I thought I would share a short story today. This was originally published in the anthology NOTHING BUT RED. The anthology came about after the brutal ‘mercy’ killing of Du’a Khalil Aswad. Joss Whedon wrote an essay on the incident on May 20th, 2007. Later, Nothing But Red was created. It contained the essay from Joss Whedon which can be read HERE.
From the NOTHING BUT RED website:
In April 2007, seventeen-year-old Dua Khalil was pulled into a crowd of young men—some of them family members. They proceeded to stone and beat her to death, a supposed “honour” killing for being in the company of a man of a different faith.
The police stood by and did nothing, and several members of the crowd filmed the incident with camera phones. You can find the video on both CNN’s website and YouTube (We have not linked to the video. A simple search will find it for you.).
One month later, popular writer and filmmaker, Joss Whedon, posted his complete despair and outrage on a fan-run news blog, Whedonesque.com. Among his words was a call to action. This is how some of us responded.
Here is the story I wrote for the anthology. It was published in 2008.
Isobel Swallows a Warrior
By: Kevin Craig
Isobel has reached her breaking point. She watches the wipers’ valiant attempts at clearing the rain from the windshield as she wills herself somewhere outside the Denali in which she is trapped. It is futile. There is nowhere she can go to escape the voice of oppression sitting beside her.
“You never listen, Isobel,” Cal repeats. “This has been planned for months. Just because you don’t want to participate in the social events of my life, doesn’t mean you’re excused from them. You’re my wife. You will accompany me. It’s the way it will always be.”
Isobel attempts to hear Cal’s voice as only noise. She has become adept at tuning out the gist of his words; at hearing only his baritone drone. This ability saves her from the sting of many insults.
As the wipers continue to fight the deluge, she listens to the near-whisper of Dusty Springfield singing Son of a Preacher Man (“A radio is supposed to be background noise. The volume doesn’t need to be above three. Anything higher is excess.” One of the first Cal tenants; handed down some twenty years earlier. She has been straining to hear ever since.). Her finger itches to crank the volume; an action that would be met with dire consequences.
“Are you even listening, or are you proving my point?” In her head, Dusty is drowning him out.
“Isobel? Earth to Isobel.” The jab to the shoulder brings her back. “You’re going to act like a normal human being tonight. I work with these people. The least you can do is show them a little respect, for Christ’s sake.”
She rubs her shoulder and ponders Dusty’s words. Cal is the only boy who could ever teach her. There was a time–way back when–when she thought he was a sweet-talker, too. It seems she shares something with Dusty. She wonders if Dusty would allow herself to become a doormat to her preacher man’s son.
“Promise me that.”
“Yes,” she mumbles. “I always do. Your fetes are so incredibly stimulating—”
“Don’t get lippy, Issy. You’re going to ruin this for me before it even—”
“I’ll be your puppet, Sir Cal. Don’t worry.” Something in the hopeless way the windshield wipers struggle against the rain empowers her. She smiles, proud of her flippancy.
“Phhh. Some puppet you make. You’re as useless as feathers on a trout. I’d be able to control a puppet better.” Cal reaches for a cigarette and works at getting it lit. Isobel cracks her window against the smoke. “What the Christ are you doing? Can’t you see it’s pissing out?”
“You know I can’t handle the smoke,” she says.
“You know I can’t handle the smoke,” Cal mimics in his mousy Isobel voice. “You’ll soak the seats.” Isobel reluctantly shuts the window.
Isobel shuts down and allows Cal to concentrate on his cigarette. She knows he is thinking about tonight’s Big Cal on Campus event; how wonderful he will be. She thinks idly about her children.
At first, she did the Cal experience for Cal’s sake. He was a sweet-talker. He seemed like someone she could love forever. As the tides began to turn—as the ugliness began to show through his rigid façade—she had found herself with child. First came Hennessey, and then Ben. With each rise in her belly, she felt a swell in her sense of hopelessness. With each child, Cal’s particular brand of Calness grew uglier.
But the kids are grown, a new voice in her head announces. What am I staying for now? She seems to search the rain for an answer. “We’re almost there.”
“Give the woman a medal,” Cal says. “Does MENSA know about you?”
“I was just thinking aloud.”
“Try not to make any mental breakthroughs like that tonight. They already think you’re weird. Don’t start talking to yourself.”
