Colleen is a psychotherapist retired from private practice, specializing in human relationships.
One of the most soul-wrenching dangers which can ruin a marriage occurs when the subtle erosion of love results in bullying and total control of one spouse by the other. This process can be so gradual and insidious as to enmesh both parties in its vampiristic cycle, until it can be all but impossible for either to escape.
My first story, under 900 words and titled “The Fist And The Rose” shows how this power can backfire, resulting in disastrous consequences. What happens when a victim has come to accept the sense of powerlessness to the extent of losing the ability to take the initiative when mental strength is most crucial?
My second story, under 1000 words and titled “My Friends Call Me Ginger”, explores random cruelty. In truth, in a ghoulish way, persecution can be trendy. During one year it can fall upon impoverished schoolmates, while the next year it could target the academically gifted. As we have come to know, often through emotional pain, vulnerability varies enough to encompass a fact as irrelevant to one’s true self as the colour of hair.
The Fist And The Rose
Up early again. Rosemary wishes he would allow her just one morning to sleep on, but it isn't going to happen until everything is unpacked and the house is cleaned and tidy in accordance with his diktat. Rosemary had been married for 40 years to “Moron”, that is his silent name adopted in her mind or when out of earshot.
She exhaled between gritted teeth, her lips wriggling as she scowls to herself,
“Dam you, what made me marry someone who turned into a moronic bully”
She wishes he would die first, allowing her to have a few years of happiness before she follows.
Serving him breakfast, two boiled eggs exactly 3 minutes, toast mid-browned, butter warmed, tea made with three spoonfuls in the pot with exactly one pint of boiling water. She waits by the sink ready to pour his second cup of tea, but not until he has finished his first egg. She waits for his command; either:
“I’m Finished” or “More Toast”.
He announces, “I am going out to buy gloss-paint and wall-paper for the front room; I will get the lemon color. I want it to look bright in there. While I am gone, finish unpacking the crockery, put the empty boxes in the garden shed, but sweep it out first. The weather will brighten up later, we can tidy the garden, get that hedge cut; see you later.”
And he is gone. She mutters tut-tut as the thought of him having a fatal car crash flashes through her mind. She hates this place, never wanted to move to an old house in a sleepy village, but had no-say in the matter. She has no friends here, only a moronic bully to serve and obey.
She unpacks the crockery and china stealing from each piece a happy memory from long ago. She sweeps out the shed and carry’s in the empty boxes and begins stacking them.
Needing to move a potting-table, she notices a power-point on a wooden panel plus an electrical extension lead. She thinks aloud, "this is a convenient find", knowing that using her initiative and providing Moron with unexpected good news will please him.
Trailing the extension lead to the front of the hedge and using an old chair from the shed she stands and hangs the extension lead and plug socket over a strong twig at the top of the hedge. All is ready for trimming. She feels excited; he will be pleased, might even thank her, say “well-done”.
She is in the bedroom getting changed when she hears the front door slam shut. He is back. For a moment she shivers with fear. Is he angry?
A few minutes later she comes downstairs to the kitchen, and on the table is the gloss-paint and wall-paper. She doesn’t like the colour, but dares not tell him. There is also a bag of apples. That means she must make an apple-pie for this evening.
She looks out of the kitchen window. He is already in the garden with the hedge-trimmer. She searches for some large plastic refuse sacks; it will be her job to gather up the clippings. She hears the trimmer start up; looks out of the window and sees him above the hedge swinging the trimmer from side to side chopping it down to size.
Suddenly she realizes he is cutting the hedge from the back and not from the front where she had hung the extension lead socket from the shed ready for him to use.
He has not seen it. He is instead using the extension lead from the garage.
She panics. He will unknowingly cut through the unseen lead and likely receive an electric shock. She rushes to the back door, but stops, takes a step back and peers through the glass panel. He moves methodically along the hedge, chopping the top off. Swinging and reaching forward getting closer, she gasps as he reaches the unseen lead.
There is a flash and a shout as he is thrown back by the electric shock, disappearing behind the hedge, the trimmer following him. Rushing out, she sees the severed lead on the lawn and behind the hedge he lies sprawled upon the ground, blood gushing from his neck.
The electric shock has not killed him, but the loss of blood surely will; the trimmer blades though not moving, must have landed across his throat, cutting his jugular. Time is crucial.
She screams out, “I’ll call an ambulance!” and runs into the house.
Picking up the phone she is about to call for emergency services, but instead her hand almost involuntarily retracts. She must first stop and count to ten, but not now, surely!
Moron had always insisted that before she makes a phone-call she must count to ten in order to compose herself. She will then be sure of what she is going to say, clearly and concisely.
