Literary Yard

Search for meaning

She Got What She Deserved – A Novelette

By John RC Potter

Chapter 1


It was late June and Victoria had just been down at the river’s edge looking at the stones that were scattered along the sloping banks, as well as others that she could see under the water on the silt below. She was planning a rock garden in the back yard and was determined that if sufficient stones were collected this summer, she would begin a rock garden the following spring. The telephone was ringing insistently on the hall table as she came through the French doors into the living room. Rushing into the hallway, Victoria picked up the receiver, short of breath and winded from the dash to the telephone table. Before she had the chance to say hello, the raspy cigarette-affected voice at the other end exclaimed: “Have you heard yet? You know that young teacher who works at the one-room country school outside town? They found her body in the river not far from the school this afternoon. Hello? Are you still there?” Victoria sat down heavily on the cushioned chair beside the telephone table, then pressed downward on the telephone receiver to cut off the words, to shut out what she had just heard. Victoria was not sure if she uttered the following words or had just imagined it, an oft-repeated refrain: “She got what she deserved” and then clasped her face in her hands to shut out the vision of that river, and of that young woman.


At a young age Victoria discovered that being aloof often drew others to her; to appear distant could bring people closer. Her childhood was solitary. She had studied psychology at the University of Toronto, shortly after World War Two had ended, at a time when few women were doing post-secondary studies in Canada. An only and pampered child, Victoria had been raised in a large and comfortable brick home in Toronto, in the affluent Rosedale area. The England family had a charmed life, living well and travelling often, and had a cottage in the Muskoka region, to the west of Algonquin Provincial Park. Although it had been a favoured lifestyle, that was the case only until her parents divorced after Victoria’s mother discovered her husband was having an affair with his secretary. Then Victoria and her mother moved to an apartment near the corner of Bloor and Church street, not far from where her mother had taken a job in a bank.

Victoria’s father married his secretary and started a second family; Victoria had two stepsisters and a stepbrother, years younger than she, but had only seen photos of them. A year after her marriage, Victoria had to deal with the sudden death of her mother and returned to Toronto for the funeral and to settle her mother’s estate and belongings. Miles had broken his leg when skiing that winter and could not go with his wife. When she first received the news about her mother’s unexpected death, Victoria explained to Miles that it had been a fatal heart attack. It seemed better to tell him a little white lie than the truth, to let sleeping dogs lie.

After her parents divorced, Victoria’s father had paid alimony and ensured that his daughter could attend university. Her life at that point had looked bleak to Victoria, at least until she met her first real boyfriend and future husband, Miles Davenport, known as the ‘dreamboat’ to Victoria and her university friends. Victoria often wondered how she had landed this tall, dark, and handsome Adonis; all the other girls at university were pea-green with envy. Miles looked perfect but had one deficit (at least in his own eyes): he had flat feet, and that had meant he did not have to fight in the war. The advantage was that he finished his university education without interruption.

One little drawback to the marriage was that in changing her surname, Victoria’s initials of course changed as well. Previously they had been VE (which she particularly enjoyed at the end of WWII when VE Day – Victory in Europe – had been declared); however, after her marriage Victoria’s initials became VD, something her group of women friends in the small town where she lived sometimes ribbed her about. Her married-lady friends also made fun of her insistence to be called Victoria; they sometimes called her Vicky, which she loathed. Even more irritating, they made fun of her preference for reading as a pastime and for a deep love of literature, and particularly her interest in the novels by Virginia Woolf. Eventually, when at the hairdressing salon in the small town where she lived, Victoria would furtively read novels within copies of women’s magazines, usually old, well-thumbed copies of Chatelaine because other women in the salon would not be asking her for them when she was finished reading. These women who were in her circle in the town did not seem to be aware that their jokes were insensitive, and that as a result Victoria felt even more unsure of herself and made her question the nature of their friendship. At the same time, Victoria wondered if she was just too sensitive by nature and wished that she had a tougher skin.

Miles was a few years older than Victoria. He graduated with an accounting degree from the University of Toronto in 1948. Victoria never finished her psychology degree: when Miles proposed to her the year before he suggested that she leave university and concentrate on the wedding in the year ahead. Victoria’s friends told her that made the most sense: as they said, now that Victoria would have her MRS, why would she need any university degree? Victoria’s mother also agreed, but her father was quite upset that the funds he had invested in Victoria’s university education would have no outcome. Victoria promised her father that she would eventually finish her psychology degree, but in her heart, she knew it was a little white lie. Victoria was glad that Miles, her knight in shining armour, had rescued her from the need to continue with her university education.

Miles was hired by an accounting firm in Cornersville, a town in southwestern Ontario, and the newlyweds moved there immediately after a honeymoon at Niagara Falls. Victoria was secretly pleased that she would never have to work outside the home. She envisioned a charmed life as a married woman, with status as one of the white-collar, upper-income couples in the little town where they had settled, with babies coming in due course, and the attendant baby showers and accolades from her other married women friends. However, that did not happen, at least the part of her dream about babies. After several years of attempts and false alarms, Victoria and her husband discovered that she could not have children. When the doctor informed Victoria of this sad fact, she was reminded of novels she had read about barren women, whose inability to conceive and bear children had led to barren lives and loveless marriages.

Victoria was ashamed, and despite attempts by Miles to allay her fears and concerns, his fawning and unfailing kindness only made it worse. Miles had suggested they consider adoption, but Victoria was not sure if she wanted another woman’s child. Resignedly, Victoria concluded that she was a failure: she had not finished her university education, she could not have children, she had gained quite a bit of weight, and despite trying hard to imitate them, she failed to look as ‘put together’ as the other ladies in her circle. Those women looked as immaculate when they were playing bridge, or over cocktails with the other couples in their circle, or as they did when they kissed their husbands at the front door and sent them off to work for the day. Like Victoria and Miles, some of the other couples lived on the ‘best street’ in Cornersville: the street sign indicated ‘Mansfield Mews,’ but the locals referred to it as ‘Rich Man’s Row,’ an enclave for the most affluent, professional couples and their families in the small town.

