An Irreversible Injury

He had no memory of even doing it at all. He supposed that just went to show how tired he was when it happened. If Helena was still alive to weigh in, she would likely say it just went to show how decorative she was to “his” world. The one she spent all her days cultivating, ensuring everything was in its right place so that he might displace it again without a second thought. But that was his prerogative as the “breadwinner,” wasn’t it? At least, that’s what he reiterated to her whenever their paths crossed, which, luckily for Helena, wasn’t too often. By the time he got home from work, he was essentially mute, ready to go to bed. After Helena served him some dinner, of course. And that suited her just fine. When they first got married, it had bothered her that he was never around, but then she started to understand just how much worse that made things for her.

Paul’s mood was a black cloud that could infect even the rosiest of spaces. Early on in their marriage, Helena, in fact, had possessed a much more upbeat personality. After enough years with Paul, though, her mind and spirit had been worn down to mirror his. Where once she had expressed enthusiasm at the sound of a bird, she now merely guffawed at it like Paul. Where once the sight of a rainbow would have delighted her, she now merely rolled her eyes at it like Paul. Looking back on the early stages of their dating period, Helena could never remember him being so dour. In the beginning it was all sunshine and roses. But she could see in the present that it was all part of the act, the put-on to lure her in. She really should have known better. Especially when he started to reveal his true (blackened) colors as their wedding approached. All the signs were there, she simply chose to ignore them. Maybe she was as much to blame for her stupid fate as Paul.

On the day of the incident (such a dismissive word for manslaughter), everything was business as usual. Helena forced herself to wake up at the same time as Paul to make him coffee with eggs and toast, even though he could have done it himself and given her the luxury of sleeping for as long as she wanted. But Paul did not do well with seeing her enjoy herself, especially not when he was about to go to work and “slave away” (as he relished calling it) for eight hours. Helena did her best not to mention that his upper management role had him doing little more than shaking hands with other higher-ups in between looking at porn on his phone. He had it easy. Alas, Helena would never remind him of that, lest she invoked the back of his hand. And while, no, he had never been physically abusive toward her, the threat was always there. A tacit option Paul could turn to if Helena had the “gall” to truly speak her mind. She didn’t. She had locked herself into this situation of dependency and knew she was too far down the path to go back. There were no other options for her now—a forty-something woman with no college education or viable work experience. Some days, she did contemplate trying to get a job at a fast-food place—if they would even have her—and working during the hours when Paul was gone so that she could squirrel away the money and then run when she had enough. But she was all too aware he would find out, one way or another. Paul was vigilant of everything. Including the bank account he “allowed” her to have. The one he was responsible for putting money in, and often wouldn’t so that she would be forced to further debase herself by asking. She hated asking. And he knew that. Got off on it. She would wait until she was down to about five dollars before finally giving in to what amounted to begging. After all, he would get angry with her if there wasn’t food on the table.

Their marriage was a tightrope of avoidance and power hungriness. If Helena could enlist the avoidance, Paul couldn’t be too power hungry. And then came the day when he was laid off from his job. The day, in effect, the music died for Helena. Like, literally…she could no longer play music in the house. It “disturbed” him. Supposedly “fucked with” his job search. She knew damn well he wasn’t looking for a job, but was spending all his hours jerking off in that room he called a “study.” He would prefer to live off his severance as long as he could, but it wasn’t going to last—not with all their house and car payments. Like most Americans, they had been living far beyond their means for so long under the assumption that they would “always” have a consistent way to make the minimum payments. Thus, when those minimum payments couldn’t be made, they realized how broke they actually were. No one in the U.S. has money, when you got right down to it. That Paul had worked for a company that specialized in doling out loans only added to the irony of that fact.

As the days of Paul’s unemployment wore on, he started to grow increasingly irritable. Directing all that irritability at Helena, who was simply going about her usual housewifery schedule: vacuuming, dusting, doing laundry, tidying up, making the bed, grocery shopping, etc. To Paul, this all somehow looked like nothing. Her reproductive labor was nothing. And he made sure she knew as much as he proceeded to spend most of his hours berating her for her uselessness. When she offered to get a job, he said it was out of the question. That she couldn’t hack it “out there” anyway. And then, finally, mercy was shown. An old friend of Paul’s had reached out to tell him they were looking for someone with Paul’s exact “expertise” (what that actually was, Helena couldn’t say) at the company where he worked. Paul started the new job in a matter of weeks. Leading up to the aforementioned day she had returned to waking up at the same time as him to make his precious breakfast, thereby allowing him to assert his dominance over her. To remind her, at every opportunity, that he who controls the purse strings makes the rules.

To her delight, he was too tired to bother with many rules when he came home that evening. He didn’t even bother to criticize her for not making dinner. This had been a calculated move on her part, some pathetic bid to show him how valuable she actually was. That, for once, he didn’t seem to care what she did or didn’t do really bothered her. And she was still stewing over it when they got into bed together that night. Or rather, she had gone to bed first while he stayed up to, presumably, jack off some more. That was his release. Helena wished she could say that she had one, too. But, short of vacuuming, there was no such “deliverance.” And as she lay there dying of atrophy, she truly did wish for death. It would be a preferable state.

Minutes later, when Paul sauntered in—the lights turned out—she got that wish. For as he crawled into bed and thoughtlessly adjusted his position, he elbowed her with blunt severity right in the temple, saying nothing by way of an apology as he fell asleep instantaneously. Helena didn’t think much of it either, merely rubbing the side of her head in annoyance. What was a little elbow to the temple after all? But apparently, it was a lot. And as she slept, she bled internally. The hemorrhaging in her brain was to grant her wish by morning. It was only then that Paul finally comprehended her value.


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