Chapter no 46

The Housemaid

Step Six: Try to Live With It

I crack the window open in Suzanne’s Audi so that the wind tousles my light hair as she drives me home from our lunch date. We were supposed to be discussing PTA issues, but we got distracted and started gossiping. It’s hard not to gossip. There are so many bored housewives in this town.

People think I’m one of them.

Andy and I have been married for seven years now. And he has kept every one of his promises. He has, in many ways, been a wonderful husband. He has supported me financially, he has been a father figure to Cecelia, he’s even-tempered and agreeable. He doesn’t drink heavily or mess around behind my back like so many other men in this town. He’s almost perfect.

And I hate his guts.

I have done everything I possibly can to get out of this marriage. I bargained with him. I told him I would leave with just Cecelia and the clothing on my back, but he just laughed. With my history of mental health problems, it would be easy for him to tell the police I’d kidnapped Cece and was going to hurt her again. I tried playing the part of the perfect wife, hoping not to give him an excuse to take me up to the attic. I cooked delicious homemade dinners,

kept the house spotless, and even pretended not to be repulsed when we had sex. But he always found something. Something I never would have even imagined I did wrong.

Eventually, I gave up. I wasn’t going to try to be nice if it didn’t even affect how often he took me up there. My new strategy became to repel him. I started behaving like a shrew, snapping at him for every little thing that annoyed me. He didn’t care—he almost seemed to enjoy the abuse. I stopped going to the gym and started eating whatever the hell I wanted, hoping if I couldn’t turn him off with my behavior, I could turn him off with my appearance. On one occasion, he caught me indulging in a chocolate cake and he dragged me up to the attic and starved me for two days as a punishment. But after that, he didn’t seem to care anymore.

I tried finding Kathleen, his former fiancé, hoping she

might back up my story so that I could finally go to the police without sounding like a crazy person. I had an idea of what she looked like and her approximate age—I thought I could find her. But do you know how many people roughly aged thirty to thirty-five have the name Kathleen? Quite a lot. I couldn’t find her. I finally gave up trying.

On average, he makes me go up to the attic once every other month. Sometimes it’s more frequent, sometimes less. Once six months went by without a trip up there. I don’t know if it’s better or worse that I don’t know when it’s coming. It would be awful if I knew the exact day and had to dread it, but it’s also awful to never know if I’ll be spending that night in my own bed or in that uncomfortable cot. And of course, I never know what sort of torture he’s got waiting for me in the room because I never know what transgression I have committed.

And it’s not just me. If Cecelia does something unacceptable, I’m the one who gets punished. He has purchased a wardrobe of itchy, frilly dresses that she hates, that the other children make fun of her for wearing, but she

knows if she doesn’t wear them or gets them dirty, her mother will disappear for days (likely naked, to teach me clothing is a privilege). So she obeys.

I’m scared that someday he will start punishing her instead, but in the meantime, I’m happy to accept my fate if he spares my daughter.

And he’s very clear that if I try to get away from him, Cecelia will pay the price. He already almost drowned her. His other favorite way to taunt me is keeping a jar of peanut butter in our pantry, even though he knows that she’s allergic. I have thrown it away dozens of times, and it always reappears—and sometimes I get punished for the transgression. Thankfully, it’s not a life-threatening allergy

—she just breaks out in welts all over her body. Every once in a while, he slips a little bit into her dinner, just to prove a point when the itchy, uncomfortable rash sprouts after our meal has ended.

If I knew I wouldn’t go to jail for it, I would pick up a steak knife and drive it through his neck.

Andy has prepared for that contingency though. Of course, he knows that my temptation to arrange for his death or outright kill him myself might become overwhelming. He has informed me that in the event of his death from any cause, a letter will be sent from his attorney to the police department, informing them of my unstable behavior and homicidal threats against him. Not that he needs to do it, with my psychiatric history.

So I stay with him. And I don’t murder him in his sleep. Or hire a hitman. But I do fantasize. When Cecelia is older, when she doesn’t need me, maybe I could get away. Then he won’t have a threat against me anymore. Once she is safe, I don’t care what happens to me.

“Here we are!” Suzanne announces cheerfully as we pull up in front of the gate to our home. Funny how the first time I saw those gates, I thought how charming it was to

have a home with a gate surrounding it. Now it seems like exactly what it is: a prison.

“Thanks for the ride,” I say. Even though she didn’t thank me for paying for lunch.

“You’re welcome,” she chirps. “Hopefully, Andrew will be home soon.”

I grimace at the tinge of worry in her voice. A few years ago, when I was getting very close with Suzanne, we had a few too many drinks at her house and I confessed everything. Everything. I begged her to help me. I told her I wanted to go to the police, but I couldn’t. Not without anyone supporting me.

