Conditional Surrender – A Short Story

In our ten years together, I’d surrendered my soul to Patrick.

I smirked in the mirror, anticipating what I was about to do. This final act would count as my only meaningful rebellion. He’d never get over my making the choice to leave him. After all, he’d given me permission for everything else leading up to this day.

Methodically, I arranged the containers in a row on the dressing table. Then I cupped my hand under my chin and stared at my reflection while my mind drifted.

I met Patrick when I was nineteen, fresh out of school and in my first job as a library assistant. He was thirty and a man of the world in comparison to the boys I knew. Our paths crossed after I was employed for a month. I’d gone to collect my cheque from the accounts department. He was the only one there at the time and spotted me through the open door of his office. He walked out, displaying what I came to know as his on-the-prowl trademark grin.

“‘Afternoon. How can I help you?”

His megawatt smile made me blink. I struggled to remember why I was standing there.

“Um, I’m Celia Gray and I’m, uh, here to collect my pay cheque.”

“Gimme a minute,” he said and reached for a stack of envelopes straining under an elastic band. I’m sure he took longer than necessary to find the one that was mine. Meantime, he introduced himself. By the time I got my envelope I was flustered, unsure whether or not he was interested in me. His roving eyes said he was, but his lips said nothing out of the way. Everything he asked me about myself related to work.

On my way back to the cataloguing department, I told myself I must have been mistaken, thinking he was interested in me. What would a man that good-looking and so much older want with someone like me? I was conscious that my clothes were hand-me-downs from my sister – even if they didn’t look that way. I also wore her cast-off shoes. My feet were bigger, so the month-long torture led to calluses. This first pay cheque would buy me at least one pair of comfortable shoes. I started a list, adding clothes and make-up. However, I shied away from thinking about my sudden need for cosmetics.

I ran into Patrick days later in the canteen at the tail-end of the lunch hour. I was reading a book and looked up when he intruded on the edge of my vision.

“Mind if I sit with you?” he asked.

I shook my head and stuck a finger in my book. He was funny, and kept me amused with stories about a few of the persons lingering over lunch. I wondered why he’d tell me some of the things he did about his co-workers, but didn’t dwell on it. I supposed he wanted to impress me with his wit.

By this time, I’d developed a circle of friends, which included David, who was my own age. That evening, as we strolled to the bus stop David questioned me about Patrick.

“I hear you hangin’ out wid Bernard.”

“Bernard…oh Patrick?”

“Oh, so yuh on first name basis wid him? Yuh better watch yuhself. Dat sharp like a razor.”

I laughed. “What?”

“Patrick Bernard nuh easy. Besides him too ol’ fi yuh.”

I examined David’s pimply face. “Is who tell you I interested in Patrick Bernard?”

“Well, you was skinnin’ yuh teeth wid him over lunch, so-“

“And since when you become my personal bodyguard?”

He put both hands up. “All right, Miss Thing, just forget I say anything. If you ca’an hear, yuh wi’ feel.”

I stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, hands akimbo. “Maybe, you should mind your own business. I’m old enough to take care of myself.”

Our relationship soured. David no longer made much of me and I wouldn’t admit that I missed his company. Time went on and Patrick and I grew closer. I’d gone to open a bank account one day and was waiting at the bus stop to go back to work. Patrick drove past, then stopped and picked me up. He asked me out then and I agreed to see him on the coming Friday.

When Friday rolled around, I didn’t tell my friends why I wasn’t joining them at our regular after-work spot. I met Patrick at a club in New Kingston after hanging around my best friend’s house until dusk. As I sat with him, drinking alcohol-laced rum punch, I felt desired and sophisticated. It did cross my mind a time or two how strange it was that a man eleven years my senior would go out with me. Surely, he had a girlfriend.

My relationships to date consisted of a few clumsy teeth-clanging attempts at kissing, and inept groping shared with boys my age. At some point I had to be initiated into the adult world. Patrick was as good a man as any to lead me there. I didn’t plan to rush into anything I’d regret, but decided to enjoy my first foray into adulthood.

I was tipsy that night, but Patrick acted the gentleman and didn’t take advantage of me. He did that later, when I’d slipped into a pseudo-relationship with him. Andrene, my best friend didn’t like him and told me he was just biding his time. I should have listened to her.

