Robert didn’t show his true self right away. Oh, no, he was much too masterful for that. He knew just when to move in and when to ease off, like some kind of fisherman with a fish on the line. Dangle the lure until the fish bites, reel the line in a bit, let the line out a bit, moving the fish closer and closer, until she is flopping around on the deck wondering what the hell happened. And all along, she’d thought she was the one doing the reeling. Ha.
After a suitable courtship – such an old-fashioned word, but apt, though she’d often felt it was her mother he was courting – they married, making her mother even happier than she was.
Then bit by bit, the real Robert surfaced. At first it was little things, like leaving his clothes scattered hither and yon; using the last of the toilet paper; spending the entire weekend glued to ESPN. He expected her to dote on him, clean up after him, serve him gourmet meals, service him in bed.
“He’s a man,” her mother said when she complained to her on the phone. “It’s what they do. You have a handsome husband, a lovely home and an easy life, Meg. Count your blessings.”
Meg had tried, honestly she had. But it had only gotten worse. After a year or so, Robert began traveling more and more on business. When he wasn’t traveling, he came home later and later from the office, often without a call. She couldn’t count the ruined dinners she’d tossed in the bin.
“Oh, poor man. He works so hard!” her mother said. “Other girls should be so lucky to have a husband who works that hard to take care of them. You need to have a baby, Meg. That’ll keep you busy.”
She’d been trying to get pregnant. She stopped taking the pill soon after they married, but to no avail. She’d begun to think that something was wrong with her. Though he seemed rather indifferent to the idea of starting a family, Robert was certainly willing to do his part to get her pregnant.
When she started answering the telephone only to hear the quiet click followed by a dial tone, she suspected his late evenings were spent doing something other than work. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, they always said.
“You need to give him a reason to come home, Margaret,” her mother advised. “I’m sending you a book. I’m sure it will help, and you’ll feel better.”
The book, How to Set Your Marriage Ablaze with Passion, came. Desperate to bring the spark back to her marriage, she opened it at random one night when Robert was in Chicago.
Greet your man at the door wrapped only in Saran Wrap, his martini in hand…
What the hell?
Or perhaps a costume… a cowgirl or a saucy French maid is always good. You can give him the variety he needs so he’ll never have to leave home to find it.
Oh, good grief. Meg closed the book in disgust and ate a pint of Häagen-Dazs Amaretto Almond Crunch instead.
The kicker came the day she answered the door to two humorless men in brown suits.
Mr. Nondescript, the older man on the left, said officiously. “FBI, Ma’am. We’d like to see Mr. Prince.”
FBI? The J. Edgar, Eliot Ness FBI? That FBI?
“Um, my husband’s out of town. What’s this about?”
“Sorry, Ma’am. We’re not at liberty to say,” answered the younger Mr. I’m-Nondescript-Two. “When do you expect him home?”
“Not until Friday.”
“We’ll come back,” the Nondescript twins announced in unison, then drove off in their brown Chevy sedan.
Her heart pounding, Meg called her mother. The news had been full of reports about financial scandal, and more than one big-wig in the industry had been arrested. Just look at Bernie Madoff. What if…
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, Margaret,” her mother admonished. “Just ask him, for heaven’s sake. You’ll see. I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation.”
So she did. She asked. He denied. She accused. He denied, only louder. She threatened. He laughed, and called her “overly dramatic.”
Her mother was going to have a cow, but Meg had decided to leave Robert. Six years of trying to please him was enough. She just couldn’t take it anymore. She didn’t even like him anymore, let alone love him. He treated her no better than his dirty underwear, and besides, she’d begun to suspect that the man she’d married was a crook. Thank goodness she’d never managed to get pregnant.
She decided to pack a couple of bags while he was on the golf course, and stash them in the trunk of her car. Right after the Christmas party tonight, she would to tell him it was over, and get out of Dodge.
It was when she was hurrying to gather her things and pack before he got home that she found it. As she reached up to pull her toiletry bag down from the shelf in their walk-in closet, she kicked over a stack of Robert’s shoe boxes.
