Betty crosses her legs to keep them from shaking. Restless leg syndrome, her doctor calls it. Her pointed stilettos make a ‘tap, tap’ noise on the wooden floor of her therapist’s office. She runs her left hand over the pleats of her pink printed dress, as if to smoothen it. Darlene, a therapist in her mid-thirties with sharp features and dark brown hair, looks at her patient with an expression of mild concern.
“How was your week?” Darlene asks. “Anything noteworthy? How’s Jack?”
Betty shrugs, “Great. Jack is… great. He’s on another business trip, so…I am sorry I fidget a lot. Jack keeps telling me I need to learn to compose myself.”
“This is a safe space, Betty,” Darlene responds gently. “You do not need to compose yourself here.”
Betty doesn’t say anything for a long time. When she finally speaks, her voice is low, so low in fact, that Darlene has to strain her ears to hear her, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I should be so happy. I should feel good about my marriage. Jack’s a great husband. And he’s… Actually, I’m in therapy because… well, I have made a lot of mistakes in my life. And a lot of wrong choices.”
“What sort of choices?”
“I don’t know who I am anymore…” Betty scratches her chin. Darlene notices that all her fingernails are chipped. “I feel like everything I do is wrong and it’s upsetting because Jack has to always take care of me. I hate making him do that!”
“Making him do what exactly?”
“Just that he knows how to be an adult but I haven’t figured it out yet. And he’s so freaking mature! And wonderful. You know he got me flowers the other day? Chrysanthemums. I am allergic, but it’s a small mistake… He had good intentions.”
Betty shifts her attention to the room. It is a pretty office, she thinks. The walls are coloured in dusty blue shades, with a window on one side overlooking the harbour. The warm afternoon sun pours in through the window, and the succulents next to it reach out towards the light. The bookshelves on the opposite wall are crammed with books.
Darlene sits on a comfortable chair near the door. Betty’s eyes wander towards a simple painting of a fruit bowl placed directly above the therapist’s head.
“I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Jack says I complain a lot. Poor man, he works for fourteen, fifteen hours every day so…Actually, he feels that I should get a job.”
“Do you want a job?” Darlene looks directly into Betty’s eyes.
Betty shuffles in her chair, “I… I have stopped questioning my husband. You’d too if you met him. Jack is always right. It’s infuriating, you know…Anyway, my fifty minutes are up, I think. I’m not sure if I can afford therapy anymore, so…”
“I will give you a twenty percent discount,” Darlene says, as they both stand up. “Come next week.”
Betty watches the sea waves breaking against the rocks. She spots a couple of sailboats heading east and quietly takes a picture of the scene with her phone camera. She looks at her watch and realizes that she still has fifteen minutes to go before her appointment. At 2:25 pm, she gets up from the park bench and walks overto the taco food truck parked right outside her therapist’s building.
She stops cold in her tracks. She recognizes that face. It is her husband’s colleague Ryan, the one she met at the Christmas party.
“I’m sorry, who are you?” She asks the man waving at her.
Ryan’s smile turns immediately into a frown. “Um, sorry, I think I got the wrong, uh…”
Betty then turns around and orders a chicken burrito. As soon as he hands her the burrito, she pays without bothering to collect her change, and promptly walks towards the building. It’s only when the elevator doors shut that she allows herself to relax. She enters the waiting room of her therapist’s office, and quickly removes her sunglasses and scarf, and stuffs both inside her bag. Then, she gently removes her blonde wig, letting her natural red hair fall onto her shoulders, and waits for Darlene to call her in. In less than two minutes, she’s inside.
“Hi Betty,” Darlene greets her with a calm, mellifluous voice. “Glad to see you made it. How are we doing today?”
“You know, I wanted to be a model when I was in college, but my parents just didn’t…” Betty throws her hands up in frustration. “Funny. I look at models now, and I wonder how they ever got selected. Then I wonder what my life would have been had everyone not had an opinion about what I should or shouldn’t do…”
“I see,” Darlene jots something down on her notepad and says, “Is that something you feel often? That people have an opinion on your life?”
“Did I tell you Jack thinks models are dumb? I guess I agree… now.”
“So you disagreed before.”
“I think before I met Jack, I didn’t know much about the world. Jack’s um, he’s older and more experienced, he’s traveled around a lot, he even lived in Europe for a couple of years, and I mean, obviously, he knows better. He has a successful hedge fund, and you know, he… knows a lot, a lot more than I do.”
“He’s perfect… I just wish sometimes that I was more like him,” says Betty in a quiet voice. “Capable of being perfect.”
Darlene looks at her patient’s hunched shoulders and sad eyes. The woman has no idea what she’s gotten herself into, she thinks. Suddenly, she gets an urge to get up from her armchair, hold Betty by the shoulders and give her one tight slap, screaming, “Wake up!” into her ears. With some difficulty, she manages to stay put, hoping her expression is neutral. On days like these, Darlene wishes she could speed up the process of therapy. She decides to take another approach.
