The Good Husband ~ A new short story of mine. I post all of my shorts on my website for anyone to read.
Harold was a good husband. His mother taught him that a good husband should cater to his wife’s every whim. His father had left when he was two years old, so he didn’t have much basis for comparison. On her deathbed, his mother begged him to find a good woman and hold onto her.
“Promise me, Harry. Don’t chase after some bleach-haired floozy. Find a sensible woman who doesn’t sleep around and put a ring on her finger. Be a good husband. I want you to be taken care of.”
“I promise, Mama.”
True to his word, Harold ignored the flirtations of his lovely secretary, Linda, who was clearly waiting for him to ask her out. His mother would not have approved of Linda. She would have called her frivolous. Linda’s long, manicured nails, perfect makeup and unnaturally crimson hair meant she was a high-maintenance woman who probably spent all of her free time at the beauty salon. Personally, Harold wouldn’t have minded if his wife spent extra effort on her appearance, but he had made a promise to his mother. If nothing else, he was an honorable man who revered his mother above all others.
He met Bernice at a charity fundraiser. He was obligated to attend on behalf of his employer, and she was one of the volunteers. She was a solidly built woman; a little on the heavy side. Her angular face was free from makeup and her dishwater-blonde hair was twisted into a tight bun, without a single stray strand. Linda wore her hair up as well, but she always had a few loose strands wisping over her smooth, rouged cheeks. Mother would have approved of Bernice.
Harold proposed to Bernice after just two months of celibate dating, foregoing intimacy to consummate their marriage the way a proper husband and wife should.
The dream honeymoon he had planned didn’t turn out quite the way Harold hoped. He wanted Hawaii, but settled on Niagra Falls because Bernice felt it was more practical to drive a few hours away than spend all that money to fly over the ocean to a resort filled with starved bikini-clad sluts. Howard acquiesced, intent on pleasing his new bride. His spirits weren’t dampened much; the promise of sexual release made mere details like location unimportant.
The honeymoon proved to be a disappointment. After one obligatory roll in the hay, Bernice refused to let him touch her. Like a good husband, Harold respected her wishes, confident that she would warm up to him when she was ready. She took his credit cards and spent the entire week shopping, leaving Harold waiting patiently in the hotel room.
Weeks passed, then months, still with no intimacy. To compensate for his nonexistent sex life, Harold threw himself into his work, quickly climbing the corporate ladder and bringing home increasingly larger paychecks, like a good husband should. Bernice sat on the couch eating snacks, drinking gin and watching the Home Shopping Network, spending the money as quickly as he could earn it.
Harold did his best to please Bernice, but she was never happy. She rarely spoke to him without yelling. Not much of a cook, she insisted on being taken out to eat frequently, which he dreaded because she took every opportunity to humiliate him in public.
Harold was miserable, but never allowed his feelings to show. He endured Bernice’s abuse meekly, replying only when asked to.
“Yes, Dear. You’re right, Dear. Whatever you want, Dear,” became his mantra. He recited the words automatically, often without even hearing what she had said. He knew his mother would have been proud of him for being such a good husband.
He wanted out, but there were only two ways he knew of to get out of his miserable marriage: divorce or suicide. Neither seemed like a viable option. Divorce meant lawyer’s fees, a hefty settlement and alimony. If he committed suicide, Bernice would get to keep all of his money and possessions. It was win-win for Bernice, with Harold ending up the loser in both cases.
As the years passed, Harold’s desperation grew, as did Bernice’s waistline. His eyes had been wandering for some time; after all, he was a man, and only human. His secretary Linda grew lovelier the more he watched her, and he spent many afternoons with his office door locked while he satisfied his urges, imagining various scenarios involving the two of them.
One day, his fantasy came true. Preoccupied with the low-cut dress Linda was wearing, he had forgotten to lock his office door. He was on the verge of climax, eyes closed and head thrown back in ecstasy when the door opened and Linda walked in.
“Mr. Benson, I need you to sign these requisitions for…” She froze when she saw him, sitting at his desk with his pants wide open.
