FICTION: Veronica by Doree Weller

Men are all the same.  They’re all out to get you.  They’re all out to see what they can do to you; how much you’ll take.  Men wrote the book that said women were the cause of “original sin.”  Men used that as an excuse to keep us under their thumbs.  Women may think they’re free now, but they aren’t.  It’s all an illusion.

I lived with my aunt because my mother was a whore, made that way by men who fed her crack.  My aunt was a bitter woman.  She had been divorced twice.  In her later years, she realized that she didn’t need a man in her life, but by then it was too late to save her.

My baby-sitter raped me when I was five.  He told me that he would kill me if I told.  He was gentle and told me that he loved me, but it still hurt unbearably.  I didn’t tell my aunt, and maybe she didn’t want to know, made bitter by years of dealing with men.  Back then, I was fearful of men, but now I know better.

As I grew up, I encountered more of them.  There was the male teacher who I know was trying to look down my shirt.  There was the boss at my first job who complimented my hair so that he could get me naked.  They were all just out to get me, trying to find ways of controlling me through sex and compliments.

I’ve only ever had one friend, Mindy, an overweight, brilliant girl, who chews gum and does not understand my view on men.  She says that it’s cynical, and refuses to acknowledge that it’s realistic.  She always tells me that I’m misinterpreting the way these men treat me.  Poor Mindy.  One day she’ll realize the truth.  But I don’t want her to learn the hard way, like I did, so I do my best to protect Mindy, and all those like her.  I want to tell her the truth, but I just don’t think she’s ready to believe.

I’ve always had a hard time keeping jobs.  Men always end up firing me because they don’t want me to tell the truth about them.  I’ve been called all kinds of names, “Crazy bitch, psycho twat,” to name a few.  That’s the thing about it.  There are just so many derogatory names about women, and so few about men.  Most people don’t see the irony in that.  They probably don’t think about it at all.  It seems to me that men didn’t allow women to become literate for a long time for a reason.  Women who think are the biggest threat of all.

I work in a shelter for abused women.  I don’t have any special training; mostly I just serve meals and help clean up.  I didn’t go to college because too many college professors are men, and I knew that once they realized that I knew the truth about them, they would flunk me just to keep me down.

I like my job, and it helps me focus.  In the beginning, focusing was a problem.  There were just too many of them, and I didn’t know how to sort them out.  Some people think it’s a matter of degree.  They seem to believe that rapists and murderers are worse than men who beat their wives, who are worse than men who just yell at them a lot and call them names.  There’s no such thing, in reality.  They’re all the same.  I have never met a man who can be trusted, and I have never met a man who will let a woman win.

My life was simple and filled with purpose.

About three months ago, I went grocery shopping and bought too much.  I live on the third floor of my apartment building, and although I’m certainly not lazy, like anyone else, I juggled the items so that I only needed to make one trip.  I got in the elevator, and as it was about to shut, a hand slipped in between the doors, and they bounced back open.

A man stepped into the elevator.  Although I was not happy to see him, I wasn’t concerned.  I had long since stopped being a victim, and carried pepper spray in my purse.  I would have loved an opportunity to use it on this man.  My mission was to teach them their place, one at a time.

He was either new to the building or visiting, because I made it a point to know all the men in the building.  It was smart to know the enemy.  I’ve always been smart.

This man was tall and lean, with sandy blonde hair and brown eyes.  He was smiling, and the smile seemed natural enough.  It didn’t have the creepy edges to it, and didn’t seem forced.  He reached out and I tensed, but he just grabbed one of my grocery bags from my arm and said, “I’m Bob, and I live in 2-A.  What floor are you on?”

I realized that I hadn’t pressed a button yet, and had been just staring at this man.  I reached over and jabbed the button for the third floor irritably.  Let him carry my bag if he wanted to.  Women’s liberation was a joke.  Who cares who opens doors for who or who carries what?  I’ve got bigger things to worry about.  Plus, him carrying a bag left me with a hand free to spray him if he tried anything funny.  My fingers ached to be able to set him straight, but I needed to be subtler than that.  It was important not to indulge myself anytime I wanted to.

