Bryan Alston Patrick

She refused to wear the dress and now there’s a mound of shit on the floor, right at the doorway to her bathroom. His way of protesting and logically it’s out of proportion with everything else—precedent be damned—he’s always upping the ante. Only a few nights earlier, she refused to jack him off under their table at a four-star Midtown steakhouse called Niku. He stuck his fork in the remaining half of his Kobe, lifted the meat off his plate and dropped it on the floor.

“Oops.” He said. “Grab that for me, babe?”

She hesitated.

“Please, babe. I’m really hungry.” He whined.

She made the mistake of complying, not to indulge him but to minimize the public humiliation already underway. This was part of his instinctive psychology. Getting leverage on people came naturally to him. She could try to defy him but only at a steep cost.

Reticently grabbing a napkin, she made an attempt to discreetly pick up the steak but it was too late. Other diners had seen the meat hit the floor and watched her pick it up. She hoped that was the end of it. He had too much to drink. Hopefully people would buy that because it was true. He had been drinking with Ray Paulson since the bank closed at 4:30. They were smashed well before arriving at the restaurant.

“Oh shit,” he said, looking her in the eye as he tipped his plate and let the meat slide off it, back on to the floor. “Get that for me, babe? ‘ppreciate it.”

She picked it up again with half the restaurant, including wait staff, bartenders and the maître d’, looking on. Seconds after returning the meat to his plate, he dumped it on to the floor again.

“Oops,” he said, grinning at Ray, “I did it again. Who said that?”

“Britney, bro.”

“Fuckin’ hottie, right? You know she likes it raw dog up in that bubble butt.”

Ray’s girl, Mena, was making sure she had everything in her purse. Whether or not she forgives him later is another question for another time. She had the stones to get up and leave before two members of the staff appeared at the table to kick everyone else out. As she picked up the meat a third time, her eyes fell on Mena’s heels and calves walking away.

Moments later, right outside the front door, he pukes up a storm of booze and barely digested food, before the eyes, noses and ears of patrons on their way inside. They’re never going to Niku again. The whole thing was and is catastrophically embarrassing. She’s still hearing about it from other people who heard about it.

His feces repels her to the balcony where the view reminds her of all the reasons she puts up with his abuse. She’s only recently started calling it abuse. Before it was “complicated” because of his “issues” that even earlier she referred to more politely as “quirks.” Either his behavior has gotten worse over time or she’s more awake. Really it’s both but she’s still having trouble with clarity.

Her yoga teacher started class the other day with a reading from some Buddhist writer talking about attachments—all this stuff people cling to that’s obviously not important. She felt the truth right away but now she’s more afraid than ever. Her bare feet fit between smooth cement balusters under the parapet. She takes a deep breath and leans over, trying to imagine the fall, feeling for her edge. It’s reassuring to think she has what it takes to jump over but she’s not sure she does. Biological imperative pulls back hard.

She has to clean up the poop herself or ask Beanie to do it and asking Beanie to do it is almost worse. Beanie won’t even be there for another hour which means she has to leave the poop until then and that will make her an asshole, leaving it for an hour just so she doesn’t have to clean it up. But she gags at the thought of even looking at it again, let alone catching the unavoidable whiff. It would almost be worth ending her life to never have to see that shit again.

The couples’ counselor actually sides with him because she’s not completely honest in the sessions. The counselor might even be attracted to him because he’s charming in situations when he wants or needs to be. The counselor suggested adult baby play as a healthy outlet for his infantile tendencies. Instead of trying to change, she says he needs to “redirect” his impulses. He’s actually entertained the adult baby thing and that scares her, not only because she’s afraid of dealing with dirty diapers on top of everything else but because she knows eventually he will escalate things and pressure her to induce lactation. He’s already said, “it would be awesome if you could squirt, babe.”

Maybe she should have just worn the dress like he asked but it was so incredibly revealing. First, she would have been embarrassed and excruciatingly uncomfortable at the fundraiser and then he would have flown into a jealous rage when they got home, like he did after she danced with his boss at the Christmas party, something she only did because he compelled her. After they got home that night, she went to pee and he came in while she was on the toilet and peed all over her like she wasn’t even there, or just part of the toilet.

Her family’s money is gone and she knows no other life. When they first met, she thought he was someone who loved her for her—that he didn’t care about the scandal or her sullied name. She was so grateful for a way out. She was 22. For the seven years since, she’s been frozen, “making the best of things,” believing she’s just doing what she has to do. But lately something has changed.