She bent to put the shoes that fell out back into their boxes, and inside an Italian loafer, she found a small, rolled bundle of papers held together with a rubber band. She pulled the elastic from the papers and got the shock of her life. The top two or three pages were a recent bank statement from a bank she’d never heard of. She nearly fell over when she saw a balance in the account large enough to support a small African country for years. And they were addressed to Robert at a post office box.
Oh, no. She instantly flashed to those FBI agents who’d come to the door. Oh, Robert, what have you done, she thought in horror.
But as bad as that was, it was what she found beneath the statement that sent her reeling: a receipt for the vasectomy he’d had fifteen years ago.
She straightened, and felt a small seed of hatred take root and sprout. What was it they said? If it walks like a duck…
Leaving him was way less than the bastard deserved. Meg walked back into the bedroom and picked up the phone.
If she’d had any doubts that she was doing the right thing, Robert’s behavior tonight put them to bed. He had a couple of drinks before they left the house, and once at the country club, the only time he didn’t have a glass in his hand was when he was groping one of the young secretaries on the dance floor. Thank heavens they’d come in a cab.
The band leader announced last call and Robert immediately got up and headed to the bar yet again. Meg followed and stopped him before he ordered.
Grabbing his arm, she whispered, “Robert, please, not another drink. You’ve had too much already. Everybody’s talking. You’re making a fool of yourself and you’re embarrassing me.”
“I own this company, Meg, in case you’ve forgotten. These people owe their jobs to me. You think I’m worried about a little good-natured talk? Besides, you’ve been an embarrassment to me for years. Welcome to my world, Baby.”
He yanked his arm free, and continued to the bar, leaving Meg rooted to the floor, stunned. He was often cold, but she’d never heard that cruelty in his voice before. Didn’t they say that a drunken man’s words are a sober man’s thoughts? Oh, yeah.
They’d argued about his drinking and her “constant nagging” as they waited for the taxi to arrive. The other CIS people at the party had seen the storm coming, and left them alone in the bar, thank heavens. Meg was mortified enough as it were.
Well, now was as good a time as any. A bird in the hand, and all that.
“I’ve had enough, Robert. I’m leaving. Life’s too short.”
Robert burst into laughter. She hadn’t expected him to be all broken up, but she’d never thought he’d laugh.
“Right. Well, I’ve got news for you, Baby,” he smirked. “You won’t get a dime of my money.”
“I don’t want a dime of your money, Robert. I’ll be happy just to get my self-respect back.”
Meg turned to see a waiter gesturing at the door.
“Come on. The taxi’s here.”
As the cab turns the corner onto their street, Meg blows her nose and wipes the mascara off her face as best she can.
The climb out in front of their house, and Robert thrusts some bills at the cabbie. “Keep the change, Buddy.”
They’d barely walked – well, in Robert’s case, perhaps 'staggered' would be a more appropriate word – halfway up the drive when a brown Chevy sedan pulls up in front of the house, followed by a sinister looking black Suburban.
The Nondescript twins get out of the sedan and approach Robert, who is looking like he's been gob-smacked. Meg senses that he suspected this moment was coming. Perhaps that explains his unbelievable behavior tonight.
“Mr. Prince? FBI. You’re under arrest for securities fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud and money laundering. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used…”
As Meg listens to them read him his rights, she has to fight a satisfied smile. She can’t help but think, “Yeah, Robert. Just like they say, payback’s a bitch.
As the federal agents drive off with Robert in the back of the Suburban, Meg walks toward the house while fishing her keys from her evening bag.
You know, she thinks as she unlocks the front door, maybe “they” are pretty smart. They’ve been pretty much right about everything. Well, all except for the promise that “there is someone out there for everyone.” But Meg counts herself as a basically optimistic person, so the jury’s still out on that one.
But that thing about the curly hair? Yeah. They totally lied about that.
Written for The Tenth Daughter of Memory.