Either he hadn’t noticed that I didn’t say anything, or he didn’t care, because he continued, as if we were having a conversation.  “You’re Veronica, right?  Mrs. Betz pointed you out to me the other day.  It seems like older people always think that unmarried people of a certain age have to meet all other unmarried people of a certain age in hopes that maybe they’ll get married, and all will be right with the world.”  He laughed, and it had a boyish sound.  I was surprised that it lacked the edge that I was used to hearing.

“Anyway,” he continued, “I just thought that I would introduce myself, so that way I can tell Mrs. Betz that I did.  She’s worried about me, you know.  Figures that a man my age is going to die, old and alone amongst all the trash I couldn’t take out, starved to death because I didn’t have a good woman to cook for me.”  He continued to smile, and chuckled at his own wit.

To my horror, my lips actually wanted to twitch.  That only made me angrier, and I pressed my lips together, angrier and more determined not to like this man than ever.   Anyway, he was probably hinting that he wanted me to cook for him.  Like hell.  Mercifully, the elevator dinged for my floor, and I put my arm out for my groceries.

“No, I’ll carry them to your door for you.”

This is it, I thought.  He’s going to try something at my door, maybe try to get himself invited in or something.  Bastards are all alike.

Silently, I unlocked my door and pushed inside.  To my shock, he stopped at the door and put the bag down just outside.  “I’ll just leave this right here for you.  You can’t be too cautious about who you let in your place.”  With that, he turned and was gone, whistling the theme song for the Smurfs.

My encounter with Bob had unsettled me.  I would not have been shocked if he had called me names or asked me on a date.  Men always started off by asking for dates.  It was the first step to them teaching you “your place.”  Oh, sometimes they were nice at first, but in the end, they always ended up seeing what they could get from you.

I knew that I was an attractive woman.  I had gone through a period where I didn’t shower and made myself as generally unattractive as possible so that men would be repelled by me.  Somewhere along the line I figured out that I could manipulate men right back, and the best way to do that was to present an attractive and non-threatening exterior.  Most of them thought that we women would be easy targets.  Most men think that none of us know about the plot against us.

I wore my glossy brown hair long and free down my back.  I had big brown eyes that I could open wide to form an expression of surprise or dismay.  Either way, it made me look dumb enough that men dismiss me as no threat to them.  Other women didn’t know that I was among the secret sisterhood who knew the truth.  It was best not to know who was who.  That way, I wouldn’t slip up and tip anyone off.  It was a lonely way to live, but at least I owned myself.  I didn’t have to worry about some man making rules for me.

I did my best not to think about Bob.  I found my mind wandering back to him repeatedly because he didn’t fit easily into the box men usually fit into.  I wondered if he were gay.  I didn’t know quite what to make of gay men, but figured that they must be in the global conspiracy against women too.

I saw Bob several times over the course of the next few weeks.  Always polite, he said hello and smiled when he saw me.  I never saw him stare at my breasts, and he never pushed me to make conversation with him.  It seemed that he had enough to say for the both of us.  I started to think this was a great new tactic, one I hadn’t seen before.  He would be the nicest, politest man I’d ever met, then as soon as I let my guard down, he would pounce.  I continued to wait, and my stomach jumped every time I saw him.

One night, we came home from work around the same time.  I was tired; it had been a long day.  As we rode the elevator, Bob turned to me.  “Look, I know you don’t like me much, and I’m not sure why.  I don’t want to overstep your boundaries, but I’d love to have dinner with you.  If that’s not okay with you, I understand.”

I was strangely disappointed; part of me really though he would be different, yet I was also secretly satisfied that he had lived up to my expectation.  For the first time, I turned to face him and spoke.  “Not ‘okay’ with me?  Of course it’s not okay with me!  I’ve never said two words to you, yet you insist on talking to me almost every day.  Can’t you take a hint?  You men are all alike, don’t understand the word ‘no’!”  With that, I turned away from him, silent.  I waited for him to respond back with all the things that I had heard before, accusations of me being crazy, a bitch, or just plain mean, but to my surprise, he said none of those.

The elevator doors opened, and he got off and paused, hand holding the door open.  “I’m sorry,” he said quietly.  “If you ever just need a friend, feel free to call or come by.”  With that, he let the doors close, and I was alone.

