 2021.
The couple stormed through the doors of the M15 bus with a flurry of freezing air and snowflakes.
The woman’s red cheeks were barely visible above her mask. The man’s whole face was flushed. He plopped down into a seat, she sat sharply perpendicular to him. Both were silent.
The child took no notice, his mother barely any.
Two stops passed. The child fell asleep on his mother’s side, adorable and tuckered out after a long day of errands-on-foot. He had been a good sport. The mother was tired too, and grateful for her baby, safe under her arm.
The party, one of those theatre-people parties full of singing and dancing, where a friend who is not old turns a year older and drinks about it, had been fun. The visit to the bodega adjacent to the bus stop, when the couple had left the party and were once again alone, had not been fun.
In all moments of life, the man’s soul strutted through the world like a leopard. In moments after heavy drinking, especially whenever his wife was present, the leopard became very keen to overpower any creature he perceived as being in his way.
The woman knew this, and tread softly through these moments. If she did not meet her husband’s whims, there would be an angry big cat to deal with.
The man had spent much of his childhood feeling small, rejected, and powerless. On a primal level, he knew the woman loved him and would tolerate a certain amount of verbal…pushback. Like an emotional punching bag, or a pillow after a long day at school, she was always his soft place to land.
The bus lurched over a pothole, and in the same moment, the man burped up an angry thought, giving voice to that fireball of rage bouncing around the walls of his stomach. “No damn respect for me, like I’m a child.”
The woman looked back over her shoulder and responded, in the voice of a stern high-school teacher, “My having a boundary around not discussing money when we have been drinking does not mean I am shutting down the conversation. Can we please pick it up tomorrow?”
“Then why do you have such an attitude about it?” Spat the man. He hated that fucking teacher-speak tone. “You don’t want me to have the things I need.”
The child woke up.
The woman breathed in slowly, maneuvering carefully. “I want you to have the things you need. But when we spend too much money on things we want — like eating takeout and getting vapes — we don’t have money for things we need. And we have already spent a lot of money this week. We have like $20 in the — “
“You don’t understand what it’s like to be me.” The man interrupted. The woman was officially his enemy for the night. “I need weed.”
“I understand, and we already got what you need, I didn’t say no, I just suggested we don’t spend as much — “
The man roared. “Then why are you so annoying about money?!”
“Can we please have this conversation tomorrow? Please, it won’t be productive.”
“You’ve already decided it won’t be productive, so.”
The woman chose not to respond, silently praying that this would be the end of the wretched conversation for tonight.
The bus stopped and four more people got on. Two unlucky souls sat near the briefly dormant volcano.
The man squinted his eyes at the back of his wife’s head. Her hat was stupid and childish, a leopard printed faux-fur cheap thing that a little girl would wear. A part of him truly hated her. He felt so limited by this person. All she wanted was to restrict the joys and pleasures of life from him, to take all the good things he had to offer her and leave him with nothing. She had trapped him like a leopard in a cage. Of course she was wearing leopard skin around her head. At the same time, he suddenly felt very afraid. For he sensed that he had, in turn, made himself into the enemy of the girl he loved.
“So what, are you going to silently hate me for the rest of the night?”
The woman did not move. “No. I have never hated you.”
This angered the man. Surely she must hate him as well, since right now he certainly hated her. “Then why are you…”
He shot out of his mouth a verbal firestorm that to the woman, was unintelligible, for it sounded and felt only like punches to her heart.
The mother and child were now highly alert and well aware of the drama unfolding before their eyes, and completely understood every word of the man’s onslaught.
The woman closed her eyes and began breathing in for 7 seconds and out for 9, like the therapist had told her to do when she went last January. One thing that came up was the way her husband spoke to her about money when he was drunk. The therapist had been the first one to label his behavior verbal abuse. Since then, a second therapist had given this behavior the same name.
The husband rolled his eyes. “Yeah, pray about it.”
Keeping her eyes closed, the woman responded. “I am not praying, I’m trying to keep calm.”
