I happened to have written something a few days ago on the very same subject, which was really rather coincidental as I don't write very many short stories and when I do they are generally light-hearted, frothy, chick-litese offerings. So despite having never put any fiction on this blog it felt opportune to share my short story and raise awareness of domestic abuse at the same time. You can read more about the 1in4 campaign on their website.
I’ve found the best way is to make myself as small as I possibly can. So my knees are tucked into my chest and my arms are wrapped around my head like a bow around a gift. Curled up like that I can disappear. With my eyes screwed shut and each breath tasting only of my own warm fear, I can disappear into myself until it’s over.
I count the blows as they slam rhythmically into my back, the tops of my legs, my arms, my head. Five, six, seven, eight. I imagine I’m buried, deep in the ground, with the cool mud pressing against my aching limbs. Nine, ten, eleven, twelve. I imagine the quiet; the silence surrounding me with each layer of earth heaped on top of me. The peace, the relief, the escape. Thirteen, fourteen, fifteen.
The kicks don’t scare me. They used to, when they first came, when I didn’t know the routine. But now I just disappear until they finish, when I stay in my safe curled-up haven and wait. It’s the wait which scares me. This bit, right now; the weighty pause as he stands at my head, breath noisy and uneven. The pause could mean it’s over; that I’ll hear his heavy footsteps moving away, the static crackle of the television going on, the sigh of the chair as he sinks into it. But the pause could also mean this is just the beginning. That he’s bored with my inert, disappeared self. That he needs to see my face as he aims his next blow. That he’ll drag me upstanding and smash my head against the door, his left hand round my throat as he forces my eyes forward to watch as his fist drives into my stomach. The pause is when I start to pray.
I pray now, and I wonder how many more times I will have to say these prayers before God listens. I hear the clatter of keys snatched from the counter, the clunk of a phone taken from the table in the hall. I hear the self-satisfied grunt of a man who has accomplished some unpleasant but necessary task, and finally I hear the front door close and the crunch of tyres on gravel. I hear silence.
I move slowly, checking for broken bones before I rise. Standing at the hall mirror I lift my shirt, craning my neck to see tonight’s purple gashes on their green and yellow backdrop. I find a band in my pocket and pull my hair back into a ponytail, smoothing errant strands behind my ears. Despite his efforts to avoid it, a blow must have caught my face and my bloodied nose has run onto my clothes, a smear of scarlet staining my bruised lips. I walk upstairs to change my clothes.
Stretching into the wardrobe for a clean top, my fingers reach unbidden to the back of the cupboard, seeking out the grey sports bag stuffed beneath piles of unworn jumpers. It is half packed. I add an extra pair of jeans and pack my wash things, pyjamas, a towel. I’m moving faster now, despite the pain in my side, blood coursing through me like an electric charge. I kick off my heels and pull on trainers, find a warm top and zip up the bag so quickly I pinch the skin on my hand. Tonight. Tonight I’ll do it.
I can almost taste the feeling of safety, of security, of release. I laugh out loud, heady with the thought of waking up in the morning free from fear. I scorn my embryonic self, curled up on the carpet like a dog waiting for its next beating – why should I wait for more? Tonight I’ll do it. Tonight I’ll leave.
A sudden noise stops me in my tracks, my hands unwilling to release their grip on the bag, as though inside it is freedom itself. I hold my breath and stand frozen in the doorway as the footsteps come closer and finally reach me.
“Mummy, I had a bad dream.”
I sink to my knees and pull her into me, her warm body curling into a ball on my lap as she rubs her eyes, blinking in the light. I hush her, soothe her and return her to bed, smoothing the covers and kissing her damp forehead.
“I’m here, darling, Mummy’s here.”
Back in my bedroom I take out my jeans from the sports bag. I take out the wash bag and return my tooth brush to the china mug, where it stands to attention next to its twin. I carefully push the bag to the back of the wardrobe, covering it once again with its cache of winter wear.
Not yet. I can’t leave yet.