Trigger: Domestic Violence
Iris smiled approvingly into the mirror as she applied the final touches of her makeup. The violet-blue eyeshadow would match perfectly with her sister’s sapphire earrings - the “something borrowed, something blue,” segment of her ensemble.
As she stood, surrounded and fussed upon by her attendants, she wished she had chosen her beat-up running shoes as her “something old,” instead of these new sadistic torture chambers she squished her feet into. Unfortunately for Iris, the “old” was already claimed by the forty-year-old wedding gown her mother had worn on her special day.
Iris didn’t agree to wear her mother’s gown, at first. She wanted her own dress, for her own day. It was the day she’d dreamed about her whole life, when she would be the beautiful bride, when she would be the centre of attention. She didn’t want to spend that day dressed in a decades-old hand-me-down.
She did eventually acquiesce, however. Her mother’s disappointment was too much, for Iris. She knew that she was the last chance for her mom’s wish to see her daughter in her wedding gown. Her two older sisters had already refused. Besides, she had another issue to work through with her mother - the fact that she viscerally hated Eric, Iris’s fiancé.
Iris met Eric three months prior, through an introduction from a friend. Though he had recently ended a relationship when they met, it didn’t take long for him to become smitten by the dark-haired, blue-eyed medical tech. Iris’s infatuation with the towering zoologist was near immediate.
When he proposed to her, just weeks into their relationship, she ran her fingers through his tousled curls and squealed her approval. Eric’s dimpled smile sealed the deal, along with the gold band housing the biggest diamond Iris had ever seen.
When Iris first told her family of the engagement, they were disappointed to say the least - especially her mom. Elizabeth felt that her daughter didn’t know Eric well enough to agree to marry him; after all it had only been a few weeks. She also told Iris that there was something about him she didn’t like; nothing she could put words to, just a feeling. She felt Eric was hiding something from Iris.
Iris laughed off her mother’s concerns and assured her that she knew Eric far better than Elizabeth thought.
“He’s an open book,” she insisted. “He couldn’t hide anything if he tried. He speaks through his eyes.”
The piercing look from Elizabeth was very familiar to Iris, one she had received countless times in her thirty years on earth; the glare that says, “I’m your mother and I know better.”
Iris was in no mood to continue a pointless, unwinnable argument, choosing instead to flatly inform her mother that she was marrying Eric and there was nothing she could do to stop her. She rose from her stool at the kitchen counter, and stomped out the door before Elizabeth could respond.
Elizabeth tried her best to convince Iris she was making a horrendous mistake. Iris wouldn’t listen, shutting her mother down at every turn. Elizabeth even went so far as to hire a private investigator to probe Eric’s past - she was that convinced that he was bad news for her daughter.
Iris was incensed when she found out that her mother had been investigating her fiancé. It didn’t matter to her what her mother told her; it made no difference how horrible the allegations against Eric were, she not only didn’t want to hear them, but had an answer for everything.
“I heard that he beat his ex-girlfriend, Mermaid,” Elizabeth announced.
“Firstly, her name is Meranda. Mermaid is just a nickname,” Iris responded. “Yes Mom, I know about her lies. And the truth is, she’s the one who beat Eric.”
Elizabeth couldn’t stifle her laughter at her daughter’s ridiculous allegation.
“Oh, come on! You don’t believe that” she chuckled.
Iris’s frustration was growing more evident by the second as she yelled at her mother, “Yes, I do believe it. I’ve seen pictures of the bruises on his cheeks where she hit him.”
“Maybe she was defending herself,” Elizabeth interjected. “I heard he beat her when the house wasn’t clean enough, or dinner was late, or…”
“Enough,” Iris shrieked at her mother. She had heard enough of Elizabeth’s ridiculous lies.
Iris informed her mother of her version of the relationship between her fiancé and his ex, the version that Eric had told her.
“Meranda is crazy,” Iris stated. “She would scream at Eric if he laid a beer on the coffee table without a coaster. If he left a towel on the bed, she would slap him with it. She yelled at him all the time and even embarrassed him in front of friends. She was obsessed with everything and is still obsessed with him.