The man continued berating, he could not stop. He needed to break down the stone wall that was his wife. And he knew how.
The woman resolved that she would not break down. Now completely sober, she physically stood up from her seat and walked away to stand near the driver. She put her mittened hands over her ears. The stream of vitriol was muffled until he raised his voice another level. “ — intentionally trying to piss me off!”
The woman dropped her hands from her ears, turned around, and spoke lowly and sharply. “You are picking a fight in public, on the bus, and it’s embarrassing.”
The man’s fist clenched around his vape. “You are plugging your ears like a five-year-old, and it’s embarrassing.”
The child, who was five years old, looked at his mother with worried eyes. Did this man hate five-year-olds? The mother patted her child’s back and glared at the man. The man did not notice.
The woman turned back around silently.
The refusal of his wife to even basically acknowledge him by maintaining eye contact pushed him over the edge. “Don’t fucking ignore me, you bitch!”
Ouch. There it was.
The mother moved to speak, but the wife beat her to it, whipping around as the bus creaked to a halt at a red light. “You are swearing in front of children. You need to stop. Please stop.”
As the M15 bus creaked and braked at their stop, the woman decided she had to make it clear, somehow, to this man, that she would no longer accept this treatment. The man, in a huff, exited through the back door of the bus and the woman exited through the front door, much to the relief of everybody else on the M15.
The man marched ahead of the woman, which he often did when he was mad. This move served the double purpose of giving himself needed space from his nagging wife, and making sure the whiny cunt knew he had no problem leaving her in the dust.
The woman took her time to walk through the snow. As the snowflakes hit her eyes and cheeks, she planned the logistics of what she would do.
The man exhaled a strawberry-scented nicotine cloud from his nostrils as the woman turned the key in the lock.
Fatbaby, their overweight, nearly toothless pit bull, greeted them at the door. The man had rescued Fatbaby from the backyard of evil dogfighters when he was just a puppy. The man had simply unlocked the gate, uprooted the stake from the ground that chained the puppy, grabbed the dog, and ran away. He also alerted the local ASPCA chapter of thedogfighters’ address. Fatbaby had been his only son ever since. After receiving customary pats on the head and a handful of treats, the old dog lumbered off into the bedroom.
“Will you make curry?” The man asked his wife. The wife said nothing, went into the kitchen, and washed the bus germs from her hands.
As she buttered bread and stacked cheese on it, grilling the pieces into an acceptable sandwich, she remembered a video she had been shown at the John Calvin Fundamentalist Academy for Young Ladies. It was a man named John Piper sitting in a chair, with a basic backdrop behind him. The topic of the 11th grade Religion Class at JCFA was “submission”. The question posed to John Piper was, “What should a wife’s submission to her husband look like if he’s an abuser?”
John Piper answered, with all the entitled authority of a white complementarian man, “I think she endures verbal abuse for a season, and she endures perhaps being smacked one night, and then she seeks help from the church.”
The class of girls at JCFA had looked at each other in horror. Their male teacher, a Southern Baptist pastor at a nearby church, began his lecture. “Seems radical. I know. I see the horror on your faces. But Piper’s wisdom here…”
Fuck. The woman knew this was bullshit. The man had never smacked her physically. But she had endured for many seasons. Enough.
She handed the grilled cheese on a plate to the man, who was watching some web show interview hosts talk about how Kanye West should not have called Taylor Swift a bitch in a song that came out five years ago. The man was, after all, a Very Good Feminist.
He thanked the woman and she said nothing, walking into the bedroom and shutting the door behind her. Fatbaby slept happily at the foot of the bed. Such a good boy. She buried her face in the fur of his neck.
“Why do you smell like dryer sheets, Fatbaby?”
The dog snored in response.
As she put underwear and socks into a small backpack, she went over the plan in her head. In their cash stash, there was currently $150. A round trip ticket to Wampano Springs was $30. She would also take her own credit and debit card, so the man would not spend limitlessly on the credit card or deplete the meager amount that was left in the debit account. She would leave the man $75– Fatbaby had enough food for a month, and $75 would be enough to last the man until his next paycheck hit in three days. Rent was paid through the month. She would take the other half of the cash for herself. There was a train out of Grand Central at 6:05 AM. She would miss FatBaby.
