Conditional Love

Shawn Chang




He had a mistress; I’d confirmed this just eleven months after our marriage.

Fast, I know.

I’d known the first time he was with her, too.

That night, he had picked up my calls and, in rugged gasps, mumbled something about drinking somewhere with a colleague. I’d asked for the colleague’s name; but he’d cut me off, and then hung up.

How I’d laughed. I was delighted! This poor man thought he was hiding it so well! But I knew—I knew every time he did it, every time he went to descend into her wild embraces.

I’d set up each rendezvous, after all.

It was a hefty sum to pay, come to think of it; I never expected her—that decadent little angel—to incur such costs. What a business in this ether of immoral trades!

All was progressing so smoothly according to my plan. It was so thorough, so streamlined.

Until it went wrong, of course.

A pity.

Presently, I rose from the floor, grunting from the weight of the child within my womb. I shook my head. The knife, coated in his blood, clattered against the kitchen tiles. I kicked it away, a sob rising in my throat. My fingers reached for the telephone. Dialed the number.

“I’m reporting a murder,” I said, shaken; then, before the agent could reply, I confessed what I had done.




I had a condition, a terrible condition. A condition that could not be divulged. I’d kept it hidden, always under wraps.

Only my mother knew. I should mention that my father did as well, until I, spurred on by my condition, killed him when I was seven.

My mother had protected me just as she had steered the police off my trail back then, making my father’s homicide resemble the tragic result of some deadly break-in. She was wise, my mother. Careful, detail-oriented, sage. No one knew why she regularly visited the drug store. The prescription itself had no connections to me directly; it was, per my mother’s clever design, for her imaginary nephew.

Throughout infancy, childhood, and adolescence, I’d managed to keep up my veneer of normalcy to the world outside my home. I’d been homeschooled up until I was in grade six, at which time my mother deemed me “in control” enough to be part of the normal world. And she was right: To anyone I met or spoke to once I emerged in the “normal” world, I was always poised, elegant, in control. No one knew that within me scratched feral claws, coursed blood filled with id. Their ignorance was boundless.

But the many years of taking the pills had paid off, really; the frequency of the other me breaking through had decreased to the point where I only metamorphosed once every few months. I’d even gotten so used to the feeling of the mutation, I would proudly tell myself, that I could recognize, shortly in advance, the telltale signs of the transformation—and take the necessary precautions.

Everything was, to an extent, under control.

So, who could have blamed him for not knowing about me, the other—yet much more real—me? No, he never knew…




I met him in our last year at college, in a family studies course. Very fitting, I’m sure you’re thinking.

We had gone out a couple times, always on days shortly after I became my other self; it was extremely unlikely, as I’d verified over the years, that I would become the other me within such a short time span.


It was clear from the very start that he loved me. The flitting glances, the shy smiles. He loved me with all his heart. To the ends of the earth, he once told me. I replied then that the earth was round, and therefore had no ends. He just laughed. And I reciprocated his love, delighted in the attention he bestowed upon me. I adored him so, so much. So much that I just couldn’t bring myself to tell him my secret—knowledge of my condition would, I was sure, drive him away, ward him off. My mother agreed; she told me that men were unreliable animals (she’d been divorced thrice), and I’d better hide it. I had to be extremely careful, she advised.

Things moved fast. We got married a year post-grad; I finally moved out of my home, left behind a worried mother. And, as it happened, he was revealed to be such an attentive husband, so eternally loving. My condition had only emerged a couple times, but I’d always managed in time to get away from him, to escape his detection. My mother just called me over. I’ve got to take this to the post office. The fridge is almost empty; I’m heading to the store. And all those times I would make it to the shed. Take up the bondage. Insert the rag. Let the inner me break free for the two hours it needed.

I had everything under control. Yes. It was just once every few months, and I could handle it.

And then, six months into the marriage, I became pregnant.




I realized that things were wrong shortly after my diagnosis at the physician’s. My condition returned just two weeks after it came on last. My mother had told me that it may have been a result of the hormonal imbalance. I didn’t know if she was right or not; whatever she speculated as the cause didn’t matter, really, for the result was the same: My ability to have one half of me battle—and triumph over—the other was waning.

She’d called me over to live with her, but he—bless his ignorant soul—wouldn’t let me. He was my protector, he’d told her. He was all I needed. But both my mother and I knew that he wouldn’t be able to protect me (or, very likely, himself) from the other me. The horror that would bring him: A wife with two selves! Yet my mother was unable to deter him, and neither was I. I began taking more pills, many more. I managed to pull through the first few months of my pregnancy. Always to the shed I went; never once did he catch me.

He wanted to protect me more and more, though. The day he told me he’d switched to working from home so that he could stay with me all the time, watch over me, I almost broke into my other self right before him. And I did the next day—I had to escape through my window to get to the shed, for his makeshift home-office was right next to the front door.

