By David Lightfoot
“I can’t take any more of this, Helen!” I cried at my wife. “Every time a lady client comes into my office, you immediately think I’m going to cheat with her! You know me better than that! Can’t you see I’m not one of those private eyes who strays from his wife with every dame he sees?”
“Spare that ‘defensive husband’ act, Bruno!” Helen said bitterly. “I know just by looking at them how tempting they are. And I know you. Men like you just can’t take your eyes off tramps like them!”
I gave her a cold look and frowned. “You obviously don’t!”
Thomas Greenwich stops typing and reads the fight scene over again. What drama it shows. His private detective character is getting frustrated, trying to earn his wife’s trust. He wants her to stop suspecting him of cheating with “dame” clients. She won’t, because she believes that private detectives can’t stay faithful. She perceives their female clients as nothing but husband-stealing bimboes. Thomas feels so sorry for the poor detective.
He reads the scene over again and studies the dialogue, the tone in which his characters are speaking. He thinks of the fights he’s had with his wife, Patricia. She works as an attorney-at-law, is a partner in a law firm, and she doesn’t like Thomas’s work at all.
He’s always hated her pestering him to get a real job. He’s never agreed with her saying that writers can’t earn a good living. She always insists his book contract won’t help him provide for the family, but he keeps giving various counter-arguments defending his work. Thomas has been writing stories since he was twelve, earned a freelance writing degree in college, and has been writing full-time for ten years. His mother was a celebrated literary novelist, and his older sister is also a writer. He’s had short stories published in magazines as a young man. Later, he signed a book contract with a top publisher, and published a collection of short stories and three novels. All of them are best sellers. Critics say Thomas is brilliant and hard-working. So Patricia should leave his work alone. He’s now working on his fourth book, about a private eye who, like Henry VIII, has six wives throughout his career.
Thomas hears the front door open, and his wife call to him, “Tom, I’m home!” He keeps typing. He wants Patricia to see him hard at his work.
He hears her in the hallway saying, “You won’t believe the day I had. I swear, that defendant in court today was a jackass. He kept going on and on about his insurance company’s strict policies, and he wouldn’t give me time to ask questions.” She pauses and gets no response. “Thomas, where are you?”
“In my office!” Thomas calls back.
Patricia sees Thomas focused on his laptop computer. She sighs harshly in unmistakable frustration. “So, still working on that stupid novel of yours, are you?!”
Thomas rolls his eyes and turns, competitively frustrated. “What does it look like, Patricia?”
“God, Thomas, how many times do I have to tell you?” Patricia asks in a frustrated tone. “You can’t make a living writing fiction. Nobody can, so stop wasting your damn time! Why, I never wanted to write fiction, or do anything else ‘artistic’. Those careers can’t bring you a stable income.”
“Hey, I may not be a millionaire,” Thomas says, “but at least I’m successful. Isn’t that what you wanted from me? You knew this is what I wanted to do when we first started dating. What did you say then?” He mimics Patricia’s voice. “I don’t care what you do as long as you’re successful.”
“That’s because I thought you’d change your mind about writing.”
Thomas is insulted to hear that. But he doesn’t want to fight. Instead, he says, “Well, why did you become a lawyer? Because you always wanted to, right? Your father was a lawyer, and you loved him that much, isn’t that what you told me?”
“And he was a damn good lawyer, too,” Patricia says defensively. “He was a very truthful man. He always told us kids to beware the arts, entertainment and sports, that they were a waste of time, that people can never make it in those fields.”
Thomas points at the top of his head. “Um, hello. Person who has made it sitting here.” He swivels away from his laptop and stands up. “And I can name lots of others who’ve made it also. All the models, actors, musicians and athletes too numerous to mention. Lots of kids want to be just like them.”
“Maybe so,” Patricia says, “but when they get to high school, they want careers in law, medicine, business, even psychology. They choose those fields because they want to be rich and successful. Believe me, Thomas, they know what they’re doing.”
Thomas feels her lawyer attitude rubbing off onto him. He decides to play her game. “But is it wise to give up your childhood dreams entirely? Some people spend a few years doing something legitimate, then they try to become writers, musicians, painters or whatever. And it pays off. Hey, John Grisham went from being a lawyer to a household name in adult fiction.”
“You were never a lawyer, Thomas!”