Harold scrambled to cover himself and recover whatever dignity he had left. Linda’s next stop would be Human Resources. He would be publicly humiliated and probably asked to resign. His career was over.
What happened next was unexpected.
“Can I help you with that?” she asked, voice dripping with honey.
Unable to speak, Harold merely nodded. Linda leaned back against the door, shutting it. He heard the lock click into place.
“You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for this,” she said, slipping out of her dress and letting it fall to the floor.
Every fantasy he’d ever had was about to come true. For one sickening moment, Harold was certain he was asleep and dreaming; that he would wake up just as she was about to touch him.
When Linda climbed onto his lap and made love to him, he didn’t wake up from a dream. He did, however, experience an awakening of another kind.
His affair with Linda continued, and as the months passed, Harold gradually felt his confidence returning. For the first time in his life he felt like a man. He accepted the possibility that his mother may have been wrong. Subservience didn’t make him a man. It made him a doormat. Standing up for what he believed in was the mark of a true man, and he believed that he wanted to be with Linda.
He made a decision. No more would he endure Bernice’s abuse. He would ask for – no – he would DEMAND a divorce that night.
* * *
Harold ducked to avoid the half-full tumbler of gin and tonic Bernice hurled at him. The glass exploded against the cupboard door behind where his head had been a second earlier.
“A divorce?” she screeched. Her cheeks flushed with alcohol-fueled fury. “Oh, you think so, do you? You think you’re just going to put me out on the street like some used-up old whore?”
“I believe you actually have to have sex to be considered a whore,” Harold said calmly. He never would have dreamed of speaking to her that way before. Now, he felt cool and confident. He was unafraid of her, and his new-found courage was liberating.
“What did you say to me?” Bernice roared, wobbling a bit in her drunken haze as she looked around for something else to throw at him.
“You heard me.”
“Well, let me tell you something, Mister Smartypants.” Bernice grabbed her bottle of Tanqueray and took a swig of straight gin. “It just so happens, I know a thing or two.”
“Do tell, Dear.” Harold made sure he made ‘Dear’ sound anything but endearing.
“I know about your little affair with that slut in your office.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“DON”T FUCKING LIE TO ME!” she screamed.
“Calm down, Bernice. It’s quite simple. I don’t love you. I don’t know if I ever did. This marriage has been a sham from the beginning and I want a divorce. I’ll see that you’re well taken care of. I don’t think we have much else to discuss.”
“Oh yes, there is, you cheating bastard!” Bernice squinted, curling one side of her mouth into a sinister sneer. “I know. I know everything. About Linda, your little office grope-fests, those nights you were supposedly ‘working late’. A while back, I got an anonymous call from someone in your office. Someone cared enough about the sanctity of marriage to tell me what you were up to. I didn’t care much. If you were getting it from her, then you wouldn’t be always trying to put your perverted hands on me.”
“But I never…!” Harold protested, trying to quell the rage that boiled inside him. He had long ago given up making any attempts at intimacy with his wife. It was more peaceful just to leave her snoring away in her gin-soaked slumber.
“No, you never, did you? All these years, I’ve tried to make myself attractive to you, and you won’t so much as lay a finger on me!” She sniffled, tears forming at the corners of her bloodshot eyes. “I’m a woman, you know! I have needs too! Needs that a limp-dicked loser like you could never satisfy!”
Harold’s jaw hung slack as he struggled to comprehend her incredulous accusations. He had tried, Lord knew how hard he had tried to develop an intimate relationship with her early in the marriage, but she’d made it clear she did not want to be touched. Where was this coming from? Then all at once he knew. She was already preparing her case for divorce court. She planned to paint him as cold and neglectful and herself as the longsuffering victim of a loveless marriage.
“This is your response? To try and make it all my fault?”
“If it isn’t your fault, then whose is it? You’re the one who wants the divorce. After I wasted all of my best years on you!”
“Those were your best years? Then it’s a good thing I’m getting out now, because I don’t think I could handle the worst ones.”