We talked for hours. Suzanne had held my hand and sworn to me it was going to be okay. She told me to go home and we would figure this out together. I cried with relief, believing my nightmare was finally over.

But when I got home, Andy was waiting for me.

Apparently, every time I made a new friend, Andy sought out that friend. He sat down with them and clued them in to my history of mental health problems. He told them what I had tried to do years earlier. And he told them if they had any reason for concern to call him immediately. Because I might be having another episode.

Unbeknownst to me, Suzanne had slipped away briefly during our conversation, under the guise of needing the bathroom, and she called Andy. She warned him that I was having delusions again. So when I came home, he was ready for me. It was another two-month stay at Clearview, where I discovered at least one of the directors was a golfing buddy of his father.

When I got out, Suzanne apologized profusely. I was just

worried about you, Nina. I’m so glad you got help. I forgave her, of course. She was tricked the same way I was. But it was never the same between us again after that. And I was never able to trust anyone ever again.

“So I’ll see you Friday, right?” Suzanne says. “At the school play.”

“Sure,” I say. “What time does it start again?”

Suzanne doesn’t answer me, suddenly distracted by something.

“Does it start at seven?” I press her. “Mm-hmm,” she says.

I glance over her shoulder to see what has grabbed her attention. I roll my eyes when I figure it out. It’s Enzo, the local landscaper who we hired to work on our yard a couple of months ago. He does a good job—always works hard and never makes excuses—and he’s admittedly pretty easy on the eyes. But it’s crazy the way everyone who comes to our house when he’s working slobbers over him and then suddenly remembers they have some yard work they need done.

“Wow,” Suzanne breathes. “I heard your yard guy was hot, but damn.”

I roll my eyes. “He just works on our lawn—that’s it. He doesn’t even speak English.”

“I’m okay with that,” Suzanne says. “Hell, that might be a plus.”

She won’t let up until I hand over Enzo’s phone number. Not that I mind. He seems like a nice enough guy, and I’m glad he’s getting some extra business. Even if it’s only because he’s hot, and not because of what he does.

When I get out of the car and pass through the gates, Enzo looks up from his hedge clippers and waves his hand in greeting. “Ciao, Señora.”

I return his smile. “Ciao, Enzo.”

I like Enzo. Even though he doesn’t speak any English, he seems like a kind person—you can just tell. He plants all these beautiful flowers in our yard. Cece sometimes watches him, and when she asks him about the flowers, he patiently points to them and says their names. She repeats the names, and he nods and smiles. A few times she asked

if she could help him, and he looked at me and asked, “Is okay?” When I agreed, he gave her a job to do in the flower bed, even though it probably slowed him down.

He has tattoos all over his upper arms, mostly concealed by his shirt. One time when I was watching him work, I saw the name Antonia etched in a heart on his biceps. It made me wonder who Antonia was. I’m pretty sure Enzo isn’t married.

There’s something about him. If only he spoke English, I feel like I could confide in him. That he might be the one person who would believe me. Who might actually help me. I stand there, watching him clip our hedges. I haven’t worked since the day I moved in here—Andy won’t let me. I miss it. Enzo would understand. I know he would. Too bad he doesn’t speak any English. But in a way, that makes it easier to confide in him. Sometimes I feel like if I don’t say

the words out loud, I’m going to lose my mind for real.

“My husband is a monster,” I say aloud. “He tortures me. He holds me hostage in the attic.”

Enzo’s shoulders stiffen. He lowers his clippers, his brow furrowed. “Señora… Nina…”

My stomach turns to ice. Why did I say that? I should never have said those words. It’s just that I knew he wouldn’t understand me, and I felt like I needed to tell somebody who wouldn’t rat me out to Andy. I thought it would be safe to tell Enzo. After all, he doesn’t even know English. But when I look into his dark eyes, there’s understanding there.

“Never mind,” I say quickly.

He takes a step toward me, and I shake my head, backing away. I made a huge mistake. Now I’m probably going to have to fire Enzo.

But then he seems to get it. He picks up his clippers again and goes back to work.

I hurry into the house as fast as I can and slam the door behind me. Right by the window, there’s a spectacular

arrangement of flowers. I would say every color of the rainbow represented. Andy brought it home last night from work to surprise me, to show me what a spectacular husband he is when I am “well behaved.”

I peer beyond the flowers out the window into the front yard. Enzo is still working out there, the sharp clippers in his gloved hands. But he pauses for a moment and looks up at the window. Our eyes meet for a split second.

And then I look away.

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