In the 70's, Esther Carouthers has a secret other personality. She's not a good girl.
Derek Berry Thorpe
In the Summer of 1974, shy, reserved Esther Carouthers worked at the Post newspaper in Washington DC. She was single, lived alone in her one-bedroom apartment and drove a blue Volkswagen Beetle. Normal enough for the times. Except that Church-going, God-fearing, Ester Carouthers possessed a sex drive so strong, that she needed to sleep with nearly every man she'd ever met.
Let me out.
Esther shifted in her seat before the typewriter. "Leave me alone, I'm busy." She stretched back in her chair and rubbed her aching neck, but soon found herself staring at the crotch of the pudgy art director, walking past her desk.
Let me out, dammit. I need to get me some. I haven't had an orgasm in nearly three days.
She struggled to refocus on the copy she was typing on her Olivetti.
Quit bugging me with your sleazy thoughts, Ester.
If you're so busy, then why is your hand moving up under your skirt, in view of the entire office?
Esther's cheeks turned the color of a springtime aubergine. To her consternation, half of her left forearm had disappeared under her twill skirt exposing the pale skin above her knees. She swiveled towards her partition hoping that none had seen her act of indiscretion.
"Okay, Ester that's it! Someone could have seen me. I'm taking my medication," Esther whispered in controlled frustration.
Alright alright okay. I'll be good, I promise. Just having a little fun. No medication, I'll behave.
Esther's hand had already reached into her handbag and was just about to dip into her little pouch of crushed Nortryptyline when Ester's pleas stopped her progress.
Any more of your crap today and I'll shut you down for the whole night. I won't even let you play at home.
Okaaay. But look there at the newspaper. Pick it up, let me show you something.
The Washington Post sat folded in half next to her typewriter. The headline megaphoned the ongoing Watergate scandal in bold print. But something else caught Ester's eye. A photo of a suited male and a strip of text beneath it.
Pleased that Ester was taking a more mature interest in the news, Esther picked up the journal. What about it?
Look, it's Norman. Remember him from a couple night's ago?
No. Never saw him before.
You sure do, Esther. I did him. We did him. He was good too.
Esther looked closer at the photo. She adjusted her glasses and read some of the article. I still don't recognize him and I know you're mistaken because it says here that he's dead. Murdered in his hotel room. So you could not have 'done' him as you claim.
Dead? Really? When we left him he was stiff for sure but breathing just fine, if you know what I mean. What did he die from? Heart attack? Now that I could believe because we really laid it on him.
No. It just says that he was murdered. I could find out, but why would I? You're just making this up anyway. Now hushhh, Ester, and let me finish.
Esther resumed pecking at her machine and Ester sulked in a pool of patience in the recesses of her conscious being. It was frustrating having the more adventurous, but less dominant personality. It wasn't fair that she was chained to confinement by a neural network that favored a shy retiring personality who lacked a zest for life and living. Apart from some independent muscle control of Esther's left arm that allowed her some intimate late-night adventures, she was a caged soul.
Her campaign to usurp control from Esther had been unsuccessful over the years. Many schemes had been launched, but quickly sunk, like poorly-made ships at sea. She conceded that she was less intelligent than Esther and lacked the means to sustain a cogent organism once in control. The best she would hope for was when she persuaded Esther to drink a particular blend of bourbon in the right environment. An event would occur, she thought, at some chemical level that temporarily exchanged the reins of control and allowed Ester to roam free without Esther remembering. This was how she managed to bag Norman that night. The beauty of it, from Ester's standpoint, was that Esther was unaware that she had figured out this exception to the rule. Esther always thought these stories of wild hedonism were produced for mere entertainment to tease and irritate.
Esther submitted her report to the editor. Her day was over and she loitered in front of the sixth-floor elevator with a group of her colleagues. Braided cigarette trails formed a wispy lasso around the herd of Marlboro smokers, corralling them through the open doors. The hit tune, "Alone Again" by Gilbert O'Sullivan, played through the speakers of the crowded elevator. Two senior reporters stood against the wall and spoke just behind Esther.
"Hey, Phil. Heading home? See they murdered Norman Sanders? Wow, can you believe the balls on these people trying to bury this Watergate investigation?" said the taller man.
The man in the tweed jacket pulled at the cigarette on his lips. "And on the day before his Congressional hearing, too. I mean, how much more obvious can it get in obstructing justice?"
The doors opened in the basement parking garage and Esther headed to her VW.
Those two guys behind us were dreamy. Why don't you ask them out on a date?
Because, you tramp, those men are my workmates and respectable women don't ask men out. Especially their work colleagues.
Did you hear them talking about the man we had sex with a couple days ago. That's far out, huh?
