It was a cleansing deluge of biblical proportions. Her clothing clung to her shivering body and pulled her down by the shear weight of the accumulating water. She watched as the rain expelled the offending stains from her body. The deep crimson faded into a pale rust only to collect and concentrate into a pool beneath her, mixing with the drowned earth to form a russet mirror reflecting back her wretchedness. She lifted her gaze to the kitchen window, waiting for her final release. Her revenging pain-filled eyes fixed, her mouth slightly agape, she viewed her husband’s entrance into the kitchen through the silvery screen of rain falling down the window. His frenzied entrance descended into stillness as he witnessed the destruction before him. He fell to his knees. His suffering face looked up toward the heaven. Then he opened his mouth to release an anguished scream. She had waited for that sound to liberate and then quench the choking, consuming fire in her heart. And yet when it came, cruel nature ruined the perfection of her confession; lightning flashed across the sky and the thunder responded with a voice that vibrated deep in her bones and stifled the sound that could have been her deliverance.
* * * * * * *
When Betty Sue awoke that day, she lingered in the soft, feathery warmth of her comforter, a luxury she never allowed herself. In fact, from the day that Jim Harris had stolen her heart she had stopped doing anything for herself. She moved effortlessly and with no regrets into his world. As she lay in bed, she remembered that first day she had met Jim. It was a Saturday afternoon college football game. She was a cheerleader for her school and looked stunningly cute in her little pleated skirt and sweater. He was her friend Jenny Lyn’s date, but when Jimmy flashed his Prince Charming smile at Betty Sue, she knew she could steal him. And she did.
The steaming shower enveloped her the minute she stepped inside. She let the water run over her body and her mind wandered back to her honeymoon with Jim in Hawaii. They had stumbled across a small pool at the base of a waterfall and spent the afternoon making love under the gently cascading water. Upon their return, Betty Sue learned that she was pregnant with their first child.
The dirty dishes from her girls’ breakfast were stacked pristinely in the sink. Betty Sue could hear the girls rushing around upstairs getting their schoolbooks together, brushing their teeth. She stared out the window into the backyard, her hands automatically spreading peanut butter on to two slices of bread followed by the strawberry preserves. When she had been pregnant with her oldest, Elizabeth, her husband had risen to the occasion by making sandwiches for her at all hours of the night. These were special sandwiches, though, peanut butter and bologna with dill pickles. She smiled to herself as she finished the girls’ lunches and yelled up the stairs, “It’s time to go!”
The tires of the family Suburban whooshed over the wet pavement, spitting out water from the light rain that had fallen the night before. As she pulled into the turn-around at the school, her two daughters kissed her then climbed out. She looked through the windshield noticing the tremendous, steely grey clouds rolling in from the North. It was on a similar day when she and Jim sat side by side for their graduation from State, only half listening as the valedictorian droned on about following one’s potential. As a freshman, Betty Sue had dreamed of being a world-class fashion designer. The summer before graduation she had even had an internship with a prominent design house in New York City and the promise of a job the following year. Sitting in the audience on graduation day, though, she thought ahead to her job as a secretary in a CPA’s office, which she would be starting the next week. Jim was to be attending law school in the fall. Someone had to work to pay the bills, and she was willing to do anything for Jim…and he was willing to let her.
The glaring, fluorescent lights in the supermarket had startled her as she walked in, a drastic change to the ever-darkening sky outside. She watched the prices of the groceries on the digital monitor over the cash register. The numbers seemed to grow at an exponential rate. When she had been pregnant with her second daughter, Jim was in his second year of law school. Although they had wanted another child, the timing had been bad. They were struggling financially, and every time she had gone to the grocery store, she had had more coupons in her wallet then cash. The girl at the register announced the total, bringing Betty Sue back into the present. Betty Sue pulled out her wallet and began to carefully count out the bills. She bit her lip and fought back tears as she realized that she didn’t have quite enough to cover everything; Jim’s alimony payment was late again. Yet, the judgmental fluorescents mocked her accusingly as she slowly removed the two fashion magazines she’d wanted for herself, another luxury. It was either that or the cookies for the girls, and her daughters would not go without their afternoon snack today.