“Do you know that she calls his house at least a couple of times a week, Mom?”
Iris noticed her mother’s surprised look before continuing.
“Yes, it’s true. I answered the phone one time when she called. She called me a slut, Mom. This is the woman you’re defending.”
Elizabeth wasn’t sure how to respond to her daughter. She didn’t believe anything Iris had just said about Eric’s version of events. She was sure that Iris believed it, though, and that terrified her. She pondered what to say next but lost the opportunity to speak when Iris gave her an ultimatum - either accept that she was marrying Eric with or without her approval or stay out of her life.
Four weeks later, on their wedding day, Elizabeth sat front and centre to witness her daughter recite her vows, pledging her love to a man Elizabeth didn’t trust. As sure as she was that Eric would cause Iris great pain, and as much as she didn’t want to be there, her only other option was to not show up and risk losing her daughter forever.
It was a choice Elizabeth wasn’t willing to make. She had accepted that there was nothing she could do to stop her daughter from making the biggest mistake of her life, but she also knew that she needed to be there for Iris, to help pick up the pieces that would inevitably crumble.
The first sign of trouble appeared three weeks after the wedding.
When Iris arrived home from work that day, she was stunned to find two glass tanks in the living room, each containing large snakes. She wasn’t surprised to see Eric handle a snake, as she knew it was part of his job at the university. She was astonished to find them in their home.
Eric knew that Iris was fearful of the large, slithering reptiles. He discovered that the day he took her on a tour of his workplace, and witnessed her reaction when they entered the lab. When Iris saw the room full of snakes in tanks, she panicked. Her heart raced. She lost her breath and became dizzy. By the time Eric backed her out of there and found the bench for them to sit on, she was nearly unconscious.
Her husband knew that Iris had a full-blown panic attack the last time she was near snakes, but still, he brought them home.
“Don’t worry,” Eric assured her. “They won’t be in the living room long. I’m waiting for a co-worker to come over to help me move the tanks upstairs to the spare room.”
Eric explained to his wife that he brought the snakes home for research, to monitor their behaviour over the next few weeks and catalogue the differences. He promised Iris that she wouldn’t have to see them, that they would be locked in their tanks behind the closed door of the spare bedroom.
This was not comforting news to Iris. She was terrified, and her fear was greatly aggravated by the fact that Eric was holding a large asp in his hands as he spoke and moved closer to her, only backing away when she screamed.
“Don’t worry,” he said with a condescending grin. “This one is defanged. It can’t hurt you.”
Though Iris was still frozen with fear, Eric noticed the questioning look as her eyes traveled across the room to the other snake in the vivarium.
“Yes, that one is venomous. But I really don’t want you to worry. I promise it won’t get out of the tank.”
“Jesus, Eric. I can’t believe you would take those vile creatures home. You know they terrify me,” Iris snapped. “Take them back to the university and do your damn research there. I won’t live with snakes. “
Eric, still holding the asp, rushed toward Iris and violently pushed her against the wall.
“This is my fucking house and you’re my wife,” he screamed in her face. “You’ll live with whatever I tell you to live with.”
Iris was too afraid to respond. She stood shaking, her back against the wall, as her husband walked away smiling.
Later that night, Eric awoke to discover his wife was not in the bed beside him. He got up to look for her, finding Iris sleeping on the couch in the living room.
“What are you doing down here?” he barked.
Iris felt the sting on her cheek from Eric’s slap after she responded that she didn’t want to sleep upstairs with the snakes. When he grabbed her wrist and forcefully pulled her off the sofa, she tripped over the coffee table and was dragged, on her knees, to the bottom of the stairs. Eric then kicked her to her feet and pushed her up the steps, once again reminding her that she was his wife, and ordering her to sleep in their bed.
