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White Picket Fence

Angela never thought her life would end this way. Nice, dull people like Angela don’t usually draw their last breath in the midst of violence being inflicted upon them. People like Angela don’t usually exit this world by being brutally murdered.

Angela’s life was predictable up until the last few months of it. Angela married her high school sweetheart at nineteen and they started a family pretty much straight away. It was all Angela had ever wanted, and the ‘white picket’ lifestyle had come easily to her. Her husband was handsome, funny, affectionate. He worked for an Insurance company and made a reasonably good wage, which meant Angela could stay home with the children, giving them the kind of upbringing that she never had.

Angela didn’t see her friends a lot, as they were single and provocative – they loved hitting the clubs, sleeping with strange men, and they let her know that they thought her life was terminally dull. She didn’t mind though; she was happy to stay home, thriving in the comfort and tranquillity of having a family, a home, and plenty of love to give. She had no desire to be like her mother, who married four times and loved to travel the world, leaving Angela and her sister with nannies most of the time.

Angela’s life started to warp once all the kids were at school. She would rise early to walk them to school, come home, do all the housework, and have nothing left to do by eleven. She would often be at a loose end, at least until the soapies got going at around twelve-thirty. Oh, sometimes there’d be a costume to sew or some muffins to bake, but she missed having the kids with her. They would make playdough and paper dolls and finger puppets together, but now the days seemed painfully long and dull.

Angela was a little lost, not knowing what to do with herself after she’d finished the vacuuming one morning, and actually found herself reading a day-old newspaper. She usually left the Sunday paper for her husband to read, as she preferred to knit or work on her cross-stitch on Sunday afternoons. He would usually throw the paper out after he’d finished with it, but for some reason, it lay open, rustled and uneven.

That was odd; Angela’s husband was usually so neat and orderly, same as her. It looked as though he’d cut a small article out from page eight as well. She wondered on that for a moment and then put it out of her mind, turning the pages, sighing with the realisation that there were another five hours to go before the children would return home.

She reached the classifieds and noticed that there was a craft market on this coming weekend – perhaps they’d all go along as a family. There was a speaker at the town hall tonight, the topic: ‘Juggling career and family – without dropping your balls.’
Angela was glad she didn’t have to juggle both family and career, but she couldn’t help wondering if she needed a… One ad seemed to jump out at her before she could finish her thought.

‘Writing Group – Tuesday mornings at the Community Centre. Have a cuppa with us and hone your creative writing skills. Call Agnes on 4336 1231.’

Everything about the notice appealed to Angela. See, she used to hole herself up in her bedroom and write until her hands ached, up until she met her now-husband at the age of sixteen.

The word ‘cuppa’ appealed too. Angela did miss people.

The name ‘Agnes’ struck a chord with her. The old-fashioned name told her that the group wouldn’t be too young and radical, that someone like Agnes would be sweet and she wouldn’t laugh at Angela. Old people liked Angela because she wasn’t constantly cursing and showing cleavage like other women her age. Perhaps she could enquire? Maybe she was just bored and this was a hare-brained scheme.

The next morning she found herself at the Writing Group, smiling with knotted nerves. Agnes was even more of a darling than she had imagined. There was also Mavis, who was Agnes’ vintage, an unusual looking man who Angela guessed to be about thirty-five, and a young girl whose eyes she never saw, as she always had her dark fringe hanging in her face.

Angela’s husband had told her Monday night that it was a great idea, he said she needed to get out of the house occasionally, that this would be good for her. She was scared, but his encouragement gave her the strength to go along on her own. He was a good husband.
‘It’s a nice interest for you,’ he smiled sweetly before turning out his bedside lamp. ‘You need a hobby.’

Something was awoken in Angela after that first Writing Group – it seemed her love of writing had never ceased. The words seemed to flow like never before, her scrawl covering the pages, making their mark and renewing a sense of passion within her. It was different to when she’d been a teenager. Maybe because she had all the time in the world back then to do what she wanted, but now she was a wife and mother… it was as if she was afraid to put the pen down, in case this renewed verve would be snatched from her again.

Snatched.

She shouldn’t say snatched – she willingly gave writing away to spend more time with the man that was now her husband.

It made her feel panicky and overwhelmed when the people in the group seemed to genuinely like her writing. She had never dared show her writing to anyone before, apart from teachers at school, convincing herself it was terrible drivel.

One Tuesday morning, the Writing Group was told about a short story competition that was being held state-wide. The keen writers were encouraged to submit their best work, and attend a dinner to be held the following month, where the winner would be presented with an award.

Angela wasn’t sure about going to any dinner, but Agnes urged her to put her short story in, and she didn’t see how it could hurt. It’s not like she was going to win, it’s not like she was going to have to stand in front of people and accept an award. So why not?

Angela submitted the story with a slight sense of trepidation. She felt silly about that.