“Betty, I remember in your first session, I had asked you what you liked to do in your free time,” Darlene flips through the pages in her notebook. “You’d mentioned you enjoy sailing, gardening and watching films.”
Her patient nods.
“Tell me about sailing,” she asks. “Who taught you how to sail?”
“Oh, I don’t do that much anymore,” Betty shrugs. “My husband can’t swim and is, um, scared of water so…”
“Right. And what kind of films do you enjoy?”
“Um, ones with happy endings,” Betty’s eyes light up. For the first time, she smiles. Darlene notices that Betty has a beautiful smile. “You know, like 27 Dresses, Pretty Woman… But Jack says I should watch more documentaries. He’s right, you know. Rom-coms make me feel soooo emotional all the time. Jack teases that I am like a sensitive pig!”
“Yes, because of my nose. I mean, my nose before the surgery,” she corrects herself, absent-mindedly touching her now sharp nose. “I never even realized it was so weird… but Jack not only pointed it out, but he paid for the cosmetic procedure! ‘You don’t have to live like this,’ he told me one night. ‘I have booked an appointment with the best plastic surgeon in town. ‘We will fix your nose and later, plump up those gorgeous lips.’ And then, once I was… corrected, he went down on one knee and asked me to marry him! Right at the clinic. It was soooo romantic!”
“And how long were you two together before you got married?” Darlene asks.
“Oh, five months!” Betty gushes. “We fell in love at first sight. He proposed after two months! We have been married for a year and a half now.”
After her session that day, as Betty walks past the taco food truck she had her lunch from earlier, the food truck owner calls out to her, “Hey, blonde lady!”
It takes Betty a moment to realize that he’s addressing her. She turns around.
“You forgot your change,” he says. “Here, have a free burrito.”
“Honey, I am home!”
Jack takes off his shoes and walks into the kitchen. Betty notices that he is carrying takeout from the Chinese place downtown that she loathes.
“Oh, my favourite,” She says, her voice dry.
“Chicken hakka noodles and pork dimsums,” Jack places the takeout on the kitchen counter, and leans towards her, as if to kiss her. She closes her eyes and imagines herself kissing the man operating the taco food truck. He was kind of cute.
Instead, she feels her husband’s rough beard scratching her lips. She’d gifted him a beard oil set on his thirty-third birthday last month, but he never opened it.
Betty opens the package as Jack lays out the dinner plates. Once they sit down, she tries to dig into the noodles and dimsums but she’s barely able to put any in her mouth. Jack notices this with displeasure on his face.
“Aren’t you hungry?” he asks.
“Actually, I had a small snack earlier.”
“Oh, did you now?”
“I’m sorry I just couldn’t help it,” Betty shrugs.
“But honey, you know we always have dinner together on Fridays,” Jack pouts. Betty wants to slap his face. Why can’t he act his age?
“Why not the other days, Jack?”
He looks at her for a full minute. Betty stares back. Then Jack pushes his chair out and stands up, “Okay, that’s it. I don’t know why you’re picking fights all the time these days. You either tell me what’s wrong now instead of the drama or I’m going out.”
“Is it not enough that you’re out every other night? Do you have to leave tonight too?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means exactly what it means. You’re never home for dinner most nights. And the one night you make time for me, you want to leave.”
“I can’t help it if you don’t respect our time together by not even bothering to save your appetite for date night.”
“What sort of appetite are we talking about, Jack? You think you can buy me with food? And that too this rubbish…”
Betty’s lips quiver as she recounts the incident to her therapist the following week. She’s wearing an orange sundress today. Her neck, Darlene notices, has bruises. Her eyes are full of tears. She wonders if Betty’s husband choked her.
“What happened next?” Darlene asks.
“He dumped the food on the floor. Then he made me clean it up. At first I told him to clean up after himself but then he… he grabbed my throat and, uh, he… hit me.”
“I told him that he should call one of his hoes to clean it up. Then he slapped me again. He said I needed a-a… lesson in manners.”
Darlene says nothing. She wants to use the silence to allow her patient to gather herself. She wants Betty to realize that she’s in an abusive marriage.
“No, please don’t look at me like that,” Betty’s voice rises an octave. “It’s not what you’re thinking. This is all a punishment from God because, because I was out of line talking like that to him. And also because I was fantasizing about… someone else. And I’d been angry at him for not being home often and… oh God, that’s it. It was a punishment! I deserved this. Do you see?”
“Betty, I want to ask you something now and I hope you will trust me to answer this honestly,” Darlene’s voice is calm. She realizes she’s being pushy but her concerns get the better of her. “Betty, has he hit you before?”
“It’s not like that! He doesn’t, only when…” Betty scratches her neck and flinches, realizing she’s hit her bruise. “He, um, he doesn’t do it that often, I mean…”
“Are you ever afraid that one day he’ll go too far?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, do you ever fear for your life?”
“Of course not!” Betty retorts. “Jack loves me. He would never do anything like that. And you know what? I am done here. Goodbye.”
