HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA |
The home of Julia Jones & Bobby Bodnyk |
Julia arrived home from a visit with her mother thirty minutes later than she’d planned. Bobby was standing in the driveway waiting for her. She could tell he was upset by his posture—he tilted his head to his left and forced his weight onto his right leg whenever he was angry. She pretended not to notice.
“Hi, Honey! How was your day?” Julia asked, smiling and leaning forward to kiss him as he helped her out of the car.
“Fine. Until you decided to leave me wondering if you were dead or alive for the last hour,” he said, pulling his head away from her greeting.
“Sorry. You know Mom. She got on about Aunt Lilly and there was no stopping her. I tried to call to let you know I’d be late.”
As Julia stepped away from her car, Bobby stepped toward it and sat down in the driver’s seat.
“Keys,” he ordered.
She handed them to him without questioning. Bobby started the car and said, “four-three-seven-two. Remember that number.” He turned off the ignition, handed Julia her keys and pushed past her toward the house, repeating the number out loud as he walked. By the time Julia took off her coat and boots, Bobby had already figured out the math problem that had been his focus.
“Where did you go after your mother’s house?” he asked, anger in his eyes and his voice.
“Nowhere. I came straight home, Bobby.”
He waved the sheet of paper he’d just been writing on, in her face. “Your mother’s house is only fourteen kilometres from here. Even if you stopped to get gas, which it appears you did, that should only add an extra one kilometre. So, all you had to drive was twenty-nine kilomtres. But the odo says you drove forty-two while you were out. Where the hell were you, Julia?” he said advancing on her.
“With my mother,” she said, holding her ground.
“Where’d you go with her?”
“I took her to lunch. Then we went to buy her some new dish towels.”
“Bobby, get a grip! I was with my mom. We went out—” Julia said walking away from him.
Bobby grabbed her shoulders and spun her to face him. “Who else were you out with? Was your mom with you the whole time or did you leave her to have coffee with her friends while you snuck off to see your lover?” he said, spitting.
“I. Do. Not. Have. A LOVER! Bobby, give your head a shake. Call my mom. Ask her. We were together the whole afternoon.”
“I can’t trust her. She’d lie for you. She hates me. She wants you to leave me,” Bobby said, squinting at Julia, as if it might help him see the truth in her eyes.
“I’m not going to stand here and be insulted by you. One of us has to go. I’m happy for it to be me, but when I come home later you cannot interrogate me about where I’ve been or I’ll leave for good. I swear I will,” Julia said. She meant it. Maybe not today but as soon as she could find a new job, she was going to move. Out to BC where Bobby would never find her. Her mom was already looking for a house that they could share in the Kootenays. That was the only thing that he’d gotten right in all of his accusations over the last year: her mother despised him. But, like Julia, she feared him, too.
“You’ll never leave me and you know it. I’m the best thing that ever happened to you. And if you ever tried, I’d find you. You know I would. You’re mine, baby,” he said, grabbing her arms. “Mine.”
Bobby picked up Julia’s car keys from the hall table and dangled them in the air. “I’m going out. I think I’ll take your car for a change. I don’t know when I’ll be home, but don’t wait up.” He slammed the door and sped away leaving a new set of burn marks on the asphalt driveway.
Julia relaxed onto the couch, not sad or upset. A normal day with Bobby. It would be hours before he came home, filled with apologies. Contrite. With a gift of flowers or chocolate. Once a month he’d splurge and bring home a bigger gift, like a real gold necklace or a knick knack he thought she’d like. That was one thing Bobby had going for him: he had great taste with his make-up gifts. The other was that his post freak-out sex was always very generous. But, it was no longer enough. His apologies, which had started as a monthly event, slowly increased until Julia’s vase was never without fresh flowers.
Julia yelled to the empty room, “I am not a frog!” a reference to the pep talk her mom had given her that afternoon to help her stop beating herself up about not having left the relationship earlier. “The change happens slowly and in such small increments that before you know it, you’re being boiled to death,” her mom had said.
Julia locked the door with the deadbolt and the chain so Bobby wouldn’t be able to get back in until she let him in. Then she went to the laundry room and dragged the washing machine away from the wall, reached behind it and pulled up a notebook. Bobby had installed spy software on her computer and regularly monitored her phone activity so if she wanted to go online and not let Bobby know about it, she used the computer her mom had secretly given her. She was careful to never use her regular email account since she was pretty sure that was the trigger for setting off the spy software.
Julia didn’t know what she was going to look for online, but she had a good feeling she’d find something. She started by checking to see if there were any new jobs in Nelson, BC that might support her and her mom. Nothing new. Nothing suitable for a hair dresser with web design skills. Then she typed in to the search bar, ‘help! my boyfriend is a possessive maniac.’ She got over seven million hits which made Julia feel much better that somewhere out in the world, maybe even on her own block, lots of other women were also sitting in pots of boiling water. She started reading advice on a site called ‘Dear Cupid’ and two hours later found herself reading about the service Mother Teresa could provide.
