This story is by Cheryl Jenkins and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Can I really do this? Victoria thought to herself, opening the door. Heart racing. Breath stuttering in her throat, as all the saliva drained from her mouth. Her palms studded with cold beads of sweat. Her stomach lurched as though falling through the floor into a deep, dark pit of dread.
Her eyes hurriedly searched around the room. Two exits: the backdoor, and behind me to the right… and if it comes to it, there’s always the window, she thought. She began to settle now that she knew how to get away if it all went wrong.
Despite the time that had passed, it was pretty much the same rectangular, functional, and far from pretty, kitchen-diner she’d remembered. The table and six, rickety, old wooden chairs with a small coffee table and a porcelain lamp to the left of the door. Kitchen to the right, with the wood-fired range emanating heat. She stood next to the sink looking out of the open window on to the sand dunes. She could hear the thundering of waves crashing against the shore. The smell of salt and seaweed lingering in the air; a welcome reminder of the world that existed beyond these walls.
As he entered the room another smell assaulted her senses. Him. His aftershave, all woody and skunk-like mixed with stale sweat. She caught sight of his drunken, and surly grimace as he glanced in her direction. Her stomach lurched again, filled with fear. A cacophony of heart beats overwhelmed her, as though her heart wanted to escape her chest. Suddenly, she was lost in the memory of being here as a child. Here. In this very room.
He’d burst into the kitchen. “What the fuck have you been doing this time, huh bitch?! You bloody humiliated me, again!” he said, as a vile torrent of saliva launched from his mouth. The veins in his head bulging purple. His eyes straining against their sockets. His neck muscles like knotted rope as he struggled to contain the tide of fury emanating from his every cell.
Then, everything slowed down for her… She watched as he raised his hand laden with golden rings that caught the light of the last few rays of the evening sun shining through the window. Dust particles swirled through the air.
She felt a familiar tightness shorten every muscle at the front of her body. Bracing. Ready for impact. Her vision narrowed until all she could take in was the sight of her. Mum. Standing over the frying pan, stirring while the gravy bubbles.
Mum stopped stirring. And stood perfectly still.
Just eight-years old. She was curled up, watching. Out of sight under the kitchen table. Frozen. Solid.
It didn’t happen as is usually did. She was sure his hand would land on Mum’s beautiful, soft face. But he slammed it on her right shoulder, pushing her with brute force until she was beside the sink.
“Are you gonna answer me then?” He snarled. “You think I’m gonna stand for this, you filthy whore?!”
Mum stood, motionless, and wide-eyed like a rabbit caught in the headlights. Gone. Completely inaccessible.
In his untamed rage, he turned to the right, took hold of the pan handle and threw it, with boiling contents extending through the air towards Mum.
Underneath the table, Victoria’s body shook wildly. She held on to herself as tightly as she could. She mustn’t be seen or heard. The smell of meat and seasalt mingled in the air. The clanging of the pan as it falls to the floor. Both pushing at the edge of her awareness. The pain in her chest too tight. Too much. She’d wanted only to disappear. To implode. To unsee.
As a young adult, no matter how hard she’d tried, she’d never been able to unsee. All of the memories created vivid pictures of that time, and all the others. All of them, in their multi-sensory glory, had stayed. Visiting in her nightmares. Colouring her every perception. Whenever a boyfriend had made an unexpected move of his hand. Or a work colleague had raised their voice in confrontation. She would freeze. Overwhelmed as her limbs trembled, and panic raced through her system, hijacking her senses.
She had questioned if she could continue to live this way; always on edge and hypervigilant. She had felt close to surrender. She had pulled back. A life not fully lived. What kind of life was it to live in this way anyway?
And yet, a tiny part of her had rebelled in righteous injustice. She sensed there was another way. She found help. She learnt to be with her sensations. To trust the flow of her breath to bring some ease. To find a sense of security in her Self. To dare to explore a world outside of this room, and this house. She began to sense her own power.
Now she was back in this room as an adult. The trigger to return came when Mum called. “He has to go. I can’t bare it any more. I need your help” Mum had said shakily.
Her heart had leapt in hope. The very words she’d longed to hear since she was a child.
Her awareness returned to the present moment. She stood next to the sink looking out of the open window on to the sand dunes. Her body posture open, and strong. Leaning in to the sensations of her heart beating wildly. The cold tingling of fear swimming to the surface of her attention. As she stayed with her experience, she began to feel a potency build in her gut. A rage of her own was bubbling at the injustice she’d witnessed. She could face him. She could harness this energy to make a stand, and reclaim what’s rightfully hers; her power.
“What have you come to scrounge this time?” he growled, his nose scrunching in disgust.
She felt the heat of her anger rise through the core of her body. She paused to feel the coolness of her breath anchoring her to the present moment. She dug to the depths of her being and felt the conviction of the injustice. She found her own rage. Her strength. Her potency.
She turned around moving to the middle of the room. She looked him in the eyes. “It’s time for you to leave” she said with poise and steely determination.
He looked her up and down, and began to roll his eyes in distain.
Undeterred, she spoke, buoyed from the feeling in her gut “Get. Out. Of. This House…. Now.” She was surprised by the depth and surety of her own voice.
His eyes widened in sarcastic surprise, but before he could utter another word she spoke again, “there’s nothing for you here. Your things are in bags by the door.”
His mouth opened to respond, but she held both of her palms towards him, signalling stop “you’ve reaped what you’ve sown. Live with it, and get the hell out of this house.”
His face was ruddy and twisted, as he raised his hand in the all too familiar gesture, but she dodged to the left. In his drunkenness he stumbled towards the sink. Recovering, he sluggishly searched for her, lunging in her direction. Instinctively, she grabbed the lamp from the coffee table and decisively drove the base towards the side of his head. It struck him. He fell clumsily to his knees as the porcelain lamp crashed against the hard tile floor.
“Get out. NOW” she growled. “And leave the keys”.
At last he’d seen the measure of her rage. Stunned, he slowly got to his feet, and sheepishly backed out of the room clutching his jaw.
She heard her breathing, rapid in her body. She focused. Lengthening her exhalation. Creating space. Soothing herself. Waiting. Listening.
At last, she heard the rustle of the bags as he collected them. The sound of the keys falling on the table in the next room. And finally, the noise of the lock clicking on the front door as it closed when he left.
A feeling of vitality flooded her chest, as her body gently trembled in relief. Warm salty tears began to cascade down her cheeks. Mum, came in to the kitchen, and squeezed her in a big warm hug as they cried together.
“It’s OK. You’re safe now. He’s gone. We’ll change the locks.” She said, reassuringly.
Then, Mum spoke to her. “I’m so sorry sweetheart. I know it should’ve been me to make him leave. I couldn’t find the strength. But you were so fierce; I’m so proud of you”.
She couldn’t lie. It was true. It should have been Mum. But, at least she’d learnt how to break free.