He would tell her:
“When you speak to anyone on the phone you are representing both yourself and your husband, and I expect you to be perceived as an intelligent educated person, rather than the hare-brained stupid woman you are.”
She puts down the phone, and with a devilish smile slowly counts to ten; then she squeals between gritted teeth,
“You made me do this, you Moron.”
For a moment a trace of guilt plagues her.
Then she picks up the phone again, counts to ten, then again, and again, knowing it is at last, her choice.
My Friends Call Me Ginger
Hi I’m Gina aged 28 and was bullied throughout my school years. Like many children it was because I was different from the crowd, but looking back I now prefer to use the word unique.
Me, born in the USA yet being of Scottish origin am adorned with a head of ginger hair. I was the only ginger-top at our town school and hence had not even one friend of similar appearance with whom to share my woe. My Scottish genes also furnished me with the whitest of skin prone to emphasize every spot and blemish on my face.
It was the girls not the boys who subjected me to the taunts; I would not look at a boy because I believed I was so hideous. I did not want to see the distaste on their faces. The girls called me a number of names: Blood head, Steak head, Carrot top, Ginger biscuit - cat, Toilet brush, Red spot, Pimple tart, Tam--- head etc.
I remember when the class was discussing who would take which parts in the school play production of Cinderella, and one girl said “who will play the ugly sisters”, and another girl said, “there is only Gina.”
Yes, I received messages of hate and when not in school I would be verbally abused in the shopping mall even in the Burger Bar when one girl said and the others laughed, “she eats raw meat, needs the blood to feed her hair”
My parents had become concerned by my increasing silence, lack of verve and social insularity, Eventually I did confide in my Mum, but de-emphasized the hurt within me. Mum suggested that over a period of time we start tinting my hair to a darker color so that it appeared to be a natural change.
She also encouraged me to join drama and choir groups where I would socialize with more mature and inspired people. These measures certainly helped me to become stronger and self confident.
It was in school, final year, that the senior choir and drama group were to present a special performance in order to raise funds for a statue in commemoration of a school founder. Parents and town dignitaries had been invited.
My additional learning in song and drama were called upon, and I was to sing both solo and act in two dramatic scenes. WOW! It was a great success, reheard on local radio, cable channel, reported in the press and numerous local publications.
It was a couple of weeks later that my parents received a phone call from Ciaran McNamee the son of a school trustee who had attended the performance. He presented an arts and culture program on our local radio station and invited me to sing a Christmas Carol on his upcoming festive show.
He visited our home and discussed the matter with myself and my parents; I was enthralled by this interest in me. I was now 18 years old and when he asked me and then my parent’s permission to take me to the local diner before returning to his office, they were happy for me to be escorted by such a nice young man.
Ciaran was delightful company, treated me with respect and courtesy. I met his family and discovered they were wealthy and influential, in fact they owned the local radio station and also a small film studio where Ciaran produced films about nature and the environment.
It was when we first kissed and shared secrets that I confided in him. I told him about the bullying I experienced and that I had hidden my ginger hair beneath this brunette color. It sounds almost comical now, but I asked Ciaran,
“now you know I am ginger, do you want to continue dating me?”
He became my friend and counsellor helping me to find the confidence and self esteem within me, and above all he persuaded me to bring my hair back to its original bright ginger and to grow it long and curly, bouffant.
My ginger hair became my most prominent feature. People wanted to look at me, remember me, and invite me to functions. I took the brave step of adding Ginger to my name, and I had all my friends etc call me Ginger.
My next big stride was to become a presenter and narrator in the films that Ciaran produced. I had become locally famous. Then came the wedding, the beautiful house, and social standing. I was now Gina Ginger McNamee. I became a school Governor, local politician, campaigner, and my film and television work brought me celebrity status.
I was invited by the school Governors to give a speech to parents and children, in which I was to address issues regarding career choices, motivation etc. I walked onto the stage and searched the audience, and sure enough there were the girls from my class at school. Those few bullies were now mothers.
During my talk I touched upon how bullying can affect a Child's future, and I looked directly at each of those women, and they did flinch and blush. I then said that I had been successful in my career because my peers at school had done so much to help me realize the good things about myself such as my unique ginger hair.
This caused a polite laugh from the audience, but not from those few to whom each I gave a glancing smile. After my speech, the school staff and I shared savories with the parents. Those few bullies did not escape the new me; my social expertise bore down on them.
I complimented them on their hair, whilst suggesting they try my hairdresser (the most expensive in town).
Most pleasing of all, I insisted that they:
“Call me Ginger, all my friends do”.
© 2017 Colleen Swan