“For better or for worse, I believe it was. But,” she waggled her bottle of gin at him. “I thought I’d better get some insurance, just in case. So I hired a private investigator. I have photos of your little love affair. Photos you aren’t going to want shown in court.”
A sudden chill gripped Harold’s gut, squashing the bravado he’d felt moments earlier. With proof of adultery she would assassinate him in court. He’d be left with nothing. Linda wouldn’t want to be with him if he was broke, he was sure of it. He needed to rethink his strategy.
“Bernice, Honey, let’s not be hasty.” He did his best to muster up some realistic-looking tears. “I’m sorry. I take back everything I said about not loving you. I was weak, I admit it, and I’m so sorry I hurt you. Please, Darling, forgive me. I’ll do anything to gain your forgiveness,” he wept.
“Anything?” Bernice was grinning now, a wide, cruel smile that stretched her already too-thin lips to the point where they almost disappeared.
“Anything you want, Dear. Haven’t I always been a good husband? Haven’t I always provided for you and given you everything you wanted? All I ask is you forgive me this one transgression. Tell me, Darling, how can I make it up to you?”
“Oh, it’s going to take me a while to make a list, but the first thing you’re going to do is fire that floozy you’ve been fooling around with.”
“You got a problem with that? Fire her tomorrow or I’ll call my lawyer.”
“Sweetheart, tomorrow is Saturday. The office is closed.”
“Then Monday, stupid! Do I have to do all the thinking around here?”
“Yes Dear, whatever you want, Dear.”
“That’s more like it,” she slurred. The gin was almost gone, and hopefully she would go to bed soon.
Harold’s mind reeled. He didn’t want to fire Linda, but he needed more time to think. How could he make the weekend last longer? Then he had it.
“Darling, I’m desperate to make it up to you. Why don’t we take a trip, just the two of us? Two weeks, anywhere you want to go. You can go shopping. We’ll eat someplace fancy every night. Please, I don’t want our marriage to end like this.”
“Anywhere I want?”
“What about work on Monday?”
“I’m an executive. I can take time off if I want to. I’ll just call in sick.”
“You are sick. You know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, Dear. You’re right. I’m sick.”
“I know where I want to go. You’ve always refused to take me there.”
Harold wanted to punch her right in the middle of that smug grin. She was the one who had refused to go to Hawaii, not him! But he gritted his teeth and gave her what he hoped was a sweet smile.
“Fine. Hawaii it is. I will make flight arrangements first thing tomorrow. Why don’t we get some sleep now, Dear?”
“Way ahead of you,” she mumbled, wobbling off toward the bedroom.
The last thing Harold wanted was to do was take a vacation with his shrew of a wife, but it was the only way he could think of to buy some time. He had successfully distracted her from demanding that he fire Linda on Monday. If he booked a Sunday flight, he would have the excuse that he’d have to wait until they returned to fire her. In the meantime, he would get a message to Linda, informing her of the recent developments and ask her to take care of business matters for him.
* * *
Luck was on his side, and Harold managed to secure two First Class seats on Flight 266 to Honolulu and a room at a luxurious Oceanside resort.
The following morning while Bernice was sleeping off her hangover, Harold slipped out for coffee at Starbuck’s so he could call Linda in relative privacy. He related the previous night’s events to her.
“I just don’t know what to do, Linda. I’m so sorry you got dragged into this. If I divorce her now, she’ll ruin me.”
“Then there’s only one solution,” Linda said.
“If you know of a way out of this, I’m all for it.”
“You take her to Hawaii, but only one of you returns.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“Yes. Read between the lines, Harry. All I’m going to say is, lots of accidents can happen in Hawaii. People drown in the surf. You take a hike up a volcano, then… oops! Use your imagination, Babe. You’ll figure something out. When you get back, I’ll be waiting for you. I love you, Harry.” She hung up before he could respond.
She loves me! His heart fluttered, in a way it never had for Bernice. No matter what happened in Hawaii, he had Linda.
But kill Bernice?
He had to admit, he’d thought of it more than once, the same way he’d fantasized about having sex with Linda. That fantasy had come true, so why not this one?