As a concession to her own failures as a woman and wife, Victoria had taken to being her husband’s ardent supporter. She echoed his views and opinions, and in doing so knew that she was indeed fortunate to have such a handsome, successful husband. What would she do without him? When the town’s plumber kicked his wife out of the house for having an affair, coupled with the woman’s heavy drinking, Miles had said to Victoria over their morning coffee at the breakfast table: “She got what she deserved.” Then after taking a thoughtful and generous gulp of his coffee he continued, “To add insult to injury, she was having an affair with the plumber over at Seaforth, her husband’s direct competition!”

Immediately and automatically, Victoria nodded and said, “Yes, she got what she deserved.” Miles smiled, placed his large, strong hand over hers and said, “My loyal little wife.” Victoria stared in consternation at the coffee in front of her but was seeing her reflection and her own life staring back at her. I may well be loyal, she thought, but I am certainly not little, as she looked down at her waist that seemed to expand exponentially with her widening worries.

When talking on the telephone to her friend, Jo later that morning (in her mind, the best friend she had in town), the other woman had said, “Fortunately there are no children. That is a blessing.” When Victoria repeated to Jo what Miles had said, that the cheating woman got what she deserved, her friend retorted: “Got what she deserved? Why, if the husband had been cheating and the wife kicked him out, would anyone say he got what he deserved?”

Later during dinner, Victoria repeated to her husband what Jo had said to her. With a look of disgust, Miles exclaimed, “Don’t listen to that old switch-hitter, and don’t be friends with that boozy, old broad.” This was a common thread in their marriage: Mile’s displeasure at her friendship with Jo and his belief that she was a lesbian. Victoria no longer said, “But she’s married!” because that did not hold water with Miles, who would say dismissively, “In any case, her husband’s an old poof!” Victoria knew she could not win any battle with her husband; it was better to agree or remain silent. When she did that, he was his charming, affable self. Victoria knew she was fortunate to have Miles. She did not want to lose him. She did not want history to repeat itself.

In any case, Jo was not part of their group of friends. Victoria had met Jo at the library shortly after moving to Cornersville, and they had bonded over a love of books. Although Victoria read novels for her continual edification, she loved mysteries for her pure enjoyment. That day in the library she had been leafing through a copy of Agatha Christie’s ‘Death Comes as the End” when she looked at the woman nearby who was holding a copy of Christie’s ‘Evil Under the Sun.’ Both women locked eyes at the same time and then, laughing, held up their respective Christie books. “Have you read it already?” Jo asked Victoria, holding up the book. “Yes, and it is a must-read if you are a Christie fan,” she exclaimed. That was the start of their uncomplicated and immediate friendship, which seemed so much simpler and enjoyable than with most of the women in her circle.

Jo did not fuss about her appearance: she had short grey hair, was somewhat stocky in build, but her height off-set it. She had a no-nonsense manner, was a heavy smoker who liked her afternoon cocktails, and often wore slacks instead of dresses. Like Victoria, Jo had no children (a personal choice she had informed her). Jo had studied business at the University of Western Ontario. She had worked for several years in London at an insurance company, and her husband was a professor at the university where they both had studied. Jo was in her late forties and had returned to Cornersville during the war to care for her aging and ailing parents, and then after their deaths she had decided to remain living in the family home she had inherited from them. Jo’s husband remained in London but would dutifully come to Cornersville for one weekend every month. Even Victoria had to admit it was rather an odd marriage, but it seemed to work. Victoria sometimes wondered if Jo’s marriage was more successful than her own, and she was bemused by the thought.


It was an extremely hot evening in July, with the heat and humidity as oppressive as the feelings that Victoria was experiencing, for reasons unbeknownst to her. Victoria had not wanted to go to the movies that evening, but Miles had insisted. There was a new hit comedy at the local movie theatre, ‘The Seven Year Itch.’ Miles had arranged for their closest friends, Mike, and his wife Madge, to come with them. Of all the women in their circle, Victoria liked Madge the best, but not as much as she enjoyed Jo’s company, who was of course outside that close-knit group. Madge was upbeat and proactive by nature, with golden-red hair that was stylish, but she often tied back in a ponytail. Madge had an interesting and intelligent face and an attractive figure. What Victoria liked most about Madge was that although she had two young children, she did not talk about them constantly, unlike the other women in their circle whose lives seemed to be entirely focused on their offspring.

After the movie they went to the town’s favourite coffee shop to discuss the movie. “I didn’t think the movie was that funny,” Victoria said. The other three looked at her incredulously. “Are you serious, Victoria, it was hilarious!” Madge exclaimed. Miles gave Victoria a knowing look that irked her. “She’s just jealous,” he said to the other couple, “because she would like to look like Marilyn Monroe.” Victoria knew that with her dark hair and features, along with the extra padding, she would never look like that actress. “I am not jealous of her,” Victoria retorted. “In any case, she doesn’t look like any women we know…she is so unreal, all made up.” Victoria had not yet taken a sip of her coffee, nor had started eating the double portion banana split that Miles had ordered for her, despite her insistence that she was not hungry.

Mike winked at Miles and said, “That new secretary of yours could give that Marilyn Monroe a run for her money. Wow, but she is a looker!” Miles clapped Mike on the back, both men laughing at the joke. Victoria began to stir her coffee vigorously, knowing that Madge was staring at her, a look of concern on her face.

“What is your new secretary’s name?” Madge asked Miles, but her eyes were still on her friend. “Mimi Merriweather,” Miles replied. “Mimi, that’s an interesting name,” Madge responded, looking at Victoria, who was staring at her coffee as if waiting for it to pick itself up and help her drink it. It appeared that Madge wanted to change the subject on her friend’s behalf because she said suddenly, “It is so sad about that young teacher they found in the river last week. They say it was suicide. Where was she from anyway?”

“She was from North Bay,” Miles replied. “She had no family around these parts.”

Victoria came out of her reverie. “She was from Thunder Bay, not North Bay,” she cried out.

The other three looked in surprise at Victoria due to the intensity of her outburst. “North Bay, Thunder Bay,” Miles blurted, “Who cares?” Then both he and Mike laughed.

“I care,” Victoria said quietly. “She was a person and now she is dead. It is so sad she took her own life.” Victoria did not say so to the others, but it reminded her of how Virginia Woolf had committed suicide by drowning in the early years of World War Two, by putting rocks in the pockets of her coat until she was weighted down and sank under the awaiting waters of the river near her home in the Sussex area of England. When at the library earlier that week, Victoria had borrowed Woolf’s ‘Between the Acts,’ and was trying to get her head around it, with limited success for reasons that she could not quite piece together.