Iris called in sick the next day, having no way to explain the red welt on her cheek and not wanting to be questioned by her co-workers. She spent the day alone, reliving the horror of the previous evening, pondering how she got herself into this situation, and how her husband could be such a monster.
Her mother was right. She knew that. Somehow, she’d always known that. She was just too stubborn to accept the possibility. At least, that’s what she was telling herself. It was easier for Iris to believe in her own obstinate mind than to accept that she got hoodwinked by a demon.
Iris panicked when she heard the key in the door. Eric was home. She realized that she had been sitting, feeling sorry for herself all day, and had got nothing done. The house was a mess. There was no dinner cooked, and she was still in her pajamas.
When the door opened, Eric’s face was obscured by a gigantic bouquet of roses. He briefly looked around the room before smiling and passing his wife the flowers. Eric kissed Iris gently on the lips, apologizing profusely for his horrible behaviour, and promising it would never happen again.
He wasn’t upset about the mess, or that dinner wasn’t cooked. His only concern was convincing his wife of his regret as he apologized over and over. Numerous times, he begged for Iris’s forgiveness and asked if she believed him when he told her it would never happen again. Iris assured Eric, as many times as he asked, that she forgave and believed him.
But she didn’t. She knew better, and three days later she was proven correct when he broke her rib.
Iris was in the kitchen when she heard Eric’s scream and the commotion from the living room. She ran into the room to find Eric on the rug, grasping his neck which was swollen and red, and a dead snake beside him.
He screamed in pain, which jolted Iris from her momentary shock, and directed her to the kitchen where he stored the antivenom in the refrigerator.
Iris grabbed the pre-measured syringe from the fridge and jabbed it into Eric’s thigh. In moments, he felt light-headed. Soon after, his throat swelled and he began wheezing. Before anaphylaxis rendered him unconscious, he noticed the smile on his wife’s face and the label on the syringe - Penicillin.
By the time the paramedics arrived, it was too late.
Iris was clearly distraught when interviewed by the police. Her statement that she panicked when she saw her husband in distress, and grabbed the wrong syringe from the refrigerator, was readily accepted by the detective. He then inquired as to why the antibiotic was kept in the same location as the antivenom if her husband was so allergic. Iris’s response that one of her husband’s snakes had a respiratory infection and that Eric put the Penicillin in there himself was also satisfactory to the officer.
The investigation was over as quickly as it started; accidental penicillin absorption being listed at the official cause of death.
One week later
Iris stretched near the deck chair outside her rented beachfront villa. Her early morning swim in the clear Caribbean waters was just the elixir she required. She had buried her husband the day before and needed this time away to clear the stress of her mind and the aches from her body.
After dabbing the remaining droplets of water from her grey, shimmering one-piece bathing suit, and tying a rainbow headband in her hair, Iris relaxed in her chair, intent on reading her book. She smiled when the familiar number appeared on her phone.
“Hello there,” Iris answered.
“Hi, sweetie” the caller replied. “I’ve landed. I’ll be there in half an hour.”
After a brief pause, she continued “are you okay?”
Iris assured her that she was fine, despite her recent trauma, and was just looking forward to getting on with her life, a life that wouldn’t include an abusive husband.
“I’m so sorry he hurt you,” the caller added.
“He only hit me a few times,” Iris replied. “He did a lot worse to you, Meranda.”
“I know. You’re right, but it still infuriates me that he hurt you too. By the way, how did you get the snake out of the cage?”
Iris informed Meranda that she used the snake hook to retrieve the asp from the vivarium and set it down on the back of the couch where Eric was passed out drunk. They both laughed when reminiscing about Iris’s time in college when she worked in the snake pavilion at the local zoo.
“You did an amazing job convincing him you were terrified of snakes,” Meranda giggled.
“Yeah, I got him hook, line, and sinker,” Iris laughed in return.
Meranda let out a soft sigh, and Iris noticed the melancholy in her voice when she added “I can’t believe you let yourself be abused by him. And you did it all for me.”
“I’d do anything for you, Mermaid,” Iris cooed. “I love you.”
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