Welcome to the third year anniversary celebration, where we present three of our favorite Halloween stories. First up is WHEN DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WIFE, SYBIL, VISITED A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR by the ever-talented Maureen Mancini Amaturo. This story is a comedy that uses the Jekyll story in a new way. To start the celebration, we kick off with an interesting story that sure to make you laugh!
WHEN DR. JEKYLL AND HIS WIFE, SYBIL, VISITED
A MARRIAGE COUNSELOR
It wasn’t her moods that confounded him. It was her impermanence. Even with his scientific background, Dr. Henry Jekyll could not deduce exactly what was the issue with his wife, Sybil, but he knew, surely, it was more than hormones. Henry and Sybil would make plans, make promises, make love, but more times than not, neither would recall any of it. He guarded his own secret that explained his side of the issue, but he was at a loss wondering, what is it with her?
Almost a full year of marriage now, and things were not getting better with time. One grey, biting, winter day, Henry and Sybil Jekyll agreed to seek professional help. They phoned a marriage counselor and made an appointment for the following week. At Henry’s insistence, they wrote down what they had agreed on. He feared neither of them would recall they had made this pact since Henry Jekyll often found himself with long intervals of blank memory, as did his wife. Using this note and lucid moments, they committed to their agreement until the appointment day arrived.
“Doctor and Mrs. Jekyll?” A woman—starched and stiff-lipped, her black hair wrenched back to a taut, small bun, her nose like the blade of an ax—entered the waiting room. Henry and Sybil stood. “Come with me, please.” The couple followed her down the hall to a door that read Lawrence Talbot, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist.
Talbot greeted both of them with a nod and indicated they should sit. Dr. Jekyll rested his top hat on his lap. Sybil clutched her purse to her chest and kept her head down. She melted into her chair, shoulders curled forward, knees together. She barely whispered, “How do you do?”
Talbot opened a notebook atop his desk and raised his pen. “I never take appointments this late in the day. I always leave the office before dusk. But when you called, Dr. Jekyll, you sounded so troubled that I agreed to meet this afternoon.” Lawrence Talbot checked his watch. “We should get started.” He turned to Mrs. Jekyll. “Sybil, please tell me–”
“My name is Victoria. Address me properly, s’il vous plait.” Sybil’s posture straightened and her neck elongated. She adjusted her purse and brushed an invisible speck of lint from her forearm. She stared directly at Talbot.
Talbot turned to Henry Jekyll. “Victoria?”
Sybil shifted in her seat. “I, personally, did not feel the need for this, but all the others were in agreement.”
“The others?” Talbot asked.
She shrugged in resignation.
Talbot assumed she was referring to her husband. “And you, Dr. Jekyll, are you willing to participate with a face of patience and honesty? If not, I’m afraid we won’t accomplish much.”
Sybil began to giggle. “As for what face he participates with, well, that’s anybody’s guess.” She crossed her legs, pulled her skirt above her knees, and pushed the chair to her left a few inches.
“Victoria, what exactly do you mean by that?”
“I’m Peggy Lou. Get it straight, Talbot.” She punched the arm of her chair.
“You said you were Victoria.”
“Not anymore. Victoria split. She’s not the type to talk about personal stuff like this. She didn’t even want us to come. This is all just too uncouth for a dame like her.”
“Peggy Lou, is it? Why don’t you use your given name, Sybil?”
“Because that’s not my name. And Sybil is a weakling.”
“I see.” Lawrence Talbot did not see at all and made a few notes. He looked at Henry Jekyll who put his hands up.
Talbot pointed to Dr. Jekyll with his pen. “Perhaps, you can tell me what the issue is.”
Dr. Jekyll fingered the brim of his hat. “My friends warned me that a woman becomes a different person after marriage. Cliché bachelor talk, I thought. With Sybil, I was sure I married the woman who would understand me, would accept that at times I would need my isolation. Sybil seemed to be someone I could trust, someone who would always be there for me. Her unpredictability—and that is all I thought it was at the time—was a trait that attracted me when we were courting. I admired her creativity and wrote off her repeated changes in voice, appearance, and demeanor as calculated flirtation. The fact that she executed it so well intrigued me.” He pulled a monogramed handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his brow. “In my line of work, a constant wife who honors the privacy within a marriage is of the utmost import. Her respect for privacy remains true, but constant she isn’t.”