I later found out he had a woman, or more to the point, she found out about me. One Friday evening, we were smooching in one of the semi-private open-door rooms of his favourite nightclub when he jerked away from me and got up. He hurried to the doorway, where a woman stood in the semi-darkness, hands folded and a pout on her mouth. She gestured to me and moved in my direction. He grabbed her arm and steered her back to the doorway. I couldn’t hear their conversation because of the music, but her wild gesticulation told me something was amiss.

Suddenly I understood. Goose bumps marched down my spine in an icy tingle that ended in a cold sweat. Her gestures grew wilder. I chewed my nails. How would I get out of there with them standing in the doorway? I sank against the wall, sighing my relief when he left with her.

I waited, but he didn’t come back. An hour-and-a-half later, it occurred to me that he’d left with the woman. I felt stupid, but didn’t think I had the right to make a fuss. What would I say to him? I didn’t know for a fact that she was his woman, but her body language suggested it. Was I just a diversion? It occurred to me then that we always visited dark places, almost as if he didn’t want to be seen with me.

Tears washed my eyes in a painful mist and I left the club, cursing myself for an idiot. What did I expect? Patrick was so much more experienced than I and versed in the ways of men and women. I was determined not to fall for anything he told me and went home under a cloud of depression.

I’d moved on from the library, so didn’t have to see him come Monday morning, but he called me at lunchtime to apologize. We went to lunch, at which time he explained that the woman was his ex.  She also had a child for him.  According to Patrick, she felt that gave her ownership rights and she still turned up when he least expected to see her. I swallowed his explanation whole, perhaps because I was flattered by his  attention. Looking back, I desperately wanted to believe him.

Eventually, Patrick married me. In retrospect, I think he committed to me because of my naiveté. He needed someone over whom he had full control. At first I didn’t question him and accepted the flimsy explanations he gave me every time I caught him cheating. Gradually, he eroded my independence. He made good money as an accountant and kept me at home, saying he wanted a full-time mother for his children.

But there were no children. Two years into our marriage, I had mysterious symptoms which pointed to a sexually transmitted disease. The doctor confirmed that I was infected. I confronted Robert, who was shamefaced, and confessed that he’d been struggling for years to cure an infection which flared up intermittently. He blamed his ex and I believed him, until my symptoms recurred. This time the consequences were serious. Embarrassment prevented me seeing the doctor so soon again. My reluctance and neglect ended in my infertility.

I railed at Patrick, but he was unrepentant. He already had a son, so was unconcerned about my plight. His attitude spawned a seed of bitterness inside me which grew and blossomed into resentment. I began to hate him. I was a prisoner in his home, my days filled with overseeing the dusting, cleaning and washing. He prospered and started his own accounting firm. He bought me a car, which also served him when I went out doing his shopping and paying the bills.

One morning while I sipped coffee in our living room, it occurred to me that I was isolated. Andrene hadn’t warmed to Patrick and drifted away. I was too proud to let my family know that I’d made a mistake, so I kept visits to a minimum, lest too many questions were asked. Too late, I discovered that I had all the material trappings of success, but couldn’t enjoy them.

With time, Patrick’s womanizing grew worse. I stopped making a scene over his affairs.  He always had an excuse, which painted me as unreasonable. The day I caught him in his office with his assistant half-naked in his lap, he said it was because I wasn’t taking care of business at home. And he was right. I rarely had sex with him. What was the point? Something inside me had withered with the death of my hopes of motherhood.

I came home a day early from a week spent with my mother, who was ill at the time; he had a woman in my bed. I leaned against the door jamb as he writhed and jabbed in a disgusting display. He was like a pig fighting its way to the bottom of a puddle of mud. Silent tears slid down my cheeks at the humiliation. The woman was our helper. His excuse this time was that I had gone gallivanting for a week and what was he supposed to do?

I waited while she gathered her things, then paid her off and sent her on her way. Back in the bedroom, I phrased a question. “What did I ever do to you to make you disrespect me like this?”

He rolled over and headed for the shower. Over his shoulder he said, “What kind of disrespect yuh talking ‘bout? If yuh had come back when you should have…”

The door closed and I was left alone with my angst. I collapsed on the bed and then sprang up. I stared at the rumpled sheet, until it shimmered and the colours flooded together. How was it possible for his actions to still hurt so much? Something popped inside my head and I went mad. I streaked into the kitchen and got a knife. I returned to our room, fury bubbling, and stabbed the mattress until I was covered with stuffing.