He starts to lose his patience, and scowls at her. “Neither were Mom and Katherine!” Then, he sees Patricia is getting really mad, so he speaks more rationally. “Look, we’re all writers because we love it dearly. It deals with three of our most favorite things: words, plotlines and our imaginations. Mom managed to raise me and my sister all by herself, writing and selling her novels. She had a major book contract with a large salary, and she loved her work. So quit saying that writers can’t support their families. They can so.”
“My family never liked your mother or sister very well.” Patricia leaves the room looking scornful. It doesn’t discourage Thomas, so he goes back to his novel.
He looks at the dialogue again. He reads over Helen’s response when Bruno said he pledged to love her. Thomas decides to make Bruno’s response more forceful and a bit more diplomatic. One more time, and this would be it, he decides. Now it sounds realistic, like the fights he’s had with Patricia.
Thomas thinks of Patricia again. He longs to leave her, so he can have the emotional freedom to write. He always threatened divorce if she didn’t change, but she’d tell him, “You can’t leave. You need me.” They would separate sometimes, but he’d always come back to her. Never again, he decides. This time, if he and Patricia separate, it’ll be for good. And he’ll take their three-year-old daughter, Courtney, with him. He doesn’t want her to go through what he did with Patricia.
Thomas wakes up at six o’clock the next morning, gets dressed and brings his laptop out to the living room. He turns it on, and inserts his jumpdrive. He clicks on the word processor and starts writing once his document loads.
At quarter after seven, Patricia gets up and dressed and leaves for the mailbox. She notices her husband writing again, but decides to say nothing as she gets their daily newspaper. She comes back inside and heads to the kitchen to start breakfast, Thomas never looking up the whole time. Almost an hour later, she calls, “Breakfast is ready!”
Thomas goes to the dining room and sits down to his favorite breakfast – pancakes, toast, bacon and orange juice. But then, he notices the “Careers” section of the morning paper. He picks it up and gives his wife a peeved look. “Patricia, what is the meaning of this?”
She looks up from her eggs and hash browns. “While I’m at work today, I want you to go through that section and see what careers interest you,” she says. “Focus especially on accounting, financial consulting, management and paralegal. Tell me what you want to do, then call the local community college and ask about evening and Saturday classes.”
“Why should I?” Thomas demands.
“Because it’s time for you to give up the writing!” Patricia stresses. “You need a better career, Thomas! I’m tired of supporting us and our daughter on my salary. It’s as if I’m the husband in this family, not you! It’s embarrassing. Maybe we should be a two-income family if this is going to be your attitude!” She’s putting on her lawyer act.
Infuriated, Thomas throws down the paper and stands up. “We are a two-income family, Patricia!” he bellows. “My book contract has helped me make my fair share of money! In case you’ve forgotten, I’ve had three best-selling novels published, and a fourth one in progress now! I’ve also had a slew of short stories published, and I’ve got paid for each one! Critics praise me for my talents and hard work. So stop telling me that I ‘absolutely must’ be an accountant, paralegal, or whatever! I’m living my life the way I want, and no damned lawyer is going to make me stop! I’m tired of this!”
He sits down and eats his breakfast, all the while giving his wife nasty looks. When he finishes, he leaves the table and goes back to the living room.
Thomas grumbles as he types. He’s now eager to leave Patricia. How dare she tell him what to do in such a controlling, snobbish manner? He knows he can’t give in to her; what would he do then? He can’t see himself doing anything else but writing, and he’s told Patricia this many times. But, being the lawyer she is, he can’t ever convince her. And nobody in her family will help him, either; he knows this. Patricia’s father is a retired lawyer, and her mother, a retired nurse. Her older brother works at her law firm, and her younger sister is a financial consultant with her own office. They just side with Patricia every time, and let him know their opinions. Thomas is also tired of this.
Patricia walks by Thomas as she gets her jacket at the front hallway, her briefcase in hand, never looking at her husband. Thomas glares at her as she leaves for her work. He turns to look at the newspaper, still sitting on the dining table. He never bothers to touch it. Instead, he leaves his writing to wake Courtney up, dress her, and take her out to the kitchen. He gives her some cereal and a glass of milk. This is the only thing he likes about being with Patricia – the little girl she gave him. It’s why Thomas never does much writing in the evenings and on weekends. He wants to spend this time being with his daughter. Thomas sees that as the only thing Patricia likes about him.
