Thursday, April 28, 2011

Hot Water and Cold Steel

“Call her.”

My husband Pepple (named for a legendary Nigerian king of the Victorian Age, called “Pepper” by English colonial administrators) wants me to tell my best friend she is no longer welcome in my house. Pepple has been yelling the walls down for four days, demanding that I become the loyal wife he deserves. He claims that my friendship with Joan is interfering with our marriage.

He claims that Joan is a dangerous “free woman.” He wants me to stop behaving like a nymphomaniac with men and a lesbian with Joan.

I can barely remember the last time I had sex. It was with Pepple, before I had the baby.

The sound of a baby’s cry has competed with a man’s roar for the last four days. The milk in my breasts has dried up. I hope I won’t run out of formula while he is keeping me trapped in the house. Little Bird, please calm down. I’ll feed you in a minute.

“Call her!”

“I did. She went to a dentist’s appointment.”

“That’s a lie. Call her.”

“The receptionist will just tell me the same thing again. She’s not in the office.”

Joan and I were English majors together. Now she has a job in local government, writing speeches for the Premier of Saskatchewan. She has a good income with benefits. She is not the servant of King Pepper.

“Call her.”

Water boils furiously in a pot on the stove. “I have to make formula to feed the baby.”

Pepple looks as if steam will start pouring out of his ears. He grabs the handles of the pot with his bare hands and throws hot water on the kitchen floor. “Call her!”

I am facing him in the kitchen, near a drawer full of knives. In less time than it takes to tell, I have pulled open the drawer, grabbed a butcher knife and held it to his throat while holding him in place with my left fist in his nappy hair. My knuckles are against his scalp. He can only escape my grip by leaving much of his hair with me as a souvenir.

“Shut up.” That’s me talking: Queen Salt the evil witch. My knife speaks louder than my voice.

The silence is both shocking and soothing. After a long moment, he speaks quietly.
“Jeanie, give me the knife.”

“I won’t hurt you with it, but I can’t let you have it. You need to shut up and let me feed the baby.”

“Give me the knife.” We are wrestling for it. With shared amazement, we both watch my iron hand holding the knife as he tries to loosen my grip.

“I’ll throw it on the floor.” He sounds shaken and sober. He probably thinks I’m really a madwoman, driven to irrational violence by some post-natal hormone imbalance. I know he will never take responsibility for his own behaviour. What man in his place would?

I really don’t want to hurt him. My grip loosens just a bit, and he pulls the knife from my fingers with the strength of desperation. He throws the knife into a corner, where it spins on the linoleum.

The immediate crisis is past. Neither of us is bleeding to death, or waiting to be taken away in handcuffs.

I know I acted recklessly. When Pepple tells everyone we know what I did to him, he will be told that human mothers are not much different from wolves and bears. He will be reminded that hormones trump reason.

But never again will the pacifists in my life be able to persuade me that violence doesn’t work.


  1. Jean,

    What an amazing story, and told with such succinctness.

    I'm not sure that this was insanity, though. Desperation, perhaps, but given the provocation and the resolution, your actions almost seem rational.

  2. Wow. Does it scare or comfort you to know what you're capeable of?

  3. I wish this was fiction. As a new (and pregnant again) mother, I can too easily imagine what I would do in the same situation. Powerful stuff.

  4. Holy Moly! This really happened?? I remember you saying you had had an abusive marriage at one time. I had no idea things got this difficult. This is a very compelling story.


  5. Thank you, fellow-bloggers! Kathleen, I think you've guessed why I left soon afterward - I was not only afraid of what he could do, but of what I could do back. That incident challenged my sense of what is sane & appropriate, and the easy opposition to violence in all forms that my parents tried to instill in their children.


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