Seven months into wedded bliss, Valentine Harper was telling her husband Ray a slightly off-color joke she’d heard at work that day. She was stunned when Ray slapped her face. Her hand went up as she looked at her husband in shock.

“Don’t talk like that. My wife doesn’t talk like that.” Ray left the room. She’d seen signs of Ray’s temper earlier, like throwing tools when he was working on a garbage disposal or trying to fix something. He had a low threshold for tolerance. But up until that moment, he had never raised a hand to her.

The slap wasn’t as bad as it could have been. It was more the sting of shame, like a glass of cold lemon water thrown in her face. Valentine went to bed in the guest room that night. She would not sleep with a man who abused her. She tossed around scenarios in her mind, but for the time being, she was stuck. She had no money to go out and rent her own place. She would need enough money for a security deposit, first month’s rent, and fees for an attorney to get out of this marriage she now regretted committing to. Ray held the purse strings. He balanced the checkbook and paid for the bills. Whenever she had a purchase on the credit card, he was like a detective.

“What did you buy on August 29th at Grothman’s Department Store?”

“The shirt you asked me to get for the Jensen’s anniversary party.”

“Oh, now I remember, alright.” Things seemed to be escalating like a screw that’s turned into a piece of wood reaching its head, but someone kept tightening it until the wood split. There was no longer a bond between her and Ray. The slap was the final example as to how far they had fallen away from each other. Valentine resolved right then and there, before she fell asleep, that she was going to save up the money to move out and divorce her husband.

“Groceries? What’s going on there? They are so expensive!” Ray called out from the other room. She wrote a check for $30 more than they normally spent in groceries.

“I needed laundry detergent and some other things. Basics we don’t normally buy, and Ray, nothing ever stays the same; the prices are always going up.” Ray grumbled, but he seemed to accept the answer she gave him. He had apologized profusely for the slap, and she told him she forgave him and moved back into their bedroom. But she hadn’t, not really.

Moving back into the bedroom was an opportunity to raid Ray’s wallet while he slept. A dollar here, a five there added up. Valentine put the money in a sock and stuck it in her underwear drawer. As the weeks went by, she was quickly accumulating enough to move out without Ray’s knowledge. She got a raise at work and didn’t tell Ray, so when she went to the bank and cashed her check, she put the same amount in the joint account and pocketed the rest.


Ray pushed her for children. They had been married for over a year now, and he wanted a kid. Valentine did not want to have a baby with Ray. That was the last thing she wanted. She kept her diaphragm hidden from him and used it religiously so that he wouldn’t suspect anything from her. Ray was growing crazier and more hypervigilant every day.

“I can’t believe you aren’t knocked up yet,” Ray said one day over coffee. “And where is my water?” Ray always liked a fresh pitcher of water with lemon slices floating in it.

“What?” Valentine couldn’t stand the term “knocked up” and wondered why Ray chose to say it that way. “I haven’t made your lemon water yet today. I’ll get to it.” Valentine pulled a lemon out of the fruit bowl, washed it, and started slicing, filling the pitcher with water and lemons.

“I think we should go see a specialist and find out if I’ve married damaged goods.”

“What if it’s not me, Ray?” A vein of defiance ran through her heart. Ray looked at her as if he was going to strike out. Instead, he laughed at her. He pushed her out of the way, poured himself a glass of water from the pitcher, and put it away as if he had to do everything on his own.

What Ray said was something that hurt her more than if he would have hit her. Oh, and that part had escalated, too. Arm punching, leg whacking. Valentine told him to stop. She was not his punching bag.

“What are you gonna do, Val, leave me? You don’t make enough to support yourself. If it wasn’t for me, you’d starve to death. You think that dead end job at the widget factory is something prestigious? That is a laugh.” Valentine stood up abruptly. If her look could kill him, it would have.

“I’m going to be late for work.” She grabbed her purse and marched out the door. She wondered how she could not have seen Ray for what he was. He had hidden it pretty well, enough that she was willing to marry him. Since that first slap, there was a pattern of repeated emotional and physical abuse. She knew that compared to other women and spousal abuse, hers was mild in comparison. But now, well into their second year of marriage, it wasn’t getting better.

