Her long fingers twisted together as they lay entwined in her lap. The paleness of her hands and thin arms contrasted with the dark blue of her wool skirt. She sat, legs primly crossed at the ankles. A stray lock of stringy blonde hair fell across her forehead and she nervously pushed it behind her ear. Her anxious eyes searched the face of the doctor seated across from her.
“What I tell you is in strictest confidence, isn’t it?”
She took a deep breath. “I’ve had this dreadful dream. I’ve had it now every night for months. I don’t know what it means, but I’m feeling so nervous when it’s time for bed that I can’t sleep.”
The doctor raised an eyebrow. “You want to tell me about this dream?”
She looked down at her hands then her large eyes met his. “I kill my husband and bury him in the backyard. Isn’t that awful?”
The doctor smiled. “Well, not necessarily. Many women feel like killing their husbands at one time or another.” He leaned over to turn on the tape recorder on the small table by his chair. “You don’t mind if I tape this session, do you? It helps me when I write my notes.”
She shook her head. “No, I guess not”.
“Good.” He leaned back in his chair and discreetly glanced at his watch. “Tell me a little about your life, Mavis. Your husband’s retired isn’t he?”
“Yes, about two years ago from the steel industry. We sold our house in Pennsylvania and moved here to Las Cruces about six months ago. He has really bad arthritis and the weather there was rough on him. He likes it here. We’re renting a house until we decide if we want to build or buy a condo.”
The doctor nodded. “It’s a good place to retire. Have you and your husband, its Harry, isn’t it, had many problems since he retired?”
She hesitated. “Yes, you could say that we have. He’s so picky now that he’s home all day. He never did anything but work, never had any hobbies or friends, either. We never took a real vacation. Once in all the years we were married, we went up to the mountains for a weekend and he did nothing but complain about how much money it was costing. We never took another one.”
A tone of resentment crept into her voice. “We didn’t have any children. I would have liked to, but Harry said they cost too much and would be a bother. He said I didn’t need anyone but him.” She shrugged and lifted her shoulders in a helpless gesture.
“Have you always been a homemaker, Mavis?”
“No, when we first married I worked as a secretary and made a good salary, but Harry wouldn’t let me keep it. The money had to go into a savings account for retirement. He would give me a small allowance to buy groceries every week and take me to the Mall if I needed something like clothes or shoes.”
“How did you feel about that?”
“I didn’t like it at first, but after a while I accepted it. When we moved here I found out the account wasn’t in my name. It is now, I insisted.” Her eyes flashed. “I told Harry what if something happened to him and I couldn’t get any money.” Her hands twisted together in her lap. “He could be in the hospital and needed things and I couldn’t get them for him.”
“How long have you been married?”
“Forty-two years next month.”
“That’s a long time. How do you feel about this man after forty-two years together?”
“I don’t know.” she hesitated. “Maybe that’s why I’m having the dream. Harry criticizes everything I do. He never shuts up, always yelling at me. Sometimes I want to tell him to shut up and get a life.”
The doctor notices that her expression doesn’t change, but her eyes darken and widen. “Why don‘t you tell him?”
She shrugged. “He’ll just get nastier. He can be so mean.”
“Has he ever abused you in anyway physical?”
Mavis looked down at her hands. Hesitating she looked up at the doctor, eyes wide. “I… um……. I guess its okay to tell you. Harry used to tie me up and spank me with this old ping pong paddle that he kept in his desk. He’d spank me so hard that I would have bruises and cry. Then he’d say he was sorry and we’d have sex. He hasn’t done that in a long time. He can’t get an erection anymore. And I’m glad.” She said this with a defiant toss of her head and a narrowing of her eyes.
“I see.” The doctor leaned forward. “What usually led up to this spanking?”
“It happened whenever I fussed too much about him not letting me do something I wanted to do.”
“Oh, different things, like the time a neighbor across the street invited me over for coffee and Harry said I couldn’t go. He said she was a slut and probably wanted to take advantage of us. He gets so pissed now that he can’t get an erection and he doesn’t have the paddle anymore.” She smirked and her mouth turned up in a simile of a smile, small pointed teeth showing. “I told him it got lost in the move. I threw it in the trash. He never knew.”
The doctor was silent for a moment. “You say that your husband wouldn’t let you have coffee with the neighbor?”
Mavis sat back in the armchair and crossed her arms. The doctor watched her carefully. She appeared to hug herself tightly and rocked back and forth so gently that it was hardly noticeable.
“Harry said he was the only friend that I needed. We never did anything social with anyone else. My parents died young and I’m an only child. Harry had an older brother, but we haven’t seen him in over forty years. He might even be dead for all we know. Harry didn’t like his family”.
“You must be lonely.”
She relaxed and put her hands in her lap. “I’ve got my television shows. I sew and garden. We never had a pet for the same reason we never had children, too bothersome. But now that Harry is home all the time he controls the remote and I can’t watch any of my programs. Its sports or game shows all day long and in the evening too.” Her voice took on a tone of self-pity.