His phone dinged, indicating a text message. It was from Linda. He opened it eagerly. It was a picture of a breast. The message said, ‘Remember what’s waiting for you. Now delete this and go get ‘er!’
He picked up a bouquet of flowers on the way home and walked back into the house whistling a light-hearted tune. For the first time since he walked down the aisle, he saw light at the end of the tunnel.
After receiving a tongue-lashing from Bernice about buying flowers that were just going to be dead by the time they returned, Harold helped her pack for their dream vacation to Hawaii.
It was going to be a dream, all right. A dream come true. He had the entire flight and subsequent two weeks to plan and execute his wife’s demise, and then he could finally start his life.
* * *
The plane hadn’t finished taxiing down the runway when Bernice started to complain.
“This seatbelt is faulty. It’s too tight. I’m taking it off.”
“Just a few minutes, Dear. Once we’re in the air you can take it off.”
“Well who designed these damn things? Probably the same assholes who design clothes – anorexics only!”
Harold clamped his lips shut tight. It wouldn’t do to argue with her or point out that the seatbelt was tight because she had gained considerable girth since their wedding. It was a good thing he had booked First Class, because he didn’t think her ass would have fit in a Coach seat.
The moment the Fasten Seatbelts sign went off, Bernice had the flight attendant running, bringing her gin after gin, slippers, a pillow, then a new pillow because the one she had smelled like farts.
Harold gazed out the window at the rugged snow-capped mountains below, picturing the curve of Linda’s breast in her last text. He mulled over the various ways he could kill Bernice. Drowning might be difficult, since a woman her size was incredibly buoyant. With his luck he’d push her overboard and she’d bob there like a cork until someone rescued her. Of course, there was always the possibility of a shark attack…
The volcano option was unlikely, since Bernice wouldn’t hike anywhere unless a buffet was waiting at the other end.
Poison, perhaps? Alcohol poisoning? Maybe he could make it look accidental. There had to be a way.
The plane gave a sickening lurch, then shuddered violently. Harold jumped in his seat. The Fasten Seatbelts sign lit up again. Bernice muttered curses into her gin and tonic.
Oxygen masks dropped in front of their faces, and a crescendo of screams rose from the Coach cabin behind them. A flight attendant emerged from the cockpit and gathered the others into a cluster, where she whispered to them urgently before ducking behind the curtain that separated First Class from Coach.
A woman’s voice came over the intercom.
“This is flight attendant Julie Todd. The captain has informed me that we are having mechanical difficulties. The cabin may lose pressure, so please take a moment to place your oxygen masks over your faces. If traveling with small children, please put on your own mask first before assisting with theirs.”
Harold detected a quaver in the flight attendant’s voice. She sounded scared, and it frightened him. She was trained to handle events such as this.
Harold put on his mask, noticing that Bernice was still sipping her gin. She had made no move to fasten her seatbelt or put on her mask.
“Honey, you should put your mask on. This could be serious.”
“Bullshit. This is just a drill. They do it all the time. It’s like a fire drill.”
Harold knew for a fact that she was mistaken, but decided to leave her alone. She’d be better company unconscious anyway, if the plane did depressurize. A flight attendant was headed in their direction, having seen that Bernice was not wearing her seatbelt and oxygen mask. The plane suddenly banked to the left, sending the flight attendant and anything that wasn’t nailed down hurtling to the other side of the plane.
“Assume crash position and brace for impact!” the captain’s voice said over the intercom.
Everything moved in slow motion. The sounds of fear and chaos filled the cabin – screams of passengers. Flight attendants telling people to place their heads between their legs to prepare for an emergency landing.
Harold dared a peek out the window. Did those mountains look closer? The plane was traveling in a distinct forward slant now, and he realized that he probably wasn’t going to survive.
His thoughts went immediately to Linda. Not to the loss of his own life, but the loss of what might have been if he hadn’t been such a pushover all his life. If this is what it meant to have your life flash before your eyes before you die, his was a pretty poor example of a life. So many regrets, so little life lived.