After breakfast, he takes Courtney to the living room and reads some of her favorite storybooks to her – Snow White, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella. When he finishes reading them all, he sits and ponders for a few moments. What is he going to do with Patricia? How will he leave her? Should he leave her? He stares at the telephone. He thinks about calling another counselor, but decides against it.
Thomas and Patricia have already seen four counselors since her behavior became a problem in the relationship. All the sessions were the same thing. He would tell the counselor that she was pushing him to change careers and be, “more financially supportive.” She would explain the importance of a husband in a high-paying career, and the benefits of two-income families. The counselor would tell Patricia about some of the famous writers, entertainers, painters and cartoonists, and sports personalities who can support their families. He or she would add that some people decide to stay home and raise children. Finally, Patricia would be told, “Let Thomas write his fiction if he wants to.” It always ended the same way – Patricia would use her lawyer skills to tell the counselor off, then leave the office. It always upset Thomas. He decides another session isn’t worth any more aggravation.
Instead, he calls his sister, Katherine Greenwich Roberts. She’d help him, just like she always did. Her husband owns a successful business, yet he never objects to her writing. Thomas quickly dials her number.
When she answers, he says, “Katherine, it’s Thomas. I need you to come over here. Patricia’s been at it again.”
“Where is she now?” Katherine asks.
“She’s at her work, thank heavens,” he answers. “You won’t believe what she did to me just this morning.”
“She took the careers section out of today’s paper, and told me to look it all over for something interesting.”
Katherine is shocked. “Don’t tell me she’s still after you to quit writing and find a new line of work!”
“Brilliant, Holmes!” Thomas replies. “I’ve been with her since college, you’d think she’d finally get the hint. Why would I give up something I love for something that won’t make me happy, even if the pay is better?”
“Stay right there, all right?” Katherine says. “I’ll get myself ready and be there in a couple of hours.”
“Bring the kids, too,” Thomas suggests. “Courtney should have someone to play with while we talk.”
“Will do. You just continue with your next best-seller. See you.”
“See you, Katherine.” He hangs up and brings some toys for Courtney to play with, and continues writing.
Two hours later, Katherine arrives with her children. She and Thomas live in separate cities, but he’d always go to visit her. Whenever he left Patricia after a terrible fight, he’d pack up his and Courtney’s things, and they would spend some time at Katherine’s house.
When he hears the doorbell, Thomas saves his novel and clicks off the word processor. He carries Courtney in one arm, takes the newspaper in the other hand and answers the door. He shows it to Katherine and whines, “This is what Patricia’s putting me through, sis!”
“How about you let me in the house first?” Katherine suggests. “Then I’ll look at that.” Thomas steps aside and lets her and the children in.
The visitors hang their jackets up, then Thomas says to the children, “Why don’t you go into the basement and watch some TV, or play some games or something?” They obey, then he and Katherine go into the kitchen.
Thomas pours two cups of coffee, then they look at all the career advertisements. There are ads for jobs such as a legal secretary in a corporate law firm, a sales manager of an interior design business, a senior accountant at an insurance company, and a communications officer at an airline service. They reject them all, even the communications ad.
“As much as I like to write, I can’t see myself editing a boring magazine, or writing newsletters for a living,” Thomas comments. Katherine nods in agreement.
She pulls out the sports section and opens it to the classifieds. “Funny Patricia didn’t mention these,” she says.
They look over those advertisements. They cringe when they read the offers under, “Professional Job Opportunities;” they’re pretty much like the ones in the careers section. Katherine and Thomas skip the “Technical and Trade” section. The “Teachers Wanted” section looks interesting, but they’re disappointed when they can’t find ads asking for creative writing teachers.
Katherine puts the paper away and says, “Thomas, your mission is clear. You have to leave Patricia once and for all. You just can’t go on like this. And you can’t give in to her demands, either. We have fans all over the nation. What would they think of Thomas Greenwich giving up writing for something more conservative?”
“I want to leave, Kathy,” Thomas says, “but Patricia keeps saying that I need her, which is true.”
“That’s not true, Thomas.”
“Well, I can’t raise Courtney alone on my book contract, even if I tried. That’s why she keeps saying she’s the one fully supporting us, which isn’t true.”
