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Truth Can Hurt

by Francis Mont

John Masters, drumming his fingers on the windowpane, looked outside at the empty driveway. She should be at home by now. The charity bazaar meeting wouldn’t last this long. Was she with Conway again?

At last, he heard the crunch of tires on the gravel and saw Anna’s red Mercedes pull up to the garage door.

“Finally!” he sighed with relief, but he could not suppress his anger over the way she made him suffer.

“What took you so long?” he demanded, as she came through the door.

Anna flinched at his tone. “We had a particularly boisterous meeting; that’s what took me so long.” she explained in a resigned voice. “We were discussing...”

“Was Conway there?” Masters interrupted.

“Michael is always there. He is the president. You know that.”

“If only I could forget.” John rolled his eyes. “You spend too much time with him!”

“John, I am tired. Can we have dinner now?”

John grunted. “I already ate.”

“It’s only seven-thirty, you could have waited.” Anna sighed and walked into the kitchen to find something to heat up.

John went back to the window.

“So, how was your day at the bank?” Anna asked after she had finished with the dishes.

“Wall to wall meetings, as usual,” John replied, reluctant to go into details of his business ups and downs. Anna couldn’t care less about his world. “Let’s watch some TV,” he suggested.

“Good idea, there is a ballet program I have been waiting for all week.” Anna cheered up at the prospect but immediately deflated again. “I had better watch it in my study.”

“Would it kill you if you watched a game with me? Just once?” He walked over to the TV set and turned it on.

“I wouldn’t enjoy it, as you well know.” She looked at him sadly and left the room.

John couldn’t concentrate on the game this time.

What’s wrong with us? he asked himself. Haven’t I given her everything? She has clothes, jewellery, her own car, she doesn’t have to work, what else could she want?

He took another sip of the Scotch he was in the habit of drinking, by himself, watching television, alone.

Doesn’t she know I am crazy about her, in spite of all the nutsy things she carries around in her head? All the liberal nonsense, all her charity work? I even tolerate her tree-hugging friends, for crying out loud! All I ask of her is to treat me the way I should be treated: in the social scenes I have to attend, at the parties I give, in the bedroom!

He emptied his whisky glass, letting the yellow liquid burn down his throat, spreading the sudden heat all through his body. He refilled the glass and took a smaller sip to make it last. The bottle was almost empty.

She has such a fantastic body, I think I’m addicted to it and I can never have enough. If only I knew I’m the only one with access to those gorgeous curves, I wouldn’t suffer these pangs of jealousy, but how can I be sure? She attracts men and she loves the attention. And there is Conway, the jerk, and I know he wants her. Does she?

Anna was equally distracted in her study, trying to watch Swan Lake. For the hundredth time, she thought:

I can’t help it. I am really trying to be the wife he wants, but it is such hard work! Would it kill me if I watched the stupid game with him? After five years I have to admit, we have nothing in common, if we ever did! Why did I marry him?

The ballerinas twirled and leaped across the stage, the music swelled and flowed through her mind, as she tried to find elusive answers.

Now I am paying the price with boredom every time we are together. And then, there is Mike. I admit, I am attracted to him, but it goes no further. I don’t want to think about him. The way John spies on me all the time, not even my thoughts feel safe.

When the TV programs ended, there was no way to delay the inevitable. She walked into their bedroom and started getting ready for the night. She knew what was coming, their daily routine: passionate sex on his part, passive acceptance on hers.

Will it ever change? Will I be in love again with a man I admire and who loves me for who I am? Oh, Mike!

Upon her last guilty thought, she was finally too exhausted to resist sleep and the dreams usually accompanying her into a less than restful oblivion.

* * *

John Masters put down his briefcase and buzzed for coffee: plain Columbian with cream and sugar, not one of the frothy foreign things. His in-basket was full again, though he’d cleared it last night. Can’t anyone down the food-chain make a decision?

His secretary entered with a mug of steaming coffee. “How are you, boss?” she chirped in the high, irritating voice that Masters had come to expect from young people these days.

“Thanks, Michelle, I’m fine.” He tried to filter annoyance out of his voice “Fill me in on today’s schedule, make sure I’m ready for the onslaught of unsolved problems.” He couldn’t keep his sarcasm down.

