He Found Me

By: Whitney Barbetti

October 20, 2003

My hands were red and raw from washing the dishes twice. It was always twice. Twice bought me time and ensured there wouldn’t be anything left behind. An errant fleck of food, a spot that hadn’t been rinsed – these were things he’d notice.

From the living room came the sounds of some crime drama; the gunshots and screams interrupting the quiet of the kitchen. I didn’t mind washing the dishes, because it was a way for me to keep distance from him, from the Monster. “Kitchen is a woman’s domain,” he would say, while looking me up and down with his beady black eyes, a cruel smile stretching his lips. His only occasional venture into the kitchen was for his usual bottle of cherry vodka, shoved in the back of the freezer behind the chicken I’d bought months ago and had yet to thaw and cook.

My stomach clenched just thinking about the chicken, the chicken that hid his habit. I didn’t want to see the vodka; I’d smelled it on his breath time and time again, late at night, in the one place that should have been safe. Sleep was not safe for me anymore; there were far worse nightmares in the land of the living. My life was a series of real-life nightmares. But tonight, I’d leave everything. Leave Cora Mitchell behind in search of freedom.

The sound of feet hitting the wood floor in the living room made my muscles seize in awareness, stomach turn over in revulsion. Not again, I thought. A moment later I felt his shadow fall over my right shoulder. His heavy footsteps rocked the peeling linoleum beneath my feet as he approached. I smelled his cologne when he leaned over my shoulder. “Make sure you don’t dawdle,” he whispered, his breath hot on my ear. He stayed there for a moment, grubby hands caging me to the counter from behind. I felt a trickle of sweat slide down my spine and tried to act like I wasn’t wasting time, monotonously scrubbing the spatula in my hand. I felt him hum, the vibration right by my ear and I swallowed the bile that rose up into my mouth. The humming. He knew that I knew what the humming signified. I gritted my teeth together.

“I’m almost done.” I didn’t bother turning my head and meeting his eyes. A challenge like that would only encourage him, and I had plans that didn’t include engaging him in his favorite activity. He was a creature of habit: dinner, then television, then the bottle of vodka, then me. Tonight would be different.

He slid two fingers down my back, over my tee shirt, pausing just before he reached the top of my jeans. He enjoyed this game, teasing me with the threatening promise of later. He thought he held all the power in this exchange, but I was going to prove him wrong.

He kept his fingers at the top of my jeans for a moment and sighed in my ear before backing away. I heard the sound of the freezer door opening and felt the cool blast at my back. It helped to calm me, and I reminded myself that soon, this would all be over. I heard the crunch of the frozen vegetables as he reached for his vodka, and then the clank as he set it on the counter next to the clean dishes.

Anticipating his next move, I wiped my hands on the towel wedged into the cabinet door and reached next to me to grab the shot glass I’d placed next to the sink in preparation. I don’t know why he didn’t bother ever drinking straight from the bottle. It wasn’t as if it made him more civilized. It was just an illusion, one of many in my life. And soon, I’d perform my own.

I grabbed his bottle and poured the shot, hoping for a steady hand. I didn’t want to tip him off to my intentions. I slowly set the glass and bottle back down and moved my hands back into the soapy water.

Thankfully, he didn’t suspect anything and grabbed both before walking back across the linoleum, returning to the living room. And, just as I hoped, he nearly tumbled over the full trash bag laying in his way. “You could break someone’s neck, leaving this right here. Take it out,” he bellowed, tossing back the shot. “Now.”

Breaking his neck would have been too easy.

As he returned to the living room, I wiped my hands on the dishtowel and took a moment to steady them. This was the moment. The silent goodbye I’d been waiting for since the lawyer recited my late mother’s words in a room of strangers. I took a calming breath in through my nose and willed myself to act casually.