Katherine has an idea. “Why don’t you and Courtney move in with us? We can set up a writing office for us to share, and you, Nicholas and I can share custody of her.”
Thomas smiles. “Good thinking. I can just see Courtney in Patricia’s custody. That poor girl would suffer. What if she wants to be a writer, actress or singer when she gets older? If I know Patricia, she’ll tell her to be a doctor, or a lawyer, or a business executive instead. She’d probably even try to send her to one of those prestigious private schools.” He shudders.
“I’ll tell her this,” Katherine says. “You can be headstrong and stubborn when you want to be, but I can be deadly when I want to be. What’s her office number, Tom?”
He gives it to her, and she goes into the living room, picks up the phone and dials. After two rings, she hears Patricia’s receptionist.
“I’d like to speak to Patricia Greenwich, please,” she requests. “This is Katherine Roberts, her sister-in-law.”
“You’re Mrs. Greenwich’s sister-in-law?” the receptionist asks. “Is this some kind of joke?”
“For your information, missy, I am her husband’s older sister, and this is an important matter! Now, may I speak with her, please?” Katherine is put on hold for a few moments. When she hears Patricia’s voice, she starts her belittling.
“Hello, Patricia,” she says coldly. “Do you know who this is? It’s Katherine!”
Patricia is flabbergasted. “Kathy?!” she cries. “Listen, I don’t have time for this. I’m hanging up right now!”
“No, don’t you dare hang up on me, you witch!” Katherine barks. “You will listen to what I have to say.”
“What, Kathy?” Patricia asks snidely. “What is it that you have to say?”
Katherine tries reasoning with her. She speaks in a civilized, yet firm tone. “First of all, Thomas did go over that careers section in the paper, just like you asked. He and I looked at it together, and we even searched the classifieds. And you know what? Neither of us is fit to do anything in there.”
Patricia sighs harshly. “That’s just a bunch of baloney, woman, and you know that damn well! You mean to tell me you’re not fit to do anything advertised in there? I think you’d better read them all over again! Or should I come home and point some things out to you?”
“Patricia, shut up and listen, all right?!” Katherine blasts. “If Thomas and I went back to school, and got law or business degrees, or anything else like that, chances are we wouldn’t be successful!”
“What in hell are you talking about, Kathy?” Patricia asks. “Of course you would! It’d be better if Thomas did to begin with! Face reality, Katherine! Writers can’t make enough money to support themselves and their families, even if they did have his talent. Or yours, for that matter.”
“I will not be insulted by a high-powered lady lawyer!” Katherine shouts. “Now, you listen to me! Thomas can be a writer if he damn well wants to be, and if you’re really his wife, you’ll back him up!”
She hears Patricia pounding her desk on the other end. “That’s the problem with you writers!” she barks. “Always trying to prove yourselves more worthy than everyone else! Just like the singers, actors and artists of this world! Well, let me tell you something, sister! English is an impractical subject!”
“English is an impractical subject,” Katherine repeats. “This coming from a woman who uses it in her career!”
“My point, Katherine,” Patricia sneers, “is that you and Thomas, and all the rest of your kind, tend to think you can survive on English alone.”
Katherine widens her eyes in shock. “What do you mean, ‘our kind?’”
“Don’t interrupt me!” Patricia pauses a few moments. “Now, as I was saying, you think you can rely on English alone. You know bloody well that’s not true! I was first in English and math all throughout school. Math is important too, Katherine! The problem is, you and Thomas are too ignorant to see that!”
“Fine, witch! If that’s your attitude, then I don’t think Thomas needs you as much as you say. He’s coming to live with me, and we’ll see that he gets full custody of Courtney, not you.”
“And why should that be? She’s my daughter, too.”
“Because you’ll be controlling her just like you tried to control Thomas. What’ll happen if she comes to you and says, ‘I want to be a writer?’ Maybe she’ll want to be a singer or actress. What’ll you do, tell her to be a doctor or lawyer instead? Maybe even after you’ve smacked her?”
“Of course I would. I’ll not have Courtney wasting her life away like her father.”
“I thought so!” Katherine’s voice sounds cold and evil.
Patricia sighs again and orders, “Obviously, I can’t get through to you. Bring Thomas to the phone! I want to speak to him!”
