Beetroot blood

It’s been a while since we’ve had a short story but I couldn’t resist writing this one. It was inspired when a book blogger mentioned domestic disasters, and one of the group responded with their true story. There might have been a tiny bit of embellishment to protect the innocent, but I’ll leave you to decide which part is true.

At long last it was over. The piece of paper in my hand proved I was no longer Mrs Terrence Battersby-Clarke and I could start enjoying life again. Five years wasn’t long, but it was a life-time when you realised within a few months that the man you had married was an egotistical bully, and nothing like the charming and attentive suitor he made himself out to be.

We met at a glitzy party, and from the first time he saw me it seemed he was determined to capture me. I was there with my boss and good friend, Jacob who adored this type of event, unlike his wife who hated them. Occasionally I would accompany Jake as his ‘plus one,’ while his wife binged watched her favourite soap, then thanked me for taking him out of her hair for the evening. It was an arrangement which worked well, but if I’d known how things would turn out I would have pretended he was something more than my employer.

It was my own fault, but I was swept away by the attention Terrence showed me and within six months we were married. We spent our honeymoon on his exclusive yacht being pampered, and if I so much as glanced at a designer dress or piece of jewellery he immediately wanted to buy if for me. It got to the stage where I had to insist I would return the items and burn the money in front of him if he didn’t stop. It took me a while to realise it was actually more a form of bullying than affection.

It was worse when we returned home. I had intended to carry on working, but amongst the pile of paperwork awaiting my return was a formal notice of termination of my contract from Jake. He was embarrassed when I phoned him and I began to suspect Terrence’s influence. My job now was to be the charming hostess for my husbands’ friends and colleagues, play the part of the trophy wife, and do my duty in the matrimonial bed. Piece by piece I stopped being me.

The house became my prison but fortunately there were extensive grounds, and Terrence didn’t seem to object when I took to planting and growing things in a remote corner. He even arranged for the waste land behind to be cleared and had a greenhouse erected. The elderly gardener was patient and supportive of my meagre efforts, and shared my delight when my first fruit and vegetables started peeping though. As long as I was there when needed, my husband left me to it and for almost the first time in my marriage I was happy.

I’d always loved cooking but there was no opportunity to test my skills while the chef and his staff were around. You would think they owned the place, but Terrence made it clear I was not to intrude, and to be fair, the meals and banquets they produced were excellent. I took to sneaking in late at night after they had left for the day, particularly if my husband was away on business, which happened fairly frequently.

Ever since I was small I’d loved beetroot, so you can imagine my delight when one of my own home-grown efforts produced enough to make a salad. Terrence, (I was never allowed to call him Terry,) was away until Wednesday, the rest of the staff had left for the evening, and I had the place to myself. There was a sort of security guard who had a small cottage just outside the gates, but he would only appear if I pressed the emergency button. Bliss.

I carried my prize vegetables into the kitchen, found a pot to boil them and a sharp knife to slice them up when they were ready, put on some music and danced around while I prepared my gastronomic delight. The wine cellar produced a bottle of red which was lovely, but wouldn’t be missed as it was an expensive plonk rather than a prize vintage. Deep into researching on my laptop to find a recipe to go with my beetroot, I was oblivious until I felt something touch my shoulder and screamed as I spun round with the knife still in my hand to face the intruder.

My husband’s face took on a greenish hue as he took in what appeared to be my blood-stained hands, and I’d no idea what went through his mind at that moment. I was horrified when I realised the knife had connected with his flesh, and blood the colour of my beetroot was seeping through his expensive suit. It was only a minor flesh wound, and after the emergency services had patched him up with a plaster and a few aspirin he was allowed home.

It was however, the catalyst to him agreeing to a divorce. If I’d been the money grabbing sort I could have gone on social media and made a fortune but that wasn’t my way. I only wanted enough to have a small home of my own, my freedom and the opportunity to go back to work to earn my living. I never knew that under the terms of his will I was named the main beneficiary. There were a few legacies to his loyal staff, which I arranged to double, but they didn’t even make a dent in the vast sums I inherited. Perhaps underneath he was the lovely man I first knew, and it was his insecurities which turned him into a bully. I would never know the truth, but coincidences took a turn when fate intervened.

I had started up my own small business, providing home grown produce for elite parties, and it was the right idea at the right time. Unfortunately, one of the companies I supplied was involved in organising a do for my ex-husband. In their innocence they let him know my new home address, thinking he was impressed with my contribution and wanted to send a thank you bouquet.

This time when he turned up out of the blue and tapped me on the shoulder there was no mistake. The knife did what it was supposed to do and the red on my hands wasn’t beetroot juice. His body was discovered in an allotment near to waste ground, and the verdict was death by person or persons unknown.

In his memory I initiated a memorial trophy ‘The beetroot initiative’ which was awarded every year to disadvantaged people who despite all the odds against them, managed to grow their own produce. I still love beetroot but these days I prefer it to come ready cleaned and wrapped in plastic from the supermarket.

© Val Portelli September 2022.

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