By Ekta R. Garg
Prompt: A backwoods setting. A dirt road. A white knuckler. You’re at the wheel. What’s the story?
She’d had enough. She couldn’t do this anymore. Couldn’t live in fear, wondering when the next time would happen. The next time she’d have an eye blink to see a fist or an open palm headed her way.
She grabbed the steering wheel tight, so tight that her knuckles lost their color. He’d always made fun of how she hunched forward in the driver’s seat. Why couldn’t she let go of the memories of the accident, he would say with a smirk. So what if she got rear-ended? It’s not like anyone had died or anything.
He just didn’t understand. The anxiety, the anticipation of that awful jerk forward, the sharp inhalation of breath, of that fear of something having just happened coupled with the realization that something worse could have happened—all of these things made her shoulders hitch in tension when she drove. But he didn’t care about those things. All he’d cared about was whether their insurance premium would go up.
She pressed the accelerator but took care to guide the car down the dirt road. No sense in getting stuck back here in the middle of nowhere. Not when she’d have to leave again soon.
The first time he hit her, she’d been so horrified she just stood there for a minute wondering whether she was dreaming. They didn’t do these things. They didn’t hit each other. They spoke rationally, intellectually, intelligently. Professionals, both of them, they used their minds to solve problems. They hadn’t grown up in the uneducated backwaters of some village, for god’s sake.
He’d apologized, of course, and she knew he would. They always did, according to everything she’d read and heard. And, like all the research, she’d actually believed the apology would stick.
It didn’t. Pretty soon the apologies lost their adhesion, like a piece of duct tape used too many times. What did gain strength was the frequency of the abuse. Until last week, when she’d finally had enough.
A bend appeared in the road, and she slowed the car down. Which way? Right, she decided after a moment. She needed to turn right.
He’d mocked her at the cocktail party they held, an annual thing they threw for their colleagues. It was bad enough that he hit her in private. Now he had the audacity to invite people over so they could witness his verbal abuse of her too. And then he’d laughed.
No one else had laughed. Most of them had exchanged looks and then found something else to look at. One woman dared to look at her with sympathy. Later the woman came to her in the kitchen, put a hand on her shoulder, and encouraged her to share anything that needed sharing.
That’s when she knew. He’d never taken her seriously, had lied all the times he’d lauded her with compliments for her achievements. Had taken out on her his frustration with his own professional limitations.
She didn’t want sympathy. She didn’t want a hand on her shoulder. And she didn’t want to join the ranks of women who appeared on talk shows dabbing their eyes with tissues and shrugging helplessly. She wanted to live her life. That was all.
She spotted him on the road and pressed the accelerator again. He altered his intended path a little bit, and when she pulled up next to him he turned toward her. She opened the car door and stood between it and the body of the vehicle.
“What do you want?” he asked with a sneer.
Unlike a movie or a novel, real life seldom offered chances for a long soliloquy about the justification for certain actions. So she didn’t bother. She just pointed the gun in his direction, cupped her right hand with her left, and pulled the trigger. Then she got in the car and drove away.