Ester, your stories are amusing, sure, and I let you have your imaginary fantasies, but this one is bordering on sick. I gotta be honest.
Always cautious, Esther slammed the door to her trunk at the front of her VW. She always had to check to see if anyone was hiding in there while she had it parked in the basement. It was empty.
Find any handsome hunks this time?
Esther ignored the ribbing. She started her car and headed for the beltway towards Silver Spring. The weather was good and the evening sun painted life with golden brush strokes. James Taylor sang, "You Got a Friend" from WKXP on the radio as she neared her exit from the highway. Ester was a pain sometimes, and she was mean to her a lot, but in some ways, Esther had grown to love her other personality despite their polar opposition. She was diagnosed in 1962 when she was sixteen. Her condition was essentially kept in check, however, by regularly taking her prescription medication. But Esther discovered that she could actually control the degree of personality interaction by varying how much she took. If she didn't want Ester to show up at all, two pills daily was all that was needed. But if she needed a cheeky friend to shop with or to watch Archie Bunker on TV, she'd just rub a little of her crushed pill dust on her gums during the day. Just enough to hear her silly chatter but not enough for serious conflict.
Her left hand fumbled with the hairpins holding her bun in place.
What do you think you're doing, Ester?
I'm just trying to let my hair down a little, even if it is only the literal translation.
No. Just leave it be. I don't like it down when I'm out. You know that, and don't do any movements with my arm while I'm driving, without asking me first.
You never let me have any fun.
The reasons for Esther's choice for the plain wallflower look were well known to the both of them. 'Don't anybody look at me. Don't tell me that I'm pretty.' Why did she have to constantly remind Ester she didn't like drawing attention? She hated to have to do this because it meant that the corpse would be unearthed again. That decaying, putrid mass of the ordeal she kept having to re-bury: Weekends with her long-haul trucking father and his new wife. His trailer home sat at the edge of nowhere, two miles from the nearest neighbor. She told her mother she didn't want to keep going out there, but they made her anyway. Not because she didn't care for her father but because of what his new ugly wife was doing to her when he wasn't there. The long pretend baths to get to know each other better. The unwanted extended massages to relieve phantom muscle aches. The anger from out of nowhere ending with being locked outside in the cold with next-to-nothing on. The constant reminding of how stunning and beautiful she was by this overweight stepmother.
Ester made her first appearance three weeks before the abuse stopped altogether. Esther never quite knew the whole story, but her father was questioned by the police as to why his new wife ran off, never to be heard from again.
She parked in front of her two-story apartment building and shut down the noisy VW. She thought about what she was going to do that evening. Archie Bunker was coming on at eight, and perhaps she'd make some pasta with a little fondue. Oh, but she did promise Ester a little freedom and some personal time. She'd probably have a long bath after the show and allow her to peek out a bit, then take a whole tablet of the medication to bring Ester back under control after she'd fed the beast.
The cheesy pasta and chives were tasty and they both had a fun time watching the situation comedy together. By the end of the show Ester was making loud crude comments about one of the male actors and what she wanted to do with him. Leaving the TV on and the plate dirty on the floor, Ester headed for the bathroom and removed the clothing she wore. Esther did not protest. She was generally aware of the thoughts Ester harbored and the things she did to her nude body while in the sudsy bubble bath, but the diplomatic arrangement with her erotic passenger required this. This session was different somehow... more intense, with much water sloshing over the sides of the tub. She retired to a quiet alcove in her brain and curled up into a passive blind eye.
Bath time was over and they stood before the mirror over the sink, drying off. Esther saw a shameful naked sinner, anxious to put her clothes back on. Ester saw a beautiful nude flower, feminine in gender, petals open for the universe, courting stardust for her pollen. But she saw something else also. A situational alignment that she had been looking for tumbled into place.
Esther prepared to take her medication and crush a few tabs at the same time. The open plastic bottle rested on the side of the counter along with the pouch carrying the powdered version. This was Ester's chance to leave the apartment dressed just as she wanted. She swiped both the pill bottle and the pouch off the counter and into the open toilet next to the sink. Every single tablet began to dissolve immediately.
Esther realized instantly that a coup had been initiated. They both stared at each other in the mirror.
"Ester! What the hell are you doing?"
Relax. This will all be over in the morning.
Esther had an emergency protocol in place just for this occurrence and opened the medicine cabinet with her right hand to retrieve the singular tablet stored in the back corner. But Ester was wise to this and reached for it with the left hand in a deft countermove.
Nice try, Esther. I've known about that pill for years. Don't worry. I'll bring you back tomorrow with this and we can head to the pharmacy. Bye. Mama is hungry tonight.
