Theirs was a marriage that had lasted for more than 40 years. But Britney was getting bored…
There was little doubt that marriage had been good for Britney. It had brought her support and stability in some dark times, and had definitely protected her household staff’s working conditions and pay. But that’s not to say that the marriage was perfect; oh no. The little quirks and foibles that had seemed so adorably eccentric in the early days had been grating for a while now. It all came down to a few unfortunate details…
Firstly, Eugene was pretty dull. There was no great passion here; he wasn’t one for the Big Romantic Gesture. There were no fervent declarations of affection, no outpourings of devotion, no special presents to celebrate their anniversary.
And Eugene was a little too particular. He only approved of certain types of lightbulbs. He had entire rulebooks for the proper size, shape and weight of groceries. He ironed his underwear. He had very strict stipulations about how Britney lived her life. He wasn’t controlling per se, but he had high expectations, and showed his disapproval by peering over his rimless glasses with a familiar look of disdain that she had come to find grating.
He had a very big family. They were all very nice, but Britney often got annoyed when, on returning from work, she found her living room full of strangers. Eugene didn’t like it when she called them that – they were her extended family now too. But as they sat around the dinner table in the evening, chattering away in a language Britney didn’t understand (she was no good at learning languages so never bothered to try), she felt isolated and resentful, and Eugene had caught her rolling her eyes at them on more than one occasion.
“You were unspeakably rude tonight”, he said to her, as they were brushing their teeth with toothpaste that was on Eugene’s ‘approved’ list.
“Is it so wrong to want my house to myself?”
“I didn’t see you complaining when my cousins were building the extension, fixing the plumbing and washing the car. Or when my aunt checked that dodgy mole for you. Or when second cousin Bob represented you in court. Oh no, you just got grumpy when you had to sit at the same table as them.”
Britney did what she usually did when they were arguing and she knew she couldn’t win: she walked away and decided to sleep in the spare room. As she lay there, quietly seething, an idea started to take hold of her.
Eugene would always remember the exact moment it happened. It was a quiet June morning, and as dawn broke, his phone beeped. In disbelief, he read the message twice.She was leaving him. He sighed heavily. So be it. Part of him was a bit relieved, to be honest. She wasn’t the easiest person to live with.
Britney was on top of the world. What a brilliant idea it was! She would be independent again; she would be the boss of her life again; she wasn’t restricted to buying items from the approved list anymore! She thanked her lucky stars that she had always kept a separate bank account- that would surely make it easier…
She knew once she filed the divorce papers there would be no going back, so she moved into a caravan in the garden and starting preparing for a legal battle. She took photocopies of the documents in Eugene’s ‘household’ folder (which was alphabetised and colour-coded, naturally) and started studying. It had been over 40 years since she had had to look after herself, and she had forgotten how time-consuming and incredibly dull it was. She called the utility companies, the insurers and the credit card companies, only to find out that without Eugene’s ‘friends and family’ discount, everything was going to cost her more than she had expected. When she went shopping, she realised that if an item wasn’t on Eugene’s approved list, it actually looked pretty shady. She didn’t fancy using ‘Crusty Bake’ sun tan lotion, or ‘Look Cute but Fry your Eyes’ sunglasses. Hoping no-one would see her, she bought herself ‘approved’ toiletries, vowing to hide the receipts and cover the labels when she got home. But the cashier was a friend of Eugene – and said that as she was leaving Eugene, she couldn’t use her loyalty card points there anymore.
Britney was facing an expensive future. Her lawyers were still drafting the divorce papers, so she told them to type more slowly while she concocted a plan.
It was pretty straightforward – she needed another rich husband. So she downloaded Tinder. She used a few candid snaps from the good old days, trying to gloss over her fading complexion. She was still a catch, right? Out of sheer desperation, she swiped right on anyone and everyone, as long as they were rich and powerful. Let’s face it, Eugene had never really been a looker, and they had lived in mediocre contentment for decades…
The lawyers were typing as slowly as they could, but Eugene was getting impatient and suspicious. Britney had to make her choice quickly- but the matches she had had so far weren’t that auspicious. She had ruled out the sweat-shop owner, and the guy who looked a bit like a serial-killer, whose pictures were of him in various butch scenarios with his top off. There was a terrifying child-man whose pictures were either posters declaring how awesome he was, or staged shots of him playing with weapons of mass destruction. That left one.
Marcus was definitely an odd one. She had shown his pictures and his messages to her friends, and none of them were convinced, but she thought there was something weirdly charismatic about him. She thought she could get past the fake-tan and the questionable comments. (She was pretty sure it was just banter, though her friends kept comparing him to Hitler.) What was that on his head though? A dead ferret? Maybe he just needed a bit of a make-over. She didn’t really mind a fixer-upper.
So she set up a date. It seemed to go well – he declared how much he liked her to the whole world. He even held her hand in public. (Eugene didn’t really like public displays of affection.) She thought – “sod it”, and filed the papers.
Eugene’s legal team hammered hers in court. She lost far more than she had anticipated; it was a nightmare. She left court weeping, and fled to Marcus’s house. “There there,” he said. “I’ll look after you.” She was filled with gratitude. It was all going to be all right.
On the day of their wedding, Eugene watched the ceremony on television. There was something iffy about that new man of hers, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
Britney was having a wonderful day. She was free of Eugene and his boring rules. She had a rich new husband who had promised her the world. She was wearing lipstick again! Everyone around her was sure she looked 40 years younger. It was a return to her prime, she was certain of it.
When the guests had gone, Britney and Marcus went to their honeymoon suite, and Marcus poured them each a glass of bubbly. “A toast”, he said. Britney smiled and raised her glass expectantly. “To us,” she said. Marcus laughed. “That’s not quite what I had in mind”, he said. A predatory look was in his eyes. Britney suddenly felt a shiver of fear.
“The thing is”, said Marcus, “you seem to think that we are equal partners in this marriage. I don’t know if it’s funny or sad.”
Britney had a sick feeling in her stomach.
“Here’s how this marriage is going to work,” he continued. “You will do exactly what I say, and exactly what I want, or-”
The silence was loaded. Britney’s mouth was dry, and she could barely muster the courage to speak.
He smiled and then any humour fell from his face as he whispered, “Or I will destroy you.”
With that, he left the room, locking the door behind him. She was a prisoner. As she fell to the floor weeping, she thought of poor, boring Eugene. He might iron his underwear, but he would never have hurt her.
What had she done?