In the past year or two, Victoria had read all of Virginia Woolf’s novels, although not in chronological order: for example, she read ‘The Years’ (Woolf’s penultimate novel) the previous winter and had most recently finished ‘The Waves’ before returning it to the library. The same day she returned that novel, she had borrowed Woof’s last novel, ‘Between the Acts,’ which had been published posthumously. For some inexplicable reason it seemed fitting to Victoria that she was now reading Woolf’s final novel, albeit it being rather a labour due to the complexity of the work, and the difficulty for Victoria to focus on the words on each page, because they often seemed to swim before her tired eyes.

“I heard tell that she was pregnant, that young woman,” said Mike, looking knowingly at the others, shrugging his shoulders as if that explained everything. “Apparently, the autopsy confirmed it.”

“I wonder if it is the reason that she killed herself?” Madge pondered, temporarily distracted from her cup of coffee and doughnut. “Did she have a boyfriend? Any idea about the man involved?”

Miles stated in a matter-of-fact voice that Victoria knew meant the end of any further discussion: “She got what she deserved.” Then he looked over at Victoria, who was staring at him but seeing something entirely different in front of her, a yawning expanse of time and thought.

Once again Madge seemed to be attempting to change to flow of the conversation, to redirect it back to a safe place for her friend. “It is so sad, and I feel so bad about those country children who have lost their teacher,” she reflected, but then ever optimistic and able to see the bright light in any dark event, Madge continued. “Anyway, I am so glad it was not one of our children’s teachers at the school here in town.” Madge nodded knowingly: everyone knew about the vast divide between the country and town; neither adults nor children from the two communities did much intermixing, except perhaps the high school students to a limited degree. Everyone knew their boundaries: it was a comforting reality that was accepted by one and all, without question and an abiding faith in the lay of the land.

But Victoria was not really listening to her friend. For a fleeting moment she thought of the river in which the young teacher’s body had been found, less than a mile from the schoolhouse where she had taught, on the late afternoon after the final day of the school year; the same river that ran in a crooked but determined path from that place of death to the riverbanks outside Victoria’s home, her place of solace.

“Yes,” Victoria murmured resignedly, “She got what she deserved.”

Chapter 2


The hot and dry days of July relentlessly rolled over into the hotter and drier days of August. The death of the young teacher at the end of June had become ‘old news’ by early August, and other dramas had taken over and buried that incident in the past. Farley’s Notions Store had been robbed late one night, and all the townspeople were sure it was some delinquents from a nearby town, or some young country boys wanting money for liquor. As it turned out, Fred Farley Senior discovered it was Fred Farley Junior, his 17-year old son and the boy’s best friend who had stolen funds from the store.

In another much more exciting bit of news, the younger second wife of the town’s dentist had apparently been having a months-long, torrid affair with a young, single Dutch farmer who had emigrated from Holland and settled on a farm outside Cornersville. The dentist’s first wife had died of cancer before the war, and by that time the children from his first marriage were ‘feathered and flown’. Doc Cockerly was decades older than his younger second wife; when they had married even some men in the town had wondered about the eventual outcome.

Referring to the second Mrs. Cockerly, Miles stated emphatically to Victoria, “She got what she deserved.” They were sitting on the flagstone patio outside the open French doors that led to their spacious and well-appointed living room. “Jo said Mrs. Cockerly left her husband of her own choice, in order to be with that young farmer,” Victoria said quietly. “Maybe she really did get what she deserved…and perhaps she is happier.” Miles looked up from the copy of the latest weekly Cornersville Cryer, the local newspaper that he was reading: he stared at Victoria with a look of disbelief, as if suddenly his wife had sprouted a second head, or an entirely new Victoria had inhabited his wife’s bulky body.


When Miles was on a fishing trip with his buddies in August, Victoria made the most of the opportunity by visiting Jo as much as possible. Victoria enjoyed being with Jo. She knew her friend smoke and drank too much, and could occasionally swear up a storm as good as any man. Victoria enjoyed Jo’s company because she was not only very smart, but also much fun. Moreover, Victoria knew that Jo had a good heart and was a true friend.

Sitting in Jo’s cluttered but cozy living room waiting for her friend to bring in chilled martinis, Victoria thought back seven years to the time she had attempted to bring her husband and new friend together. Jo had suggested they come for dinner, to be on her turf, as she said, rather than for her having to go to the Davenport home. The cocktails had been delicious (Miles nursed his Manhattan’s, Victoria and Jo sipped their Martini’s); the conversation had been interesting, with Jo matching Miles on any subject he raised (politics, the polio epidemic, the Cold War, even sports!); the dinner had been tasty followed by a spectacular dessert (Baked Alaska); finally, coffee and liquers ended what had seemed a perfect evening. However, the entire time Victoria knew something was not right, that something was off. As soon as they walked in the front door of their house on Mansfield Mews, Miles exploded. “I do not want you to be with that old dyke! Can’t you see she wants you, the way she looks at you?”

Victoria had been so surprised by the unexpected outburst and its intensity, and the words and what they conveyed, that she dropped her purse on the floor and its contents tumbled out across the hardwood floors and the blood-red, patterned Aubusson runner that ran along the entire length of the long and wide hallway. Looking directly at Miles, but over his shoulder seeing her reflection in the large gilt mirror that hung on the opposite wall, Victoria declared in a quiet but firm voice, “She is my friend and I will continue to see her. Anyway, you are wrong about Jo.” Victoria then stepped over her purse and the various articles that had fallen out of it and walked toward the stairs and walked up to her bedroom.

“Then you will never bring her here,” Miles called after her, “You can see the queer old bitch wherever you want, but not in my home!”

That had been seven years earlier. There had been so much water under the bridge since then, so much sand had fallen through the proverbial hourglass. Brought out of her relentless reverie and multiple memories, Victoria saw that Jo had come from the kitchen with a pitcher of chilled martini’s and two frosted martini glasses. “Martini time,” Jo exclaimed, “and a penny for your thoughts!” Victoria tried to smile but was still steeped in memories and thoughts that continued to plague her.

Ever ready to cheer up her younger friend, Jo recited in a deep sing-song voice: “I love a martini/But two at the most/Three, I’m under the table/Four, I’m under the host!” Then Jo gave a great guffaw, took a long slurp of her martini, a trickle of which ran down her chin (Victoria wondered if Jo had been drinking them before her arrival that afternoon), and finally ended up in coughing fit. “You have to love that Dorothy Parker,” Jo chortled, “What a wit!”

