My husband Vince and I were lounging in the living room after dinner when we decided to trash the new mayor’s car. Rick Burton was an epic weasel. Proudly sexist, with a rape lawsuit pending, not to mention two illegitimate children, he had nevertheless convinced my hometown that his background as a shady but successful financier would help restore prosperity. His sharky vintage convertible, with a painting of a red-bikinied woman on each side, perfectly suited him. To my husband and me, former punkers, still punkers at heart, Burton was the epitome of the evil, slithery establishment. I had prayed, often and fiercely, that he wouldn’t be elected, but of course prayer is only adult pretend.
“But just a misdemeanor trashing,” Vince said. “No permanent damage.”
I smiled fiendishly. “We’ll smother it all over with TP and shaving cream.”
“We? Don’t be stupid, Emily. Obviously I have to do it alone.”
I was hurt by his tone but I knew what he meant. As an elementary school teacher, I had the larger, steadier income, and we’d be sunk if I got caught. Still, in the following nights, the game was gleefully afoot. In the name of reconnaissance, we huddled on the couch with our laptop and a joint, bonding over the mayor’s vileness, hissing smoke at his Instagram account, filled with selfies of him sleazing around town in his car, top down, wind whipping through his black, moussed, mostly fake hair. I hadn’t felt so close to Vince in years. We learned that Burton had drinks every Thursday night at a local pub; he parked his car in an unlit and unattended parking lot. In this fact, our plan was born.
On the designated night, I tried to read a novel while I waited for Vince to return, but I was distracted by the thrilling vision of Burton’s sleaze mobile caked beyond all recognition. Get an eyeful, Burton voters! Some of them overlooked his throwback misogyny, whereas others, such as the town’s more devout country clubbers, were plainly charmed by it. When Vince finally returned, I was so hopped up I could hardly breathe.
“Lover! How’d it go? Did you take pictures?”
“Nah, I didn’t do it,” he said, flopping down on the couch, reeking of beer.
Disappointment clenched me. “What do you mean? What happened?”
“Burton’s car wasn’t in the lot. So I went in to have a beer and look around. Burton came up to the bar to order a drink and sorta chatted me up. He musta Ubered there, I guess. But look, Em, he’s not such a bad guy. He’s just kinda old school, you know? And he really, really loves this town. I just think we rushed to judge him.” He sniffed harshly. “Not that I ever, whatever, obsessively hated him like you did.”
I am a lightning girl. All my big decisions have come in a flash of hot, crackling illumination. At thirteen, at a roller skating rink, I heard a Runaways song and, swooning, rushed home to scissor holes in my jeans and dye my blonde hair green. At nineteen, dutifully attending church with my parents, bored by the minister but mesmerized by the stained glass, I suddenly understood that God existed but that this dull man grasped absolutely nothing about His glory. And now, at twenty-eight, in my living room with my husband, I realized with a devastating flash that I no longer wanted to be married to him.
I felt queasy and amazed and disgusted. Six years! How blind can you be? Six years that I mistook his attraction to my earthly body as affection for my essential soul.
It wasn’t an amicable split. Vince objected at first, declaring deep love, but after I initiated the paperwork, he instantly switched to a good-riddance stance, muttering nasty names. He moved out of our apartment and glumly tanked his always-dubious carpentry business. I now see that he had never taken me seriously. At parties, the year a local boy was kidnapped and murdered, I had gotten into fiery debates. God loves us, I argued, but this proves that He can’t divinely intervene to save us. We have to be our own protectors! In our own lives, our own town! Our Christian friends were drunkenly appalled, because this meant their prayers had no impact. Vince stayed silent but obviously my passion shamed him. I built my world on our love, our fake love, and now I dwell in its sad ashes.
Somehow, stupidly, life goes on. I have dyed my hair back to green and worked a black leather miniskirt back into wardrobe rotation. The principal at the school where I teach winces and looks away when he passes me in the halls. Once a month I meet my mother for coffee but we’ve never understood each other. When she heard the news that Mayor Burton’s car had been vandalized, felony-style, with the windows smashed in and the bikinied women spray-painted over, her mouth puckered in speechless horror. My mother thinks that all of the country’s elected officials, even the meanest vultures, have been put there by God and should be respected. So the Bible says, and so she believes. She has never considered the possibility that the book was written by fearful rulers who twisted God’s words to protect their own power. It’s a sleazy world, and as unfair as abandoned infants, but at least I have the Runaways and at least I have secrets. God loves a woman of action. I believe that, truly. Of that and nothing else, I am absolutely certain.
About the Author: Mark Benedict is a graduate of the MFA Writing program at Sarah Lawrence College. Previous publications include stories in Bird's Thumb, Columbia Journal, Menacing Hedge, Slippery Elm, and Westchester Review. Mark enjoys hiking trails and watching movies. His obsession with Rosemary's Baby is deep and abiding.