Things got rough between them after they got engaged. The massive, glitzy rock he put on her finger was a bright orange stake in the ground demarcating property. After that, she did what he said. But that was just some “weird stuff” initially, sexual acts that made her uncomfortable. He would degrade her all night but cook her breakfast in the morning and tell her she was “beautiful and amazing.”

“I’m so lucky to have such a great woman,” he would tell her. “You’re so beautiful and so giving and understanding, babe. I don’t know what I would do without you.”

Once he slapped her in the face and she got really upset—well, upset anyway. “Don’t hit my face,” she managed firmly.

“I’m so sorry, babe. I thought you wanted me to do that. I went with the moment. I’m very sorry. I won’t do it again.”

And he didn’t. For years after that it was mainly pranks and mean remarks, like spitting in her food, cutting up her underwear and/or criticizing her appearance.

“I said get a shorter haircut, not make yourself look like a homeless junkie prostitute. Please don’t get a heart with my name in it tattooed on your ass, if you didn’t already. Ha, ha, ha!”

That’s a pretty normal example. Another one: “Babe, your pussy looks like a wad of cinnamon chewing gum someone spit on the sidewalk and stepped on.”

That was standard practice for a long time until recently, after the incident at Niku. He blamed her for getting kicked out and when they got home he pretended to hug her, like he wanted to fool around or something and when she relaxed he punched her in the stomach. The blow caused her to vomit on the marble tile floor in the foyer.

“Sucks, doesn’t it? Now you know how I feel. You need to learn to consider other peoples’ feelings, babe. You’re really selfish.” He stroked her hair lightly. “I know you’re trying, though. I can really see some growth and I’m encouraged.” He held his hand out to help her up and retracted when she reached for it. “Go ‘head and clean that up and come on up to bed. I’m a give you another chance to make up for what happened tonight.”

The stiffness in her neck is back again. Usually it kicks in midday but this morning it’s early. The ibuprofen is in her bathroom, past the shit. Instead of going for it, she gets dressed in the jogging clothes she hasn’t worn in months and goes outside with shades and a knit skully that it’s not really cold enough to be wearing.

She walks to the CVS across the street from their building. Inside the store, sweet air freshener and mellow pop hits calm her nerves. She spends way too much time browsing products she doesn’t need before finally getting the gel caps she likes for headaches and neck pain. She chooses the long line to the cashier over the open self-checkout machines. The longer she has to wait, the better.

There’s a message from Barney Stein on her phone that she doesn’t notice until she’s left CVS and she’s out on the street with everyone else she normally keeps out, moving inside an imaginary force field that doubles as a cloaking device. Barney manages their money. He used to do forensics for the SEC before going into business for himself doing personal finance and estate planning. One night at a charity auction, Barney told her a bit about himself and his background. She liked him right away. He seemed “knowledgeable” and “sincere,” adjectives it took her a while to discover, never having had occasion to use them before, or since.

“Money tells a story,” Barney said.

She didn’t understand the remark as being personal to her but she got the generalized meaning that Barney could tell things about people from their banking activity. He had a sense, for instance, of who had a drug problem, who patronized prostitutes, which clients bought nice things for their spouses, and which clients bought expensive gifts for people other than their spouses, such as jewelry, lingerie or property and vacations that can be difficult to prove in court as bribery.

It’s strange that Barney is calling her directly. Her choices include calling him back immediately or waiting until she has cleaned up shit. She can’t stomach setting foot in the apartment right now. There’s a chain coffee place one block up. The same chain has a place in the bottom of their building but she doesn’t even want to be in the building.

Rush hour is over and the place is only moderately crowded with people who work all day on their laptops and mobile devices, performing tasks she’s never heard of and wouldn’t understand. She finished college at a good school she didn’t deserve to attend and wishes she paid more attention. She could have made something of that opportunity and the numerous other advantages she had. All these people are her age or younger but they know how the world works. They don’t have degrees in art history because it sounds refined when you say it at a party. Some of them don’t even have degrees at all but they’re building things that build things.

She didn’t have a chance to pee at home and adventurously goes for it in the café bathroom. It’s only slightly disgusting and still vastly preferable to confronting her master bath. Barney calls again while she’s on the toilet. She notices because she’s holding the phone but doesn’t want to take the call while peeing. Lately her phone has been on silent. She turned the sound off for yoga one day and left it off, realizing that every time it rang aloud or vibrated, it startled her.