Julia dialled her mom’s number, let it ring twice then hung up. Without a landline, Bobby was able to monitor every minute of every call Julia made or received. He particularly hated seeing that she’d spent long amounts of time talking to her mother. Especially on days they’d already visited. Or days he’d fought with her. Or at times he wasn’t home to casually eavesdrop on the call. And, if he ever called and either she didn’t answer or he got voice mail right away, he’d increase his spying level for days, sometimes weeks after.
Three minutes later, Julia’s notebook alerted her that she had a Skype call, “Hi mom! I need you to check out a website. Go to Lovers Advice dot com. Do you have time now?”
Julia walked her mom through all the pages, excited, hopeful.
“Do you think it might be for real?” she asked.
“I just searched to see if there were any scam warnings and there don’t seem to be. At least not from the regular sites I check. Although it does look kind of suspect. And I just don’t understand how it works,” Mom said.
“I know, neither do I. But I don’t understand gravity or molecular science or astro physics either. And all those things seem to be real. Right?”
“Mom, you know I’ll pay you back once we move. I’ll cover everything! I promise.”
“Hm,” Mom said again, this time followed by a long, exaggerated sigh, “I’ll make you a deal. I’ll pick up the first thousand. Not a loan. A gift to get you back on your feet. And, assuming this works, you pay the second thousand—”
“I love you, Mom! Thank you.”
“I’m not done yet. There’s one more thing. Next time I tell you that a man is trouble, you listen to me. All right, Julia? Promise?”
“I promise,” Julia said. And she meant it. “Gotta go, Mom. The car just drove up. He’s home. Can you connect to Mother Teresa for me? Please?”
Julia didn’t wait for her mom to answer or say goodbye. She slammed her notebook closed and ran to the laundry room, lowered the computer in place then pushed the washing machine against the wall. She turned on the dryer—with already dry clothes in it to warm them up, to make it look like she’d been doing laundry. She always kept a load in the dryer and, since Bobby hadn’t done laundry a single time in their year as a couple, she didn’t worry that he’d figure out her trick. The doorbell rang and she waited. It rang again. She walked to the front door and pulled it open leaving the chain on. When her eyes met Bobby’s, Julia smiled and closed the door to unlock the chain.
“Hi Honey. Just doing laundry. Did you have a good time out?” she asked.
“Here are your keys. You let your interior get all dusty. And there was dirt all over the shoe mats,” Bobby said, shaking his head, but not angry.
“I know. I have to get it detailed.”
“No you don’t. I took care of it. They did a great job. I made sure,” he said smiling and cracking his knuckles.
“You take good care of me, Honey. Thank you.”
“I’m sorry I got upset earlier. I just hate to think of you with anyone else.”
“I know, Honey. Are you ready for bed? Feel like a massage tonight? I know I could use one.”
Two weeks later, Julia called her mom from her cellphone and didn’t hang up. Her mom, of course, didn’t answer. Julia had to call five times before Mom got the hint.
“Mom, it’s over. I’m crying but I have no idea why. If I’m sad or happy.”
“Oh, Julia. I’m sorry and I’m thrilled. What happened? Did he finally say it was over?”
“No. He—” Julia started to laugh and didn’t stop crying. She couldn’t speak for two minutes. Her mom kept saying, “Breathe, Julia. Take a breath.”
Once she’d controlled herself, Julia spoke slowly and with determination, “He was so mad last night. I’d never seen him that upset. Mom,” she paused, considering whether to say what was on the tip of her tongue, “he hit me before he left.”
“Honey. That’s enough. You have to end it.”
“It’s over, Mom. I promise. He went to Isabelle and Andy’s place. Isabelle called around ten to tell me that he’d had a few too many so they took his car keys. Andy left him on the folding couch in his office. Apparently, Bobby woke up at some point in the middle of the night and started freaking out that he needed his keys; that he had to come home and make sure I wasn’t fooling around with another man. Isabelle got really pissed off with him and told him to go back to bed. When they got up in the morning, there was an empty bottle of Jack that he hadn’t drunk earlier, the couch was folded up and Bobby was gone. It wasn’t until Andy sat down in his office after breakfast that he realized what had happened,” Julia felt her nerves start to go again. She stopped talking to breathe.
“Honey, where did he go?”
“Nowhere. He was still there. Folded into the couch. All they can figure is that he must have pulled the lever on the side of that folds it up while he was laying in it. Andy opened it as soon as he saw, but it was too late. He suffocated. Andy said it didn’t look like he struggled, so he must have been really passed out.”
Julia and her mom were silent for several seconds.
“So do we grieve or celebrate?” Mom asked.
“Neither. I think we just give thanks.”
“To Mother Teresa?”
“To Mother Teresa.”