“You sound frustrated and angry, Mavis.”
“I guess that’s probably why I keep having that dream.”
“Tell me about it.”
She hesitated and gazed toward the one window in the small office. “Well, I’m in my nightgown and barefoot. I’m in the backyard and its real dark, barely enough light to see. There’s blood on the front of my gown. I’m dragging something in a sheet. It’s very heavy and I’m grunting as I drag it along the ground. I stop and look down and it’s Harry. His head is all bloody and I don‘t think he’s breathing. I drag him through the pecan trees to a small clearing. A shovel is leaning against a tree. I start digging then I wake up.” She looks down at her hands.
“That’s quite a dream, Mavis. I think you’re expressing the anger and resentment you feel toward Harry with this dream and that’s okay. Your subconscious is working through those feelings. From the history you’ve given me its normal that you would resent your relationship and feel angry. Probably this has been simmering for a long time. That’s why you keep having the dream. Your comfort level has been disrupted. You might think about doing things to get out of the house. The Senior Center has programs that you may find interesting. And I’m going to give you something to help you sleep.”
He reached for his prescription pad. “I’m going to give you a thirty day supply of Ambien.” He wrote out the script and handed it to her. “Now, only take one before you go to bed; they’ll make you drowsy and you should have a good night’s sleep.” They both rose and he escorted her to the door.
He held the door open and smiled. “We have to do some work on your self-esteem. We’ll get your husband in here in a few weeks and see if we can resolve some of these issues between you two.”
“Thank you, doctor.”
“You’re welcome Mavis. I’ll see you next week, same time. Stop at the front desk,
Alice will set up an appointment for you.” He ushered her out and closed the door.
Mavis paused, glanced at the receptionist, gave a slight shake of her head and walked quickly out of the office. She drove out of the parking lot and a few blocks down the street pulled into Albertson’s market. She sat in the car for ten minutes, her look thoughtful. Her eyes widened then she smiled and whispered. “Why not? What have I got to lose?” Humming an old Harry Belafonte song she got out of the car. Purchasing some bread, milk and cookies she stopped by the pharmacy and had the script filled, then drove home.
As she put away the groceries she heard the toilet flush in the powder room and in a few minutes Harry entered the kitchen. He yelled; his face flushed with anger. “Where the hell have you been, you stupid bitch? You didn’t tell me you were leaving the house and taking the car.”
Under her breath she said, “Shut up, Harry.”
“What did you say?” His eyes narrowed as he approached.
“I said I bought some groceries we needed. We were out of milk and bread. I also bought some of those cookies you like. You can have some with warm milk before you go to bed. You’ll sleep better.”
Somewhat mollified Harry retorted, “You were gone over an hour.”
“I stopped and got gas and washed the car.” She looked at her watch. “Harry, you’re going to miss your game show. Go sit down and I’ll start dinner.”
Harry left the kitchen and humming Mavis began to prepare the meal.
A few days later.
It was a beautiful morning with a slight coolness in the air, mitigated by the warmth of the sun, a perfect day in the high desert of New Mexico.
As Mavis left the bank she hummed an old song about a lemon tree. “I must see if I can find that CD, maybe at Barnes and Noble.” She skipped a step and continued humming as she
walked to her car. She stopped to glance at her reflection in a store window and admired her new haircut and the auburn color.
The telephone was ringing as she pulled into the garage. She raced into the kitchen and grabbed the phone. Out of breath, she said, “Hello, yes this is Mavis Taylor. Oh good, I was hoping you were on your way. We’re the house at the end of the road and we’re set back in the pecan trees. You have to come up the drive and park on the side, not in front. Okay, I’ll be here.” She hung up and went up the stairs to her bedroom. She picked up the two suitcases that stood inside the door and went back downstairs to the garage, placing the suitcases in the trunk. Humming a nondescript tune she went back into the house and taking a key from her key ring placed it on the kitchen counter. The sound of a truck coming up the drive alerted Mavis and she opened the front door. She watched the truck approach and waved as the men got out.
“Hi. You understand that everything goes, all the furniture, the stuff in the kitchen and the clothes in the closest?”
“Yes ma’am. It sure is good of you and your husband to donate all this stuff.”
The older of the two men handed her a receipt. She gave a wave of dismissal. “Thank you. I don’t need a receipt.”
She watched as they loaded the contents of the house into the large truck and waved as they left. Back in the house she looked around at the emptiness with a satisfied smile and walked through the house to the back yard. She took a deep breath and looked at the clear blue sky, then at the yellowing leaves of the pecan trees. She whispered, “It is lovely here.” She gave a little salute toward the pecan trees and smiling walked back through the house and into the garage. As she drove out of the driveway and onto the street, she couldn’t contain herself and giggled. “Jamaica will be marvelous this time of the year.”