Seth Wilson knew he would soon have to lock up his wife. It was Tuesday morning. They were having breakfast together. Finishing his coffee, he stared through the kitchen window out into the darkness, gathering his courage. Then he said:
"You know, Angie, it's almost that time of month."
Angelica disagreed. "No," she said firmly, "I only had my period a week ago.”
"Maybe you're right," he answered mildly. "I don't know what I was thinking."
Seth poured himself a second mug of coffee and drank it slowly before rising from the table. Angelica, immersed in The Croton Monthly Journal, ignored him. Steeling himself with a long breath, Seth snapped one cuff on his wife quickly, but she didn't make closing the second easy for him. Then he had to hoist her upon his shoulders and carry her upstairs to the padded room because she refused to walk. Before releasing her hands, he made sure the leg irons fit snugly. Angelica glared at him.
"You should have asked," she said. "You know I don't like surprises."
"I'm sorry. I couldn't tell if you were rational."
"Rational? Of course, I'm rational. You're the one who isn't rational.”
"Maybe so. Let me bring you something to read."
Unfortunately, the coffee pot had been upset directly upon the Journal during their brief
struggle. He suspected this would further upset Angelica, and it did.
"Can't you do anything right?" she asked.
Seth ignored the question. "Would you like me to get you another dress?" he asked.
"What's wrong with the one I'm wearing?"
"Nothing, Angelica. It's just that I don't know if it's appropriate right now."
"Since when did you become the judge of fashion around here?"
Seth shrugged and left the room, barring the door securely. The kids had woken up and
were regarding the mess in the kitchen somberly. Jessica, who was twelve, understood what it meant. Andrew, at seven, still had to be reminded each month.
"Where's mama?" he asked.
"Mama needs to be alone. She's not feeling well," Seth answered. He turned to Jessica.
"Will you make sure this gets cleaned up?" he asked her. "And see that Andrew brushes his
"OK, Dad. I'll have lunch ready, too."
"You're a great girl," he told her, meaning it with all his heart, loving his daughter so much that it hurt. Then he put on his boots and went out to the barn. The two cows were stamping their hoofs impatiently. He greased the teats of the old Holstein, pushed with his shoulder against her barreled side, and sat down with the pail clamped between his knees. It was easy to milk the Holstein. But the young Guernsey was nervous, having come into her first milk only recently. Seth kept an eye on the strong hind legs and pulled the pail out of the way whenever the Guernsey kicked.
He put the full pails outside the barn and turned the cows into the pasture. He forked
clean hay into the stalls and threw the manure onto a pile next to the door.
By daybreak Seth was pruning deadwood in the orchard. The apples were coming in
well, and he knew that there would be a good crop this year. Later on, after a couple hours of
tending to his acreage, he met Abe Kravitz at the fence separating their properties. His
neighbor noticed Seth's scratches and remarked, "Angelica?"
"She was a little early this month. She's never truly regular, you know.”
Kravitz nodded wisely. "Neither is my Peggy.... Can't be too careful where women are
concerned, that's the truth."
Both men glanced soberly to the north, at what had been the Randalls’ place. Even from
afar they could make out how derelict the house had become in the six years since Elaine ran amok. Seth still missed them all, Roger and little Sarah and the baby whose name he couldn't remember, and Elaine herself, and he knew that Abe did, too.
Kravitz was first to shake off the memory and return to the present. "Fred Smith's
getting together for a party to take a wagon into the city next week," he said. "Word is, there's a Costco store that ain't hardly been touched.”
Seth didn't believe it. "After all this time? Come on, Abe. We haven't found anything
worthwhile in twenty years. The city was stripped before either of us was born.”
"I'm not saying it's a fact. But the thing is, this place hadn't opened for business. There's a chance it was overlooked during the looting. Tell me you couldn't use some good hardware or maybe a new saw."
"Well, all right," Seth replied dubiously, disliking the very thought of visiting the empty
city. "Count me in."
