By Michael Conniff
Copyright © 2021
All Rights Reserved
“Stop!” she said.
She had never said that word to Scotty since they met at her brother’s wedding. He had been marvelous, miraculously clever on the dance floor, kind and considerate when they were alone. She was petite, tiny even, but Scotty was massive, with a chest growing bigger on a rowing machine every day.
She knew right away Scotty was not only handsome but soon to be rich because he had staked out Austin for his hedge fund. She could have cared less about any of that—about the money. She had a good job herself at We Work in Austin; she had never wanted a man for monetary reasons because she wanted something much better. Someone with soul to burn. She wanted children they could raise together, take to the park, go on bike rides and vacations as a family.
She had never needed much for herself beyond work—and that’s why she had done so well in college, graduating with honors and a degree in digital marketing. She had landed the job at We Work so she and Scotty could give it a try together.
She knew they were supposed to be happy in the beginning, but this was way beyond that, veering into bliss during long soothing dinners at the end of life-sucking marathons at work. They both liked to cook and they loved to cook together, with many weekends spent liberating the odd ingredients for their meals that week. None of their friends were surprised when they got married.
That was life in Austin before Scotty’s Big Deal. The Big Deal really was big, the biggest ever for his firm, and by luck the target was a young CEO with a cloud company within walking distance of them in Austin. Both he and Scotty loved country music, so the three of them—Scotty, the CEO, and her—started to go to the clubs Friday and Saturday nights. When the lawyers and principals got stuck in the muck, the CEO got Scotty to step in and the deal got done in two weeks. Scotty said country music and their mutual love of Texas football pushed the CEO over the goal line.
She was elated for him and for them too. If it were possible she would have loved him even more. His bonus was the biggest check she had ever seen in her life by three zeros, and the condo they bought was in the best building in Austin. The CEO became Scotty’s best friend forever.
But something changed after The Big Deal. She knew success did that to people: drop your guard and success throws you down a black hole with no bottom. And that’s what happened to Scotty.
In the months before she told him to stop, the more money Scotty made, the more time he spent at the office on the next new deal and the next. They still had dinner in their beautiful new dining room, but not always together, because Scotty never had enough time. The shopping excursions dwindled down to very expensive bottles of wine bought at the last minute. She knew their beautiful lovemaking was sure to lapse one day, but she never thought something so mind-blowing could disappear overnight. Instead of love, she began to think of sex with Scotty as intercourse then fornication on the bad nights—and soon they were all bad nights. Scotty was incredibly strong, but she had always loved his gentle side—the way he slowed things down to make their lovemaking last forever. Sometimes they even fell asleep with him inside of her in no hurry to leave.
Scotty’s travel made it worse. After The Big Deal he was gone every week, sometimes twice a week, and some weekends he never made it home from Houston or Dallas or San Antonio. It was hell on her—and hell only got worse when Scotty got home and said he was too tired to eat, though not too tired to copulate with a viciousness closer to porn than love. Scotty was rough on her now, holding her down even after she asked him to let her go.
She knew there were consolations, of course—the beautiful condo with a view of a lake, more money than she could spend, all that time all night to watch all the shows she wanted. Life without Scotty was not her idea of heaven, but no one would have called it hell.
When she became pregnant, they both thought the baby would get them back to where they belonged even though Scotty was always gone. The idea of the little baby girl made her tingle. She told everyone right away, even though she was supposed to tell no one because they might lose her. Before Scotty knew it, she was presenting him with color swatches for the nursery.
“Anything but pink,” Scotty said—and that was all he said about it. She went with a nice Carolina blue, because Scotty went to UNC.
He had been gone for almost three weeks when the partners in Austin surprised him with his promotion to senior associate—one of only three in the Austin office—a fast-track to partner. On the face of it, Scotty should have been ridiculously happy. He had the cute little wife with a good job at We Work; the baby coming; and his career taking off like a mission to Mars. There was the nice condo and all that money and prospects for more of same. He was way beyond where he thought he could get when he graduated from North Carolina a year early.
Now he was a golden boy, heading into the golden moment of his career.
What could be better?
That’s what she was thinking the night before the shower, the night Scotty said he had to leave first thing for Houston so he was not going to make it back in time to open the presents.
She had promised herself she would never cry when her husband left because in business you had to do what you had to do. She knew what it meant to work hard and she never second-guessed him. But this time, the night before the shower, she could not stop from—and that was before Scotty slapped her IN THE FACE without mercy of any kind.
He knocked Mimi—six months pregnant, with the imprint of Scotty’s hand like sunburn on her tiny cheek—clean off the bed and onto the floor. Scotty was massive, remember, and even with all the travel he never went a day without a workout. Put that together and you’ve Mimi on the floor in a kind of shock, with the pain in her cheek hurting so much she can’t stop crying.
Scotty was not saying he was sorry and this would never happen again. Instead he was winding up again with the look of a madman, ready to slap her again. That’s when she said it.
“Stop! “Mimi said.
With that one word, everyone and everything came to a dead stop. Except for Mimi.
Scotty still had that demonic look on his face, but he was completely frozen, like an ice sculpture, and so was everything else in their world.
Time itself had stopped because she said so.
Mimi stood up wobbling and felt the heat of her cheek where Scotty hit her. In that moment, she saw her future preordained, like something horrible that had already happened. Scotty would keep hitting her and then she would die inside. And Scotty would (of course) blame her for the miscarriage and spread terrible rumors about Mimi to everyone, especially their friends. Tiny as she was, Mimi would surely go to fat after the miscarriage and none of her clothes would button or snap. She would lose her job and her friends from work at We Work. The friends she had left would avoid her because no one would know what to say. Scotty would file for divorce and he would make out magically in the settlement, because she had no fight left in her after the baby was gone from this earth.
