It had been a slow morning at work and I was grateful when for the morning tea break. I stirred my coffee, wondering about the change in David. Where had this person come from? He had become obsessed with the idea that I’d had an affair. It turned him on. In fact, it turned him on so much that I didn’t seem to exist. I was just a vessel within which he could satisfy himself. I shivered. The old David hadn’t been overly tender but at least he hadn’t left me sore and bruised.
‘You’ll go right through the bottom of the cup at that rate.’
I jumped, blushed with an irrational fear that I’d revealed what I was thinking about. ‘What?’
‘Your cup. If you stir any harder, you’ll go through the bottom. Problems?’ Kiri had started at the University bookshop couple of months ago and, while she was a friendly, outgoing person, I hadn’t really had much to do with her. She took the jar of instant coffee down from the cupboard.
‘I... I was just thinking.’ How on earth did anyone talk about this? How would you explain such a change? If it didn’t make sense to someone who knew David, how could it make sense to a stranger?
Kiri sighed. ‘There’s always something to worry about, isn’t there? Where’s my cup?’ The two top cupboards were flung open, then the one below the sink. ‘Someone’s been using my cup. Oh, here it is.’ She spooned coffee into her cup with two teaspoons of sugar and poured in boiling water and turned to me again. ‘Want to take it outside and drink it under the trees?’
‘Yes, why not.’
We strolled out through the back door carefully balancing full cups of coffee and made our way to the side of the car park. Edging our hips up onto the old stone wall, we wriggled into a seating position until we were comfortable. I looked around at the trees, now over a hundred years old, full of birds chirping and singing and sighed deeply. ‘I don’t know why but I’ve never thought about coming out here in my break.’
‘I know, neither do any of the others. I can’t believe such a cool campus is so taken for granted. I take my lunch down into the sunken garden. It’s really peaceful. You know, the birds, those massive trees, it’s been my Valium.’ She snorted, ‘It’s so wasted on the students.’
‘You didn’t go to university?’ I guessed.
‘Me? No, I didn’t even finish high school. It’s the usual story, got pregnant too young and thought I was grown up having a husband and a baby.’ She grinned, ‘Know better now, don’t I?’
We sipped our coffee and listened to the birds. It was a comfortable silence. Although Kiri knew something was wrong, she wasn’t prying, wasn’t trying to help. ‘What do you mean, it’s been your Valium?’
‘When things were going to hell in a hand basket at home, this part-time job was great because it got me out of the house and I got a paid as well! But coming here,’ she looked around at the trees, ‘it’s where I’ve found peace. And I feel safe here. It’s kept me sane.’ Her face lit up. ‘Did you know that I found a unit to rent? It’s fabulous, being on my own.’
“That’s right, you’ve just split from your husband, haven’t you? So, what happened? If you don’t mind me asking.’
‘You really want to know?’ She searched my face.
‘Yes, I really want to know.’ You don’t know how much I really want to know and why!
“Well, it’s turned out to be the best thing I’ve ever done. It was hard.” She took a sip of coffee, “It took me a long time to make the decision. After all, where would I go? How would I cope? He had me convinced that I was hopeless, wouldn’t be able to cope on my own. Looking back on it now, I couldn’t believe that I didn’t see how controlling he was. I’ve only got one kid to think about and we’re managing. Not like my sister. She had four kids when she left her husband.”
“Was there one thing that happened that made you leave? I mean, you don’t just wake up one morning and finish a relationship. Was it something he did?”
“One too many clips around the ears for my liking. Dinner wasn’t cooked right or it was the wrong meal. Always after the pub, I’d watch him come in the door and knew I was for it. His footy team lost, his washing not done, you name it, I copped it. And you know, if I just wore it, didn’t argue back, that was it, it was out. He was done. But if I so much as looked at him defiantly, it touched a rage in him so fierce it was terrifying. Bloody Maori. The last time, I grabbed Rosanne and we locked our selves in the bathroom. We waited until he left for the pub before we came out. And that was it. There’s no way I’m going to raise her shivering in the bathroom, terrified of her old man. It was the last straw.”