Victoria smiled tightly and then commented, “Didn’t she die penniless? Or am I thinking of someone else?” Jo shrugged, as she continued to take generous sips of her martini. “As far as I am aware, Our Miss Parker is still alive and living in New York City,” Jo said with a smile, “and no doubt as we speak she is swilling down her fourth martini!” Reflecting, she then exclaimed, “I think her writing career took a nosedive after she was investigated for possible Communist affiliations, the poor soul.”

“Oh well,” Victoria intoned without emotion, “Then she got what she deserved.”

Jo stared over her martini glass at Victoria. “Are you in another dark funk?” she asked, now turning serious. She set down her martini glass and reached for the silver cigarette box that was the centerpiece of her marble coffee table. Lighting a King size Philip Morris cigarette, Jo inhaled deeply and then a few moments later let the smoke come out of nose and mouth at the same time. Sometimes Jo blew little circles when she smoked to amuse Victoria, but today she seemed to know that would not change her friend’s mood.

“I often wonder why Miles married me; he could have had his pick of much prettier and slimmer women at the university,” Victoria pondered, more to herself than to her friend, “It certainly wasn’t for my money.” Jo set her martini glass down and stated, “The first time you visited me seven years ago you asked that same question. Do you remember my response?” the older woman asked, her face having taken on a no-nonsense look. Not waiting for a response (knowing one would probably not be forthcoming because Victoria was lost in thought, with her still-full martini in her left hand), Jo responded to her own question. “He married you for your name. Even if the flow of funds had dried up considerably by the time you were married, everyone knows the England family from Toronto’s affluent Rosedale area. It is a name one just knows, maybe not as well as the Labatt family name, for instance, but England is a well-known name!”

Victoria had not responded: she seemed to be reflective, staring opposite from where she sat at the antique clock that was in pride of place on top of the fireplace mantel. She began to take prolonged sips of her martini.

“I have a book that I think you should read,” Jo said matter-of-factly. She got up and went over to the large bookcase that dominated the wall at the far end of her living room. Jo returned to the sofa and placed a book on the coffee table in front of the wing chair where Victoria always preferred to sit. Victoria looked down at the book: its title was ‘The Second Sex’ by Simone de Beauvoir. “I doubt you have read this book, but have you heard of it?”

Victoria picked up the book and read the inside flap. “Yes, of course I have heard of it, but no, I have not read it. I am not sure if I want to read it.”

Jo snorted, “Every woman should read it. Times are changing, and Simone de Beauvoir has important ideas. We need to stick together, all women.” Jo had just finished a cigarette and gone to pour herself another martini, then continued. “Especially women like us.”

Victoria set the book down on the coffee table with a thud. “What do you mean,” she asked, “women like us?”

Instead of answering the question she had been asked, Jo replied, “Let me top up your martini, dear. That will pick you up out of your doldrums.” She rose from the sofa and went to the side table where the martini pitcher sat, in order to top up Victoria’s glass. Afterwards, instead of walking directly back to where Victoria sat in the wing chair adjacent to the sofa, the older woman took a circuitous route around the living room and to the side of the the wing chair where Victoria sat. Bending down over Victoria to set the martini glass on the coffee table, Jo’s face brushed the side of Victoria’s cheek, and then she gave it a soft kiss.

Victoria arose so abruptly from where she was sitting that her knees hit the coffee table, and her martini glass fell over and crashed to the floor. Shards of glass were in a circle around Victoria’s feet,  and the spilled martini had splashed on her favourite summer dress, made of linen and with geometric patterns in shades of blue, black, and grey.

Victoria, swaying slightly, began to walk out of her friend’s living room, calling over her shoulder, “Maybe Miles was right,” she shouted, “If so, you are barking up the wrong tree.” Victoria slammed the hall door behind her as she made her way down the brick walkway and to the new black Buick sedan that Miles had given to her only the week before, as a going away present before his fishing trip. As she sat behind the steering wheel and before turning on the ignition, Victoria thought back to what Madge had said to her: that the big, black sedan rather looked like the town’s hearse sitting in the Davenport driveway. Suddenly, Victoria started to laugh hysterically at that wry statement. After starting the car and backing out of Jo’s driveway the tears of laughter had become tearful sobs as she drove down the street on her way home.

When Miles returned from his fishing trip the following week, he was in a jovial mood and his step was light; it seemed the time away with his buddies had done wonders for him. He brought a huge bouquet of colourful summer flowers for Victoria. However, Miles knew something was wrong with his wife. She was even more sombre and quiet than usual. Prodding his wife to tell him what was wrong, Victoria only said that she and Jo had an argument. Telling her husband what she thought of as a little white lie, Victoria disclosed that Jo had wanted her to read a book called ‘The Second Sex’, but when she refused because of its strident overall theme, Jo had been very upset with her.

Miles had responded with a knowing and satisfied sigh, “Honey, you should not be so trusting of that old drunk; you are too trusting of people, it is one of your greatest failings.” Then he kissed her on the cheek, and Victoria realised it was the exact same spot where Jo’s lips had touched her face. Victoria turned away from Miles with distaste, and thought back to that other kiss.


What Victoria had not told Miles about was her drop-by visit to the accounting office where he worked, when he was on his fishing trip. She rarely went to his office; Victoria knew her husband preferred that she not enter his ‘other world’. However, a nagging thought at the back of Victoria’s mind made her go to her husband’s office one morning when he was away on his ‘buddy time’ holiday. She wanted to have the opportunity to get to know his new secretary, Mimi; she had only heard about her to this point in time.

When Victoria entered the ‘Tri-County Accounting Bureau’, she was surprised to see that the secretary’s desk outside her husband’s office was empty, with no papers on it nor semblance of anyone having worked at it that day. The office receptionist, an older, well-groomed and attired woman looked rather startled at Victoria’s appearance, having so rarely seen her in that office. “Yes, Mrs. Davenport, can I help you?,” she asked. Victoria was momentarily at a loss for words. The receptionist continued, “I hope you are enjoying your time alone while your husband is on his fishing trip.” Victoria continued to stare at the desk where her husband’s secretary would normally be sitting. Finally, she brought herself out of her reverie and said, “Thank you, Mildred, and my apologies for dropping by, I was just…” and then her words tailed off into silence.