I waited for the flowers and phone calls of pursuit, or to hear that he had been spreading gossip about me throughout the apartment complex.  Men always either pursued, unable to believe that you would refuse them, or they made sure that everyone heard what a terrible person you were so that no one would find out that the defect was theirs.  Neither of those things happened, and as the days passed, I was puzzled.  Bob no longer rode the elevator with me, instead choosing to wait or take the steps if we arrived at the same time.  He always said a polite “hello,” but never again tried to engage me in conversation.

I found that I kind of missed the few minutes that he talked in the elevator.  I started to wonder why I felt so lonely that even a man’s conversation started to sound good to me.  I knew that wasn’t true though.  It was only this man that I enjoyed listening to.  I suppressed the next thought for a long time, but eventually it rose to the surface.  Some women out there were abusive, so what if this man was an anomaly?  What if he could be trusted, and wasn’t looking to harm anyone?  I couldn’t afford to think that way.

At first, I told myself that even if I had executed some innocent men, that was okay, since my goal was for the greater good.  I told myself that it was okay if one or two innocent men had died because most of them were not innocent, or blameless.

But wasn’t that the outrage I had been against my whole life?  Blaming an entire group for the works of some of its members?  What if Mindy was right, and I had misinterpreted the actions of some men?  If there was no global conspiracy, that meant that I was paranoid.  If there was no global conspiracy, that meant I was a murderer, instead of a crusader.

My beliefs had gotten me though some very bad times in my life, and had helped me not to feel too much.  I was feeling now, and the feelings were anger and confusion.  This wasn’t fair.  All my life, I had believed that I had a purpose in my life, and now I wondered if that simply weren’t true.  Now I wondered if I were… I couldn’t even think the word.  Paranoid was bad enough.

I sat in my apartment, letting it grow dark outside.  After dark I normally prowled the streets, looking for the next bit of evil to cleanse from the face of the earth.  My heart wasn’t in it that night because I wasn’t sure that I was right anymore.  I wasn’t sure that this was really my calling.  Perhaps it hadn’t been the voice of God that I was hearing, after all.

I sat in the dark all night, and by morning had made my decision.  I knew what I had to do.

You see, I decided that this was a test of faith, similar to the tests that God had put Job through.  I was sent a man who seemed to be just another person instead of part of an agenda, to test my faith.  I hadn’t killed anyone last night, so I had to kill Bob tonight.  It was the only way for me to get back on the path.

That day, I went to work, but I was so edgy that I kept dropping things.  More than once, I had to clean up messes that I made from starting when someone walked into the same room with me.  Finally, Melanie, my boss, came up to me and asked me if anything was wrong.  I lied to her because I always lied to everyone.  Nothing was wrong.  I was fine, just fine.

Normally, I went out looking for a man and let him take me back to his house or hotel room, where I suggested that we have a drink.  I distracted him, which wasn’t hard at all, and slipped something special into his drink.  When he was more agreeable, I stabbed him to death.  Anger gave me all the strength that I needed.  I thought that the penetration was a nice symbol, so that’s why I stuck with it.

The problem was how I would kill Bob.  I obviously couldn’t overpower him, so I would have to go with my normal MO.  I wasn’t particularly worried about killing someone so close to home; my killings appeared so random and spread out that no one would notice the difference.

I took a bottle of red wine and put on a slinky black dress.  I knocked on Bob’s door.  He answered, wearing black sweatpants and a grey T-shirt.  His hair was mussed up, and he looked adorable.  My knife was in my purse.  It was an ordinary kitchen knife that could be purchased anywhere.

Bob took a look at me and my bottle of wine, and instead of smiling, scowled, puzzled.  “What are you doing here, Veronica?” he asked.

“You said I should come by if I wanted a friend,” I said.  “I brought some wine and thought we could chat.”  He looked at my dress, obviously not convinced by my stated motives, but shrugged, and invited me in.

His apartment was sparsely furnished, like any man’s apartment.  He had black leather couches and a large flat screen TV.  There was a floor lamp and an end table with a smaller lamp on that one.  He had the same brown carpet that was in all of our apartments, good for stain coverage.  His primary color scheme seemed to be black and brown.  Which wasn’t surprising really.  Women were the color in men’s lives, after all.