He turned away from the fence and began lugging his tools up the long hill toward
home. It was almost noon and the September sun, blinding in a milky sky, possessed a
fierceness out of character for the season. Seth paused to catch his breath and mop his
forehead. That was when he heard screaming carrying faintly through the still air.
Sprinting for the house, he burst through the screen door and flung himself upstairs. As
he’d feared, the bar to Angelica's room had been put aside, and both kids were with her. His
wife had her hands around Andrew's neck and was shaking him as Jessica, wailing, tried vainly to free her brother.
Seth waded into the melee and wrested Andrew away from her. He cradled the sobbing child until he was sure the boy was unhurt. Then he told Jessica, "Take Andrew downstairs. Your mother and I need to be alone.”
When the kids had left, Seth stared silently at his wife. Angelica glowered back.
"He was disrespectful," she said. "It's not right. A child shouldn't talk to his own
mother like that."
Seth couldn't bring himself to speak. What was the point? Any words of his would be
meaningless to her now. And in another two days, or three, when Angelica came back to her
right mind, to the agony of sanity, her own furies of regret would scourge her far more bitterly
than he could ever imagine. So instead he merely murmured, "I know, dear. I know. Is there anything I can get you?"
"Just leave me alone. Why is everyone bothering me all the time? Why can't I simply
have some peace and quiet?"
Seth barred the door behind him and and walked slowly to the kitchen, where the kids
were sniffling together quietly. Suddenly he couldn't restrain his rage and fear any longer.
"How could you?" he asked them. "How could you? I've told you a thousand times not to
disturb your mother when she's poorly. Haven't I? Don't you ever listen?"
That set them both off. "I heard mama crying," Andrew said. "I wanted to make her
"I didn't know what he was doing," Jessica said. "I was cooking, and I thought he was
playing outside. Really, Daddy, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
As suddenly as it had welled in him, his anger fled, leaving Seth spent and nerveless.
He fell into a chair and sat there until the kids had cried themselves out, too drained of feeling to either chastise them further or to console them. Eventually Jessica rose from the table and silently brought out the meal she'd prepared. Eating lifted Seth's spirits somewhat, and he tried to make up with the kids, but they wouldn't allow themselves to be cajoled. So he sent Andrew out to feed the chickens while Jessica began straightening up, and he brought Angelica lunch himself, a thankless task. Then Seth collected his woodworking tools, first mending the porch door and replacing it on its hinges and then going around to the back of the house, where he was half finished with the new extension.
He worked steadily, driving the long nails into the solid oak with bitter determination,
doing his best to ignore the furious howling that erupted from upstairs.
It would be a strong room, durable and sturdy, although Seth took no pride in this fact,
concerned only with having it ready by the time it was needed, probably in the spring. He
became so involved in the carpentry that he didn't notice that his daughter had joined him until he was wet by her tears as he hammered another stud into place.
"What's the matter, Jessie?" he said.
"This is my room, isn't it?" she asked. "I didn't realize it before. But I do now. You're
building it for me.”
"Yes, that's right."
"Pretty soon I'll be just like mom, won't I? After I get my period? I'll go crazy every
Seth nodded. "It's not your fault, Jessie."
"I know, Dad. Mom explained it to me. I know about the plagues. I know I'm sick."
"Not just you, Jessie. And not just her, either. Every woman in the world has the
syndrome. For a hundred years now, ever since the war, when they weaponized menstruation.”
"That doesn't make me feel any better," she said.
Seth didn't know what else there was to say, what he could tell her to soothe away her fear and sadness. So he put down the hammer and took Jessica in his arms and simply hugged her for a long, long time, hoping desperately that he would be able to continue loving his daughter as much as he did now, when she became a woman.
My father always wanted to be a fiction writer but never made a professional sale. When he died, I discovered a file drawer of manuscripts that he had written, mostly short stories in the spare style of the '40s and '50s. I thought several of them were quite good, and submitted them to literary magazine after literary magazine for years, but received only rejections. Then I decided to see if I could rework a story into SF or horror. The result was "A Room of Her Own". Ninety percent of the words are my father's. The rest are mine.