Betty Sue brushed a stray piece of hair out of her eyes as she pushed the whining vacuum cleaner across the carpet. She couldn’t explain why she continued to follow the same routine she had followed for the past twelve years of her life, except that it was a habit too hard to break. When Jim had finally finished law school, one of the most prominent corporate law firms in the city had hired him. Betty Sue was finally able to quit her secretarial job. They bought their beautiful home on Coast of Colchis Way in the gated community known as Olympus View. Betty Sue used her eye for fashion to turn their home into a picture from a magazine, and she had followed a meticulous cleaning regime from their first day in the house. The parties that she gave for her husband’s business associates were so spectacular that Jim was made partner in the shortest period of time in the firm’s history.
Betty sat reading an old Vogue in the basement. The washing machine hummed and she became hypnotized by the clothes spinning around and around, one red shirt falling in the front on each rotation like the ball on a roulette wheel. Two years ago on New Year’s Eve, Jim’s firm had given a casino party on the top floor of the city’s most expensive hotel. Betty Sue had walked in on Jim’s arm with a forced smile on her face. An extreme argument over his recent late hours at work had ensued while the two had been getting ready. Now at the party, Jim removed himself from her and settled at the blackjack table next to an exotic looking brunette with long legs. Standing at the bar drinking a Cosmopolitan, Betty Sue watched as Jim flashed his Prince Charming smile at the young woman, the same smile he had used on her when she met him at that football game. As she pulled her clothes out of the drier, four sizes larger than they had been before her two children, she remembered asking another wife who the brunette was. “Oh her,” said the woman scornfully. “Don’t you know? That’s Portia, the new paralegal.”
As Betty Sue sat swinging on the front porch swing, waiting for the school bus to drop off her girls, she reexamined her day. The blunt force of the realization slammed into her chest like a bullet. Her life had been his life, her dreams had been his dreams, her future had been his future. So now, the day before Jim married Portia she finally knew that there was no future. Anything else she may have known, or dreamed, had left her. The only skill that remained to her was to live for Jim. What would she do with that now that he was no longer hers to live for? How would she ever teach her daughters to be independent women when she didn’t know how to be one herself? The crunch of the shears on the bushes cut into her thoughts. She smiled at Lincoln, the lawn boy, who worked at most of the houses in the neighborhood, including Jim and Portia’s new home which was two streets over. He nodded back, knowing he was in no position to smile back at a ‘white lady,’ and continued to trim the back hedge. Betty Sue watched the dull, metal grey blades scissor back and forth.
* * * * * * *
Lightning streaked across the sky a second time, illuminating the backyard like the neon lights of a traveling carnival. The lightning’s forked tongue shot out and a deafening crack reverberated around her. She breathed deeply and turned around to look behind her. A large oak stood split in two, sparks spitting off the electrocuted branches. Walking slowly toward the tree, she reached out and tenderly touched the bark. Underneath her fingers was an engraved heart which had read ‘Jim loves Betty Sue’ but was no longer legible as it had been cleft down the center, now jagged and broken.
At the moment the sirens became audible to her, the world came back into sharp focus. She could just see the top of Jim’s head bobbing from the sobs that choked him, bowed in his hands as he slumped over the kitchen table, not unlike his two blood-drenched daughters who lay dead beside him. Her mind flashed quickly to a similar scene two streets over, where Portia, too, was dressed in red never to wake again. Her eyes snapped to Lincoln who lay sprawled on the back stoop, unconscious from the blow to the back of the head but still breathing. She raced back towards him and dropped to the ground, scrambling around and digging in the mud for something she had dropped there. Only as her fingers closed around the cold metal of the handles did she realize what she was going to do. Looking at the shears, she judged where she would have to hit to miss her vital organs and with how much force she would need to make her injuries plausible but not life threatening. She raised her arms and plunged the shears into her side, once, twice, then dragged herself toward the lawn boy. With her strength ebbing, she shoved the shears into his limp grasp and wiped her bloody hands down his shirt and pants. As she lay her head down on the cold, wet cement, the backyard blurred from the rain and the increasing pain in her wounded side, she whispered to the boy, “I’m sorry, Lincoln, but it’s time for someone else to make a sacrifice.”