She orders a large sweet coffee beverage because she hasn’t had any coffee yet. There’s a seat in a booth only feet away from a man of vague ethnicity with a big, bushy black beard and a ball cap with an angry cartoon character on it. He’s wearing large headphones and speed typing on a black laptop covered in stickers, scratches and nicks. The semiotics mean little to her but she’s a tiny bit nervous he could be a terrorist, busily arming a bomb via remote, hopefully somewhere far away or wait, maybe it would be better if he was setting it off right there in the coffee place.

Barney has called twice and that means something so she tries to ignore Black Beard and returns.

“Hey,” Barney answers, obviously expecting her call. “You okay?”

“Yes.” She answers as she believes she is supposed to.

Seconds later it occurs to her that, like everyone else in their circle, Barney knows about the Niku incident.

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Yes.” But she’s not. She just doesn’t know another way of answering that question. Is there another way? She tries again.

“I guess, not really. No. I’m not okay.” She manages with a dip in her voice that turns into a full body tremor as her entire nervous system wakes up.

“Okay, okay. I understand. Listen, I’m calling with what I hope is some good news. You want to hear it?”

“Yes.” The shaking is affecting her voice.

“You have to keep this between us. Can you do that?”

She doesn’t answer. The tremor is waning.

He uses her first name as an interrogative.

“Yes.” She whispers.

“Your father put some money aside for you before his assets were frozen.”

She’s quiet, remembering from yoga to deepen her breath. That’s easing the tremor.

“He put it in a safe place that wasn’t all that easy to find. It’s not a huge amount of money but it’s enough to make a change if you want to. And I was able to increase it some. It’s a little over thirty-five grand.”

She’s still quiet.

“Would you like me to help you access the money?”


“Do you have some ideas about what you might do with it?”

“I.” It’s a good question. “I don’t know. Maybe.”

“If you’re really worried about your security you should consider the fact that your husband is not very responsible financially. Thirty-five thousand isn’t much by comparison to what you’re accustomed to but it’s not nothing. You can make a change if you want to. Now is a good time. You’re more resourceful and stronger than you think.”

“Maybe.” The tremor is back but it feels like it’s helping her somehow.

“I would have told you sooner but there were reasons we had to wait. And there were things I didn’t understand about your life.”

A few seconds of silence go by.

“I’ll get you the money but you have to be careful how you spend it. It will run out fast if you’re not. Can you do that?”

“I think. I can try.”

“And I just texted you a link. When you’re ready, when you have your things in order and a plan,” Barney is speaking patiently, with methodical clarity, “click that link. That will connect you with someone I know well, who you can trust, who knows how things work and can set you up with a fresh start so you don’t have to worry about your safety or your past.”

“Why are you doing this?”

Barney takes a moment. She’s about to say never mind because maybe it’s the wrong question to ask.

“Because,” he finally begins, “all my years of working with money have taught me one thing.”

“What’s that?”

“Good is the only rational thing a person can do in a lifetime.”

The little Mazda was only $3,700 at the lot outside Paramus. She had no idea automobiles could be purchased so cheaply. Barney was right about many things. Like he said to, she’s been changing cash into gift cards instead of using a credit card, not even the new one she got from the person on the other side of the link. The name on the card is Sarah Connor. She won’t get the reference until several months later when she catches The Terminator on cable.

She used one of the gift cards to buy $50 of all new, randomly selected music she’s never heard before off a music website that suggests more choices based on each purchase. The Mazda even has a connection for her digital music player. Every song it plays is a surprise. Her old phone played music but she had to get rid of it and didn’t want any of the music on it anyway, all of which reminded her of dreary days at the gym in their old building, because “you don’t want to lose your looks, babe.”

Everywhere around her are mountains and trees and little else. The motel she finds off the main highway only has a few cars in the parking lot. She gets a room on the second floor toward the back of the building. When she opens the curtains, the sun is just setting on rolling green hills.

A warm ball of something etheric rises from low in her tummy to her mouth. She sits on the bed and then she curls up on her side, crying for the first time about many things but mainly the miscarriage two years ago the doctor told her was “likely the result of stress.” She filled the prescription but he took it all “because I’m in so much pain over the loss of our child, babe, I just can’t take it.”

When the tears stop, it’s almost dark outside. A bright fingernail moon floats in deep blue. Calm surrounds sorrow and gratitude. She sits up, blows her nose and grabs the water bottle she’s been reusing from her grocery bag. Her thirst is powerful. The bottle is empty seconds later and her throat feels cool and soft. With her free hand she rubs the back of her neck. The stiffness that’s always there is gone.