“Muriel,” the receptionist said, “Mrs. Davenport, my name is Muriel,” she repeated kindly, looking not in Victoria’s eyes but at her dress. “You were so kind to me when my elderly mother passed away last year. I am still enjoying the prune preserves that you gave to me; you were so generous to give me a dozen jars.”

Victoria was thinking what to say next, but wondered why the receptionist continued to stare at her dress. Victoria looked down and saw that her slip was hanging a good inch below her belted, black summer dress. She was embarrassed beyond words, but would not be distracted from her mission. “That’s nice,” she replied. “Where is my husband’s secretary, Miss…” It came to Victoria then that she had forgotten the name of her husband’s new secretary.

“Miss Merriweather,” the receptionist responded, her eyes now peering intently at the younger woman, but with a look of kindness – or was it pity? Victoria wondered. “Miss Mimi Merriweather. She is on holiday. Mimi went to visit her family in Wiarton for a week.” The receptionist hesitated but then continued. “It seemed a logical time for Mimi to take her holiday since your husband is on his fishing trip.” Muriel stood up and walked towards Victoria. Putting her hand gently on the younger woman’s arm, she asked, “Is there anything that I can do for you?”

Victoria shrugged off the older woman’s hand, and standing erectly she stated: “I just wanted to say hello to my husband’s secretary, to get acquainted.” Victoria turned and walked toward the outer door, then over her shoulder as she was about to exit the accounting office Victoria said as brightly as she muster, “Thank you, Mildred, you are a dear” and walked out into the harsh sun of that August day.

Muriel walked back to her desk, shaking her head slightly, and thought to herself that when the other girls came back from their coffee break, she had an interesting story to tell them.

Chapter 3


It was during Miles fishing trip with the buddies from the couple’s circle of friends that Madge arranged a bridge party for the “fishing widows” as she referred to herself and her friends. When at her best, Victoria was a decent bridge player; when she was not able to concentrate, like today, she was dismal. On days such as this one, no one wanted Victoria for a bridge partner, even if they would not admit it. As usual on those days, Madge was Victoria’s bridge partner (the two of them were East-West, with Grace and Hortense being North-South; Isobel and Jeannie were partners at the other bridge table, opposite Jane and Doris). After the bridge party, Madge served cocktails and snacks and told the other women that she had an announcement.

Standing up she said, “Ladies, you know how our men have the Canucks Club, involving curling in the winter, baseball in the summer, and fun events like the fishing trip they are now enjoying?” Madge looked around her at the other women who were now sitting on the sofas and padded armchairs in her spacious living room. Everyone was nodding in agreement and waiting for what Madge would say next; except for Victoria, who was staring down into her gin and tonic glass as if it were a crystal ball.

Madge decided to ignore Victoria and continue with her little speech; years before she had been a cheerleader at the Cornersville Secondary School, and that experience still held her in good stead. “Do we want our own women’s group, for sports and fun?” Madge shouted, smiling broadly. “Yes, yes, yes!” all the other women responded, even Victoria who had now focused more on what was being said. “Great! Then I propose we establish a sister group to the Canucks, and call ourselves, the Canettes!” Madge exclaimed. “After all, we need to have fun and be active too,” she shouted, to the cheers of the other women in her expansive living room, laughter in her voice and a rosy glow in her cheeks. “Our lives should not only be about our husbands and kids!”

After further animated discussion about the group, the decision was made that the following summer the eight women would also have a summer trip (provided their mothers and mother-in-laws or other female relatives would babysit for them). It was agreed that a trip to the Muskoka region or Algonquin Provincial Park, with an emphasis on canoeing, swimming, and water sports would be the plan. “As well as a lot of smoking and drinking, and talking about men!” Madge cried out, to the laughter of all the women assembled.

Victoria was reminded of her childhood and summer visits to the family cottage in the Muskoka region, not far from Algonquin Provincial Park. She had such pleasant memories of those days, and her childhood, which now seemed so uncomplicated in comparison to her current life. If able to do so, Victoria would have liked to turn back time, to go back to the past, to regress and retreat, to flee rather than fight a losing battle.


The next day after the bridge party, Victoria asked Madge over for morning coffee. Madge’s children were at her mother’s house, which was near the town’s park where they could play. The two women took their coffee cups to the flagstone terrace outside the living room. Madge took a pack of cigarettes out of her purse and lit two at the same time, then offered one cigarette to Victoria. “I saw that trick in an old Bette Davis movie” Madge chuckled.  

Although not a heavy smoker, Victoria occasionally smoked because most of the other women did (and all their husbands); however, as a health precaution she never inhaled deeply, rather kept the smoke in her wind pipe briefly before blowing it out through her mouth (never from her nose, as Jo liked to do).

“Okay, Virginia Woolf,” Madge said spritely but with a downbeat grin, “What gives? What’s the problem now? Yesterday you looked like you had the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

“First of all, Madge, level with me,” Victoria said, speaking evenly and with much care. “Do you think that I have let myself go?” Victoria gave a faint but discouraged smile. “When I see myself in the mirror I look closer to forty than to thirty…I look like a middle-aged frump.”

“Just think what you would look like if you had kids!” Madge exclaimed. Then, seeing the sorrowful look in her friend’s eyes, Madge continued, “I am so sorry, honey, I wasn’t thinking”. Madge took a sip of her coffee and a few drags on her cigarette. “Are you going to tell me, or is this story not for kids?” she wisecracked.

Victoria laughed despite herself. Both Madge and Jo had the ability to make Victoria laugh occasionally, to see the bright side of life.

“Can I change the topic?” Madge asked, “Or rather give you more time to decide if you want to open up to me or not?” Victoria nodded in agreedment. Her friend continued, “I heard from Mrs. Cleaver at the meat market that a new teacher from the city has been found for the one-room country school outside town.”

“That’s nice,” Victoria responded faintly, in her mind’s eye imagining the young, female teacher in the swirling waters of the river where she had met her demise. She knew that in Cornersville and area “from the city” meant London, an one-hour drive to the south.