“I’m sorry. I’m sure it wasn’t always like that though, was it?”
She smiled, remembering. “Nah, he was shy. He was the most gorgeous hunk I’d ever seen, so damn sexy and so quiet. he was irresistible. But he started changing and I don’t know if it was just the drink or the pressure of the bills and things, but he never could take pressure. When he got pissed, he wasn’t a happy drunk. When he gets drunk, out comes the anger and he doesn’t know what to do with it. So, he finds something to focus on. I guess I was the logical target. The next day, he would revert to my lovely, smoochy man again, promising me he wouldn’t do it again. And I bought it every time.” She sat up straight and took a deep breath. “If it had just been me, I’d probably still be there. But it’s not right that Rosanne’s scared of him. I didn’t know where to go or what we were going to do, we just went.”
I thought about the house at Manurewa. It was mine to do with whatever I wished. I could sell it, I could keep it, I could rent it out or I could live in it. And David didn’t know where it was. Neither did Brian come to that.
“I’ve got the option of moving, too.” I so wanted to be like her, making my own decisions. ‘I’ve got a house. Four bedrooms. The garden’s a bit overgrown at the moment but a few weekends of tidying should fix that. The house itself is quite nice though.’
She turned and looked at me, her head to one side. “What, you and David?”
“Maybe, maybe not.” I felt like someone had sucked all the oxygen from around me. I took a shaky deep breath, took a sip of coffee and glanced at her. Her face softened, I could tell that she recognised the fear. “It’s just an option. I haven’t decided yet,” I mumbled. As if that put everything back together again.
“I’m sorry, I thought you two were good.”
“So, did I,” I said ruefully, “but it seems that things can change so quickly.”
“Well, I’ve discovered I love living on my own, organising my own space, budgeting for our bills, but I hate sleeping on my own. My unit’s so small there isn’t room for a border or anything. I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep yet, but at least we’re safe.”
Leaving David. It was a weird feeling, that the thought of having David out of my life was suddenly a shockingly wonderful idea. “I don’t know yet. I could leave if things don’t change. If he doesn’t change.” Suddenly I panicked. ‘Keep this to yourself, won’t you. It’s not decided yet. I’m just thinking about it.’
She smiled. “That’s what I kept saying to myself. He might change. After all, he was always sorry. Came home from work with a silly grin on his face, big hug and straight into bed to show me how much he loved me. Men! What is it with men and sex? They use it as a way to show you they love you or they use it as a weapon. He was so shy and sweet when I met him, but he just can’t hold his booze. And there’s so much anger in him! Just like his Dad.” She turned to me, “Hon, if he’s doing anything you don’t like, if you can talk about it, you got hope. But if he don’t like you talking about it, if it makes it worse, leave. Don’t make excuses for him, don’t believe it will get better, leave. That’s my advice. Save years of misery and just leave.”
I slipped down from my perch and we made our way back to work. Surely it wasn’t that simple. You don’t just say you’re leaving and you leave. I braced myself for the raging emotions I’d expect in ending a marriage of eight years, but there was just an aching emptiness. In reality, it felt like David had ended everything last night.
He knew nothing more about the inheritance than what I had first told him. He had only seen the lawyer’s letter with the bank account total. His main preoccupation had been with me, physically. I considered the idea for a while. There was no reason why I couldn’t move into the house and I had money in the bank. I was a woman of independent means. I smiled at the Victorian phrase and the scary freedom that went with it. Not just a room of my own, a whole house of my own. And maybe, a new life of my own.
Why should I stay with David? In the cold light of day, our marriage had been in limbo for years. It was unimaginable to be anything other than loyal. I believed absolutely everything he said about why we should live the way we do. I gave him complete control. How easy it is to drift. Now, despite the fact it was breaking my heart, I figured I owed David nothing. His brutal assaults had destroyed my affection, my self-respect and my loyalty. I took a deep breath. My loyalty is to me now, and to my beloved, fluffy Marmaduke, of course.
