Every day in Miriam Ford’s life is the same. Or at least it has been since she married Hank at the tender age nineteen. Sure, they’ve added a couple babies since then, which livened things for a bit. First came Jimmy, then Ethel three years later. Still, each day is the same.
Pack the lunches
Kiss the husband.
And repeat. Of course, Ethel offers up some rogue diaper changes and atomic tantrums to liven up the day. It’s exciting enough for the average housewife. Miriam’s life is “fulfilled” in the words of her mother-in-law.
Miriam’s mother would agree too. Hank scooped her up from that holler in West Virginia and carried her off to the suburbs of D.C. where he works for the Federal Narcotics Board, cleaning up the streets and taking care of that reefer madness. Yes, she has a husband that supports her, two beautiful children, and a sparkly new laundry room. What more could a girl of her standing ask for?
A life of her own, that’s what.
See, Hank is a misogynistic dunce that kindly ushers Miriam back to the kitchen when she has any thought that pushes the realms of critical or abstract. He wants her neat, pretty, and in an apron.
It’s a growing pandemic, or at least in Miriam’s eyes, who’s used to seeing women take on a more active role from her deep Appalachian upbringing. Down the street Beatrice, Penny, Susie, and Rose all complain of the same monotonous frustration day in and day out. Motherhood is hard, but being a mother while cramming all free thought into a quiet little hatbox while one’s husband holds the lock and key is excruciating.
That’s why Miriam pays for a discreet nanny one day a week to watch Ethel while she drives back to her holler. Her particular region of West Virginia, where the sun barely peers down over the mountains, is like traveling back in time a decade.
Her granny, lovingly referred to as the town “granny witch”, grows a special supply that the housewives on Lexington Boulevard clammer after, kitchen aprons blowing in the wind and bobby pins flying. With one relaxing two-hour drive there and a two-hour drive back, Miriam has secured enough green to keep the neighborhood wives from drowning in their boring lives for another week.
She’s the head wife in this suburbia and she learned the game from her great uncles that used to run moonshine during prohibition. She could run that too, but the other wives have plenty of liquor hidden in their China cabinets as it is. No, she has her crop that never leaves a wife too groggy to care for the casserole in the oven.
Most of the husbands are too dense to suspect anyway. Bloodshot eyes are nothing for a woman society has already deemed hysterical. The men assume their wives have been crying over her dry pot roast and move on. Each and every one.
Except for Hank.
That’s why Miriam always keeps her personal product tucked away in the root cellar, behind the beans, carrots, and potatoes. Hank wouldn’t be caught dead cooking, so it’s a safe enough spot. Though he has smelled the aroma a time or two, and Miriam has been able to write it off as an oriental spice that Susie passed along from her mother’s old collection. Hank is bad at his job really.
He comes in, smug, gloating about breaking up some country boy’s operation or raiding a record store on the wrong side of town. None of those people are hurting anything. No one is giving out joints to school children and teaching them to worship Satan. Miriam grows more resentful with each cackle and “you should’ve seen them run” story.
But nothing changes and each day runs into the next. At least with her side business, it’s a little less painful.
Pack the lunches
Kiss the husband
Not much has changed in terms of business, aside from the new additions of Celia, Ann, and Sarah to the circle. The wives have collectively built a successful “book club” that gathers at Ann’s house on Thursdays. They sit in a circle and read the most progressive and enlightening works. Ann has no children and her husband works evenings. Ann is an integral part of Miriam’s operation.
With the establishment of their weekly meetings, Miriam has doubled her revenue, which she stows away in a loose floorboard under her bed. No one touches the money unless she or the children need something that Hank would deem unnecessary or less important that his new golf clubs. Of course, Miriam treats herself to weekly salon visits on the down low, but she works hard for her children and unappreciative husband. It’s justified.
Marriage is harder than motherhood at this point and Miriam has caught Hank with his secretary three times. She let it go the first and second time, on account of her own dirty secret. Best not to poke the sleeping bear after all, but this last time the conversation became heated. Too heated for her comfort.
“Earth to Miriam? You okay honey?” Ann beckons a response. Miriam often drifts off in thought. She has too many afterall.
“Yeah, sorry. I was thinking about how Hank was rummaging through the kitchen cabinets last night. He said he was looking for a tonic for a stomach ache.” Miriam takes a long drag from her cigarette and taps her fingers on the laminate tabletop.
“And you don’t buy it?”
“Of course not. That man has never looked for anything on his own since we've been married. It’s always ‘Midge can you grab my keys? Can you find my shirt?’.”
“Do you think he suspects?” Ann’s face, framed in cat-eye spectacles, is long and questioning.
“I think I pressed him too hard after I caught him with that Jezebel at the office this last time. He’s probably trying to find a way to blame me for a divorce if he files.”
Both women sit in silence, taking puffs between anxious glances. If Miriam gets caught, there will be devastating consequences for both. Ann’s hands are splattered with guilt, from her weekly meetings at her own home to her signed bank checks to Miriam. If someone looks hard enough, there will be enough to cause trouble. Enough trouble to take Miriam’s children away.
“So what do we do?” Ann clasps her hands, rings on every finger, in front of her on the table, leaning down to meet Miriam’s drooping eyes.