As she chose her shirts for the next few days, a sneaky tear made its way down her cheek.
On the other side of the door, the grilled cheese began to absorb some of the alcohol in the man’s stomach. He felt better. He smiled, remembering how his friends had fawned over finally meeting his wife tonight, after months of hearing about her but being unable to gather because of the sickness pervading the nation. She had been charming and funny and beautiful. “Magnetic,” Mark’s husband called her.
The husband’s anger melted into sadness.
He would not apologize, for his wife had been annoying about finances, and therefore deserved the treatment he gave her. He was responding to her attitude, after all. Why shouldn’t he defend himself if he was being attacked?
But he did not like when she was mad at him. And he didn’t like being mad at her either. A familiar pang, the sting of self-hatred, traveled up his gut into his heart. For some reason, he suddenly felt very embarrassed.
He silently opened the bedroom door. His wife was holding a pile of folded shirts. She turned, surprised, and dropped the shirts onto the floor.
Without a word, the man walked up to the woman and kissed her on the neck. She melted into his arms, her back to his chest. He held her arms out with his own, stretching her against himself. Her arms stayed parallel to the ground while his hands traveled up her skin, toward her shoulders, over her breasts, then down to her hips and back up under her shirt, on either side of her waist.
As he lifted her and spun, her heart broke like frozen water. Tears flowed onto her cheeks. She strengthened her core and fluttered her hands.
They had been ice dancers, in the life before the virus. Money back then was abundant with the 30-month Megadome contracts. The woman understudied The Night Princess. The man was The Star Prince.
Everyone loved him. Men, women, non-binary people, the little kids who idolized him at the stage door, the director, the choreographer. When the man danced and glided across the ice — that perfect technique, that beautiful body, that spirit which shined brighter than Canopus— the world fell in love with The Star Prince. The woman herself was no exception.
Their engagement had taken place on the ice, much to her overjoyed surprise. He proposed in front of a delighted Megadome crowd (including their relatives and best friends) after asking her to marry him off-the-ice about thirty times. “We’re too young!” The woman would say, with a giggle and a spin. “Let’s wait till we’re more mature, like 24!” But the man knew this woman was the woman, and he knew she wanted to marry him. He was right. She did. How beautiful was their past.
Here in the present, the man moved them into a Star Lift, humming the tune of the big romantic partner dance at the end of the show. The woman submitted, strengthened her core, and followed his lead. The routine ended with a dip and a kiss, which always made the crowd in the Megadome erupt into cheers and applause.
The man leaned her into the dip, but did not kiss her. Instead, he met her dark eyes, which were huge and full of tears. Good God. Why did they have to fight about money, of all things?
Fatbaby, who literally never thought about money, rolled over onto his back and snorted, breaking the tension. Both his parents broke out into laughter.
The woman picked up the shirts off the floor and put them away in the closet. She didn’t want to leave. She wanted to send the message to her husband that his behavior was unacceptable— since her words clearly held very little weight, perhaps her actions would mean something to him — and maybe stay gone long enough to make him miss her, appreciate her, reconsider the way he treated her. But Good God. How could she even think of leaving this person who she loved more than anyone else? She wanted to be with him.
The two lovers got out of the house and took the bus to their favorite late-night Italian pastry joint. They blasted Mariah Carey hits on their Bluetooth speaker, laughing and dancing all the way there and back.
Full of cannoli and sfogliatelle, they crashed onto their full-size Murphy bed — a bad purchasing decision made by the wife — around midnight. They did not hold each other. Neither fell asleep easily. The unresolved tension curled up tightly around their vagus nerves while Fatbaby curled around his favorite teddy bear at the foot of the bed.
They would need to address what happened, at some point. As the woman drifted off to sleep around 1:30, she thought to herself that if it ever happened again, she really might go to Wampano Springs.