Ester found an old gift of cosmetics in the closet and applied tasteful touches of rouge lipstick, blush, and mascara. She curled and styled her hair to look like Farrah Fawcett. Selecting an outfit was a challenge, though. Esther's wardrobe was a sartorial cesspool. Paisley pantsuits and long frumpy frocks infested her closet. She settled on a long black shirt with gold buttons that ended a few inches under her buttocks.
This makes a perfect dress don't you think, Esther? she teased, modeling before the full-length mirror.
Don't do this, Ester.
Black, white or no underwear at all? jabbed Ester; she already knew her selection. This situation might never happen again so she was determined to maximize the occasion.
She was going to head back into the city. She pondered if she should call a taxi or drive the VW. Ester's driving skills were not nearly as good as Esther, even under perfect conditions. It was already dark and she likely would be drunk coming back home... She chose to drive.
Ester parked in the lot in front of the Congressional Hotel off U street NW. The pre-midnight breeze flirted with the edges of her converted dress. She walked through the entrance to the ground floor bar; in the corner, a quartet played Duke Ellington tunes.
Let me out. Esther begged.
She chose the corner stool at the bar. The six wine glasses on the shelf behind the bartender rattled together in applause every time the bass player strummed his E chord. She realized then that she had brought no money or identification, but she sat without concern. She counted the seconds before someone would offer her a drink, a cigarette or both. She stopped counting at twenty-three.
"Hello there, Princess. Mind if I sit next to you?" said a middle-aged man in a leisure suit. He held two glasses of bourbon and balanced a cigarette precariously from his lips.
"Free country. Suit yourself," Ester said in a faux disinterested reply.
"Drink? I like your outfit. What is that, silk? Rayon?" He settled the bourbon in front of her.
"I'm not sure really."
"Name's Nile. Nile Onteaux. I'm a congressman from Louisiana."
Extending her hand. "I'm Ester. Pleased to meet you."
They drank and they chatted. They smoked and they flirted, and within the hour, Nile was inserting his door key into the slot of his fifth-floor hotel room. Ester followed close behind, laughing far too loudly at his bad jokes. Inside, she slouched on the settee and fanned her thighs slowly like the wings on a Monarch, allowing Nile to glimpse her intimate folds. He collapsed onto his hands and knees and crawled towards her but she held him at bay with her bare feet on his shoulders. The movement of her legs filled his nostrils with her pheromones, and he fell powerless within her web.
By one thirty, however, she was leaving the congressman's room. Shoes in hand, she scuttled down the hallway and onto the elevator. The couple on board showed concern but she did not make eye contact with them. The reflection from the shiny partition of the elevator confirmed the unsightly smudges of lipstick about her mouth. There were stains on her dress but its black color masked their true nature. She needed help, but not from them, so she reassured the couple that she was fine. She made it to the car and tried to plan her next move. Intelligent solutions, however, did not come easily to Ester. She operated on the fuel of spontaneity but now she was sure it was Esther's sage counsel she needed.
Inside the clutch purse, the only thing to be found was the white oblong tablet of Nortriptyline. She swallowed the pill and laid back on the headrest, searching for Esther in the fog.
"Jesus. What did you do?"
Hey hi, Esther. Take us back home will ya. I'm still a little tipsy.
"Where are my pants and whose blood is this? Where did it come from and where the hell are my pants?"
Don't be mad, Esther. That's Nile's blood, I think. I don't know what happened. I think Nile is dead, Esther.
"Dead? What happened? You were in control. What did you do?"
Esther started home on the empty streets of D.C. Ester faded farther away by the minute and provided little more indication on what happened with the congressman in his room.
"Talk to me dammit!" Her anxiety crested. She pounded the steering wheel with her bloody palms, but nothing. Nothing at all. She struck the bell with as much force as she could, but it rang mute.
Esther made a wrong turn in the District of Columbia. She was not quite sure where she was geographically and she certainly was lost in her subconscious space.
Then, a giggle. A snigger full of mirth leading to a wicked outburst of laughter.
Ester! I'm glad you think this is funny.
I'm sorry, I can't keep doing this. I can't keep up this pretense any longer. Ester is gone. Ester has been gone for over a month now. I killed her, said a new voice from within.
"Wha... who the hell is that? Who are... who's in my head?"
Sure, I know this is a shock. I know you have questions, but trust me, I've been here from the beginning. You created Ester to save you and Ester created me to save her. Except she never knew it. I don't have time to explain all this crap to you now. Just drive us home so I can soak in the tub, said the entity.
"My God. So you've been pretending to be Ester all this time? Did you kill that man tonight and this Norman person from before? Who are you? What's your..."
Esther swerved back into her lane as the oncoming truck blew its horn.
Watch where you're driving! Yes, I did kill those men, and many more over the years. Guess who was the first? That fat ugly Stepmother bitch who kept touching you. Dad must have done a great job burying her.