Bernice’s screams jolted him out of his reverie.
“This is all YOUR fault, Harold! You dragged me onto this death-plane against my will! Is this how you planned to get rid of me? To kill me in cold blood? You coward! You’ve been a coward all your life, and now you’re going to die a coward!”
Suddenly, everything became crystal clear to Harold. His biggest regret was not that he was going to die without having really lived, but that he was being robbed of the chance to kill the red-faced screeching banshee wedged into the seat beside him.
Harold tore the mask off his face. Nobody reprimanded him, because all of the flight attendants were already strapped in and tucked into crash position. He unbuckled his seatbelt and lunged at Bernice, wrapping his hands around her throat.
“I’m going to kill you if it’s the last thing I ever do!” He shouted into her face, squeezing with Herculean strength he didn’t know he had.
She made a gackkk sound and flapped her thick, doughy arms at him. Her face darkened from red to purple. Harold squeezed for all he was worth. He felt her windpipe pop under his thumbs and he pressed harder. There seemed no end to his strength, and he’d never felt more alive than he did at that moment. All the years of quiet subservience, humiliation and frustration culminated into that one single act.
Bernice’s eyes bulged and her lips opened and closed, silently for the first time since he’d known her. She looked like a giant purple fish, dying on the shore.
“You WILL die before I do!” he panted, spittle raining over her violet face. “You owe me at least that, you insufferable bitch!” Harold closed his eyes and clamped his hands down with everything he had. Bernice’s head sagged limply to one side, but he maintained his iron grip on her throat. This was how he wanted to die. They would literally have to pry her from his cold, dead hands. He would have the satisfaction of seeing her suffer in his last few moments of life, and that was the greatest gift she could ever give him.
“I love you, Linda! Harold shouted, bracing himself for impact.
* * *
Linda stretched out on her couch with a glass of Chardonnay to watch the evening news. Harry would be in Hawaii by now, and hopefully he had figured out how he was going to kill his wife.
It had been a long, slow process, but she had finally succeeded in seducing her boss. Now that he was in her back pocket, all she had to do was get rid of his wife and she would be on Easy Street. With Bernice too dead to drain him for alimony, everything would be theirs, and eventually hers. As Harry’s wife, she would no longer have to work as his secretary. Her replacement was already waiting in the wings – Brittany was a sultry blonde who had given up exotic dancing for secretarial school. Harry wouldn’t be able to resist Brittany. Once a cheater, always a cheater, and now that he’d done it once, the second time would be easier.
Linda would use the same trick she had suggested to Bernice when she placed that anonymous call months earlier. She would hire a private investigator, most likely the same one Bernice had used, to gather all the evidence she needed to prove adultery.
Yes, Easy Street. She’d earned it.
Lost in her champagne and caviar daydreams, Linda only half listened to the newscast, until something about a plane crash caught her interest. She sat upright when she heard the word Honolulu.
Wait – what? That was where Harry and Princess Bingo-Wings were landing. What the hell flight were they on? It couldn’t possibly be the same flight! She turned up the volume and sat, riveted to the screen.
“Flight 266 from New York to Honolulu experienced engine failure while flying over the Cascades near Washington State. The pilot saved the lives of nearly all passengers and crew with a last minute maneuver that steered the plane away from the mountains and over the Pacific Ocean, where he successfully executed a water landing. The Coast Guard arrived quickly and rescued all survivors. There was only one casualty, a woman whose name is being withheld pending investigation and notification of immediate family. There has been talk of extenuating circumstances surrounding the woman’s death. She did not die as a result of the crash. Apparently she was deceased beforehand, having been strangled to death by her husband, who survived the crash. Several witnesses have corroborated the story, though authorities have declined to comment.”
The picture switched from the newscaster to live footage of passengers disembarking from Coast Guard cutters in Seattle. The dejected masses wrapped in blankets lost the spotlight to a single passenger, a man, who was led from the boat wearing handcuffs and handed over to waiting police.
Copyright © 2014 Mandy White