by Claire Boege with art by Waverly Wang
Content warnings: abuse, strangulation
Victoria Oxley did not do what most famous women do when they catch their husbands cheating. She didn’t scream or confront him. She didn’t go to the tabloids or the news. She didn’t undergo a messy divorce or a messier reconciliation. At first, she did so little about it that her husband didn’t even know she had caught him.
But that was only at first.
Because at first, she was numb. Then she was shocked. And then she was hurt. But not jealous. Never jealous. Jealousy was unattractive.
She toyed with telling the women that Malcolm was married. She did not. She would not let him hurt them. Betray them. Not like he had with her. She would not allow it. They would be protected.
It was a question she pondered between takes of “Wrong About My Husband.” In her trailer, sitting on the red velvet couch, running a finger down the script. In the dressing room with its dull yellow lights that buzzed lowly and flickered every few minutes. How could she protect them from Malcolm? As long as they lived, they would probably never escape his memory. They would always remember the pain his lies caused them. They’d remember it as long as they lived.
As long as they lived. Now, that was an idea.
It was a shelved idea, for the next month or so. She went to the studio and filmed her scenes, but it got harder and harder to smile at the camera. Harder to remember the lines. Harder not to scream everything she wanted to say at Malcolm, instead of what she was supposed to say. Harder not to mistake Adam for him. She tamped it down behind mascara she could not let run by crying. Behind lipstick she could not risk smudging.
Don’t be jealous. It’s unattractive. Remember, they need your help.
She chose arsenic in the end. It reminded her of her movie. The suicide her character commits at the climax. And it’s not a horrible way to go. If Hollywood has any reality to it.
What is reality in Hollywood?
Rebecca was a sweet woman who looked a good deal like Victoria, with the same chocolate locks, even if Victoria’s were more ringlets than waves. The same ivory skin, the same sapphire eyes, the same heart-shaped face.
She tried not to be hurt by that. She wasn’t entirely sure she succeeded, but at least Rebecca will never experience that pain. She’d make sure of it.
They became wonderful friends over coffees that Victoria “spilled.” It was as easy in real life as it was on set. They sat in a little cafe with an oceanfront view. Gulls cawed and the waves crashed. Victoria fielded all of Rebecca’s questions about being a celebrity and adjusted her sunglasses in the hope no one else would recognize her. She took a sip of her latte, and asked, “Have you met anyone special recently, Rebecca?” because she had to make sure that this was the right woman. The woman she was supposed to be saving.
And as they sat beneath the green and pink striped awning of the cafe, as the sun moved across the sky and cast long shadows on the ground, as their coffees grew cold and their pastries disappeared, Rebecca described Malcolm perfectly. Victoria was numb first. Then she was shocked. Then she was hurt.
Rebecca described his broad shoulders and his big hands. His black hair and green eyes. His strong jaw with its slight stubble. And then she told Victoria stories of her relationship. Victoria’s hands trembled on her cup and nearly spilled her coffee because…
It was their first date. The same place for their first kiss. Even the same pick-up line. She’d never known it was possible to feel so cold under the sun.
For a moment, she doubted what she had come there to do. And then Rebecca said, “He’s basically perfect. He’s always so careful about my feelings. I can’t imagine him doing anything that could possibly hurt me.”
Neither had she. Her resolve hardened. Malcolm would not hurt Rebecca.
Victoria smiled and stood up from the wrought iron cafe table. “I’m going in to get another latte. Would you like one?”
She found a news article on her phone a few hours later when she checked it between scenes, makeup and hair dabbing at her face and spraying at her curls.
“Local Woman Consumes Arsenic. Police Baffled.”
Malcolm was in a bad mood when she got home. She knew it was because Rebecca was safe from him. That did not make dinner any less tense; Malcolm stabbed every bite hard enough to scrape the plate. He turned off her favorite soft jazz and drank a lot more wine and whiskey than he usually did. The air smelled of it.
She asked him about his day. He threw his glass at her head. It shattered against the wall and left a dripping red trail across the cream paint.