“Just what is your line of work, Doctor?” Talbot asked.
Henry looked down at the hat on his lap. “I study the multiple sides of man’s nature.”
Talbot felt the hair on his arms stand, his shoulders stiffen. He tugged at his collar to loosen his tie. He felt an intense heat crawl up his neck and across his face. “I see.” He cleared his throat and looked down at his notes to avoid eye contact with Dr. Jekyll. “And would you say, Mrs. Jekyll–”
Sybil stood and pointed right between Talbot’s eyes. “Peggy Lou. Got it? Peggy Lou! Cut the Mrs. Jekyll crap.”
Henry Jekyll leaned forward. “See what I mean?”
“Peggy Lou, I assume you heard what your husband just shared.”
“I’m not deaf.”
Talbot shook his head. “No, of course not. I didn’t mean to imply anything of the sort.” Talbot turned to a clean page in his notebook. “Peggy Lou, I’d like to hear your side of the story.”
“Here it is, plain and simple. Sometimes, the handsome, brilliant doctor I married becomes a cruel monster, an absolute monster.”
“I see.” Talbot made notes. “What behavior, exactly, makes you describe him as a monster?”
“Oh, it ain’t just behavior. Everything about him changes. His face distorts. His body twists and bends over. He stops talking and only grunts. I’d say he’s outright crazy, but I really think it’s his drinking problem.”
Talbot’s eyes widened. “Drinking problem?” Talbot turned to Dr. Jekyll. “You didn’t say anything about a drinking problem.”
“You don’t understand,” Henry Jekyll said. “It is all part of my work. It is absolutely necessary.”
“That’s a strange job requirement.” Talbot turned toward the window behind him and glanced at the late-afternoon sky, gauging the moon’s appearance.
Dr. Jekyll continued, “But it isn’t at all. You see, in each of us, two natures are at war, the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. I am studying the effects of a serum, a serum that could alter human behavior. I share this assuming you respect the confidentiality of your clients. Confidentiality is critical, you understand.”
Ducking to achieve a better angle at the emanant moon, Talbot said, “Of course. Yes. Confidentiality.”
Dr. Jekyll placed his top hat on the floor and stood. “Mr. Talbot, can you help us? There is an extraordinary disequilibrium in our marriage. My wife seems to exhibit a routine fluctuation in personality. Her moods are volatile. She is quite inconsistent in her affections for me. The variability in her self-image creates extreme unsteadiness, painful precariousness in our relationship. To say she vacillates is quite the understatement.”
As her next personality emerged, Sybil removed a pair of half-lens glasses from her purse and put them on. “Now, now, Henry. You behave yourself. You know those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” She pushed the glasses up the bridge of her nose with one finger. “Remember, it is always wise to examine our own behavior before judging others.” Sybil fluffed her hair. “You’d be wise to listen.”
Talbot asked, “Peggy Lou, are you saying that you feel Henry exhibits the same mutable behavior of which he accuses you?”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Talbot. Peggy Lou was becoming bored, so I took over.”
Talbot leaned in closer to Sybil. “And who are you?”
“Mary Lucinda. We all felt this discussion could do with a mature perspective.”
“Mary Lucinda,” Talbot repeated then wrote furiously in his notebook.
Henry Jekyll’s knee bounced. His fingers clenched and unclenched. He wiped perspiration from his neck and brow. His collar felt like a noose. Overdue for his serum dose, the effects were becoming unbearable. Discomfort compounded at his seeing Talbot growing more and more agitated. Jekyll watched as Talbot’s fixation on the swelling moon in the darkening late winter afternoon seemed to have an effect on him. Talbot’s eyes darted around the room. His jaw clenched. He tugged at his collar and tie. He rolled and shifted in his chair. Anxious, yes, Talbot was increasingly anxious. Dr. Jekyll glanced out the window himself hoping to spot the source of Talbot’s uneasiness.
