After being tasered, I picked myself up from the front doorway, where they left me, under the coat hooks. I must have hit my head when I fell, because I came to my senses in a patch of drool, staring at the heels of shoes, and scrambled to my feet like a sentry caught napping. Every muscle ached as if I’d been on an all-day workout, so I staggered to my bed where I lay until I sunk into exhausted sleep.
I dreamt away the events of the morning until they’d happened to another me, in a parallel universe, and woke, half expecting to find my wife still dozing beside me. Her absence brought back unpleasant memories, even though the details were a little foggy.
But first things first. I was starving, and before I could think, I needed food. Baked potato at the markets was a Sunday ritual of ours and the fridge was empty, so I did what I had to. I went out alone. The tasering had left me feeling rebellious. That or the electric jolt had reorganised some of my neural pathways and thrown caution to the wind.
The local market was held in the old bus depot. Couples browsed, some with children in tow. Vendors displayed their wares–cleverly disguised ornaments which would turn to clutter as soon as you got them home. A musician accompanied her voice with guitar, the music amplified over the hubbub. Did I leave a hush in my wake as I squeezed between people, passed the stalls towards the food court? I kept reminding myself the crowd was large enough to hide my singularity, but it didn’t stop me imagining the music to be the soundtrack to my flagrant breach of protocol.
“Two…Err…One potato with bacon, cheese and sour cream,” I said, proffering a twenty dollar note through the van window.
“Where’s your chaperone?” the baked potato vendor asked. Her apron bulged twice, once for her bosom and once for her belly.
“Over by the juice stand,” I lied.
She served me with sullen disapproval.
I sat in the park to consume my food. The weather was warm, but the clouds were cappuccino froth, threatening to further dampen my spirits. This conveniently meant the park was empty. Otherwise I might not have sat so recklessly solo. Ants wore black estuaries through sandy soil beneath my bench. The cardboard takeaway container proved no tougher than the potato skin and I cut through to the table with my wooden cutlery. An old woman, walking a white west highland terrier, eyed me suspiciously and hurried away. No doubt she would be phoning in my status as soon as she was out of sight. If only for the sake of public safety. Who could say when I might lose control and go on a temper fuelled rampage?
Time to leave.
I don’t know what I expected to happen when I got home. I suppose I thought the reason for my wife’s arrest might just come to me. To clear my head, I played a few games on my console, which quickly grew boring. I ran on the treadmill and finished up with some deadlifts, then spent at least an hour of the afternoon waxing my chest. I was still none the wiser.
On a weekday I might have dropped in on one of my neighbours. Sometimes a few of us would hang out at one or another’s house while our wives were at work. There would be a sort of rebellious feeling to these gatherings, as if we were breaking the rules. We would swear and tell dirty jokes, burp and fart and laugh. I often went home with the impression we’d re-affirmed a stereotype, but it left me feeling liberated and relaxed nonetheless.
I wasn’t in the mood for working, but at a loss for anything else to do, I booted up my computer. I wrote a blog under a pen name, Alexandra Madigan. It was the feminisation of my own name, because who would read a blog written by a man?
I tried to open the webpage, but the browser displayed the message:
Access Denied! Website Blocked.
I clicked on it again in the hope that repeating the action would end in a different result. I must have clicked on it a dozen times more before I tried a different webpage. This one loaded without difficulty. I tried another to be sure, before returning to my blog and receiving the same message:
Access Denied! Website Blocked.
Slowly it dawned on me why my wife had been arrested.
My mother drove me to the police station. I might have been in a reckless mood, but I wasn’t stupid. There was no way I was going to turn up at a police station unaccompanied.
“I’m unhappy with my marriage,” I said, slouched in the passenger seat like a despondent teenager.
“Nonsense,” my mother replied, focused through her hornrims on the road beyond the steering wheel, down which the car crawled a good deal slower than the speed limit. “Juliette’s good to you. She earns enough money so you don’t have to work. She bought you those weights machines so you could work on your muscles. And she lets you write that blog of yours. If I were her, I’d have put a stop to that long ago.”
I cringed at my mother’s mention of the blog. After today, I was certain I would never be permitted to write again.