“Mrs. Cleaver told me that a young man has been hired,” Madge proclaimed, “So you can be sure they don’t want any more trouble with a woman teacher out at that school.” Madge fingered her cigarette packet. “Apparently, this new teacher has a pompadour hairstyle, and he is quite a snappy dresser.” Madge extracted another cigarette from the packet and lit it with a match. She gave a snort and then said,”That woman is such a hoot! You know how she talks, and such a character with that gap-toothed smile of hers.” Madge gave another loud guffaw. Imitating Mrs. Cleaver, Madge said, “I done heard that there young feller who’ll be the new teacher at the country school, people say he plays the pianer really pretty, just like that there Liberace.” Madge was laughing so hard, tears ran from her eyes.

Victoria gave a brief laugh, and said, “It is good they have found a suitable replacement for that young woman who…” and the words faded away.

Madge gave Victoria a ‘cheer up’ look and continued. “As Mrs. Cleaver told me, the young man wants to get involved in the community,” Madge stated, blowing smoke through her lips, “and in fact, wants to be a Boy Scout leader. Those lucky boys, to have a new, young Boy Scout leader. Old Burt Bentley has wanted to get out of the Boy Scout leadership for years.”

Abruptly, Victoria blurted out, “I am worried that Miles is having an affair.”

“With who?” Madge asked, “Your friend, Jo?” Then she began to cackle at her own joke.

“Very funny,” said Victoria. “No, with his new secretary, Mimi. I dropped by his office when Miles was on the fishing trip, and the receptionist told me that Mimi was also taking her summer holiday at the same time.

Madge gave Victoria a sceptical look, and then took another drag of her cigarette. “My friend, you have been reading too many books, and thinking too much.”

Victoria ignored what Madge had just declared. “I want you to do something for me. Ask your husband something…ask Mike if Miles was on the fishing trip.”

Madge rolled her eyes. “And if he wasn’t, do you think Mike would tell me, or any of the other husbands?” Madge butted out her cigarette and leaning over to the other woman said, “Honour amongst thieves.” Then giving a laugh, she exclaimed, “Hell, we don’t tell our husbands everything. You know the expression, ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’.”

“Please just ask him,” Victoria insisted. Madge shrugged her shoulders with an expression on her face that suggested it would be a useless endeavour. “Okay, honey, I will ask Mike and see what he says.”

The following day Madge called Victoria after breakfast, when their husbands had left for work. “According to my husband, your husband caught the most fish, told the most and best jokes, was usually the drunkest guy, and so in short Miles was definitely on the fishing trip.”

“Do you believe him,” Victoria asked her friend.

“No,” Madge said. “But if it were my husband, I would not really care, and you shouldn’t either.Take up a hobby, or furtively find a boyfriend,” she said with a chuckle. “What’s good for the goose, is good for the gander.”

Victoria started to cry, the tears running down her face. Madge exclaimed over the telephone, “My dear friend, what is your problem?”

“That’s just it,” Victoria sobbed, as her friend listened on the other end of the line, “That’s my problem: I just don’t know what my problem is…I just do not know.” Victoria wished that her friend were beside her, so that she could wrap her arms around Madge and hang onto her friend as if she were life itself; for a rare moment to be able to abandon herself to the trust and love of another.


In early September, Victoria had worked up sufficient resolve to make a return trip and drop-in visit to her husband’s office, to get to know her husband’s new secretary. She had taken a great deal of care to put herself together, wearing a new purple summer dress, sporting a new, shorter hairstyle after a visit to the hair dressing salon the day before, and wearing a new girdle that did wonders for her figure. It was only after Victoria entered the accounting office that she wondered if there was lipstick on her teeth; she had been in such haste that she had not checked in the hall mirror before leaving the house.

The receptionist looked up from her desk, and this time the secretaries for all three accountants were at their desks. Victoria smiled at the receptionist, and reflecting on the previous visit, said to the older woman, “It is a pleasure to see you again, Muriel.” The receptionist smiled and turned back to her work, as did the other two secretaries. Miles’ secretary, Mimi, stood up and smiled politely to Victoria. “Hello, Mrs. Davenport. It is a pleasure to meet you. Is there anything that I can do for you?”

Victoria again wondered if she had lipstick on her front teeth, and furtively wiping them with her gloved right hand, she looked down and saw a smear of red on the white material of her gloves. Victoria breathed a sigh of relief that she had narrowly averted an embarrassment, and walked up to the secretary’s desk. Standing across from her, the younger woman seemed to be quietly appraising Victoria, which considerably irked her.

“I dropped by to see my husband,” Victoria said firmly.

“He is in a meeting with the other accountants and informed me that he is not to be disturbed for any reason,” the secretary said politely, but with a firm set of her shoulders.

“But this is important,” Victoria said, her voice starting to falter.

“Is it an emergency,” the secretary asked, raising her eyebrow.

“Well, not exactly an emergency,” Victoria replied. “I need to make a decision about a paint that I saw at Biltmore’s, and I would like to purchase the paint today.”

The secretary blinked rather like a disbelieving owl. “After his meeting is finished, I can send Mr. Davenport over to Biltmore’s and they can show him the particular paint. Leave it to me.”

Victoria fumbled with her purse, readjusted her dress, and turned to leave the office. At the door she turned and looked back. Her husband’s secretary was staring at Victoria, her brow wrinkled and lips pursed. It was a knowing look, Victoria thought to herself; slightly sympathetic but definitely dismissive. Then looking at the others in the outer office, Victoria saw the other three women were also staring at her: the receptionist had a concerned and kindly expression, whilst the two secretaries that sat at their desks near Mimi both had a look of disbelief on their faces – and perhaps, Victoria suspected, slight sneers.

Victoria slammed the outer door of the accounting office behind her and had walked several blocks, almost reaching the path that led up to the red brick library before she remembered that her car was parked in the opposite direction. She made a hasty decision. In view she was only a block from Jo’s house on Rowntree Street, Victoria walked as quickly as possible toward her destination. Although the two women had talked on the telephone since their ‘disagreement’ (as Victoria liked to think of it), she had not been back to Jo’s house. On this humiliating and hot day, the waves of summer heat seeming to drain all energy from her body and soul, Jo’s house seemed to be a beacon of light for Victoria, a veritable lighthouse on the shores of her rocky and treacherous life.