I stopped in mid-movement of putting a book on the shelf. What was I saying? I owed David at least the opportunity of discussing what was happening and the effect it was having on me. What was it that Kiri had said? That if you couldn’t talk to him about it, then you should leave. I decided I would talk to him about it tonight. After he had come home from his meeting, before bed. Or could I? I was on shaky ground, I needed to talk to someone. I headed straight for the phone and left a message for the only really close friend I had. I told Anita’s message-bank that I needed to meet her for lunch. I knew the urgency in my message would have Anita there. A change in human behaviour was irresistible to her.
I had met Anita when, as new adult psych student, she interviewed me as a daughter of an immigrant as a case study she was doing on the psychological impact of relocation to another culture. She was studying displaced persons or something like that and the interview was pretty run of the mill until she asked why we had left Germany. I’d been happy to go along with her interview as it made me aware of things I had never really thought about. But this question hit the wall of reserve my father had encouraged in us. He never said, don’t talk about it. We just knew. Unspoken messages in families are sometimes far stronger than anything said openly. So, suddenly, I didn’t want to continue. And there was nothing more tantalising to Anita. Something hidden, something secret that was reason enough for a family to uproot and move to a new country across the other side of the world where they didn’t even speak the same language. I can see now how irresistible it was for her. To my relief, she backed off and left it, but made a time for us to get together again over coffee. And slowly, she gained my trust until she wheedled it out of me. My mother had been murdered. And no, we didn’t know by whom. She had been strangled to death in our kitchen. And no, I couldn’t remember any details. In fact, she discovered I didn’t really have many childhood memories at all. Not before moving to New Zealand, at any rate.
Murder somehow elevated me in status to someone worth spending time with. We fell into the habit of meeting weekly over lunch and she would discuss how her research was going. She even talked to me about her case studies, which I’m not sure was quite ethical. She was fascinated by human behaviour and the more mentally unbalanced they were, the more interesting the case study to her. Truth be told, I found both her and her research interesting, she so different from me. She was driven, I was content or so I thought. She was utterly immersed in her study and often even forgot to eat. This I found peculiar. Surely, in its own way, this was also obsession. She used to laugh at me encouraging her to make her life more balanced. She would laugh. “Listen to you. I’m not a starving student you know.”
“I know, but you should be eating more regularly. And getting more sleep.”
“Nah, sleep’s over-rated. Careful, your Germanic background is showing.” And we’d both laugh. She took some things so seriously and didn’t even notice others. Her appearance and how she lived were all an afterthought to her vital study. All her resources and money went into course books and study. And it wasn’t the qualification she was chasing, she actually found the whole subject of mental imbalance utterly engrossing.
There were times I was uneasy at her intensity. But after David’s behaviour, I’d lost my bearing on what was normal. While I had always envied her independence and her passion for learning, why someone would want to spend their entire career studying such sick, warped people was beyond me. It seemed that the further into her degree she got, the more driven she became. But now, I needed her knowledge and her analytical brain.
After leaving Anita the message, my mind returned to my new dilemma. The thought of a new life both unnerved and excited me. What would I do with my time? What activities would I take up? Would I look different? For eight years, I’d never even considered anything new without discussing it with David first and receiving his approval. If I moved to the house in Manurewa, it certainly wouldn’t be with his approval. But the thought of staying with him while he acted this way was unbearable. I didn’t know what was going to happen and I couldn’t prepare myself. I had never felt so exposed, so scared. Dread slithered in the pit of my stomach. But I found my myself returning again and again to the idea of moving, of feeling safe again. Always it was followed by the thought of David’s reaction and a sick feeling. I’d never seen him lose his temper, why would he now? Maybe for the same reason he was acting so strange now, echoed back at me.
As I restacked shelves, I tried to blank my mind and concentrate on what I was doing. I had a process of skimming the books before I shelved them, discovering new and tantalising information in each of them. Usually a satisfying activity, this was also the reason for the large stack of books on the floor by my bed waiting to be read. But today for the first time, I became robotic without taking in much of anything.
