The grass was wet from the early morning dew when she stepped out on her perfect manicured lawn. With a glass of bourbon in one hand and one of his cigarettes in the other, she figured she would watch possibly the last sunrise she would see again as a free woman. Claudia snapped one of the pockets closed on her leather jacket and made an effort to smooth out her previously coiffed hair. Her wild tendrils were a reflection of the seconds of chaos that would make all the difference. She noticed one lock of hair that had a little dried blood at the tip, so she wet her fingers and rubbed the remnants of the dead husband out. She wanted to look at least half way decent for her mug shot that would be the talk of Highland Park society for weeks, maybe even months to come.
Claudia knew it was going to be a bad night when her husband, Michael, didn’t even take his jacket off before asking for three fingers of blue label. Her stepson was at his mother’s house. This removed the flimsy barrier between her husband being a regular drunk asshole and the stuff that the Lifetime Network wishes they could dream up. In an empty attempt to ease the impact of her husband’s rage, she hired his favorite chef to come and prepare his favorite dinner and conveniently hung around in the kitchen for most of the night. This was her life now. Buying minutes here and an hour or two there. Always trying to minimize the bruises and mask the pain with Hermes scarves, Louis Vuitton sunglasses and private chefs that stay until her husband passes out.
Michael threw his jacket on the couch and his belt on the floor. She waited in the study until he was safely out of sight, and then scurried into the living room to pick up his sheddings and put them where they belong. It was only after the first six months of marriage that she learned not to ever let him see his surroundings out of place, even if it was from his doing. He nearly dislocated her jaw over a necktie and her stepson’s baseball bag.
As he sucked down his first drink, they played their nightly dance of avoiding each other. He remained in their bedroom wing where he would get sufficiently lubricated enough to face his mistake of a wife. Five years ago, like in all of his business transactions, he had acquired her because she resembled a good investment. She was 25 then, a recent MBA graduate and a pedigree suitable for his future societal ambitions. He wanted her to get pregnant immediately, and she was just young and in love enough to forego her dreams for his picture of happiness.
But after six months of trying and a reluctant fertility test, Claudia found out that she would never have her own children. Just like that, Michael changed. She was devastated and turned to the one man that she had thought held her heart. He looked at her with resentment and disgust; like she suckered him into giving up his coveted secondary spot to a woman who must have secretly known that she could never fulfill the role. She went from his love of loves to a gold digger, an opportunist and a whore. Of course, he wouldn’t just give her a divorce. His varnish in society as a gentleman and a good Christian would get scuffed, and he couldn’t allow that to happen.
So he turned his anger inward. Claudia bared the brunt.
She was idling in the kitchen, fidgeting with the fine china and faking small talk with the chef. It was only a matter of time before Michael would emerge from his posh lair of booze and cigarettes. No one knew he smoked outside of Claudia; one of many secrets that she kept to uphold their glossy image. The second he got home, Michael began to smoke cigarette after cigarette until he felt caught up for the day. It was then that the chef said something that made Claudia almost drop an heirloom china teacup that Michael surely would have made her pay for.
“Ok, Mrs. Dunbriar, everything is ready to be served,” the chef said. “Please call or text me if you need anything.”
“What do you mean?” She said. “I thought you were going to be preparing several courses throughout the night?”
“I thought I explained over the phone. I have a cocktail party that I am catering at the Tremill’s residence this evening. The salmon has just finished and the risotto is in the heated serving dish. Everything else is room temperature. I’m sorry, I thought you understood.”
She remembered the conversation.
Excuse me?” The chef said.
“Shit. I mean… I’m sorry, Paul. I remember. I will call you next week for the Thanksgiving arrangements.”
The chef looked confused. He could sense the thinly veiled panic that registered across her face. Normally she was rather vacant, but no more vacant than the other Highland Park wives he normally did business with. He paused, but then continued to move towards the foyer.
“Have a good night, Mrs. Dunbriar.”
After throwing back a glass of Belvedere, she assessed the near perfect spread that was simmering in the kitchen she never used. Another failure, she always assumed. But it was easier to hire a chef and withstand the snide remarks of her shortcomings than listen to just how bad her cooking was night in and night out. She heard him walk in. Her neck stiffened and she hoped for just violent sex instead of actual violence tonight.
“Wow. You hired Paul… again. You’ve outdone yourself, Claud,” Michael said.
Without looking at her, he took his seat at the table. She could smell the whiskey even though he was in the dining room and she was in the room adjacent.
“I’ll bring your plate to you in a minute,” she said.
And she braced herself for another casual night of torture.
The first two courses passed with mostly silence. Michael mentioned how they would be attending the country club’s annual Halloween party and how she needed to decide what they would be wearing. In the house, they were enemies at war. At social functions, they played their roles as two perfect people with the perfect love for all it was worth.
“Just don’t dress like too much of a slut,” Michael said. “You embarrassed the hell out of me with that ridiculous Bonnie and Clyde get-up last year.”
“I was thinking about us going as Lucille Ball and you could be Ricky. But maybe we should switch roles so my breasts are covered to your liking,” Claudia said. “I’m sure you would make a cute red head.”
That was her problem, she thought. She could be a shadow most of the time. Tip toeing around her own house, avoiding Michael and placing as many buffers as she could between the two of them. But she could never refrain from biting back when bitten. She had given up all of herself. But she was still Claudia. The headstrong girl from Dallas with as much backbone as any man in business and the one least likely to take abuse of any kind.
