No one—not her friends, business colleagues, or Wall Street rivals—ever guessed that the oversized briefcase that had become Thelia’s trademark was actually her husband. If she ever found herself in a compromising position, she had been instructed by her husband to open him up, turn him out, and let him go to town on anyone who might be threatening her. Nobody would be the wiser. But after a while her husband started whispering to her at the bus stop and then on the subway, which threatened to expose their secret. Thelia would whisper back for him to hush up and be quiet, which he would do until they were both in the privacy of her office or back home.
During the nearly two-and-half years of their engagement, Thelia’s then fiancé had never once indicated that he held any traditional views concerning men, women, or marriage. But immediately after consummating their union on their wedding night, her now husband declared he was duty-bound to protect her until death parted them. After arguing like long-wed spouses for hours, Thelia finally offered a proposal that she believed would convince him of the absurdity of his declaration.
“Fine. I’ll agree to that as long as you agree to be something I can carry with me wherever I go. Something inconspicuous. Something no one will question. Something like a briefcase. Yes. I want you to be my briefcase.”
“To be what? No, I don’t think you under—”
“You heard me. That’s the deal. Take it or leave it,” Thelia said in her best powerbroker voice.
“Yes. Whatever it will take to keep you safe. Now how do I go about doing this?”
“You let me handle that. You know what my father is like. I learned a lot of tricks from my mother.”
After the honeymoon was over, Thelia returned to work carrying her husband in the form of a briefcase for the protection he had promised her. For the first year or so, Thelia would dial in the combination 3-6-7-9 and unlock the briefcase once she had closed the door to her office. Gradually, her husband would unfold himself, stand upright, and work out the kinks in his back. All he wanted to do during these moments was to smother his wife with affection, which interfered with Thelia’s work at times, and which Thelia tolerated less and less as the months and years wound on.
One day they were both nearly caught when the fire alarm in her building went off. Thelia had just barely snapped her husband closed before her secretary burst into her office yelling, “We need to evacuate now!” From then on, Thelia never unlocked her husband at work.
At home, Thelia would open her husband and retreat to the bathtub for a long soak while he happily cooked her dinner. Nestled in a blanket of bubbles, she would hear her husband start to sing one of the sea shanties he loved to sing whenever he had the chance and then lower herself beneath the water until everything became silent.
On their ninth wedding anniversary, Thelia’s husband wouldn’t keep quiet during the overly-crowded subway ride, despite her pleas. When the woman sitting next her looked suspiciously at the briefcase in her lap, Thelia set her husband on the nasty floor and scooted him under her seat.
At home that night, her husband ranted, “Have you ever seen what’s under those seats? I’ll probably get herpes. Or worse!”
“You agreed to this!” Thelia shot back. “You were the one who worried about my safety! You were the one who said I needed your protection! You were the one! You! Maybe I should just leave you home from now on.”
Her husband, appalled by the idea of being left home every day, quickly backed down. “You’re right, of course. It was me. It was all me. I’ll be better. I’ll play my part. No more complaining.”
That night, after her husband had fallen asleep with the help of two Xanax he had taken to calm himself down, Thelia folded him into his briefcase form. Before she snapped him shut, however, she filled him with items she might need in case of emergencies: tampons; pads; mace; an air horn; and a small snub-nosed .38, fully loaded.
From that night on for the next year, Thelia never once opened the briefcase. And all the while she never once heard a peep from her husband. Whether he was incapable of talking while filled with the contents she had placed inside him, or whether he was simply sulking, she couldn’t say for sure. All she knew was that she felt more focused and more calm than ever. And at the end of the year, Thelia earned the promotion that she had long coveted.
For their tenth anniversary, Thelia thought she would surprise her husband by rewarding his good behavior with a trip to Greece, his top bucket-list destination. With her husband in his briefcase form, she only needed to purchase one ticket. Thelia promised her husband that she would not check him with her suitcase and that he could lay on her lap the entire nine-and-half hour first-class flight from New York to Athens. When she placed the briefcase on the conveyor belt to be x-rayed, the TSA agent signaled for her to step out of the line and go to a table manned by two other agents.
“What are the contents of your briefcase, ma’am?”
“Why do you need to know?”
“Ma’am, for some reason your briefcase registers as over the weight limit for an item with its dimensions. And for some reason, we can’t see inside. I mean, our x-Ray machine can’t see what’s in there. Would you please open the briefcase?”
“It’s just papers. And a couple of heavy books. And a few other odds and ends.”
“Ma’am, we need you to open the briefcase.”
“But I have tampons in there,” Thelia whispered, feigning embarrassment. “I don’t want people to see my intimates.”
“Ma’am, you’ve got three options: 1) you can either open the briefcase yourself; 2) you can let us open it for you; or 3) we can confiscate it and not permit you to board. With that third option you can file paperwork to retrieve your property at a later date.”
Thelia stood silently for what felt like all the years she and her husband had been married. She looked at the briefcase, half expecting her husband to start yelling for help. But there was nothing. Nothing at all to indicate that the briefcase was anything more than a briefcase. And for some reason, the silence of her husband’s unwillingness to stand up for himself enraged her.
“Fine. There’s nothing in there that I desperately need. Just give me the paperwork and show me where to sign.”
Ten days later, Thelia returned from Greece and made her way to the TSA office at the airport, where she picked up her briefcase without saying a word.
On her way home, a mugger ran out of the shadows of the subway as Thelia waited on the platform, knocking her to the ground and sending her briefcase flying. Acting purely on adrenaline, she was up and running toward the briefcase before the mugger knew what was happening. She scooped the briefcase off the floor, quickly dialed in the combination and set it down in front of her, waiting for her husband to spring into action. The mugger, completely confused by what was happening, stood slack-jawed, switching his gaze back and forth between Thelia and the briefcase.
“Well?” Thelia yelled. “Now’s your chance!”
“My chance?” the mugger replied. “My chance for what? Do you know what’s going on her, lady?”
Thelia stared at the briefcase, which just sat there, agape and inanimate. When the mugger made a sudden move toward the briefcase, Thelia quickly reached in, pulled out the .38, and took aim. The mugger slammed to a stop before turning and running back into the shadows. A smile spread across her face as she lowered the gun. But when she looked down, her smile turned into a kind of snarl.
“Where were you? What was all that shit about protection? About until death parts us? I can make that happen. Right now.” Thelia slowly pulled the hammer back and pointed the gun at the briefcase.
For a moment, the briefcase looked like an open mouth. Specifically, it looked like her husband’s open mouth the only time Thelia ever saw him cry, the day his mother died. She shook her head as if trying to clear her mind and then uncocked the hammer. She leaned down, snapped the briefcase closed, and tossed the gun onto the tracks where its clatter echoed like a scream. Thelia turned away, picked up her suitcase, and climbed the steps up to 103rd Street, where she hailed a cab.
“Any other bags?” the driver asked as he stowed the suitcase in the trunk.
“No,” Thelia sighed. “Just the one.”