I recalled the first meal my wife treated me to before we were married–our first date. The maître d’ took our coats at the door. I was intimidated, first by the cutlery then the company. My date was horsy with an air of confidence common in ambitious women. She had her whole career mapped out, while I never planned beyond breakfast. I spent the evening trying to show her my best side: avoiding my profile, which drew attention to my larger than average nose; supressing my ill-considered opinions; downplaying my masculinity, which, while alluring for a night of passion, would do me no favours in the long run.
I let my act slip after the honeymoon. I’d grown over confident. Careless. I’d fallen in love I suppose. After several lapses of character, I was accused of being too opinionated. Divorce seemed inevitable, but she compromised by letting me vent on a blog. She figured there was enough ignorance expressed on the internet, what would be the harm of adding one more drop to the deluge?
It was a successful arrangement. I could pretend at being a columnist and she was spared my bigotry–her words not mine. Only now I’d gone too far. I didn’t know whether to be pleased someone had taken my blog seriously or terrified. It would surely be the end of our marriage. Complaining to my mother was a pre-emptive strike. Testing the waters so to speak. I was finding them very cold.
“Besides, you’re not moving back in with me,” my mother continued. She drove leaning forward, her chin almost resting on the wheel, determined not to miss a thing transpiring beyond the windscreen. “And I don’t think you’d like the alternative.”
She was referring to going back on the Bachelor List. As a divorcee, it would be very unlikely I would find another wife. And without a chaperone, I would have to live in digs. There I would have to get a job, earning my rent in one of the few forms of work available to men. You saw them from time to time, bussed to and from labour sites, empty faces staring into space, each of them willing a woman to click on his marriage proposal profile and decide he might be worth meeting in person.
“What you need is a baby,” my mother suggested, hesitating at a junction. I drummed my fingers on the armrest while we waited for the next gap in traffic. “You’d have to get a nanny of course, but I hear men who take an interest in childrearing find it very fulfilling.”
“We’re trying,” I sighed. It was what she wanted. Sex had never been simple between us. The first time, she called my prematurity cute, but it soon became inadequacy. I’d endured years of criticism and correction, learning how to satisfy her but still suspected her of having affairs. Now I was a disappointment again, because I’d failed to provide her with children by the scheduled date.
“What I really want is a job,” I said. “Something that taxes me, like being a journalist.”
My mother snorted, her eyes never leaving the road. “This isn’t the stone age anymore. Real work takes brainpower. Don’t get me wrong, you’re not a bad writer. But you can’t expect to compete with all those women out there. Especially when you don’t have the same mobility.”
“That’s what it always comes down to, isn’t it?” I snapped, beginning to lose my temper. “If I didn’t need a stupid chaperone, I could show I’m just as capable as the next woman.”
“Don’t take that tone with me, young man,” my mother scolded, rolling to a stop at a set of lights as they turned amber. I pressed down on the imaginary accelerator at my feet, willing the car to pick up and lurch on through. “Do you think this stupid chaperone has nothing better to do than chauffeur your testosterone packed body around? Just consider yourself lucky to have been born into family that could afford to indulge your desire to go to university like your sister.”
University hadn’t been all I’d expected it to be. It was free of the anger management classes that came with school, but the segregation and security detail made me feel like a prisoner. I ought to have been grateful to have a tertiary education at all, but my sister’s account of her experience left me wanting.
“Sorry Mum,” I said, slumping further into the seat, defeated.
“Men,” she said, more to herself than to me, “think they can solve all their problems with aggression.”
Inside, the police station reminded me of a mausoleum, with polished wooden furnishings. Our footsteps echoed on the faux-marble floor as we crossed the foyer. I kept my manner as polite as possible when speaking to the square-jawed officer at the desk. The police have never been fond of my gender, but now I had firsthand experience of their trigger-happy response when they felt threatened. I didn’t want to give them another excuse to taser me.
“I’m here to make a statement concerning the arrest of Juliette Madigan,” I said.
She eyed me darkly before retrieving the relevant forms. Her forehead was so much narrower than her chin it looked like her face had been put on upside down.
