Fred rummaged in the drawer. His hands parting the balled-up socks. White ones. Brown ones. Grey ones.
"Hey, Betty!" he called through the open en-suite door to his wife. She was studiously applying make-up, trying desperately to cover the blemishes and redness of cheeks acquired by last night's argument, in preparation for yet another company dinner.
God, how she hated those dinners. Fred and his partners entertaining yet another bloated potential client. But, Betty, he'd say, Mr Goodfellow is President of United Thing-a-ma-jigs; we need his account. To Betty it was yet another boring evening talking boring small-talk with boring people who she'd never met and would never meet again. But, Betty, he'd say, we've got a mortgage, we've got two kids at college, I've got a business to run. If you want me to keep bringing home the bacon, we have to keep doing this.
So, she'd kept doing it. Just like her Mother had done for her father. She kept supporting Fred and his business. She worried about his ulcer. She worried about his recent heart attack. She worried about his increasing violence towards her. What had she done wrong? She kept the house. She kept her sanity, even though at times she just wanted to scream.
And sometimes, in the quiet of the night, or in the tantrums of his mornings, she'd talk to her long dead mother and say, Yes, Mum, you were right, he is just like Dad... and yes, Mum, I shouldn't have married him.
"Hey, Betty," he called. "Where'd you put my black socks?"
"They're in your drawer, darling," she replied.
"Oh," he said, and somehow the black socks magically appeared right there in the drawer amongst the others. "Oh, it's alright, dear. I've found them. Now, where's my blue stripped tie?"
"In the wardrobe... in your tie-rack, dear," she called back sweetly. "Where it always is."
"Oh, yes. Yes, I've found it."
Betty came through into the bedroom. She smiled awkwardly at Fred. Yes, he was a handsome man. Fifty years old, a little overweight, greying nicely at the temples, successful, and a bastard. No, she mentally corrected herself, he was a child. A cranky little toddler that sometimes needed a good spanking, except who did the spanking? Damn he could be irritating! No! She was right the first time, he was a bastard. Oh, Mum, is this what you went through with Dad?
"Dammit, woman! Where the hell is it? Have you got my wallet?"
"Yes, dear." she said. "You asked me to put in my handbag."
"Oh, right. Right. Good. Where are my car-keys? They're not here on the dresser. What have you done with them? Jesus, I wish you'd leave my bloody things alone!"
"They're in your jacket pocket, darling. You put them there earlier, remember?"
"Yeah. Right. Okay then. Christ, aren't you bloody ready yet?"
"Yes, darling, all ready."
"Right. Now where are those business papers I need." Fred frantically shifted the pile of papers on the dresser. "God, Betty, they're not here. Bloody hell! What have you done with them?"
Oh, Fred, she thought, you're as bad as my father. Oh, Fred I married you to get away from my father, I thought you were rescuing me from him, now you've grown to be him! Oh, Mum, you were right. You saw it in Fred, didn't you? Sure, I knew he was from the wrong side of town, but look how successful he has become. Oh, I know he treats me badly, but when we're out together he's always so polite and charming. But the way he talks to me! Mum, help me, I'm so confused.
"I haven't touched them, Fred, darling. Are you sure they're not there?"
"I've looked. See, they're not here. You've moved them, haven't you? God, you stupid woman, you haven't thrown them out, have you?"
"No, Fred," she replied evenly. "I haven't thrown them out. Let me look."
"I've looked, Betty. They're not here. Where the hell are they?"
Betty moved to his side, thinking How could you stand it, Mum? "Now, Fred, don't get excited. Remember your heart. Now, look, see? Are these the papers?"
"Oh, yes. Good. You've found them."
"Yes, Fred. There! On top of the pile."
"Oh, right. Now, where'd you bloody put my briefcase?"
"It's by the end of the bed... where you put it, dear."
Fred bent down to pick up the case. Suddenly he gasped, and clutching his chest, fell to the floor, where through clenched teeth and with a raspy voice he called to Betty, "Oh, God! The pain. My heart. Quick, what did you do with my pills?"
Betty smiled down at him as she sweetly replied, "I threw them out... darling."