“But isn’t that the sweet irony of it all?” She would whisper when powdering her black eyes.
She knew her comment registered by the way he was slicing his steak in a slow, precise motion. His movements reflected his thoughts. He was almost smiling, savoring just how he was going to make her pay for that one.
She rose to take her plate into the kitchen.
“Aren’t you going to take mine, too? … I’m finished, Claud.”
With her back turned to him, she froze. It was only for a second, but he noticed. And he enjoyed it.
She turned and walked over to collect his plate. As she went to gather his silverware, he grabbed her wrist and twisted it until she was at her knees. She uttered only a small scream of anguish, knowing that he relished in the louder she cried out.
“Nobody thinks you’re funny, bitch.” Michael said.
“I know, I’m…”
He clocked her across the jaw – open palmed but with closed fingers. She fell to the ground, sprawled out next to the feet of his chair. After slipping her high heel back around her foot, she rose, grabbed his plate and went into the kitchen.
“And don’t go cry while you’re in there,” Michael said. “I don’t want the soundtrack to how fucking pathetic you are. Just bring me another whiskey.”
As she rounded the corner into the kitchen, she murmured, “Like I even feel it anymore.”
Michael heard it, and he accepted the challenge. He threw back the last of his drink and crunched on the ice as he followed her.
“I’m sorry. What did you say, dear?”
Panicked, she hastily fumbled for the right words to minimize the fall out. She set down their plates and turned to find him merely five feet behind her. He was excited about tonight, she thought.
It had been five years of marriage, three trips to the hospital and countless excuses behind the bruises and scratches that marked her body. When she met him, her life seemed limitless. Now, she was a walking punching bag dressed in this season’s couture. Some girls can only take so much.
“I said, like I even feel it anymore, dear.”
For a moment, he stood, stunned by the air of defiance that dripped from her words. Then, he lunged at Claudia and took her by the front of her neck. Michael threw her to the ground without loosening his grip. The fall broke the strand of diamonds she was wearing and scattering them beside her head that was now pounding from the crack against the kitchen tile.
“I guess I will have to give it to you a little harder, then,” he said. “I should have known that bitches like you liked it rough.”
She just tried to breathe and refocus her eyesight. She was seeing stars after Michael slammed her head on the floor. Her Ralph Lauren pencil skirt was ripped from Michael taking her into the missionary position. She had no response.
“I guess it runs in the family,” he said. “Your sister liked it rough, too. At least she was better at taking it than you are.”
Then, just before releasing her, Michael spit in her face. He stumbled to his feet and went back into the dining room.
“I’m still waiting on that whiskey.”
She stayed where she was for a moment. As the whiskey tinged mucus ran down her face into her hair, a wave of calm came over her. She knew about the affair with her sister. Quite frankly, she was relieved that it wasn’t her who had to sleep with him for a night or two. But the spit… The spit was like a dunk into cold water after a night of drinking. Suddenly her life was a little clearer. Not only was she stuck in an abusive relationship, but she had also accepted it. She knew she only had a moment of clarity before the smoke set in again and she went on with her Xanax-dependent existence.
She slowly brought herself to her feet, brushed off her skirt and blouse and walked into the entry hall. Her high heels echoed throughout the empty house as she found her way to the utility closet and opened her stepson’s baseball bag. She crouched down and found a wooden and a metal bat alongside his glove. She gripped the wooden bat and began to rise to her feet before pausing and exchanging it for the metal one.
She walked through the house into the opposite entrance of the dining room. His back was facing towards her.
“I had to get another bottle from the cellar,” she said.
He just laughed.
“It’s ok, Claud. I expected you to cry after that one.”
Her pain was a joke to him.
“I’m not crying, motherfucker.”
As he turned to face her she swung the bat so hard that the blood splattered across the ceiling in an aerial formation. He dropped lifelessly to the floor, taking his empty glass with him. He didn’t even let out a sound. She was then sure that the metal bat was the right choice. As she stood over his limp body and his now dented, bloody face, she felt nothing. Logic and pain was the only thing coursing through her veins. So she raised the bat above her head and took to more violent whacks to his head. Claudia never had a problem finishing what she started.
Two hours passed and she had yet two move from her seat at the dinner table. She just stared out of her dining room window at the perfect upper class neighborhood that she was about to say goodbye to. Claudia wasn’t sure if she was even going to miss it. She couldn’t help but think that she would have never ended up in such a stuffy and Republican bubble if she had pursued her career instead of Michael. Now, both paths were one’s she would never walk again.
Four hours later, she was drinking Michael’s whiskey, listening to Stevie Nicks and looking through her wardrobe for the right mug shot outfit. This is what happens to a woman who cracks. She was letting herself settle into her new role. In 10 seconds, she went from being Mrs. Dunbriar, wife of Michael Dunbriar, philanthropist, a society darling and battered cliché to Claudia, murderess housewife and criminal. She threw on her old leather jacket over a camisole and picked up the phone. She could almost hear her neighbors gasping over just how gruesome the scene was. The refined residents of Highland Park would be astonished and ashamed of her pedestrian weapon of choice for such a white-collar pedigree. She dialed 911 and smiled.
“Yeah, a fucking bat,” she whispered before the operator picked up.
She was never going to be a lot of things after that night. But at least she was no longer a victim.