She sat in the waiting room of the fertility specialist office. She and Ray went through a battery of tests. She shouldn’t have led him on this far, but she was getting close to leaving him. She still needed a few more thousand and then she would have the money for a lawyer and enough for an apartment. The extra money she put into her own bank account in a different bank. She had cash that she still kept in her sock drawer just in case she needed to leave in the middle of the night. Using the credit card would tell him where she was, so that was out. At least with the savings account at a bank near her work, she was building her nest egg.

“Mr. and Mrs. Harper?” The woman in scrubs walked them down the hallway and into the consultation room. Dr. Hogan graciously welcomed them and had them sit at the round table.

“I will get right to the point. Both of you check out fine. There is no reason you shouldn’t be able to conceive. Everything is working, perfect uterus, cervix. Strong sperm count. It could be that you are trying too hard. But I want to assure you there is no physical reason you two can’t conceive. So, my advice: relax, go home, and let nature take its course.” Ray got up all smiles and shook the doctor’s hand. He opened the door allowing Valentine to go through first and then when they got out to the car, he said:

“So you aren’t a loser. Good enough. Let’s keep trying.” Valentine seethed.

“Don’t talk to me like that. It’s probably that reason alone that I am not pregnant. You make me feel like crap.” She turned and looked out the window. For once, Ray didn’t say a word. He must have realized he stepped over a line. For the next few weeks, Ray tried to make it up to Valentine. He thought if he could get her to relax, perhaps they could conceive. Valentine slept with him because she had no choice. Afterwards, she took out the diaphragm and washed Ray’s essence down the drain. It would be a cold day in Hell before she would produce a child for him to break. He had broken her in less than two years. What chance would a child have against him?

Payday. Valentine left her work and went through the drive through. She had the deposit slip and cashed her check in her private account. She then drove to the joint bank she held with Ray and put that money into the joint account. She threw the slip away for the deposit in her private account at the first bank. Valentine could never allow Ray to see she was saving up to leave him. She was getting close, so close she could taste it.

Was it odd the closer she got to pulling the plug on this marriage, the more afraid she became? She read stories of husbands who shot their wives in anger after they left. As long as Ray thought she was in the game, he would tolerate her. Since the doctor told them to relax, not once had he struck her. He hadn’t tamed his tongue, though. That was still sharp as ever.

Without Ray knowing, Valentine took a position with another company. Her hours were the same and she drove off in the same direction every morning. The job came with another sizable raise. Valentine was building up her nest egg while still depositing the same amount into their joint account.

As she pulled away from their bank, Ray was parked a short distance away. He knew that Valentine received an annual raise. This year, she hadn’t mentioned it. When he walked into the bank, he found out she no longer had direct deposit, that she was making cash deposits. Ray put Valentine on his radar.

When Valentine came home from grocery shopping. Ray locked the door behind her.

“Give me your purse.” Valentine put the bag of groceries on the counter.

“What for?”

“Don’t question me.” Ray grabbed her purse and turned it upside down. The contents scattered all over. He grabbed her wallet.

“$50! Where did you get $50?”

“I was just at the bank yesterday. Ray, what is this about?”

“Why are you putting cash deposits into our joint account?”

“How would you…” Valentine stopped mid-sentence. “You are spying on me!”  Ray grabbed her and dragged her down the hall opening her drawer in the bathroom. He pulled out the case that held her diaphragm.

“What is this?”

“You know what it is.” Then he dragged her to her dresser and pulled out the sock of money. Thank goodness she had put all the money in a secret savings account. “You have been lying to me, making me think we’re gonna have a kid. You have been withholding money from our account. I counted; there’s 600 bucks in here. I noticed that my wallet was short. I called you at work today. They said you don’t work there anymore!” Valentine felt herself getting weak in the knees. Her mind raced; where had she slipped up?

“How?” was all she could say. “Ray, I wanted to surprise you. You know those golf clubs you wanted so badly. I admit I have been taking the money, but I wanted to surprise you for our third anniversary.”

“That set of clubs is way more than 600.” Ray looked at as if she was lying to him.

“That’s why I took a different job. It pays me a little more and the difference is what I have been putting in the sock drawer.” Valentine felt his eyes piercing through her. She didn’t flinch. He had found some of her secrets, but not all. She could still save herself. Still have her dream. She’d only lost 600.