“Hello, Earth to Mars. Anyone there?” I swung around in surprise, dropping several books in the process. The sound shattered the peace in the shop and left me shaken. My hand had a slight tremor as I reached down to pick up the books. I turned to face Colleen, one of our regulars. A great reader and a wanna-be writer, we had spent many happy hours discussing books and authors. “Sorry, Colleen, I was….”
“You were miles away, is what you were. Even I could see that. I’m sorry dear, I obviously gave you a fright. I’ll let you get on with your work, I just came in to have a quick squiz at the last on the list for the Booker prize, Mann prize, whatever it’s called now. Find them all difficult to read, wouldn’t buy one, but educational. Good to push one’s boundaries.”
Colleen was a voracious reader and almost single-handedly kept her local library in business. However, when the waiting list was too long, she would come in and skim to see if it was worth buying instead of waiting to borrow it. She would spend hours in our bookshop, sitting at a table, a pile of books slowly making their way back to the shelves. She never damaged the books, she always returned them to the right spot so we looked the other way while she read, knowing there was little chance of a purchase. When she did find a “keeper”, she scoured both the second-hand bookshops and the internet, her pension not allowing her to offer a home to the many she said craved her ownership. I smiled as she made her way purposely down the shelves, she knew exactly where to look. I watched her and for the first time, wondered at how complete her life actually was. Her love of books seemed to more than compensate for the lack of a partner. Her husband had died of a heart attack many years ago and she was always bright, always curious and always hungry for more books. It made me think about what each of us needs in our life to feel content with our lot.
As Colleen moved away, and the collected books hugged to my body like a shield, I turned to find myself face-to-face with Anita, watching me, eyebrows lifted. “Not like you.” Anita wasn’t one for long conversation unless it was a case.
“Did you get my message? Are you free for lunch? I’ve got a bit of a problem. Lot’s of things have changed. I need to talk to you!”
“No problem. I had a session but it’s been postponed. Excuses again. I don’t think she’s giving up her co-dependency anytime soon. At the student guild hall?”
While Anita wasn’t what you would call warm, she was competent and I valued her opinion. It was comforting to think that at least one other human being might understand how badly my world had tilted. And who knows, she may have some words of wisdom to guide me through this strange maze I now faced. Maybe she could tell me how I was supposed to respond to David in this new mood. Fingers crossed.
Anita was obviously hungry and I let her eat, wondering how long it was since her last meal. When she had finished, I started my story, not having to worry about keeping my voice down through the clamour of a hall-full of students. Raised voices, chairs scraping on the old wooden floor, calling to each other, teasing and bursts of laughter filled the large room. I now had Anita’s full attention and I left nothing out. I faltered, waiting for a reaction, She sat back in her chair.
“Well.” I could see her processing it in her mind. “First, tell me more about David. Have you never noticed anything that worried you about him before? This side of his personality hasn’t just come out of the blue, you know. There must have been symptoms before now.”
Symptoms? I sifted through my memories. “Well, he’s always been what I thought of as quite protective. Sometimes, it’s a bit smothering but then I feel guilty for being disloyal, so I never really thought any more about it. I guess that’s why I was so reluctant to tell him, I wanted something for myself.”
She nodded, “Control freak,” and added, “not quite the right technical term but one most people understand.”
“Not quite the right technical term for what?”
“Not sure yet, but it could be symptomatic of any number of personality disorders. We don’t really want to jump to conclusions.”
I was grateful when Anita turned her attention to what she called the second mystery and we theorised over Frederick Hopmann and his reasons for leaving me my inheritance. We covered everything from the wildest ideas to a simple mistake.
“Well, there is one obvious connection.” Anita finished her coffee.
“What? I’ve never heard of him before.”
“But your family came from Germany and his name sounds German. No getting away from that.”
“But that’s probably just co-incidence.” But I was fully aware that Anita did not believe in coincidence. She just shook her head and smiled at me.