Jekyll squinted to be sure he was clear on what he saw when he next looked at Talbot. Amazing. That beard was not there earlier. His brows, the growth is unnatural, he thought.The noticeable click of Talbot’s long finger nails against the desk as he wrote, a sound not present earlier, unnerved Henry Jekyll. Both men, consumed by some personal affliction and waxing disquietude, were so distracted that neither had even commented on the fact that Mary Lucinda had gone, or that Vanessa Gail and Marica Lynn, and Clara, and Helen, Marjorie, Nancy, Lou Ann, three other female personalities, and the voice of a baby named Ruthie had come and gone while Sybil sat watching them both.
Henry Jekyll strained to regain composure. Though he had heard Sybil’s voice changing again and again, he could not tear his eyes away from Talbot. Finally, when Henry did look at Sybil, he noticed that her demeanor had altered. Her legs were askew, her elbows rested atop the chair’s back, and she was chewing gum. Henry Jekyll focused long enough to hear his wife answer Talbot’s last question, “Who’s here now?”
She leaned forward, her elbows on her knees. “I’m Mike.” Then, Sybil’s voice changed again. “And I’m Sid. We stick together. We don’t like you two men ganging up on all the girls, see? We figured this situation needed us guys to make it even, you know?”
Now that Sybil had revealed no less than sixteen personalities, Jekyll watched for Talbot’s reaction. He saw then that Talbot, like Sybil, was of a transient nature.
Fixated on the very unfixedness of the moment, Jekyll watched as Talbot ran a hand through his hair, hair that seemed three times as thick as it was when they first met. That is when Jekyll saw that Talbot’s hand had doubled in size and appeared to be covered in fur. He noticed Talbot running his tongue across his teeth, now protruding like small, sharp sabers, and that Talbot continued to monitor the moon through the window behind him. The angst of it all, the irregularity, the shock became more than he could bear. Foreboding hung heavy. Henry Jekyll could no longer resist. He reached beneath his cloak for the vial in his vest pocket. While Talbot was transfixed on Sybil peppering her faster and faster with questions, his voice becoming gravely and mumbled, Dr. Jekyll swallowed the serum.
By now, Talbot had succumbed to complete transformation—his body, a mountain of fur tearing through his clothes, his breathing like the snore of a bull, his fingers morphed to claws. And Dr. Jekyll’s own transformation took hold. Henry Jekyll stood like a man, but his back curved with a hunch, his features enlarged and distorted, his teeth became craggy and colored like rotted maize. His brow protruded so his eyes became small and sunken. His hands, overgrown and gnarled. The two transfigured men stood in a confrontational stare.
Sybil rose from her chair. Dr. Jekyll waved his arm at her and pointed, shouting at her to be seated. She said, “Hell no. Maybe you can bully Sybil, but you ain’t telling Peggy Lou what to do.” She grabbed her purse and mumbled, “Let’s blow this joint. It’s getting kind of crowded in here.” Sixteen Sybils left the building, and not one looked back in curiosity at the banging, bumping, howling, and crashing in the room they left behind.
Maureen Mancini Amaturo, New York based fashion/beauty writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, teaches writing, leads the Sound Shore Writers Group, which she founded in 2007, and produces literary and gallery events. Her fiction, essays, creative non-fiction, poetry, and comedy, are widely published appearing in: The Dark Sire, Every Day Fiction, Coffin Bell Journal, Drunken Pen, Flash Non-Fiction Food Anthology (Woodhall Press,) Things That Go Bump (Sez Publishing,) Film Noir Before It Was Cool and Attack of the Killer (Weasel Press), The Re-Written Anthology (Wingless Dreamer,) The Year Anthology (Crack The Spine,) Little Old Lady Comedy, and Points In Case. Maureen was nominated for The Bram Stoker Award in 2020 and the TDS Creative Fiction Award 2021 and 2022. She was awarded Honorable Mention and Certificate of Excellence in poetry from Havik Literary Journal in 2022. A handwriting analyst diagnosed her with an overdeveloped imagination. She’s working to live up to that.
What do you think of Maureen’s story? Let us know with a comment. And… be sure to come back at 1pm for another featured story. The party keeps rolling – don’t miss it!
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