"You killed her? Jesus! What is your name Goddamit!?" she yelled.
My name? I don't have a name. But you can call me Estur, with a 'U', from now on, sweetie. We all have different needs; you need to be anonymous. Ester needed to be needed and I simply need to kill. I'm tired of doing my thing only when Ester was dominant. So I cut out and consumed the middle gal. All that she was... I am. I guess I've figured out how to murder from the outside and the inside now.
Esther sat at a red light on Connecticut Avenue. The streets were pretty clear at that time of night in D.C. She let a few cycles of light changes elapse without moving, until someone eventually tooted their horn.There was just too much information to process. Should she drive to a police station to confess or just go home and think this through?
Helloo! Let's go! Wake up! I just want to get home and get into the tub and watch Nile Onteaux's blood stain the water red. This town is crawling with easy marks because of this Watergate crap. I can't wait to do this all over again.
So Ester is gone for good? You've taken her place?
Damn right. I did it while you were asleep a while back. Remember that awful nightmare you had about her, and you woke up with that stiff neck that's still bothering you now? I bet you didn't know you could break your alternate personality's neck, hmm dear? Now take me home! I've almost figured this neural network crap out and I'm coming for your job, Esther. Soon you'll be begging me for crumbs.
Esther moved through the green traffic signal. She fought back tears at the loss of Ester. She didn't understand all of what Estur was saying but she knew things would never be the same again. Her dominance could disappear at any minute, replaced by this creature living inside her.
"Home it is, Estur," she said out loud.
Resigned to the evolving status quo, home was best for everyone concerned. Her little blue VW cruised through the city blocks on her way to the beltway. She caught glimpses of the Washington Monument through the building spaces before it came into full view ahead. How incredibly Majestic... Screeching brakes and a piercing car horn invaded her reverie as she went through the red light. Another red light ahead and she pressed the accelerator down. The car's velocity increased steadily, zipping through intersection after intersection regardless of right of way.
Hey, what are you doing, bitch?
You said you wanted to go home, right? Well so do I, Estur. I can't have us loose on this Earth in this form.
Estur panicked. She realized Esther's resolve; death to all by homicide through suicide. She was powerless... Or was she?
Ahead, a delivery truck approached the intersection. A collision could not be avoided. But Estur remembered the shared control of the left arm. She gripped the steering wheel tighter and tugged to the left then quickly pushed to the right, successfully swerving around the truck and surprising Esther. They struggled back and forth with the steering, swerving in and out of the sparse traffic, but Esther controlled the gas peddle.
DuPont Circle lay just ahead. A round-a-bout with a circular park and small fountain statue at its center. It was empty at that time of night. Esther gunned the engine and unhooked her seat belt. The car surged forward and mounted the curb, raging across the grass. It slammed hard into the concrete edifice, and, with no engine in the front of the Volkswagen, it crumpled easily. Esther was ejected through the front windshield and out into that once placid night.
In the Summer of 1974, the Watergate virus had so infected the Presidency, that it was inexorably moribund. By contrast, Esther Carouthers opened her eyes from her brief coma in the ICU of the Georgetown University Hospital. Her head was heavily bandaged and both her right arm and leg were in casts.
"Heyyy look, there she is. Welcome back, young lady. How are you feeling?" A buxom overweight nurse in her starched white uniform smiled at the patient. She was administering a sponge bath to her chest and abdomen. "Just giving you a little bath here, dear. Do you know where you are?"
"Yes, I think so. Looks like a hospital. How long have I been here?"
"Not long, dear. I'll let the doctors fill you in. I'll go get them in a second."
...And It's too late baby now it's too late
Though we really did try to make it.
Something inside has died and I can't hide
And I just can't fake it...
"Wow, everything is so vivid. My hearing, my touch... I heard that song in my sleep. What is it called?"
"Sounds like Carole King; 'It's Too Late'."
"I like it, it's nice. I Like the feel of your uniform too. What is it made of?"
"Hmm. I'm not quite sure what it's made of, dear. Maybe polyester. By the way, you didn't have any identification when you came in. From the car tags, we think you're Esther Carouthers though, right?"
"Yes. That's right nurse. With a 'U' though. Estur with a 'U'".
Estur let her head rest on the pillow as the nurse excused herself to call the doctors. The beeps and blips from the machines around her kept time with the overhead music. Her throat was parched and she craved a sip of water. She looked over to the bedside table to her left to see if there was anything she could drink and was amazed to find her arm holding a pen and writing on a notepad. The scribbling stopped and the note was brought into her view for reading.
Did you see that fat bitch sponging us off?
How soon can we find out where she lives so I can slice her down to a size 4?