This story is by Elaine Julia van der Velde and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“Mammy, why are you crying?”
I lift my face from my hands to see four big blue eyes filled with all the innocence in the world looking up at me in bewilderment. Unable to speak through the knot of emotion in my throat, I reach out my arms and pull them in close. I can rise above this. I will be strong for them. I tell myself, not believing a word.
“It’s okay, mammy is okay. I just have a little ouchie. Look,” I say, forcing a smile as I so skilfully do these days. I show them a tiny scratch from days ago when I nicked my finger slightly while making sandwiches.
Two little hands reach up to wipe away my tears with all the love in the world. I hold their hands there, touching my face, and just sit for a moment in a suffering that reaches far beyond the comprehension of their pure minds. The moment is soon interrupted by a wave of messages reaching my phone like a tirade of bullets. There’s that feeling again. A familiar tingling sensation passes through my body. That’ll be him.
I’ve tried so hard not to let them see me like this, they’re both still in nappies for Christ’s sake. I always imagined I would be a wonderful mother, not one who fucks up their chances of growing into well-rounded adults from the get-go. I guess I am as bad a mother as he says after all.
He has left for work, left me here broken into pieces that I am so desperately trying to put back together. How did it come to this? We used to be so happy together. This morning he had seen red when Luke grabbed a toy from the hands of his little sister and had flown into a rage.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he had shouted at him.
“Leave him alone!” I begged, as I jumped between them. I looked somewhat childlike myself beside his sturdy six foot five inch frame but I did what I could with my voice to stand up to him.
“He grabbed that off her without asking! Aren’t you going to discipline him? Some mother you are!”
“Oh my God he’s two! You’re the adult, you’re supposed to be the mature one.”
Oh shit. Why did I say that? Shit, shit, shit.
He turned, muttering under his breath, “So it’s my fault now? Fucking bitch” and left, slamming the door forcefully enough to make us all jump with fright.
I wish things were different. I wish we could be the perfect couple my friends and family believe we are. I wish I didn’t have to make excuses when friends ask to meet, so as not to feed the monster inside him. I chose a long time ago not to socialise without him for fear of the ensuing beatings and accusations of cheating.
The thought of a failed marriage fills me with shame. A broken family is not something I ever wanted for my children. “You two make such a cute couple,” my sister would say and just as I have been hiding the bruises on my body with clothes, I have been hiding my harsh reality with lies. As long as your mouth is smiling, no one seems to notice the pain behind your eyes, the silent screams for help.
There was a time before life experience slapped me in the face, when I could not even begin to understand why people don’t ‘just leave’ when a relationship becomes toxic. Yet here I am, alone in my darkness, my sadness, nothing more than a bruised body with a broken spirit.
I take a deep breath and stare at my phone lying on the table across the room. I will have to read his messages at some point. For fear of aggravating him any further, I walk across the room and pick up my phone, albeit against my will. Four messages.
You absolute bitch, how dare you treat me like that?
You know exactly what you’re doing, turning the kids against me.
You can fucking forget about going anywhere, I’ve locked the doors and taken the keys.
This is NOT over.
I fight back the tears and try to focus on my beautiful babies, so innocent in all of this. I wonder how much of the situation they are able to comprehend. They don’t deserve any of this.
We are locked in. What if there was a fire? Would he even care? Little Amy had felt a bit hot earlier, like a fever setting in. Jesus Christ, what if we need to rush to the hospital? It dawns on me that I would have to call Antonio next door to rescue us with his ladder from the upstairs bathroom, the only window without security bars. Damn Spanish houses. I can feel the anxiety rushing through my veins and I touch her brow with a trembling hand. Still the same.
I have never felt so alone. My inner light beaten down to a mere flicker kept alight only by the love I have for my children. At my lowest, in my yearning to be free from this hell, I have even contemplated suicide, a means of escape I could never act on, growing from an ever-deepening sense of despair. Leaving is not an option, he’d find us and I’d potentially lose the kids as a result of taking them without his consent, better off as they may be.
I carry out the day-to-day chores in a haze of emotions and eventually put the kids down for an early night. Thankfully Amy’s fever has since subsided, and I feel a little more at ease about that at least.
He’ll be back soon. I head to the kitchen, reach for the bottle of Jameson and take a swig. Usually I’m not much of a drinker but my mind is screaming for a cure against the strain that has taken hold. That’s enough, I need to have my wits about me. God knows what kind of mood he’ll be in. The alcohol feels like fire rushing through my insides, slowly evaporating the deep well of tears within.
I hear a car pulling into the driveway and peer out through the kitchen blinds. He’s back. My body feels clammy with sweat and I feel my head pound in rhythm with my heart. Again, a wave of emotions threatens to bubble to the surface as though gasping for air. Hold it together.
I hear him fumbling with the keys before unlocking the door and can tell as he enters the kitchen that he has had more than a few on his way home. He is looking straight at me, not saying a word.
“Hi” I mutter hesitantly.
“What’s wrong with your face?”
“What do you mean?” I ask innocently, knowing damn well he’s referring to my puffy, red eyes.
“You look like shit. Have you been crying? Why are you always so miserable anyway?”
Because I’m living with an unpredictable psychopath who is ruining my life.
“Can you not see how upsetting your behaviour is? You locked us in. What if there had been a fire?” I ask as calmly as my voice will allow.
“Well, then I guess you should have ordered takeaway instead of trying to cook.”
Am I dreaming? No, he’s actually laughing. Scumbag.
He turns towards the fridge and opens it, in search of more beer.
I take a deep breath and mutter “You shouldn’t have shouted at him like that.”
He turns and approaches me with narrowed eyes. “You’re telling me what I can and can’t say to my own son?” He’s breathing so hard, he’s spitting. My own breath reluctant to reveal itself at all. My body is rigid. Fear surges through my veins. Within an inch of my face now, he sputters “You’re nothing but a dirty little whore who needs to learn to keep her damn mouth shut”.
As he turns back towards the fridge, I watch myself quickly snatch the kitchen knife from its block, raise it and thrust it forwards into the back of his neck. In an instant he drops to the floor, his face slamming on the kitchen counter on the way down. As he gags, exhaling puddles of blood onto the floor, I see myself straddle his lower back and watch the life drain from his body. I plough the knife in and out of his lifeless frame, surrounded by a sea of red. So. Much. Blood. Each thrust more forceful than the last, the knife comes down again and again with every vivid memory of ridicule, every punch and every push as though they were happening in this very moment. Soaked through with blood, I see myself bring the knife up once more, only to drop it to the floor and collapse with exhaustion on top of his bloody corpse.
“Finally,” I hear myself whisper, “we are free”.