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EXCERPT FROM ONE WAY OR ANOTHER YOU WILL PAY
Remington Correctional Centre. Maximum security prison. A replica of Silverwater Correctional Services, home to me almost four years ago.
Harsh, unforgettable, behind-bars memories that never can be forgotten by a prisoner.
In my quest to be whole again, I have undergone two years of therapy and have learned how to successfully manage these memories.
Emphasis on manage, because there is no SPF50 type lotion you can use to block out these memories. They creep into your thoughts, invade your dreams, your daydreams, your life, and often incapacitate you.
I had to figure a way to manage my fears – I have three children who depend on me and if I am not whole, how can I possibly help them be whole?
But as I walk into Remington and make my way down the dreary, harshly-lit corridor toward Tom, all my recent years of utter freedom, of being unchained to him, of never having to hate weekends again, fades away.
My gut burns, my mouth feels like I swallowed a handful of cotton wool, and I gulp at the air, familiar and dense with the odor of ammonia and hopelessness.
In my mind, I’m back to being Mrs. Botha, wife of successful and charismatic self-made millionaire, Tom Botha, man extraordinaire envied by both men and women alike because of his beautifully groomed and supportive wife, his always-seen-but-seldom-heard-toddlers shod in shoes at all times, his immaculate and spotless home that he runs military style, his efficacious business he built single-handedly.
(Ladies, if you ever meet a man who is like Tom, perfect in every single way, got his shit totally together, ding! ding! ding! ding! ding! Get the fuck out of there. Slip off your stilettos, hitch up your narrow skirt and run! In the opposite direction. Sprint, if you have to.)
Tom’s eyes flash in front of me, causing my steps to falter. .
Deep breaths. You’re not going back to prison, you’re just visiting it. In…out…in…out…
Tom can’t harm you anymore. He’s dying of colon cancer, remember?
The picture of Tom changing a colostomy bag, and having to live in a body that is less than perfect, brings on a hysteria-induced chuckle.
Knowing Tom, he’s probably dying quicker from the shame of his illness than from the disease itself.
In spite of my yoga breathing, my stern self-talk, and the mental picture of Tom minus his quinoa and wheatgrass shots, minus a healthy head of carefully groomed hair, my shoulders hitch closer to my ears with every step I take.
The prison corridor snakes on and on and stirrings of claustrophobia hover.
A hitch – prison security has me as Arena Botha, not Arena Shaw.
Tom’s doing, for sure. It’s his way of disregarding Bear, my new surname, the new life I have assumed.
Even Warren has assumed Bear’s surname.
After producing a driver’s license to support who I say I am, and answer a hundred identifying questions, I am ushered into the Visitors’ Room, not into the infirmary or the prison hospital where Tom should be, given the nature of his illness.
Maybe he’ll be wheeled in to see me?
I take a seat in front of a thick, but clear glass partition and wait. I eye the telephone receiver in front of me but do not pick it up. Instead, I inhale deeply and brace myself, force myself to sit upright and look confident. Fake confidence, more like it.
Not knowing what to expect, I play with my knuckles and tap my feet.
Moments later, Tom appears.
He walks toward me, no wheelchair, no assistance from anyone.
Full head of hair, with just the slightest grey around the temples.
When he sees me, he stops walking and smiles.
Do I smile back?
He hangs his head, then throws it back, the broad smile on his face reaching his eyes.
I recognize that smile. It’s the one reserved for wives of his close friends, who he constantly sought to charm and enamour. Have to give him credit; he was successful at it.
They called that smile “charismatic,” I called it “manic.”
Okay, he may have been charismatic, but he had to be to hoodwink everyone around him just about all the time.
But then again, aren’t most serial killers, paedophiles, and psychopaths charismatic?
They need oodles of charm to lure their victims, dazzle them with their magnetic smile and captivating personality, then when their guard is down…
As Tom walks toward me, he raises his hands to the sky. Glory be!
My face is inscrutable, or at least I hope it is.
As he takes his seat across from me, he mutters to himself and shakes his head in what looks like disbelief.
After he picks up the phone, I pick up mine.
Then I hear it – evil’s voice after three long years.
End of Excerpt
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