She took a copy home to show hubby, to tell him about the competition.
‘I’m sure it’s a good story, but you know I’m not much of a reader, darling. Other than the Sunday paper, I just don’t read.’
‘That’s okay, love,’ Angela smiled and kissed him.

Two weeks later she was told that she had won the competition.
‘There were five-and-a-half thousand entrants and you won! Congratulations Angela!’ said the voice on the other end of the line.
She was at once ecstatic and disappointed. This was making her feel light-headed, proud, fearful and reborn all at once. But she couldn’t attend the dinner. She didn’t like social situations.

Angela told her husband the news.

‘Oh, how nice! That’s good for you, dear. So your writing group and another one competed did they?’
‘It was a state-wide competition. Five-and-a half thousand entrants.’
‘Oh. Well. When’s dinner going to be ready?’

Things evolved from there. Angela’s fellow writing enthusiasts encouraged her to expand the short story into a novel. Angela wrote it in secret, fervently filling out the paragraphs, the pages, the chapters until a complete manuscript sat before her. She felt a guilty sense of accomplishment as she drank the moment in.

Time seemed to speed by and she was advised that one of the publishers wanted her novel. They gushed on about it over the phone and she panicked. What would her husband think of the racy passages in the book? Would he think that she had secret yearnings that she hadn’t told him about?

The only thing that relaxed her was reminding herself that he didn’t read anyway.

Angela had an amazing day at her first book signing. She felt alive, it was surreal – everything had happened so fast. She hadn’t wished for fame, but knowing that her book had touched so many lives made her feel as though perhaps her life was worth something. Of course, being a mother was first and foremost in Angela’s life, but it certainly lifted her self-esteem to know that she was a decent writer also.

She descended from a high to a deflating low when she reached home at the end of that day. She’d been expecting a bit of grief, but not like this.

‘I thought you wanted to be a good mother and wife. I thought you wanted a good life, to not be a harlot like your mother!’ he snapped at her.
‘The children are crying; they miss their mother,’ he added, softening.
‘This is the first time I’ve ever taken time out for myself-’
‘You’re just like the rest of them – a whore,’ he said calmly as he finished his wine.

He never drank.

Angela felt eerily out of her depth, unsteady on her feet, as if she’d consumed the wine. She wished she’d never picked up a pen again yet still she reeled from the pride of following what she had thought was a pipe dream.

‘Fuck you!’ Angela screamed, feeling her mother’s blood running through her veins, feeling her life as she knew it draining from her. For the first time, Angela understood her Mum.

The husband chased after her and grabbed her tightly around the wrist. Angela looked up at him to see the hatred in his eyes, something she never thought he’d feel for her. She’d so loved those eyes back when she was a sixteen-year-old girl full of idealistic dreams.

‘Now, thanks to you, our children are going to be orphans!’ he spat, the hatred still burning in his green eyes.
‘All I did was go to the city for the day, and you’re saying this? Are you insane!’ Angela whispered loudly, not wanting the kids to hear them.
‘I must be, because I lived my life for this family!’ he bellowed. ‘I did everything for you because it’s what you wanted! But now you throw it in my face and I’m going to gaol because of you, you ungrateful slut!’

Angela knew he’d been embezzling thousands from the insurance company he worked for and that he’d been found out. In the article he’d snipped from the paper, it quoted him as saying ‘I did it for my family. So that my wife wouldn’t have to work – she likes being a stay-at-home Mum – we both believe it’s better for the children. I regret what I did, but I did it for my family’.

Last she’d read in the paper, they were going to be easy on her husband because he was a family man, because he was so remorseful. But now… now he’d decided to mention to her that he was going to gaol! He’d hidden everything from her until now, being naïve enough to think she wouldn’t find out, that people in the street wouldn’t look at her as if she were evil. No, he’d never mentioned this little predicament to her before, but now he was blaming it all on her. Like she’d forced him to steal for her!

‘This is a nightmare, of course,’ Angela said soothingly. ‘But the children will not be orphans. You will serve your time and I will love them and care for them as I always have. They were so happy for me with the book signing today. We can get through this. I don’t care if today is the last of anything to do with my writing. It was just great while it lasted, but now there are bigger fish to fry. I promise I won’t let you down,’ Angela told this man, this stranger.

‘No, no, their lives are ruined because of you – because I did what I did for you, and because you chose fame over your family. You won’t be around to care for them because you have to go,’ the husband said just as calmly, being careful not to look into her eyes.

He revealed the large kitchen knife and proceeded stabbing Angela in the chest. Now she screams in agony, the thought of her children’s lives being desecrated at the fore of her mind.

She sends out a prayer for them as the blood spurts from her broken body, as her husband takes her life away from her, as he takes any semblance of a normal life away from their children.

Angela never thought her life would end this way. From where she sits, dying, she can see the outline of their white picket fence in the darkness.

White Picket Fence

Michelle Rogers

Joined April 2007

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