Living with him these past five years has taught her that Aunt Irene’s assessment of him is correct. He is wily enough to stay out of prison—but just barely. He is manipulative enough to earn some salesmen awards at the car dealership, but not smart enough to work his way up into management. He could be charming, certainly. She had married him after all. But the thing that was missing in him sometimes shows itself. To most people the black hole is invisible. They don’t seem to notice that anything is amiss. Those few who do spot it, tend to immediately look away and pretend not to see. But occasionally, even rarely, the event horizon shows itself when someone who has just the right sort of telescope is watching. She keeps track of these people, just like Aunt Irene taught her.
One side of the meat is pounded into loose. She flips it and takes to hammering the other side.
There was the time he got a DUI when drunk and high on his oxycodone, he was stupid enough to be belligerent with the police who had stopped him. When she went to pick him up at the police station, he swore at her and demeaned her in front of the arresting police. The one cop looked at The Mistake closely, then pulled her aside, “Are you all right here?” he asked. She judged him to be in his 60’s, a man who has been around the block, seen a few things, logged some regrets. Tall and tight framed he leaned toward her. “Are you safe?” She nodded and assured him, “He just accidentally took his pain pills with some beers. He’ll be okay when he sobers up.” She noted the officer’s name under the eagle on his badge. She tagged Jason Strat in her memory as a potential ally.
She met Officer Strat a second time. The neighborhood windows were summer-open. The neighbors heard yelling and smashing and called 911. The Mistake had been drinking after a bad day at work. Frustrated, he threw the IKEA table he was trying to assemble, piece by piece at the stonework above the fireplace. Then he picked up the pieces and hurled them out through the patio door onto the lawn. He had not yet laid a hand on her when the police pounded at the door and announced themselves. She went to the arctic entry and immediately opened the door. Opened it wide for them to enter.
“Where is he?” these were Were Officer Strat’s first words.
She’d made the necessary affirmations of safety and declinations of charges. The welfare check ended at the arctic entry where it had begun. “You be careful with this,” Strat said. “You be careful.”
She has pounded the meat paper-thin. She washes it and places it in her dutch oven, then takes up the next breast, stretches it out on the wooden butcher block and sets to pounding. The blows fall with the same precision and force as if this was the first breast.
She tagged Jean Bogg, APRN as a potential ally the first time they met. About a week after the wedding beating she made an appointment at the local health care clinic. The Mistake would not allow her to see her regular provider. Instead of healing, her left breast had become hard and red, draining pus from her nipple. He made sure she had a clear understanding of the story she was to tell at the clinic. She’d been in an automobile accident. The air bag had not deployed. She’d hit the steering wheel with her breast. This was the story. He’d made her repeat it back to him a half dozen times.
He drove her to the clinic appointment and sat beside her in the waiting room, holding her hand. If you can believe that. Holding her hand.
“Irene?” Her name was being called by the nurse who had just stepped into the waiting room. Nurse Bogg was a small woman whose glasses commanded the room—coke bottle thick lenses in Buddy Holly frames. She was dressed in brown corduroy pants, wide leather brown belt and gold and brown plaid flannel shirt. The Mistake had stood up along with Irene. But Nurse Bogg made and kept eye contact with Irene, and only Irene, as she crossed the room. When she approached Irene she glanced and nodded briefly at The Mistake, before shaking Irene’s hand.
“Right this way,” Bogg said. When he made to follow along, Nurse Bogg turned to him, “Sir because Irene is an adult, we will be meeting alone. You will need a separate appointment if you would like to be seen. Already walking away. Matter of fact. Leaving no room for quibbling.
There was an X-ray, looking for cracked ribs. There was a breast sonogram, looking for internal masses and bleeding. There was lab work, looking for signs of infection.
Nurse Bogg confronted her about the bruises that Irene had believed were hidden under make up. “That bruising on your cheek and on the side of your neck are not consistent with an automobile accident,” the nurse said. Irene denied, disassembled and tap danced her way out of the room. During every subsequent visit, whether annual physicals or bronchitis, Nurse Bogg asked her—not on paper, not online—but head-on. “Are you safe?”
Irene flips the slab of white meat, stopping for only a moment before she resuming pounding.
The third person she has in her back pocket in case of need is, believe it or not, the town librarian. It has been Irene’s habit to, twice a month, go to the library and withdraw and return books—mostly knitting books. While there, she stands in front of the psychology section and reads about psychopathy. She stays no longer than 15 minutes and has never withdrawn one of these books. Within a few months she noted the number and variety of textbooks on psychopathy increasing. Mostly the books were nonfiction, but occasionally novels would be misfiled and accidentally placed with the reference books. The novels shared the theme of psychopaths caught and punished, victims surviving and rebuilding their lives. Occasionally the librarian would point to a computer where Irene would find a video already forwarded to the relevant section.
The librarian, plump and spectacularly well groomed, down to her polished gold name tag, spoke only pleasantries to Irene. There were no notes, no secret glances. Her name tag said it all. An open book was etched on one half and on the other, “Your Librarian is Sylvia.” It’s the open book that tells Sylvia’s story. She clearly understands the role of precise and functional information.
One day, about a year into her library visits, Sylvia walked briskly up to Irene who was standing in her usual station reading psychology books. Sylvia abruptly took The Handbook of Psychopathy and Law from Irene’s hands and replaced it with Knitting the National Parks. Without a word she took Irene’s upper arm and walked her to the reading table at the end of the stacks, and pushed her down into a chair. Within the same moment Sylvia had disappeared into the stacks.
A hand on her shoulder. A chill down her spine. “Just thought I’d stop by to say ‘Hey,” The Mistake said as he pulled out a chair and sat down next to her. He took the book from her hands, “I would’t want you to feel that I don’t support your interest in knitting, he said as he paged through the book. “I bet Mr. Whitcomb’s wife would like this one,” and he pointed to the Katmai National Park hat.
“Yes, that would be a nice idea for a Christmas gift,” she replied. I wonder if we give one to your supervisor’s wife—should we also give one to Mrs. Gruhwald, the regional manager’s wife?”
“No that would be too obvious. Besides I don’t want you knitting for any kikes. Well I gotta get back to work. He stood up. “You should withdraw that book and make photo copies of the pattern.”
“Yes,” she nodded.
After he left she sat for awhile, paging through the book and thinking about Sylvia. Yes, if anyone knew how to conduct research, it would be a librarian. If Sylvia knew to be able to recognize The Mistake, she must also know every bit of documented information that exists about Irene and her mistake. Enough to motivate her to be on the look out for him when Irene visited the library. That’s when Irene became convinced she had Sylvia the, open-book, librarian on her side.
There are a few, like Officer Strat, that can directly see the black hole. There are a few, like Nurse Bogg, that infer the hole’s existence from the surrounding event horizon. And there are a few, like Librarian Sylvia, who having learned physics, believe in the theoretical existence of black holes.
She tosses the last slab of pulverized meat into the dutch oven.