He had a hard time concentrating on Michelle’s voice, his mind kept wandering back to Anna. What is she doing this morning, and who with? She was so absent last night, was she in Conway’s arms while we made love?! He couldn’t sit still at his desk, started pacing, up and down the short stretch between his chair and the window.

John Masters was a middle-aged man, with a little gray showing on his temples and a fit body. Women found him attractive and he had had his share of temptation over the years.

Maybe I should respond to some of those women. Maybe it would make Anna jealous too! It would serve her right to feel what I do almost all the time! Damn, why can’t I be free of her intoxicating presence, why can’t I have fun like most of the guys in the club seem to?

With a big sigh he finally sat down at his desk and focused on his job, banning the unhappy thoughts from his mind.

* * *

At about the same time, Anna was trying to decide what to wear for the outdoor picnic organized by her group. She wanted to be both stylish and outdoorsy. Finally, she settled on a simple summer dress, long enough to let her sit on the ground with due modesty. Mike will be there, shouldn’t I wear something a bit more sexy? She got angry at her fleeting thought.

Control yourself, stupid girl, you have never been a tease. If you don’t have the courage to make a break for it, put up with your gilded cage and stop dreaming of romance!

Her family had never understood why she married John. She couldn’t explain it either, but suspected his newness and his difference attracted her. He seemed so strong, so confident, compared to her group of friends who were always fighting for one cause or another, despairing over the state of the world.

John was like a breath of fresh air. Always optimistic, projecting hope for the future. In this age of doom and gloom, she needed that hope. When John asked her to marry him, she had been recently out of college, trying to decide what to do with her life. She thought with John’s financial security she could have the leisure to experiment until she knew what she really wanted.

Now I know better and it may be too late. I am too used to the comfort John can provide. What would I do out there, with a Fine Arts degree and no work experience? Even if I let myself fall in love with Mike, he is not any better off. He barely makes a living as an elementary school teacher.

She shook her head as if to dislodge some troubling insects and changed her dress — too flattering to her slender figure and nicely shaped legs — to practical slacks and a loose comfortable shirt tucked into her waistband.

* * *

Masters was growing desperate. He could not go on like this. The doubts about Anna’s fidelity were poisoning his mind with unbearable images of Anna in another man’s arms. He could live with her passive acceptance, but he could not tolerate her giving her passion to another man. He had to know; he had to know for certain.

I have to find a way to know the truth. I tried spying on her and never discovered anything. I listened in on her phone calls, checked her email, followed her a few times. Either there is nothing to find or she is very discrete.

The thought he had been harbouring in the back of his mind for months now, surfaced once more. A chemistry professor with whom he regularly played golf at the club kept boring his pants off with prattle about his research into a new drug aimed at helping and maybe curing CLD: “compulsive lying disorder.”

The drug, according to Dr. Arthur Spencer could be administered from a spray can. It was harmless, undetectable and, once the subject inhaled it, did its biochemical trick of lowering the affected person’s resistance to questions and compelled them to tell the truth.

Dr. Spencer wanted to test it, to make sure it was effective enough to justify applying for a full clinical trial. Last time they met, he’d asked Masters whether he knew anyone who might volunteer for a modest reward.

After he spent an agonizing morning still unable to focus on his work, John picked up the phone and dialled Dr. Spencer’s number. “Arthur, I found a volunteer for you,” he announced.

“Oh, great,” Spencer enthused, “who is he?”

“I can’t tell you over the phone because he works here, and I have to be discreet. Can I see you in your lab?”

“OK, bring him around before seven and we can proceed.”

“See you around six-thirty” John said and rang off.

* * *

Masters wiped his forehead before entering and forced himself to breath normally.

“So, who is your volunteer?” Arthur asked after shaking hands. “Where is he?”

“He is not here right now.” John apologized. “I wanted to talk to you first to make sure that your drug really works and is ready to use.”

“See for yourself,” his friend said, pointing proudly to a number of small aerosol cans on his shelf. “They are loaded and ready to go. All I need is someone to try it on.”

“Arthur, I need you to do me a favour. My job may depend on finding out the truth about an employee’s involvement with a price-fixing investigation. He is trying to blame me for it and it could get me fired. If I could make him confess...”

“You don’t mean what I think you mean!” Dr Spencer jumped up and stepped back in alarm. “You know fully well how illegal it would be to experiment on someone without his written consent!”

“I only want to scare the bastard by showing him the can and threaten to use it on him unless he comes clean. Could I borrow one for a day?”