“Why, so you can nag at him like you’ve done for years?”
“Oh, and just what are you trying to imply?”
Then, Katherine says to her, “I personally think Thomas can do better than you, and Nicholas and I will help him file for a divorce.”
“You bitch!” Patricia screams in the phone. “You and your goddamn husband wouldn’t dare do that for him! Thomas wouldn’t think of leaving me!”
“Just watch us, girlfriend! And don’t even try to rush home and stop us!” Katherine slams down the phone and goes back to Thomas.
“Tom, I want you to pack up all your things,” she says. “But first, see if you can find some boxes for Courtney’s stuff.” Thomas nods and goes to the attic. Moments later, he goes to the basement to get four boxes. He gives two to Katherine, and one to each of her sons. She looks at her daughter. “Shauna, watch Courtney while we pack up her stuff, okay?” Then the other three go upstairs to Courtney’s room.
Meanwhile, Thomas returns to the attic for three suitcases and two duffel bags. He sets them on his bed, and empties three of his top dresser drawers. When the first suitcase is full, he opens the bottom two drawers.
Just as he’s filling the second suitcase, he hears the front door slam, and a familiar voice angrily screaming for him and Katherine. Patricia has come home. Moments later, he hears his wife and sister screaming at each other. He quickly finishes packing the suitcase and puts the two out in the hallway.
He follows the women’s voices to the kitchen. Patricia sees Thomas and starts toward him, but Katherine won’t let her pass.
“Thomas, you listen to me!” Patricia shouts at him. “Don’t you dare leave me! You do, and you’ll never see Courtney again, you understand?! Besides, you know you’ll never make it on your own! You’re nothing without me! Your little book contract is nothing!”
“Wrong!” he replies coldly. “I’m leaving you, Patricia! I’ve had it with you telling me what I should and shouldn’t do with my life. I’ll prove that I can make it without you! You heard Katherine, I’m moving in with her and the family. As soon as I get settled, I’m filing for divorce. And we’ll make sure that you never see Courtney again! You hear me? Enough is enough!”
He goes back to his bedroom, opens his closet, and packs his shirts, slacks and ties in the last suitcase. Then, he takes a duffel bag and fills it with his toiletries. He takes the other bag to his office, fills it with all his books, grabbing his laptop case on the way out. He shuts down his laptop and packs it, throwing the jumpdrive with his current novel into a small sandwich bag full of the others. Just then, Katherine calls to him.
“All of Courtney’s things are loaded in our van,” she says. “The kids and I are taking her with us. Is that all right with you?”
“Sure thing,” he replies. “Her seat’s in the back of my car.”
“See you in a while.”
When she leaves, Thomas finishes up his packing, surveying for anything he’s forgotten. He puts his duffel bag on one shoulder, carries his laptop case in one hand and a suitcase in the other. Just as he goes to the front door, Patricia calls to him from behind. He turns to her and says, “Ah, Patricia, glad you’re here. I need your help with my luggage. Can you get the rest of my suitcases and bring them out to the car for me, please?” Wordlessly, she does so.
Outside, Thomas puts his bags in the trunk of his car. When Patricia meets him, she says, “Good riddance, Thomas! I give up! You never loved me! You obviously don’t love me enough to get a better job to support your family. You think you can do better with your sister? You two won’t even be able to pay your electric bill with your damn books!”
He takes the bags and puts them in the trunk. “Dammit, Patricia, you make me sick,” he tells her. “You’ll be hearing from my lawyer.” He gets into his car and drives off. Thomas sings along with the radio as he drives to Katherine’s city. The further he drives, the further away he gets from his wife’s control. He drives away from a loveless, unsupportive marriage, heading to something he’s always wanted – the emotional freedom to write.
David Lightfoot identifies as a writer with a disability (Cerebral Palsy), and chose a writing career while still in middle school. Following an incomplete stint in Business Administration at Red River Community College (now Red River College), he studied creative writing through correspondence from the Stratford Career Institute headquartered in Toronto and the Institute for Writers (formerly the Long Ridge Writers Group) headquartered in Connecticut, USA. In addition to self-publishing a novel on disability human rights, “Broken Family Portrait” through an independent Canadian bookseller, McNally-Robinson; he has also been published in Scarlet Leaf Review. An advocate for educational literacy, David lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.