“As far as David goes, there’s a couple of reference books I need to check. But as for Frederick, if I were in your shoes, I’d be researching your family back in Germany. That’s got to be a good starting point. Come on, I’ll walk back with you.”
It seemed that there was nothing much more to say. My fears and my discomfort in the situation didn’t register with her, which was strange when I thought about it. She was studying to get a degree so she could council people to make their lives better, but somehow, it was more an intellectual exercise rather than a desire to help.
That afternoon, as I found books for customers or searched for out-of-print items, I realised how much the bookshop filled a gap in my life. Was it just possible, that some of the customers who needed my help and attention, satisfied my almost non-existent motherly instincts? It struck me quite strongly when I looked up to find Walter quietly standing next to a bookshelf. An older man, Walter was painfully shy and the first time I met him and introduced myself, he mumbled his name, which sounded like Walter. When I asked if I had it right, he just nodded his head and looked away. He had started coming in regularly and spent most of his time in the gardening section. From time to time, he would discover a book that pleased him and bring it to show me, to share it with me before he bought it. That’s what I like about bookshops, the sharing of each other’s delight in a new treasure. He never said much, but I found his company soothing. No effort required. In a funny sort of way, I felt at home around him. We had a common bond and we didn’t need conversation to strengthen it further. Books were enough.
But even Walter couldn’t soothe me today and after glancing at the book he had chosen, I looked up and yet again found Anita watching. I knew she needed to order a new course book, but all her attention was on Walter. I surprised myself at a sudden surge of protectiveness. If she decided to study Walter, I hoped she would probe gently. Surprised at the strength of the emotion and tired of feeling so much, I excused myself from Walter to go out the back of the shop. They were both adults and I’m sure they could work things out without my having to supervise them.
The day dragged on. For the first time since starting work here, I finished work tired instead of energised by the books and the book lovers. Normally, I read a book on the bus home but today I couldn’t concentrate. I couldn’t shake the dread that had now settled permanently at the bottom of my stomach from wondering what David would say when I addressed the change in him. I didn’t think he was going to like it.
It was no coincidence that David’s favourite meal was simmering in the oven when he arrived home from his Tuesday-night meeting. A group of his colleagues had banded together to support each other in their careers and would meet and share frustrations. Usually about the incompetence of the clients they had to work with. The sessions were good for him; he always came home more relaxed.
I glanced at him as he came in the door and placed his briefcase beside the bookcase by the front door. I forced myself not to flinch as he walked over to give me a chaste kiss on the cheek. ‘Good meeting?’
‘Excellent. I’ll just go and get out of this suit. Dinner almost ready?’
Frowning, I watched him walk towards the bedroom. When did he change the way he moved? He walked taller, held his head differently and there was almost a swagger to his walk. I’d never seen him walk this way before. Icy fingers tickled the base of my spine. What there else had changed about him that I didn’t know about or hadn’t noticed?
The timer on the stove buzzed, making me jump and distracting me from my growing unease. Carefully, I dished up the two dinners, mine on a small plate, David’s on a larger one. That was another difference, as my appetite diminished, his increased. Suddenly he seemed constantly ravenously hungry.
‘Dinner’s on the table,’ I called in the general direction of the bedroom. ‘Don’t let it get cold.’
David approached the table, his face lit up when he saw his meal. ‘My favourite, good girl!’ As if he couldn’t wait, he was shovelling food into his mouth as he seated himself.
I knew he would ask for seconds. ‘You’ll be getting a bit on the chubby side if you keep up with that new appetite of yours.’
David stopped, fork half-way to his mouth. ‘Like you, you mean?’
The cruelty of the remark, so unlike David, withered anything I was going to say. I dropped my head and pretended to continue eating. It was unlike David to be deliberately cruel and I wouldn’t take it. I took a deep breath, the nerves in my stomach fluttering as I asked, ‘Are you saying that I’m fat?’
‘Not fat, but not exactly svelte are you?’ He continued eating. ‘Christ, if you can’t see that, maybe you’d better get your eyes tested as well.’