Chapter 4


In southwestern Ontario, the month of September could alternate between hot, summer-like days, and chilly, autumn-like weather. Some people said it was an early Indian summer, although that usually happened later in the fall. Since early summer, Victoria had been collecting stones from the river banks and the waters of the river that ran at the bottom of the sloping yard. In fact, Victoria knew that she had become rather obsessed about collecting stones for the rock garden she was planning to create the following spring. A large mound of stones sat imposingly along the brick wall of the back garden. To Victoria’s chagrin, Miles sometimes referred to it as a burial mound.

It had taken her several attempts, stopping and starting over again, to finally finish Virginia Woolf’s ‘Between the Acts’, the author’s final novel, published shortly after her death. Victoria had found the novel to be dense and confusing, difficult to follow due to its lyrical style, and disturbing but did not quite understand why she felt that way. However, due to her own inability to focus fully, and to give her mind over to the concentration that a profound novel requires, Victoria knew personal factors had a bearing on the progress of her reading. Victoria felt a sense of accomplishment when she came to the final page.

Victoria’s black moods had continued unabated, although some days were better than others. Occasionally, in particular when she was sitting having martinis and chatting with Jo in the afternoon at her home near the library, or having coffee and a chat with Madge, Victoria almost felt her old self. One of the reasons for those good spells, she thought, was because of the pills that Hortense had helped to obtain. Hortense was perhaps her least favourite of the women in her circle: she was often bossy and opinonated, and could be extremely bubbly and happy one day, then critical and bitchy the next. However, Victoria had decided to confide in the other woman about her desire to find pills that could help her with the moody spells she was having. Hortense’s husband was a pharmacist, and Victoria suspected that Hortense was on medication. As it turned out, that was indeed the case.

Over coffee in Victoria’s kitchen, Hortense pontificated: “Say no more, Vicky, I have several bottles of ‘feel good pills’ at home and one in my purse.” Opening her purse, Hortense extracted a vial of the pills and gave them to the other woman. “Just be careful not to over-do it, to take only one pill each morning.” However, sometimes Victoria did forget if she had taken a pill or not. She did not tell her husband nor her doctor about it, although Victoria confided in both Jo and Madge. The two other woman admonished her, but Victoria said the proof was in the pudding and she was beginning to feel better.

Earlier in September Madge’s two children had returned to school after the summer holiday and she tended to drop by to see Victoria on mornings during the week. Victoria would make coffee, and some days she had even felt enough like her old self to make gingersnap cookies, which Madge loved to nibble on with her coffee. Victoria knew that her friend was concerned about her and appreciated that concern, but it irritated her the way that Madge would sometimes look at her, as if she were about to explode or discombulate. On this particular day, just like clockwork, Madge showed up at the kitchen door when Victoria had just sat down in the breakfast nook to drink a cup of coffee after washing the morning dishes.

“Can I pour myself a cup of caffeine?” Madge asked, with a smile.

“Of course,” Victoria replied, “I made gingersnap cookies yesterday, help yourself.” She pushed the cookie jar in front of Madge, who had just sat down in the breakfast nook.

“Did you see ‘I Love Lucy’ last evening?” her friend asked. “It was so funny.”

“It is a good show, but I have lost interest in watching television.” Victoria took a sip of the strong coffee, after having added sugar and cream. “I prefer listening to the radio, especially the CBC. Last evening they had a special broadcast of Wagner’s music,” she continued. “Are you familiar with Wagner?”

Madge gave a snort and set her coffee cup down with a clink. “Yes, I am,” Madge stated with a grimace. “No doubt that light and gay music cheered up your flagging spirits!” she said, a tone of sarcasm in her voice. Reaching across the breakfast nook table, Madge put a hand on one of Victoria’s and looked directly into her eyes. “Honey, you need to see a doctor…a psychiatrist. I am worried about you.”

Victoria started to withdraw her hand. “I will be fine,” she replied. “I just need time.” Victoria started to get up but the other woman grabbed her hand. “I read about this relatively new therapy for people who are overwhelmed with worry…people like you.”

Hearing what her friend had just said to her, Victoria felt herself disengage from the conversation, to feel a type of steely resolve come over her. “I know exactly what you are referring to, Madge,” she glowered. “It is electro-shock treatment, and I would not wish that on my worst enemy.” For a brief instant Victoria recalled going to the movies with Miles shortly after they were married. She had insisted on seeing ‘The Snake Pit’ because it starred one of her favourite actresses, Olivia de Havilland. Victoria had been extremely upset by the movie and its theme of mental illness. She had squirmed whilst watching the movie, and kept twisting and turning in her seat. Miles had leaned over and asked Victoria what was wrong. Victoria had whispered in his ear that she had abdominal pains and thought the curse was coming on her (she would never had said ‘period’ to him, unlike she would have to her female friends). Miles had offered for them to leave the movie theatre and go home; however, Victoria was determined to see the movie to the very end, despite how much it was disturbing her.

Victoria was brought out of her reverie by the sound of Madge rising from breakfast nook. Madge went to the kitchen counter and collected her purse. Turning, she looked back at where Victoria sat in the breakfast nook, her shoulders set in a defensive way.  Madge gave a sad sigh. “Don’t hesitate to let me know if there is anything that I can do at any time,” she instructed, before leaving the kitchen to return to her home down the street.

Victoria sat at the breakfast nook table, her hands clenched in front of her. She regretted not having responded more positively to her friend’s attempts to help her. Madge of course knew about Victoria’s concerns about her marriage and the possibility of infidelity. Surely she too would have her mind in a muddle if she were in Victoria’s shoes? ‘No she wouldn’t,’ Victoria thought to herself. ‘Like Jo, Madge is a survivor. She would be able to overcome any obstacle in her personal life, any devastating episode in her marriage, and soldier on into whatever the future held.’

Although she had continued be concerned that Miles was having an affair with his secretary, Victoria knew it was best to be silent. She did not want her marriage to end up as a failure, to end with a divorce. She did not want to happen to her what had happened to her mother: divorced and with limited financial means. As well, for some reason she was fixated on the death of the young teacher earlier in the summer; although for others in her group the young woman’s death had receded into the past, Victoria felt there was still unfinished business. Everyone had speculated at the time that the teacher had been having an affair with a married man, became pregnant, and then killed herself when he would not leave his wife and marry her. Victoria was plagued with thoughts about the nature of the young woman’s death, especially when she lay in bed at night, and could imagine in her mind’s eye the woman entering the river to end her life. There had never been any question of foul play, the authorities had determined it was death by suicide. Nonetheless, Victoria was rather obsessed about the young woman’s death, in much the same way that she was obsessing about the collection of stones for her rock garden.


