"That ain't no kind of life."
“He ignored you then? That what happened?” Alva had waited a courteous amount of time before asking.
“I guess you could say so. But it was much deeper than that,” Kitty seemed suddenly to want to open up to Alva. What started as simple idle conversation on a long bus ride had tapped into a deep well in Kitty. From that well, a bucket of feelings began to emerge into the light.
“I was given to him by my mother because my father had left us and there was no money. He came along – my husband – wanting a wife. He had money and my mother took it and gave me over to him. He wanted someone young. Inexperienced. He had been looking for a shy girl. I was shy. I was afraid of everything. Ever since my father left us I had been timid. I don’t think I was always that way. I must have been a happy child at some point. But there were six children and my mother couldn’t take care of us. She was worn down. Three of my siblings ended up in foster care. I don’t know where they are. One died. She got pneumonia and my mother couldn’t get her to the hospital. The last one – the baby – I don’t know what happened to her. Maybe a relative took her. All I remember is their names. At least I think I remember them all …”
“Then you lonely, is all. Lonely for your rightful family,” Alva mused. “You ever try to find ’em?”
“No. My husband moved me far away and cut me off from everyone I knew.”
“That don’t make no sense. What kind of a man was he anyway? Preacher?” Her voice had a suspicious edge.
“He was an accountant. For large companies. He did forensic audits.”
“What’s that? You mean like a detective?”
“Sort of,” Kitty watched out the window. They were coming to the Baltimore tunnel and had stopped at the toll booth at the far end of the plaza. As the bus driver geared up to start again, the bus roared and Kitty listened to the sound, so foreign to anything in her circumscribed life. She had a feeling of power, small to be sure, and a tingle of excitement that she was on the move.
“District attorneys from all over the country hired him to look into the accounting practices of companies that were under investigation. Sometimes the companies hired him when they were going to buy another company. And then there were broker firms that bring companies together – they would hire him to look at the companies being sold, to prove that what their own financial statements said were true.”
“Oh, that’s giving me a headache, girl. You mean he sat around all day looking at numbers on sheets of paper trying to find out someone was cheating some way so he could point the finger at ’em and get the government after them?”
“Basically,” Kitty laughed. “I never thought of it that way. But yes, I guess that’s what he did.”
“That’s cold … real cold. He do all this from home? He watch you all the time, too?”
“No, he traveled a lot of the time. He was only home on weekends and sometimes he was gone for a whole month or more. He had to go where the books were kept. You know, the books of account. Sometimes they were in different places. It depended on the size of the company and how many offices they had and where they kept accounts. Most people think all that stuff is on computers now, but there’s still a lot of paper, especially when someone’s trying to hide something.”
Kitty realized she was talking about her husband in the past tense as if he had died. The bus entered the tunnel. The light shifted from sharp daylight to a greenish haze. The air smelled of exhaust fumes and old tires, even inside the bus. She was finding it hard to breathe.
“You all right?” Alva asked, leaning toward Kitty, fanning her face with a magazine.
“I think so. It’s so close in here.”
“It’s the tunnel. It’ll be through in a minute. See there ain’t much traffic. You got the claustrophobee?”
“You know – the fear of tight places? My late husband, he had that. Couldn’t take him in no elevator, no way. That man was a pack of fears and phobees.” Alva stopped fanning Kitty and fanned herself a few times. “I believe I’m having one of them flashes they talk about. Maybe that’s what you got. The change coming on.”
Kitty shook her head. “I hope not. I just turned thirty-five.”
“So where’s he at now?”
“Well, yes. He left you alone so much and that why you’re going to the nuns?”
“No. That’s not why.”
“He took care of you and he paid for everything, right?”
“Sort of. He paid for everything and he controlled everything.” Kitty didn’t think anyone else could understand what it was like, living within the structure that he had created. How could she hope to make anyone else understand?
“Okay, it was like this,” Kitty began. Alva sat back and put the magazine in her purse.
“After he took me away, my life belonged to him. I was so young I didn’t know any better. He was more like a father than a husband. He told me what to do and how to do it. He taught me how to talk – I mean speak – all over again.”
“What choo mean by that? You couldn’t talk none when he got you?”
“No,” Kitty shook her head slowly. “I used to – spayke lahk the-iss.”
“Oh,” Alva said. “You was a hillbilly then.”
“Yes, you could say that,” Kitty nodded.
“He told me what to wear and where to shop. He counted out every cent for what I needed to buy for the house. I never had even a few extra pennies. He was accurate down to the last cent. I had to give him receipts for everything and he got the car filled with gas. He kept track of the mileage and knew exactly how far it was to every stop I had to make and back. He never let me go a different way, so he always knew just how much gas I would need for the car. We never went out anywhere. We had no friends. I was not allowed to do anything outside the house. We had big hedges on either side of the yard and I never saw my neighbors, except the ones across the street.
“He had video cameras installed at the front and back doors and when he came home that was the first thing he checked to see if I had gone out or not. He could see if I went to the car. I was not allowed to walk in the neighborhood at all.
“When he was away he would call every night and make me give him the exact details of my day, how much laundry I had done, what food I had cooked and eaten, when I took a bath, if I shampooed my hair. He measured everything I used in the house and knew to the last detail what we had in all the cupboards.”
“Wait a minute,” Alva held her hands in the air and waved them around. “I can’t hear any more of this. I’m getting so mad I could spit. If that man was sitting right here in front of me I would slam him down on his head and split it open like a melon. I swear I would.” She balled up her hands into fists. “That ain’t no kinda life. No kinda life at all.”