“I was making an observation.”
“And a fine observation it was,” he laughs. “Fine as rain.”
Isobel watches the wipers cut their rhythmic path across the windshield. She knows there is an answer to her problems right in front of her—she just can’t touch it.
If he lets me out at the door, I’ll stay. If he makes me walk in the rain, I’ll leave.
Isobel almost jumps from her seat as this thought occurs. She sneaks a peek across the void between herself and Cal, afraid that he has heard the ultimatum. He is finishing his cigarette, staring blindly into the road and savouring his superiority.
She wants to jump out of her skin. She feels as though a warrior has taken possession of her body and she tries desperately not to blink away this belief. She is afraid the spell will be broken, and with it her resolve.
Cal moves into a turning lane. They are at the Sienna Suites, the pretentious banquet hall where the pretentious soiree is being held. Isobel feels her heart in her throat. She is afraid he might not be able to resist the bright lights and showiness of the valet parking.
As they enter the parking lot she crosses her fingers, hopes for a miracle. As soon as the thought had entered her head, she knew she had wanted it more than life itself. Now she allows her future to rest on Cal’s next move.
“Like I’d let one of those punk-ass kids drive this truck!” Cal says to himself. Isobel waits for him to suggest she jump out.
If he drops me off, I stay with him. Her heart races and monarchs scratch the insides of her belly. They inch past the doors, past the smartly dressed, pimply teen-aged valets—past the security of knowing where Isobel will sleep at night.
In typical Cal fashion, he heads for the back of the lot. Isobel hears the tired parking-refrain mixing with her swirling thoughts of escape—Nobody’s denting these doors. This is a Denali, for Christ’s sake!
Cal pulls sideways into two spots, grabs a Toronto Star from behind his seat, unfolds it over his head and opens his door. He is running toward the banquet hall before Isobel’s door is opened.
She leaves the truck slowly, allowing the rain to soak her new Alfred Sung dress. Cal stops halfway, waves one arm impatiently while holding the paper above his head with the other. Isobel’s own arms begin to rise at her sides. She feels them lengthening—becoming wings. She looks into the night sky, allows the water to further soak her upturned face. She is unconcerned with running mascara and wilted hair.
She makes her way to the entrance and sees Cal waiting inside. His face is red with anger as he glimpses the damage that the rain has caused her. She smiles and waves. She splashes through a final puddle before allowing a tall dark doorman to open the door for her.
“What the hell took you so long? Christ, Issy. Now is not the time to get lost in that Dreamland head of yours. You’re soaked!”
She comes back down to earth just long enough to placate him with a few light words. “I’m in heels, Cal. It’s okay. I’ll just run to the washroom and freshen up. Wait here. I’ll be right out.”
“I’ll see you at the table. I’m not your Goddamn servant,” he snarls. “Wait here,” he says in his finest mousy Isobel voice. “That’s rich, Isobel.” He storms off, handing the doorman his dripping Toronto Star.
Isobel makes a show of walking towards the washrooms, in case he glances back. Her full-circle back to the door is almost a dance. She thinks of Hennessey and Ben—of how they will react to her spontaneous decision to flee. For a split second she thinks she will step back into her life. The resolve takes hold. The warrior in her belly propels her to the doorman.
“Can I help you, Miss?”
“Can you please call me a cab?” It is not Isobel’s voice that comes out of her tiny body. It is the voice of her swallowed warrior. She is leaving.
“They’re just outside. Follow me.” He cracks an umbrella and ushers her into the new and unknown. She puts one foot in front of the other, attempting to look like the sane, rational woman she is leaving behind.
An orange door is opened. She hears the thank you escape her lips. Her wet frame drops into the seat of the cab and she thinks she is smiling as the door closes.
Isobel stares forward, not knowing her next move. I’m leaving Cal. She turns to look at the back of the driver’s head. I’m on my way out of my life. I’m leaving Cal.
“Looks like you got a drenching,” the cabby says, pulling her back into the world. There is music playing softly, almost inaudibly.
“Just a little rain,” says the new voice that Isobel is trying on for size. “Could you please turn the music up? Music should be heard.”
“Certainly. And where are we going tonight?”
She looks to the ceiling and then closes her eyes. “Anywhere but here, driver. Just drive.”