“Betty, get your camera ready! One, two, cheese!”
She smiles her broadest smile as her husband clicks photos of her. After much cajoling, Jack agreed to go sailing with her. She is wearing a white jumpsuit today. Jack is in a white shirt and dark blue shorts. He laughs as she pouts into the camera, making duck faces at Jack. The wind blows her red hair towards her face. She works with her fingers to remove the knots and then blows a kiss in Jack’s direction.
He puts his camera away and walks closer to her. “You are beautiful, you know that? Two years since we’ve been together and I thank my lucky stars every morning that I wake up next to you.”
She giggles as he plants several kisses on her neck.
“You’re so beautiful,” he gushes.
“You are beautiful too, darling,” Betty whispers, putting her head on his shoulders.
“Well, men are handsome,” Jack remarks. “Not beautiful.”
Betty feels herself getting annoyed. Must he correct me always, she thinks. Anyway, it all ends today.
“Handsome, eh?” Betty smiles. “How nice of you to teach me… things. What is this, an English lesson?”
His wife’s sudden hostility throws Jack off. They are no longer embracing. Instead, Jack moves a couple of steps towards the railings and looks at Betty, bewildered.
She continues, “You remember the first time we met? We were at this gorgeous restaurant where I’d been dying to go for years to try their famous roasted duck. You, Mr. Perfect come along and tell me how the duck there is overcooked. And then you order us both hakka noodles. Hakka noodles, seriously? That night, when I came back from that date, I told myself I will never see you again. In fact, I swore off online dating forever.”
Jack stares at Betty, stunned at her confession, wondering where this is going.
“And just when I’ve forgotten about your damned existence, you send me flowers. Chrysthanthemums. Yuck!”
Jack continues to stare but doesn’t utter a word.
“My mother said I’d never find anyone, that I am too, what is that word she used? Damaged? Do you know how hard she tried to… to fix me? Do you know how many therapists she dragged me to?” Betty’s face hardens, her voice barely audible over the sound of the wind, “They all told my mother I was a psychopath. You know what that means, don’t you?”
Jack nods. When he speaks, Betty notices that he sounds terrified, “A psychopath is someone who is extremely anti-social-”
“No, Jack, that’s a sociopath,” Betty grins and rolls her eyes. “Not always right, are you? Let me give you an English lesson now. A psychopath is someone who lacks empathy. A mentally unstable person. It’s funny, though. They say I don’t have the capacity to feel but that night we met, I felt something strong… this yearning. When you denied me that beautiful roasted duck, I wanted to reach out to you from across the table and strangle you with my bare arms. That’d have taught you a lesson, you fucking bastard! But I decided to spare you instead. And what do you do? You keep chasing me. Asking me to marry you in two months! Two months, Jack? For someone who thinks himself to be smart, you really are an idiot, aren’t you?”
“Well, my mother was wrong,” Betty pushes her red hair off her face. “I did find the perfect man. Someone to take me out on fancy dates and buy me flowers, someone to get me new dresses, who’d repaint the walls of our house lemon because I love that colour, someone with deep pockets that I can reach into whenever I want, and now that I’ve had my fill, I don’t think I need you anymore, do I Jack?”
“Betty, what are you doing… what are you saying?”
“Betty, what are you doing? What are you saying?” She imitates him. “God, you’re so stupid. I have been planning this for a long time now. You were so distracted with your stock market and blah blah life that you missed it all. You see that building over there by the coast? There’s a therapist on the thirteenth floor who thinks my husband is physically abusing me. Physically and emotionally both, actually. I convinced her in three weeks that you were a monster and I was in denial. A therapist and even she got fooled! Your colleague Ryan that you’re so tight with? I once told him at a Christmas Party that I was afraid of you. Sometimes when you’re not at home, which I admit is often, I scream and bang the walls. All our neighbours think you are a bad, bad man. And the guy who sells me tacos?”
“What about him?”
“I’m going to fuck him after I kill you.”
It is then that Jack realises he’s been feeling light-headed for a while, and not just because of his wife’s diabolical confessions. Something stronger inside his brain seems to be tugging at him, lulling him to sleep. Betty notices his discomfort and grins. Then she picks a fishing knife lying strategically next to her on the deck and with one swift motion, stabs him in the stomach.
At this point, Jack knows he should try to fight back but he’s in complete shock. How could he think Betty was one way when she’s something else entirely?
His shock gives way to a burning, searing pain from the stab wound. It’s as if a sharp punch has penetrated his life force. The impact tears him apart, causing him to double down in pain. The burning leads to a kind of cold sensation. He can see a similar coldness in Betty’s eyes. How can such beautiful eyes carry so much loathing?
“I-I ordered those… hakka noodles because it’s so much better… I just wanted the best for you.” Jack whimpers.
“That’s the thing. You’ve always been too perfect for me,” are Betty’s final words to him as she throws him overboard.
The last thing he sees is a look of smug satisfaction on his wife’s face at a job well done.