Shocked and speechless, I slid my food around my plate. I didn’t know where to look. I couldn’t look up at David, I knew I’d burst into tears, but looking down at my food was making me nauseous. I felt trapped. Overnight, the one person I’d relied on for the past eight years had become a stranger. I doubted I’d now have the courage to bring up the change in him. If he could be this cruel, I didn’t want to hear more from him. But I had to try at least one attempt to talk about what was happening to him.
’David, what’s happening to us?”
‘What do you mean, happening to us?’ He held out his plate for seconds.
‘Well, things are... different between us.’
‘Well,’ he seemed to consider what I’d said. ‘Our sex life has improved dramatically and you’ve come into money. Oh, and that dickhead brother of yours has started being nice to me. Did you know that he’s returned some of my tools?’ He gave a bark of laughter. ‘He returned the hedge cutters. I gave up on them six months ago.’
‘About our sex life,’ I fiddled with my knife and fork. ‘You think it’s better? I’m not really...’ I stopped, now alert for danger and lifted my head. He fixed me with a hard stare.
‘Not really what?’
His tone was as bland as the expression on his face. Fear bloomed in me. I’d known it was a mistake to broach it, why couldn’t I have left it alone? There are some things you should simply leave alone. I stood and carried my plate to the kitchen. I resented the fact that I didn’t even have the courage to go to his end of the table to collect his plate. ‘Perhaps we should talk about this another time.’
‘No, I think now is as good a time as any. Not really what?’
Okay, so be it. Taking a deep breath, I walked back to the table and sat back down. I lifted my chin and looked him straight in the eye. ‘I’m not really enjoying it. You’ve become rough...’ I faltered as something flickered across his face.
‘And he wasn’t?’
Damn it! My eyes filled with tears as I realised the futility of trying to reason with him. ‘I’ve told you, there wasn’t...’ I dropped my head overwhelmed, tears dribbling down my cheeks.
‘Miss him do you?’
His chair scraped as he moved towards me. I felt him touch my hair lightly and for a moment thought he was going to comfort me. ‘Hold me David. It’s all so confusing. I don’t know what it is that you want from me anymore.’ Rising, I turned towards him and looking up, caught a flash of total disgust cross his face. He grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me towards him until I could feel his breath on my face. Fear squeezed my heart as he tightened his grasp on my wrist.
‘Hold me David!’ His sarcasm cut me to the quick. ‘I’ll hold you all right.’ And he turned, took a step and stopped. ‘No, let’s do something different. We’ve never done it in the dining room, have we?’ He pulled me towards him, placing me between him and the table. ‘Let’s dine off each other.’
‘David, please. I don’t want it like this.’
I saw confusion in his eyes and he faltered. And I saw the exact second the new David swamped the old one. He smiled. I shivered as he placed his hands on my shoulders and gently, slowly turned me away from him. I would have thought that not being able to see him would have been better, but I was wrong. Not knowing what he was about to do, I wasn’t able to prepare myself. His hands pushed me forward until the table edge pushed against my legs. As I struggled to keep my balance, his hands pushed me forward yet further. Face down on the table, I felt my skirt lifted and I realised what he was going to do. ‘David, don’t please.’ I begged as grief and despair overwhelmed me, and I started sobbing. Later, I could only guess how long he had taken. At the time, he seemed to go forever. I was dry and it burned. I whimpered with the pounding which went on and on like a punishment. Through the blur of pain and humiliation, I realised that he couldn’t satisfy himself and he launched himself deeper, he plunged harder and harder but to no avail.
His voice hissed over my shoulder. ‘You know, you’re right,’ he panted. ‘It’s not much good any more, is it?’ He withdrew himself, leaving me feeling blissfully empty. I heard him moving around in the kitchen, the clink of a glass, the sound of a bottle top being unscrewed.
Slowly, I moved. I pulled up my pants and straightened. For a moment, I stood concentrating on controlling my trembling knees before heading for the bathroom. I’d taken two steps when David came back into the room.
