Story idea submitted by @Fluxuations: Retribution versus revenge
If you looked at Kathy from across the grocery store, or walking down the street, you’d see her sunny exterior, smiling face, and golden yellow eyes. She had a little cat everyone adored; she waved at all the neighbours, gathered your mail, and righted your garbage bins when the raccoons got at them overnight.
If you looked at Kathy up close you’d see the daily façade of sunshine, worry lines flowing into her forced smile like streams coming into a river, and her golden yellow eyes, which darted back and forth whenever she was alone.
Oh, not many people noticed. Some waved back, “Kathy is such a great neighbour,” most would exclaim, leaning against their white picket fence – coffee in hand – shooting the shit with a passerby.
Nobody noticed Kathy’s bruised forearms, yellow circles matching her eagle-eyes, or old, worn-out baggy clothes. They just saw the mask Kathy wore to hide the abuse.
Phil moved into Kathy’s house about a year ago – the wedding was small. They only dated for a few months. The abuse started not long after the marriage. Kathy was afraid to be alone, and Phil needed someone to sponge off of since being let go from his job (multiple jobs if we’re being realistic). She bought him a truck, paid all the rent, shopped and paid for groceries, his cell phone bill, and even gave him an allowance for his beer and poker habits.
To be honest, Kathy didn’t make that much. She was a clinic receptionist, but the benefits were good and she was in a union. She made bonuses too. So she didn’t mind buying Phil the things he asked for it if made him happy. And when Phil was happy he wasn’t beating the shit out of her. It was a win-win.
One day, Kathy was getting home from an evening shift at the clinic – was about 1am or so – when she rolled up to her darkened house (why would he bother leaving the light on for her?). She got out and stood on the cracked tar driveway and just stared at the door. Her face was conflicted and emotions pooled in the lines which etched her face.
I live across the street, and also work nights, and was sitting on my porch with a cup of coffee before I headed into the hospital where I worked. “Run!” I whispered out loud, clutching the mug in my hand, leaning in watching the confliction in her face. As if she heard me she turned around and met my worried gaze. For a split second – no longer than an instant – her eyes asked me to help her, to tell her what she should do. As quickly as it happened it ended, and she raised a hand cheerily to me before walking briskly into her house.
I knew all about Phil’s type – I saw it all the time in the hospital. I knew the marks, and I recognized the signs. I called the cops so many times when I heard Kathy start screaming, so he started to cover her face with a pillow. I could tell by the burst blood vessels in her eyes from lack of oxygen. I stopped calling the cops then.
The next week I saw Kathy out gardening – a rarity because Phil liked to keep her in the house so nobody else could talk to her. He must be at the bar. She seemed almost happy, digging little holes and dropping in little bundles of daisy roots. I casually sauntered down my driveway to the mailbox, which I opened and stood for a while, painstakingly pouring over ever detail in the redundant spam mailers sent out that week. Every few seconds I’d peer at Kathy through my periphery hoping she’d see me.
After a few minutes of researching spray tans and discount clothing ads I took a risk and walked over. Kathy saw me and smiled meekly as I stopped in front of her daisy mounds.
“Great looking garden Kathy, it’s going to look good when it’s done.” I smiled down at her, prompting a response with my eyes.
“Thanks,” she showed a genuine smile, “Daisies are the only thing I can… afford right now.” Her smile vanished just as fast as it came, and sadly averted her eyes and grabbed more bundles from a plastic tray to put into the holes she’d dug earlier with a brand new shovel laying by my feet. Her cat darted out of the bushes and rubbed against her faded blue jeans. She smiled once again and lovingly scratched under its chin before it zipped off again. As she reached for more daisies I noticed the splint on her ring and forefingers. Black and blue bruising seeped from under them up her wrist. Emotion made my heart clench.
“Kathy…” I reached into my wallet and retrieved my business card and handed it to her dirty gloves. “If you need anything let me know. Shrink’s aren’t all bad.” I forced a quick chuckle as I looked down at her studying the card carefully. She caught my gaze and returned it hopelessly, without a word exchanged, I said goodbye and walked back to my place.
The next few days I didn’t see Kathy, I worked a lot of nights so I was always sleeping during the day. Her beat up little car was gone from her wrinkled driveway, and I knew she wasn’t home because the papers piled up before I walked over to get them. I kept my eye on the house as the days went by, not even a trace of her little black cat. Nobody was home and I had a real bad feeling.
It was about a week later when I heard the doorbell. A nice young police officer stood in front of me, while a slew of them walked in and out of Kathy’s house in the background. My stomach dropped and my heart lurched in my chest.
Oh god he killed her. He found my card and he beat her to death.
“Sir do you know a Kathy and Phil Innis, live across the street?” He turned his back slightly to point behind him at the wad of cops. I nodded while I thought about what to say next.
“Have you seen Phil Innis in the last week? His wife reported him missing and we can’t seem to find him.” Relief flooded to my face life a wave and the breath I’d been holding (unbeknownst to me) was released in a sort of spit-tornado of air. The cop’s eyebrow went up if only for a tick, and he prompted me again. “Sir, Phil Innis? Have you seen him?”
“I, uh,” I stammered slightly as I saw Kathy out of the corner of my eye with the cops. They talked and wrote in their notepads, Kathy nodded a lot. Suddenly she looked past the cop to me, and we made eye contact. My head was instantly slammed with information from her eyes, her look, something about her look.
“I haven’t seen him no.” I finished, looked back to Kathy who was talking to another cop now.
“Do you know if they were having problems at all, any reason he would take off?” I remembered all the calls I made to the police station. I thought very carefully for my next words.
“We – the neighbours and I – suspected Phil was abusing her. We called the cops and reported it several times.” I paused as the cop scribbled and looked up again at me. My heart hammered in my chest. “I confronted him one day. I told him to stop or else I’d keep calling the cops. That was just over a week ago.”
The cop nodded understandingly and finished scribbling in his pad. “That makes sense. We think he took off scared. We found his truck at the airport. If you see him come back please report it immediately.” The cop handed me a card before nodding and walking off my porch.
A little over an hour later, when all the commotion had died down I saw Kathy outside, gardening once again. My whole body was shaking as I walked over. I was on autopilot. I didn’t know what I would do or say when I got there.
I got to the edge of the garden and saw Kathy in the same spot, planting daisies and humming.
“I'm sorry Phil went missing Kathy. That must be hard.” She looked up, a wad of daisy roots in a dirt ball held in her gloved hand. My eyes smiled but I was frantically searching for any hints. She nodded and was quiet, holding my gaze. It was confident, and I was taken aback.
“I had the codes to the injection room,” She spoke lightly, as if she was explaining how sunny it was. Despite this my skin turned to ice and I froze, piecing things together. She slowly peered up through her eyelashes at me, studying my face for signs of horror. There were none. I was a professional psychiatrist; I’ve heard it all - now.
I followed her gaze to her shovel at her feet. It didn’t look as new as it looked when I was here last. The metal head was scratched and worn and the handle has dirt in-between the new cracks of the soft wood. My heartbeat quickened. We locked eyes and I must have conveyed the one question she knew I was thinking.
She glanced away and wiped her brow with the back of a gloved hand (also much more worn looking) and took the sweat of the day from her forehead. She looked up at me briefly, with a look of pure conviction that I had never seen from those golden eagle eyes.
“He killed my cat.”
She pushed a mound of dirt into the new hole housing her daisy clump, making sure it was packed in tight, as if she wanted to keep something in.
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