“Where are you working?”


“How long?”

“A few months, not long. I wanted to prove to you that I could give you a great gift on my own. I thought maybe you would be nicer if…” she watched Ray’s face fall in shame. She knew she was winning the battle. Ray put the money back into the drawer and slammed it shut. He did take the diaphragm with him, though, shaking the small container in her face.

“No more of this.” He walked out of the bedroom. Valentine went back to the kitchen after she heard Ray leave the house. Her car keys were gone, all the money in her wallet. But she was still alive. Something snapped inside of her. She was so close to freedom and this happened.

She became the perfect wife. Making him coffee in the morning. It was almost like when they were first married. She had to make Ray think everything was good between them. It was when she bought a pregnancy test and asked her friend to take it at work.

“I don’t know, Valentine. it seems so wrong.”

“Please, he will beat me if I am not pregnant. I will pretend to lose the baby on my next period. I live in fear.” Her friend felt bad and gave her the positive test.

Ray ruled their roost. It was his kingdom, where there was no room for Valentine. She was done with him. Valentine needed to think of a way to throw Ray off track. A diversion that only pregnancy could give her.

She set the test on the counter in the bathroom. Ray got out of bed and came out with the stick in his hand.

“Are you?” he was all flustered. Valentine nodded. “Well, it’s about time. I was going to turn you in for a less defective model.” Valentine felt herself seething. She left to get breakfast on the table.

Plunking the coffee in front of him, Ray grabbed her and pulled her into his lap.

“I will be better, I promise. I have been so frustrated that we couldn’t make a kid.” Valentine put her arms around him and buried her head into his neck. If only that were the truth, that this nightmare would end. But Ray ruled this kingdom and there was no room for her, or a kid.

Ray threw up his breakfast. Valentine knocked on the door.

“Ray, are you alright?” She could hear him vomit again. The water in the sink ran and she heard him spit a few times. The door opened; Ray pushed her aside and went back to bed. “Ray, what’s wrong?”

“I got the flu. I am nauseous, shaking. I feel so weak, Val. Please bring me water from the fridge.” She felt sorry for him. She babied Ray for a couple of days. When the weekend ended, Ray was still sick.

“Ray, maybe you should go see a doctor.”

“It’s the flu. It takes a week to get over. Call my work; tell them I am too sick to come in.” Ray went back and vomited again. Valentine called his boss, explaining that Ray wouldn’t be in, that he had been sick all weekend. His boss told her to tell Ray to get better.

“Ray, Sal says to get better. I am going to work.” Valentine put a fresh pitcher of water in the refrigerator. She floated some lemons in it, just the way Ray liked. She knew he needed to drink fluids so that he wouldn’t become dehydrated. She called him from work later in the day.

“Val, I’m so sick. I think I need to call an ambulance.”

“I’ll be right there.” Valentine flew home. Ray’s blood pressure was almost nonexistent. She called an ambulance and followed it to the hospital.


Late in the evening, Valentine came home. Ray was gone. It happened so quickly. Stressed, she needed to divert her attention. She cleaned out the refrigerator, wiped down everything in the house. She still felt restless. All the planning she had done to get away from Ray; she hadn’t had to do that.

She thought about Ray’s condition and how bad he had gotten. She relived praying with the minister in the hospital when they knew he wasn’t going to survive. Together, they prayed the Lord’s Prayer. Valentine sobbed with the man; he was so kind and understanding.

Ray had an undiagnosed heart condition; a birth defect, they told her. There was no way of knowing until it was too late. She was a widow. She tossed the pregnancy test in the garbage. Looking in the mirror, she saw herself reflected. She was a wreck.

Valentine opened the medicine cabinet door. Tetrahydrozoline. She took the near-empty bottle and tipped her head back, letting a few drops run into each eye; they made them feel much better. She threw the empty bottle into the garbage can, where it clinked when it hit the pregnancy test. So many secrets. The lemon water had been poured away, and she would take the garbage out before she went to bed; she would put it in the neighbor’s garbage. There would be funeral plans to make tomorrow. So many plans. Who would have thought there was more than one purpose for eye drops?