‘Where are you going?’ He sounded petulant.
‘To the bathroom to be sick and thoroughly wash myself.’ I turned towards him. I was trembling, my whole body vibrated, the scream ripping from me. ‘To wash away my disgust.’ My voice dropped to a hoarse whisper. ‘Then I’m going to bed. In the spare room with the door locked. I hoped you enjoyed yourself, because that was the last time you touch me. If you try to touch me again,’ I looked him in the eye, ‘I’ll kill you.’
I turned and shuffled towards the bathroom. First, I ran a shower, the sound of the running water drowning my gasping sobs. I’d hidden the truth from myself before but this time I had to admit that came perilously close to rape. This time I was so sore, even the water stung and I still didn’t feel clean. Stepping from the shower, I walked dripping to the bath, put in the plug and turned on the taps. I’d soak until I felt clean enough to go to bed. Soothed until I could sleep. It was early hours of the morning when I locked the door to the spare room and crept into bed. I finally fell into a doze only to jerk awake and, terrified, got up to check that the door was securely locked.
The next morning I was up early, showering again. Even so, by the time I came into the kitchen, David was sipping tea, reading the paper. ‘Morning. Coffee’s hot if you want some.’
I recognised the sound of what I now thought of, as the old David. I felt my shoulders slump, I was safe, but for how long?
I poured myself a cup of coffee and stood drinking it, looking out the window. I wanted to tell him, I’m leaving you. I’ll be moving out in the weekend. But a new perceptive part of me locked the words within. Survival had become more important that honesty. I didn’t know what brought the ‘new’ David out. And I had no intention of finding out.
I heard the rustle of the paper and he was beside me before I realised. I stiffened but he leaned over and kissed me on the cheek.
‘Have a good day, I’ll see you tonight.’ I heard him stop in the kitchen doorway. ‘Are...are you all right?’
‘Yes, I’m fine.’
‘Good. I’ll see you then.’
‘Yes. See you.’
The tears were gone, everything inside me felt cold and hard. The thought of breakfast made me feel sick so I made my way to the bedroom and started getting ready for work. I’d be too early but I needed to get out of the house. As I opened the wardrobe, the suitcase on the top shelf caught my eye. I could start packing now and have most of my things at the house by the weekend and David probably wouldn’t even notice. I could keep it in the boot of my car and make a trip during my lunch break. Suddenly, the enormity of what I was about to do swept over me. Eight years so suddenly ended. There had been no drama in my life since I met David. He had been my safe harbour. I looked around me with a sense of dread, where to start. What to take?
I’d start by taking the things he wouldn’t notice. I felt my safety depended on getting everything out without him noticing. I felt the best way would be for him to discover I was leaving only after I had gone. The thought of how he might react if he found out while I was still there terrified me.
I pulled down the suitcase and placed it on the bed. If I made several trips, I could empty it into one of the wardrobes at the house and worry about putting everything away during the weekend.
I took my one childhood photo album from the hall cupboard and placed it in the suitcase. Summer clothes were next, along with my favourite CDs and DVDs. Was there a DVD player at the house? I couldn’t remember but I could afford to buy one anyway. Before I could stop myself, I realised that I wouldn’t know how to shop for a DVD player, wouldn’t know how to set it up. David would know exactly what kind to buy. Well, I would just have to learn.
By the time I drove to work, I felt I wasn’t so much a bag lady, as a boot lady. So many of my belongings, precious or not, were loaded into my boot. Kiri was the first person I saw at work and I glanced around making sure no one else could hear.
She glanced sideways at me. “Hi,” She turned and faced me. “You okay?”
‘Yes, I am now. I’m moving on Friday. I’m going to take the day off.’ It’s funny, I had decided before I even realised it.
“Talking about it didn’t work, huh? You look terrible.”
“Thanks. That makes me feel much better.”
Kiri grinned. Her smile lit up her face and even made her eyes sparkle. “I’m sorry, it doesn’t help does it?′ She reached out and placed her hand on my arm. ’If there’s anything I can do, let me know. I know all the ins and outs about leaving.” She looked around to check we weren’t over-heard, “And all about not letting someone find you,” she added quietly.