She paid the cleaners extra the next morning to forget about the glass fragments they had to pick out of the grey carpet. Both she and Malcolm pretended the red stains didn’t exist.
Victoria put on a little more makeup before she went to work. Her plans, the blood, the secret, they were all worth it if it meant those other women wouldn’t hurt like her.
Malcolm reminded her that he was filming a sex scene at work over breakfast, a light breeze from the open window behind him stirring his hair. When she frowned, he reminded her that jealousy was unattractive. She smiled at him. “I’m not jealous,” she assured him, patting his arm. “I know it’s just work.”
It wasn’t just work. Not unless he intended to break into the porn industry, or unless all “make out for authenticity” practice had to happen off set. She was pretty sure Haley knew Malcolm was married.
That was alright. Victoria would help her too. Malcolm wouldn’t remain faithful forever.
She couldn’t decide if what he had done hurt more than the numbness that had followed it. It hadn’t even been a day since Rebecca died.
Did action movies even need sex scenes?
It took longer to befriend Haley. Victoria and Haley were very different people. But she managed, invited Haley back to the house on a night when she knew Malcolm would be busy with Andrea. They sat in the living room, the scent of wine filling the room as they shared a bottle of a nearly black red.
She watched as spots of color appeared on Haley’s cheeks the more she drank and the way her hands would move with increasing flare, spilling the wine on the white couches she and Malcolm used to entertain company. She watched as Haley drank the glass that would save her, jazz winding through the room and white curtains fluttering in the breeze.
The clock ticked on.
She let her gaze roll around the room, unable to keep her attention on Haley’s rambles about her husband. Her eyes caught on glittering awards that her husband had earned. The fern neither of them seemed able to keep alive. She took another sip of her wine, letting the slightly sour taste sit in her mouth for a moment. She let herself contemplate the next woman she would protect. The last. Andrea.
“I don’t feel good,” Haley said. The glass made a clinking sound as it was set down on the coffee table.
Victoria did not move.
“I said I didn’t feel good,” Haley said, putting a hand to her stomach.
“No,” said Victoria. “I wouldn’t expect you to.”
There was something worse about watching her protection take effect in person instead of hearing about it later. Victoria’s fingers went white around her glass and she reminded herself that this was necessary, even as she turned her face away. Haley needed this to happen. It was to protect her.
Haley’s head smacked onto the glass coffee table. Victoria took another sip of wine and forced herself to stay still.
It was to protect her.
Haley’s legs kicked the table. The thuds covered up the jazz.
Her head hit the floor. Her blood smeared the carpet.
It was to protect her.
She threw up. It had red trails in it. The stink of it made Victoria reach for one of the lavender sachets on the window sills.
This was to protect her.
Haley went still. The front door clicked open. Malcolm was home. Two hours early.
He saw her first. “YOU!” he roared. “YOU RUIN EVERYTHING! Andrea told me to get out of her house because she found out I was married to YOU!”
She could smell the alcohol on his breath even from where she stood. She took one step back. Two. And then she stumbled over Haley’s arm.
Malcolm caught the motion. His eyes went to the body on the floor behind her. Victoria knew the moment when he recognized who it was.
She turned and ran.
She made it as far as the dining room before he grabbed her by the arm and slammed her into the blood-red wine stains on the cream wall. He put both hands around her neck. She choked, clawing at him. Hands, eyes, face. He did not let go.
She couldn’t breathe. She had never seen him this angry before. She couldn’t breathe.
He was going to kill her.
“Malcolm. Please. Please.” Her feet kicked against the ground. A piece of glass the cleaners had missed stabbed into her foot. The jazz echoed in the dining room. The chandelier hung silently above the table.
Malcolm did not remove his hands.
Her chest heaved, lungs straining. A ringing started in her ears. It wasn’t in sync with the jazz.
Her eyes blurred. Black dots danced behind her eyelids.
She had at least protected two.
His hands tightened.
Hers went limp.
Next morning’s paper went out with the headline: “Lead Actress in ‘Wrong About My Husband’ Was Wrong About Her Husband: A Sordid Tale of Affairs and Murder.”