“I have to find out how much he knows and go from there. If it’s too much, I have means to take care of him back in West Virginia.” Miriam doesn’t have a concrete plan, only the knowledge that hogs can consume a body before anyone will come looking for it.
“And you’ll let me help, Miriam. Don’t even debate it. You’re doing a good thing for us here. I won’t let you be swallowed up by his patriarchal chess game.”
“Don’t worry, I ain’t getting swallowed up by nothing. Not on his accord.” Both women tap out their cigarettes and resolve to protect what they’ve built. Come Hell or high water.
Miriam sloshes in her frothy bubble bath, cucumber face mask cooling her stress away. Hank missed dinner. He does that often, but says he can’t help his work. Miriam knows his work wears a pencil skirt and writes in shorthand.
The soft rattle of the furnace is welcome tonight. No other sounds clawing at the bathroom door means both children are fast asleep and Miriam finally has an hour to herself. She takes a sip of wine from the side table where a flickering lavender candle rests.
If every night could be like this, maybe she’d stop selling. But that’s a pipe dream.
Miriam’s silk nightgown slides down over her skin, still fresh with the almond scent of her lotion. She throws on her housecoat to make the walk down the long dark hallway lined with sleek windows on either side, a modern touch she welcomed when she moved from her parent’s dusty farmhouse. Light peeks out from her cracked bedroom door and her cheeks burn upon realizing Hank arrived home and went to bed without speaking to her. After everything he’s done lately, she deserves even the most basic courtesy.
She inches the door open but a violent slap twists her head to the left, leaving her deaf to the world for a second, maybe ten. She cowers on the desk chair, clasping her throbbing cheek.
“What the hell!”
“What the hell is this, Miriam?” Hank holds a Mason jar within an inch of her face, his hand trembling. She lifts her gaze to meet his eyes and takes note of the beads of sweat adorning his wrinkled brow and the bulging veins in his neck. She’s never seen him like this, hyped up on who knows what. Maybe he’s just thrilled to have a reason to be rid of her.
“If you don’t know what that is, I suppose you’re worse at your job than I realized. Maybe if you paid attention in meetings instead of meeting that hussy secretary in the broom closet, you would have earned that last promotion.” She musters a smirk to accent her deep-seated disgust. Hank slams her petite frame against a nearby bookshelf, knocking the wind from her lungs and bruising ribs. She lets out a deep groan and collapses onto the bedroom floor, clasping her aching side.
“I ought to just kill you know. Save myself from my subpar wife. Sheila is real mom. She’d cook circles around your rancid meatloaf.” Hank laughs to himself as he strikes a match to light the cigar perched between his lips. He crosses the room to the nightstand where he picks up a heavy glass ashtray. He tosses it between his hands like a baseball. A wretched smile spreads across his vile face.
Miriam pulls her knees underneath her deflated body and watches Hank turn away from her, still holding the ashtray. Thinking. Gauging its weight. Her adrenaline races and she crawls to the bed where she hides a pistol wedged in the slats of the frame.
Time freezes but she pulls the hammer back and fires faster than he can deliver the skull-crushing blow. The rest is a blur, but Miriam quickly finds herself with rubber gloves and bleach, dialing Ann to come watch her children.
In a distraught frenzy, she managed to clean up the mess and heave Hank into the trunk of her Chevy. By some miracle, neither Jimmy nor Ethel woke up despite the racket.
“What did the bastard do?” Ann takes a drag of her cigarette, shaking her head at the scene in the trunk.
“He tried to kill me, that’s what the bastard did. He found my stash and came within inches of smashing my head in with a freaking ashtray!”
That would be the day. The day he kills me and lets some pretend wife play mommy to my kids.” Both women stare down at the body wrapped in floral sheets. Any mother knows how to clean up the mess, but those cotton sheets are a loss.
Ann gives Miriam a long sorrowful hug before slipping into the house to sit with the sleeping children and Miriam takes a deep breath as she turns the ignition. Two hours and she’ll wash her hands of this mess. She’ll wash her hands of her toxic, idiot of a husband and cross her fingers that none of this comes out.
Tomorrow she’ll file a missing person report. Of course, she’ll have to let it be known he had a serious girlfriend on the side, to throw off suspicions and such.
Two hours. Two hours into the safety of the mountains.
Eight Months Later
“Can you hand me that floral wire, Ethel?”
“Here you go Mommy.” The giggly blonde-haired girl nestles into her mother’s apron and Miriam gives her curls a pat.
“It’s a beautiful place you have here. I can’t thank you enough for giving us something to work towards,” says Ann as she carries a fresh crate of blooming peonies to the counter.
“Well you know, I enjoy the work.” Miriam grins as she takes the shipment for bundling and sale at the local farmer’s market. She’s managed to build a budding flower business from the sale of Hank’s investments. She’s still his wife on paper, even if he did run off with one of his no-count hussies.
She employs several of the wives on Lexington Boulevard, giving them time away from the house and spending money of their own. She has goals, dreams, and industrial grow lights in her basement. But no nosy husband waiting to crush her goals or third-quarter sales.
All in a day’s work.