“Yes, there is that. Don’t mention a word of this to any one, will you?” I was happy to own up to good sense, not so happy to admit to embarrassment and guilt.
’I won’t. Not a living soul. I promise.”
‘I’m serious, Kiri. My safety depends on it.’ That sounded too dramatic, even to me. ‘I mean, I’m not sure how he’s going to react. He’s been really strange lately.’ I couldn’t look at her.
’I meant what I said when I asked if there was anything I could do. I’ll keep quiet, all right? No-one understands where you’re at better than me. Believe me.”
I felt weak with relief. ‘Yes. Thank you.’ I turned away, tears threatening.
“Does he know you’re leaving?”
“No, it’s going to be a surprise.” I kept my tone light. If I was serious, I felt like I’d start crying, and if I started, I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop. “I’ve got to go over to Languages. I’ll be back in 15 minutes.′
She put her hand out to stop me. “Don’t you think he’ll be waiting for you here on Monday morning? I know a little bit about what abusive men do when they think they’re going to lose the object of their affection, so to speak.”
I hadn’t even thought about that. My whole focus was on actually moving. How stupid! Of course, if I left, the first thing he’d do, would be to come to where I worked. My head spinning, I couldn’t believe that this was real. My whole universe had always revolved around David, everything now was dictated by how he was acting. Because he was totally unpredictable, I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
The door to the tearoom opened and my boss poked her head around the door. “Are you two actually going to do some work today?”
I looked at her and realised what I had to do. “Moira, I need to talk to you.” I glanced at Kiri. “Alone, if you don’t mind.”
Moira held the door for Kiri and then came in and sat down. “Something wrong?”
I was thinking fast. “Yes, I have a family problem, I need some leave. From Friday.”
“Is someone sick? What’s the problem? That’s going to leave us short-staffed.”
“I’m sorry, but I have no choice. And semester finishes next week, so you won’t have to put off one of the casual staff. You can simply replace me, one of the students will be delighted for some extra work.” I stopped, my heart pounding. I’m not used to lying and I realised just how jumpy I’d become. I was perilously close to becoming one of those pathetic, nervy creatures I despised. For years, I’d been critical of people who played on being the victim. I was only four when my mother was murdered and I had survived. Then why couldn’t all those self-absorbed, sorry-for-themselves victims get their lives together? Tears pricked at the corner of my eyes. God, I needed to pull myself together! I was going to break down in front of my boss! I was mortified.
Moira leaned forward. “I’m sorry, I can see you’re upset. How much time do you need?”
I shook my head. “I don’t know. Can I call you in a week’s time and let you know? I’ll know more then. I’m sorry to be so vague.”
For the rest of the day, I found it difficult to concentrate. At times I felt excited, at least I was doing something about it, I was moving out and moving on. But somehow that didn’t make me feel happy. I couldn’t get past the thought of David finding out. Deep down, I knew the new David would be angry with me. What I didn’t know was how he would retaliate. I shivered. The thought terrified me. I had to stay calm, not give away that there was anything different. This move mustn’t go wrong.
Several times I picked up the phone to call Anita. But each time, I put it back again. Everything, from the inheritance to David’s change of behaviour, to Brian’s obvious greed, still seemed like fantasy. I struggled to get my head around it.
This reminded me of one last thing I needed to do before I moved into the house. I wanted to talk to the lawyer again. Moving in without clearing it with him seemed sneaky somehow. I knew I didn’t need his permission but making a major move without guidance from anyone was new to me. What if there was some regulation, which said that you couldn’t live in a house you’d inherited for a set amount of time? Part of me realised the stupidity of this, but I simply couldn’t move in without seeing the lawyer first.
While I was on a roll with courage intact, I made an appointment with the lawyer for nine o’clock Friday morning. I needed to leave plenty of time for moving. Quite frankly, the thought of Friday left me stiff with fear.