“Sorry, John, I can’t let you do that.” Dr. Spencer’s voice was final.

John knew he had only one chance and he was desperate to risk it.

Pretending to collect his briefcase, ready to leave, he brushed by Spencer’s desk, knocking down a stack of papers and scattering them all over the floor. While Arthur bent down to retrieve them, he quickly reached over to the shelf and pocketed one of the cans.

* * *

The next day, Masters took the aerosol can to work. He had a meeting scheduled with his suspect. When asked about his involvement, the man denied and stonewalled like a pro, but when Masters, pretending to clean his monitor screen, spritzed some of the gas in the air, everything changed.

Within one minute, the subject started freely admitting everything, giving the names of his accomplices, reciting dates and numbers... all without showing any awareness of his own unusual candor. Actually, he became overly friendly, recommending some homemade remedy to help Masters with his plugged-up nose.

It was all the proof Masters needed. He suspended the interview and made another appointment. Let the bastard stew! Then, nonchalantly as he could bear, he left the office early. He rushed home to try the serum on his wife.

* * *

Anna Masters sat in her living room, staring out the window. The autumn leaves swirled around on the sidewalk, as her unhappy thoughts did in her mind.

She knew her marriage was a tragic failure. The only meaningful part of her life now was her community work. Without John’s financial support, she would have to abandon the vulnerable adolescents who relied on the program she and Michael and a dozen dedicated volunteers had worked so hard to build.

She knew John was blind with jealousy; he hardly bothered to conceal his spying. The interrogations to which he subjected Anna had become ever more urgent, more menacing, more humiliating. She bore them with ever less fortitude.

She was too nervous to sit idly and started cleaning the shelves in the living room. They did not need it, but the rhythmic movement of the dust cloth calmed her nerves. She needed to talk to John to resolve their unhappy situation, somehow come to an understanding and part ways in a peaceful, civilized way. When John arrived, she greeted him more warmly than usual.

During their routine “how was your day” chit-chat, John took the aerosol from his pocket and, while Anna was busy with his Scotch and mixing her own drink, he let out a good long blast of the truth gas. He asked the usual questions about her activities, where she’s gone, who she met, and

“So, you really like this Conway clown, do you?”

“Yes,” she answered softly, “very much. And he’s not a clown.”

“Ever sleep with him?”

“Of course not!” she retorted hotly, more forcefully than he’d ever heard her speak. “I’ve never slept with anyone but you... never...” She broke off in a sob.

Masters was so relieved, so happy, so light, all of a sudden! Those words were really all he’d ever wanted to hear. Anna was truly his! As he swooped her up in joyful arms, she asked, perplexed, “What is this all about?

And he told her of his jealous fantasies, the chemistry professor, the crooked VP, the truth serum, the aerosol can, the whole story, without the slightest inhibition.

As the effects of the gas began to wear off, he wondered why Anna was standing all this time, perfectly still, with a stunned expression on her face turning gradually to anger. That was the moment he realized, overcome with impatience, he had forgotten to insert his nose filters.

“Where is it?” she demanded.

Still under the influence, he produced the canister. She took it from his unresisting hand and stormed out of his house.

* * *

When she returned, two days later, she felt the confidence that had eluded her for most of her marriage. The last humiliation, being experimented on like a lab rat, helped her firm up the decision she had been leaning toward even before the “trial.”

She found John sitting on the couch, staring in the air vacantly, like someone who had played his last card and lost.

“John, here is the deal.” She started her prepared speech, her strong and confident voice jolting him out of his stupor.

“We will get a divorce. I will move out and take my personal things and some furniture and start looking for work. You will give me an allowance you can afford and I can live on until I find a suitable job. I don’t want to be your dependent forever. If you agree, we can part as friends.”

She had arrived at the hard part of her speech, knowing it would hurt John deeply, but she had to do it.

“If not, I have the spray can as evidence and Dr. Spencer’s description of how you tricked him and performed illegal experiments on me. I contacted him to find out the truth. He was outraged at your stealing his property and is willing to testify on my behalf if needs be. I don’t think you can count him among your friends any more.”

John knew when he didn’t have a chance. He stood, looked at Anna’s lovely figure, for a long moment, as if trying to etch this last image onto his brain, and then silently walked out of the room.

Copyright © 2016 by Francis Mont

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