And it was on my fifth time struggling through my window when I knew; it was clear:

I was not fit for marriage, or for staying with him. But I was too proud to end my own life, too nurturing to end my child’s…

I had to think of a plan, to get him away from me…forever. Yes, I had to get him away from me, to protect him… The more my thoughts raced, the clearer the actionable item for me was: I had to make him stop loving me, to find someone else.  I knew him well, though: He would never accept my request for a divorce; he would always be wondering why I would suggest such a thing, he would swear to remain by my side… He loved me too much…

But I had to get him away—and to do so without revealing to the world the monster that I contained—no, that I was… Yes, you could call me selfish. I was indeed… Yet I couldn’t let anyone know that I had two selves—the ridicule, the degradation, the indignity! I’d hidden it for decades. Decades! I couldn’t give it up for one man…

I told myself that it was out of love that I had to do what I very soon did:

To make sure that he met someone better, someone safer, that he’d leave on his own account, I began finding ways to get him matched to someone else.

I grew desperate: I didn’t want to—any longer—get through the window, stagger to the shed; what if I hurt the child on the way there? (Chaining myself up and gagging myself were fine, of course; no harm would come to the child this way.) I didn’t want to take the pills any longer; what if they were poisoning the child? Things had to change fast…

So finally, I did it…

I found a way to make him leave on his own volition.




The plan was to have a woman lure him, then, once he took the bait, I’d have a reason to get him away, then divorce him. This was saving him; this was the best my plagued mind could come up with! And the woman would, should she like, marry him in my place, or dump him, too.

Those services cost me quite a lot, but the investment was worth it. Technology’s convenience, so infinitely wondrous!

She was excellent: gorgeous, diligent, and with a high educational background. This role she was performing was just a side gig. I’d made sure that I found the best candidate, after all.

And how successful she was! She’d managed to get connected with him the same day I made the transaction. I never learned the specifics of what she’d done to lure him, given that he was mostly at home, but it was working. It seemed that money had its ways—he left home on multiple accounts…

Such marked the start of something wonderful.

She and I worked on the same wavelength. Whenever I felt the first signs of my condition stirring, I’d text her—and she’d immediately, through her dark magic, get him out of the house. Thanks to her, I was now able to chain myself up in my room (on the bed, so comfortable!), gagged and all. No need to go to the shed! I ceased taking the pills, and, as I predicted, the frequency of my condition’s emergence rose. It was now once every four days—but still, to some extent, predictable. A few months went by just like this: How she’d saved my skin, luring him away for entire nights!

Yes, she and I had agreed that her ultimate goal was to make him want to divorce me, to make him make the request. She actually wanted to marry this man. Yes, he’s a very good man, I’d told her. Please, keep him, protect him. And with my delivery quickly approaching, I had to expedite the divorce, so I paid her extra. I wasn’t sure if she could actually do it, given that he surely knew that his wife was about to deliver his child…

But all doubts dissipated two mornings after; he said it! He did what I had hoped for all this time!

I know it’s going to hurt you… His voice was music to my ears; how it carried as he walked into my room and shutting the door behind him! …but we should divorce.

I faked ugly crying and pummeled against his chest, and pressed him for answers.

To his credit, he spat out some excuses for himself. But I was too overjoyed—hysterical, even—to process what he was saying. She was so good, so good indeed!

The child, I gasped. You don’t want the child!

I—I just—

It’s another woman, I said. I just know. You even smell like her.

I don’t know what you’re talking about. What woman?

I feigned sorrow, I feigned envy. I can’t have you here anymore. You must leave by tonight.

He flashed me a look of confusion, as disingenuously constructed as my weeping. I’ll leave now, then.

He got out of the house faster than I expected; he must have already packed without my knowing—she’d done it so, so well. By noon, he was out. No trace of his possessions remained in the house! He must have moved to her place.

I sighed sadly; I’d never see this man again… Such a protective husband; if only he knew how I was protecting him…

I had to leave quickly—I’d freed this man from the monster that had, for the most part, lain dormant within me, and now it was time to get myself to my mother’s.

I had just collected my essentials. They weren’t that many. Just my passport, my clothes, my chains, and my rag. I was about to wheel my suitcase out the door when I felt it. My other self wanted to surface! I thought hard. I could chain myself up in my room, one last time. I made my way up the stairs, but the child was so heavy… Valuable time seeped away! So, I gave up going upstairs, and simply went to the kitchen. I turned into my other self just after I tied myself up to the grilles (those in the oven), with the rag duly in my mouth.

And I transformed…




I wasn’t sure when and why he came back, but, sometime during my violence, my rampage, he’d returned. He had seen me, it seemed; he’d immediately come to my rescue. The arrant fool freed me from my bonds. He ripped out my rag. He folded me into his arms, telling me that everything was okay.

But he didn’t know that that me wasn’t the me he knew.

It wasn’t the me that loved him, or, for that matter, anyone. It was primal; it knew no logic, obeyed no restraint.

And the sequence, a repeat of what I did to my father, guided my hand into the inexorable motion it knew so well…




Now, as the police collected my shivering frame and led me to the car, I wept to myself.

He had bled to death, the police said.

My plan had crumbled. My investment, my wit, my inventive ploy—all for naught.

Why did he come back?

Why did he free me?

Why didn’t she restrain him carefully enough; why did she let him out of her sight?

I suppose I’d never find the answers, and, even if there were any, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to confront them.




Shawn Chang is a Forensic Science student currently in his third year at the University of British Columbia, and was a Pushcart Prize nominee in 2019.