She and Scotty were so close to having something special BUT he wiped it all away with one slap.
Mimi knew all this to be true after she put a stop to their world with one word. In their condo Scotty was still a statue, and everything else—the digital clock, the dishwasher, and all things electrical—had stopped, too, in the middle of the past and present.
In the middle of these worlds Mimi was shivering like she was in a meat locker. She worked her way around Scotty to the window overlooking Austin. The night traffic had stopped like everything in her condo; a flock of birds had stopped cold in midair. She could see no movement, nothing, as she reached her hand up to close the window.
And that’s when it happened.
By twisting her hand clockwise, everything frozen in that moment began to fast-forward backwards—cars, birds, and even Scotty—all of it without a sound. When Mimi pulled her hand back everything outside the room stopped again in the same spot as before, before Scotty slapped her.
Mimi toggled forwards and backwards to get the hang. Even when Mimi kept spinning this imaginary dial clockwise back to the present, but if she moved her hand counterclockwise, time moved backwards so fast she almost missed the moment she had first seen Scotty in the flesh at her brother’s wedding.
Mimi was as beautiful as any of the bridesmaids in their dresses that day—so beautiful Scotty was frozen to the spot, staring at her when the wedding party posed for pictures. Mimi watched the actual past as though she were in the present, but this time she knew the wonderful times were coming with Scotty before it all went south. Instead of the inevitable future with Scotty, good then awful, Mimi spun her invisible dial backwards to the moment when her brother Keith kissed his wife Silbi, her Irish sister-in-law, to make their wedded bliss official.
In that moment Mimi looked across at the groomsmen: all but one were transfixed by the first kiss of the newlywed couple. The tall Black man with the bald head and the mischievous smile was the only groom looking at Mimi instead of the bride and groom.
How could she have missed it the first time? Before she ever laid eyes on Scotty?
This time was the second time when time stood still. Mimi did not look up during the wedding pictures, and Scotty simply went looking for his next target. Instead of Scotty, Mimi took up with Ricko, short for Richard. Of course they danced, but mainly they drank and talked and ate too much cake. Ricko was funny, with almost no filter, and by the end of the wedding he had nicknames for everyone—Fat Daddy, Nobody Home—and Sorry You Asked, Mimi’s personal favorite. Long after everyone had left, they kissed on the balcony for twenty minutes before their lips finally came apart. They made plans for the next day before they left—before Mimi said Stop again.
As before, Ricko and the whole world stopped. Except for Mimi. Mimi could not stop second-guessing herself.
The whole thing with Ricko felt wrong, fake, because no one in the world gets to do what she had just done. No one gets to rewrite their life at the first sign of trouble. No one gets to run away from their marriage just like that.
She and Scotty made a pledge to each other, and no matter what weirdness was happening to her it would be a sin against nature to call the whole thing off like it never happened. So Mia went back to the future, to the present, actually, with a baby in her belly and a husband who had just slapped her in the face. The imaginary dial stopped at the exact moment when this all started with Scotty in the condo.
“Go,” she said, though not to Scotty, because she had no idea what to say to him.
She was back in the awful present, on the floor again, with Scotty’s fingerprints on one side of her face like a permanent scar. Maybe he would see the error of his ways and resist the opportunity to become a monster. Maybe. But Mimi had no idea what to do.
She could have said stop again but instead she said no—and Scotty stopped right there.
“You disgust me,” he said.
Instead of hitting her again he slammed the bedroom door shut and spent the night in the nursery snoring like crazy within the four walls of Carolina blue.
Mimi’s default had always been happy but she had never been so unhappy in her life. She had not only promised to love Scotty, but clearly loved him deeply and dearly. She loved his success at work, and she loved him for the baby they had made together—but that was before she had seen life in a different universe, the one where she made out with Ricko in a ballroom, lip-locked for twenty minutes straight without a care in the world. She missed the sweet touch of his lips and the way he smelled so sweet for a man. She liked his funny nicknames for everyone. She liked him and her in-between life.
How could she ever go back to some kind of strange daydream? She never believed in dissociative states when they taught them in Psych class at UT in Austin, and she sure as hell did not believe in them now.
The baby shower helped. Her friends helped. But mostly her sister-in-law Silbi helped. Mimi had always loved the sound of Silbi’s silken Irish brogue.
“You and me,” Silbi said. “We are wee you see. Big or not, my children with your brother will have wee on both sides.”
“I think my daughter will be as big as a house,” Mimi said. “Look at Scotty.”
“Don’t count on it, Mimi.”
“And why is that?
“Because you and me, we are The Wee.”
“And you are weird,” Mimi said.
“You don’t understand,” Silbi said. “There’s no way you could.”
Silbi remembered the slap on her face, now cloaked in rouge, but she could not fool her sister-in-law. Silbi touched Mimi ever so lightly on her cheek.
“I can play pretend till the end of time if you need me to,” Silbi said. “If you want to tell me about running into the door. Or falling and hitting your face on the floor.”
“How did you know?”
“Just tell me what the bastard did to you,” Silbi said.
“It’s in my eyes, isn’t it? I saw it there when I looked in the mirror. Not just my cheek. It’s in my eyes, too.”
“You went back like I did. You turned the wheel back before you met Scotty, but you came back even knowing what you know about him now.”
“How did you know?”
“I told you,” Silbi said. “You and me, we are The Wee.”
“You’ll see,” Silbi said.
The next time Scotty hit her, Mimi did not say stop but she did say no—and it made no difference. The cycle repeated itself again and again, like a pre-set button on a washing machine.