“Do you want to come this afternoon for a martini, a smoke, and a chat, dear?” Jo asked her friend over the telephone.

“Sorry, Jo, but I am not feeling myself today,” Victoria replied, and after a short chat she ended the conversation. There was something that she had not told her friend. Victoria had discovered condoms hidden in a shoebox in her husband’s closet. As well, for the past few weeks he had started working in the evenings; Miles said it was because he was so busy. When asked, he said that his secretary also worked in the evening with him due to his need for her assistance. Victoria had been tempted one evening to walk to her husband’s office, to see if she would discover Miles and Mimi doing more than working on accounts. However, she was too proud to do it and perhaps reticient to find out any bad news, or to discover her husband and his secretary were not even at the office. She had considered calling the office and then hanging up, but decided that it would be a humiliating act.

Victoria regretted not accepting Jo’s offer for martinis at her house, but she felt despondent and listless. Not sure if she had taken her feel-good pill that morning, Victoria took another. For most of the afternoon she either lay on the living room sofa or rested in her favourite wing chair that sat adjacent to the fireplace, not far from the open French doors. From there Victoria could see outside to the flagstone patio, and the brick wall of the garden with the mound of rocks in front of it, and down the gently sloping lawn to the churning waters of the river.

At some point when sitting in the wing chair, Victoria had fallen into a deep sleep. She had a most vivid dream: she was at the river, but not at her property, rather on the same river near a bridge. In her dream Victoria knew it was the place where the young teacher had killed herself. The dream was rather like watching a movie, but with a surreal quality to it. In her dream, Victoria was standing on the banks of the river, the bridge in the near distance. Suddenly, she knew that she was not alone. Turning, Victoria gave a start because right beside her was a young woman. She had never met the young teacher who had taught at the one-room country school, but Victoria knew with certainty it was her. In the dream, the two women looked at each other. The other woman leaned toward Victoria as if to kiss her on the cheek; instead, she whispered in Victoria’s ear: “I did not kill myself; I was killed.”

The dream went dark. Victoria struggled to swim up from the depths of the dream to the realm of reality. It was as if she could not move, and that time had stopped. Suddenly, she broke free of the dream – no, nightmare, she decided – and opened her eyes. Looking around, Victoria realised that it was now early evening. She must have been sleeping for a long time. The hours had passed with her asleep in the chair, having a terrible dream that all came back to her with clarity, playing over in her mind like a relentless reel of film.

Just then Miles came into the living room. “You were having quite a sleep,” he said. “I did not want to disturb you.”

“I had a horrible dream,” Victoria murmured, thinking back over it.

“What about?” her husband asked.

Victoria did not want to tell her husband about the dream. She needed time to think, to process the dream and what it meant. “I forget,” she responded, “but I just recall that it was disturbing.”

“Did you collect any more stones today for your rock garden?”

“No,” Victoria replied. “I have been feeling out of sorts today, not myself.”

Miles stared at her from where he was now standing near the French doors. “You should go for a walk, get some exercise,” he stated. “Why not collect more stones for your rock garden while it is still light enough to see?”

Victoria nodded her head in agreement. “I need to clear the cob webs,” she said. “Perhaps that will do it.”

“That’s my girl,” Miles said, grinning. “Although it was quite hot this afternoon, it is getting somewhat chilly this evening. I will get your favourite walking jacket from the hall closet.” He walked out of the room and returned in a moment with it. Victoria took the jacket from Miles, but he helped her put it on. Miles said, “I have to go to work now; busy time of year, as you know. Good luck with finding the best rocks.”

Victoria put her hands in the big pockets of the jacket, and clenched her fists inside them. She felt angry that Miles was leaving, whilst at the same time she was still disturbed by her terrible dream.

Miles was almost in the hallway, but then turned and quickly walked back to his wife. “I forgot something,” he said. Then leaning down, Miles kissed Victoria on the nose, then on the left cheek, and afterwards whispered in her ear.

Victoria did not remember seeing Miles leave the house. She remained standing, rooted to the spot. Victoria was trying to focus on her thoughts, what Miles had whispered to her. Did she just imagine it? Was her mind playing tricks on her again? Victoria squeezed her eyes tight to try to shut out the light, to help her remember. Victoria’s hands were even more tightly clenched in the huge pockets of the jacket, her legs felt wooden, and her feet seemed to be encased in cement. “Remember the words,” she whispered to herself, “remember the words.”

“You got what you deserved.”

Had her husband actually said those words, or had she only imagined it?

Victoria opened her eyes and from where she was standing could see the flowing and foaming river in the distance; it seemed to be beckoning to her. Suddenly the telephone started to ring insistently and constantly; Victoria turned her eyes in the direction of the hallway, where the telephone seemed to threaten to jump off the hall table with ever-louder rings. Victoria knew who it was: no one but Jo would be so persistent. In her mind’s eye she imagined Jo with the telephone clutched in one hand, a martini and cigarette in the other. She knew it would not be long before her friend abandoned the telephone and jumped in her car to come to Victoria’s house; something Jo rarely did.

Looking out again through the French doors to the turbulent river in the distance, Victoria thought of the water and the rocks, and how the entire scenario seemed to be calling to her: to find solace outside in nature, to find peace in the past. Turning her head toward the sound of the telephone, which had momentarily stopped ringing but then started up again with its persistent noise, it seemed to Victoria the path to the hallway and the telephone table led to the future; but it was indeed uncharted and unknown territory.

Victoria knew she must move, that she must make a decision, but her feet felt leaden, and her hands were like blocks of stone in the pockets of her jacket. Ahead or back? The future or the past? Victoria willed herself to move, to take a step. And then another step. And on and on and on. At long last, she was almost there…yes, almost home.


About the author

John RC Potter is an international educator from Canada, who lives in Istanbul.  He has experienced a revolution (Indonesia), air strikes (Israel), earthquakes (Turkey), boredom (UAE), and blinding snow blizzards (Canada), the last being the subject of his story, “Snowbound in the House of God” (Memoirist, May 2023). His poems and stories have been published in a range of magazines and journals (including Literary Yard, The Write Launch, Bosphorus Review of Books), most recently in Blank Spaces, (“In Search of Alice Munro, June 2023).

John RC Potter – Author Website (


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