When Patrick reentered the room, he was speechless. Fear sprang to life in his eyes. I backed away and without a word, left our bedroom. I refused to share a bed with him after that. Not that it mattered. He simply came and fought me for sex whenever he pleased.

Each time it happened, I curled into a sobbing clot of flesh, wondering why I allowed myself to be reduced to a bed slave. That’s all I was and for what? For a man who didn’t care whether I lived or died; a man whose foremost concern was satisfying his insatiable lust for female flesh. Of everything I lost to him, I mourned my self-respect most. At some point, I’d turned into a doormat, incapable or fighting back or saving myself. Though I blamed Patrick for everything, the root of our problems lay with me. I’d never exercised any will-power. I never made the choice to leave.

I wish I could say that some cataclysmic event triggered my decision to get away from Patrick, however it was what he said to me weeks ago when I confronted him about touching my niece in an inappropriate way. She’d brought back a pile of books she borrowed and was browsing my shelf for another set to take home. I hastened to the living room when I realized Patrick was home, and was just in time to see to him snatch his hand back after touching her breast. I hustled her to my car and came back inside to speak to him. Nothing had changed. This time he was angry that I dared chastise him. “Yuh shoulda shame,” he said, “If yuh was giving me what I deserve as a husband, I wouldn’t be feeling up yuh niece.”

I didn’t see the point in arguing. Instead, I made a simple, factual statement. “Even if I gave you sex every day for the week, you’d still be chasing tail. You’re like a damn dog, humping anything that moves.”

He grabbed me then. “Just remember, this dog own yuh. You’re my bitch, ‘til death do us part.”

“Just keep yuh hands off mi niece. I wi’ chop dem off. Is same way if we had a daughter you woulda feel her up too. God know why we don’ have none.”

He chuckled then. “Yuh right ‘bout dat. We don’ have none because you’re a damn mule.”

Ice water flooded my veins, yet my body temperature skyrocketed. Of all the things he could have said to me, this was the worst. He’d dashed all my hopes of becoming a mother and had the nerve to fling it in my face. Calm settled over me and I knew I had to flee my marriage. But how? I had nothing outside of what Patrick owned. I’d allowed apathy to swallow me up, while he enjoyed life.

No more. I didn’t know what steps to take, but I would put some thought into it. I refused to speak to him and during that time, I weighed my options. Then one night it hit me. Patrick was cocky because he had his life and at the same time he had me where he wanted me. I was convenient for entertaining his clients at business dinners and for organizing his private life. My role was more complex, but I’d turned into a well-trained dog that fetched and carried at will.

How would he survive the humiliation if his obedient pet did the unthinkable and exposed him?

Two days ago, I mailed a letter to my sister. I’d never told her the depths to which I’d sunk. Rather than allow my family to comfort me, I’d pretended happiness existed where there was none.

She’d receive my letter today and by that time, the deed would be done. The second copy of the letter, I sent to the worst scandal rag on the island. They’d have a field day with it. The third copy went to the executive members of Robert’s service club. Wouldn’t they be in for a shock when they discovered the hidden deeds of their respected peer.

I left the dressing table and walked through the house where I’d spent so much time. I touched a figurine here, a painting there. None of those material things made life more bearable. I needed to be loved, but my husband didn’t have that to give. He needed me, if not for companionship, to point to as something else he controlled. But not for much longer.

I admired the hand painted tumbler I took from the kitchen cupboard, watching the water flow into it. Just to be on the safe side, I took the water jug to the bedroom. There, I poured out my mother’s blood pressure pills that I’d stockpiled after she died. Then I laid out the contents of two bottles of extra-strength painkillers.

Systematically, I swallowed them all.

Then I lay down to savour my escape.

About the author

Joy L. Campbell

J.L. Campbell is an award-winning, Jamaican author who writes romantic suspense, women's fiction, new and young adult novels. She has written sixteen books, seven novellas, and two short story collections. Campbell's mission is to write stories that entertain and educate readers. She is also a certified editor, and writes non-fiction. Visit her on the web at http://www.joylcampbell.com