Later, my mother and I sat on the pew benches–her perched on the edge; me lounging with the wall as a backrest–and waited in silence. The public foyer smelled of bleach. From the other side of the desk, through the walls and doors dividing the station came the muffled sound of activity. I could make out phones ringing, the hiss of static between radio dispatches, feminine voices conversing. Every so often, when a door would open to let officers in or out, the sounds would amplify.
An officer entered the station from the street, hair tied so tight it gave her a permanently startled expression. I recognised her as one of the officers who had tasered me earlier. She had her arm around a young woman with a bruised and swollen face, who seemed too overwhelmed to support her own body weight. “I don’t get it,” she blurted between breaths. “We’ve lived together for years.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll catch him in due course,” the officer replied.
I slunk down in my seat as they walked by, and it either worked or wasn’t necessary, because I wasn’t noticed. The young woman was taken through the doors, into the bustle of that other part of the station. Another victim of domestic abuse. More justification for draconian regulation.
I couldn’t tell whether the woman’s tears were real or not and wondered if the officer could. In the case of suspected fabrication, would she investigate, or remain wilfully ignorant to side with her own sex? It went to the root of the blog entry I’d written yesterday. The reason we were in this predicament.
I’d begun by acknowledging that domestic abuse was never acceptable. Then argued that women could be self-harming, in order to incriminate their partners. I noted that accusations of violence against men were usually acquitted as self-defence. Then tied up the whole piece with a conclusion alluding to the inherent bias in the system. All in all I thought it rather eloquently put.
I lost track of how long we waited. Twice my mother stood up and stretched her legs, walking the width of the foyer. I suspected her pacing was also intended to remind me she was being inconvenienced. I stayed where I was, too weary to move, wondering how much of my fatigue was a result of the tasering, and how much was down to an impending sense of doom. My limbs were as heavy as a toddler throwing a tantrum. I slid down the wall, slowly spilling out of my seat. Square Jaw’s scowl from the desk told me I was making the place look untidy. I maintained my slouch; revelling in my disregard for authority and stayed as I was, long after it had become uncomfortable.
Finally I was sitting, elbows on knees, staring at the petrified smoke patterns in the floor, when my line of sight was broken by a pair of red shoes. I scanned up past the matching dress, covering generous hips, to my wife’s face. Her mouth was set like she’d been chewing glue and her eyes were cold.
“Darling,” I said, smiling in my most ingratiating tone, and stood up.
She slapped me.
Just like that. Without warning. In a police station of all places. The clap of it echoed around the foyer. If our roles had been reversed, a dozen officers would have rushed in from out the back and arrested me for assault. Instead, Square Jaw didn’t bat an eyelid. If anything I might have seen her give a slight nod of approval.
My cheek didn’t sting half as much as my ego, but I figured I could take it. I had, after all, abused her trust and used our IP address for more than the banalities I’d promised.
As my wife drove us home with me relegated to the back seat, she described her ordeal.
“Once they’d confirmation I hadn’t written the blog, they were far more understanding,” she said. “They informed me I was foolish for providing my husband with a platform for his misogynistic ramblings, but they would let me off with a warning this time. As long as I didn’t let it happen again.”
My mother tutted and shook her head in sympathy from the passenger seat.
“It was the administration that took so long,” my wife continued. “What a palaver. Still I suppose it’ll be a story to tell the girls at the office on Monday. I can’t wait to tell them the part where you were tasered, Honey,” she said, catching my eye in the rear-view mirror and laughing. “They’ll think it’s so funny. Your muscles must make you look more threatening than the pussycat you really are. I suppose that’s the downside to having a husband with a body like he belongs on the cover of a magazine.”
I sat back in my seat, watching the traffic out the window, and smiled. My marriage wasn’t over after all. She still loved me. Given time, I might even be able to convince her to let me start blogging again.
Thomas Pask is a British/Australian physicist currently living in Brunei with his wife and daughter. His fictional work appears in Outposts of Beyond and Empyreome Magazine. His other publications have all been scientific journal articles. You can follow him on Twitter @thomas_pask, but he’s not very good at all this newfangled social media stuff.