Bob invited me to sit, and came back a few minutes later with a corkscrew and some short glass tumblers.  “I don’t have any wineglasses,” he apologized.  “I hope these are okay.”

“They’re fine,” I replied with a smile.

We sat and sipped our wine silently for several minutes.  Bob wasn’t particularly chatty tonight.  I needed to distract him so that I could drug his drink, but that might be difficult.  Usually, by this point, I was getting groped, and could just slip it in without him noticing.  In this case, I thought it might seem weird if I jumped in Bob’s lap and just started kissing him.  Still, he probably wouldn’t object, and I really didn’t need to worry about embarrassment later on.

I was still wondering what to do when Bob interrupted my thoughts, “Why are you frowning into your wine?  What are you worried about?”  His voice was gentle, and he seemed genuinely interested.  For a brief moment, I had an urge to tell him that I was having trouble figuring out the logistics of killing him.  I chuckled before I could stop the sound from slipping out.

He smiled at me.  “Now I have to know what you’re thinking.”

I looked at him and decided why not?  People never believed you when you said truly outrageous things anyway.  I met his eyes boldly and said, “I’m trying to figure out how to kill you.”

He laughed, as I had known he would.  “I should have known that’s why you came over.  I knew it wasn’t for exposure to my rapier wit.”

I laughed too, and suddenly, I had to get out of there.  The walls were closing in.  I had the urge to just stab him where he stood, over and over.  Just to make it stop.  I wanted him to hug me and be my friend. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to kill him.  I grabbed my purse and ran for the door.

“Where are you going?” he asked.  “Veronica?”

I ran out the door without a backward glance, and stumbled up the stairs.  I couldn’t bear waiting in the hall for the elevator to come.  I had to get away.  I had to get away from him.

I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t kill him.  I wanted to.  Maybe if I killed him, my life would go back to normal, but I didn’t think that it would ever be normal again.  I would always see him laughing, and know that I had laughed with him, however briefly.

I stayed up all night again, sitting on my chair in the dark.  No answers came to me.  I didn’t know what I should do.  It was my day off, and I didn’t have to go into work.  I felt purposeless, and adrift.  The sun came up, and still I sat.

My knife had a black plastic handle and a steel shaft.  It was shiny, and very sharp.  I soaked it in bleach and scrubbed it with a toothbrush after every outing, and sharpened it.  I couldn’t use a dull knife; that just wouldn’t be good practice.

I examined the blade of the knife, fascinated by the way it glinted in the sunlight.  I knew what I had to do.

I always kept a journal, and I wrote this today.  Some people might think it’s strange to keep a journal of murder, but I thought it was important.  I wasn’t doing this for pleasure; it was my mission in life, and though I couldn’t reveal it in life, I could claim ownership for my deeds in death.  That was important to me, and I wanted people to know what I had done.  I’m not sure it’s a source of pride anymore.  What’s more important after all, the method or the message?  I don’t know, and maybe I never did.

*  *  *

Bob found a package on his doorstep the next morning.  A brown paper bag held a blue diary.  He opened it, and started to read a story of abuse, betrayal, and increasing paranoia.  By the time he had gotten to his part, and realized what it meant, it was too late.  He broke down the door in Veronica’s apartment, but she was already dead.  There had been no quiet drift into unconsciousness for her.  Many women who cut their wrists do so in a hot bath.  After reading her journal, he knew that she would never have taken off her clothes to kill herself.  She sat in a kitchen chair and took a low dose of the drug she used on the men in her life, then sliced her wrists with the very kitchen knife that had been the implement of destruction for so many men.

***

Doree Weller lives in sunny Arizona and finds inspiration in all the
weird, wonderful, ordinary stuff in the world around us. She can be
found online at www.doreeweller.wordpress.com or on Facebook.
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Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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About Brian Lindenmuth

Brian is the non-fiction editor of Spinetingler magazine and one of the fiction editors of Snubnose Press. In addition to Spinetingler his work has appeared in Crimespree magazine and at BSC Review, Galleycat and the Mulholland Books website. He also heads the Spinetingler Award committee.

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