Two Years Ago
Because that’s why he’s home hours too early.
Winston probably started a bar fight or backed into someone else’s car and now he’s being dropped off. My heart sinks when I think about my first quiet evening in months being ruined.
“Thank you for bringing him home,” I say, not taking my eyes off of Winston’s lifeless body. He looks half dead, slumped over Officer Brooks’ shoulder like a rag doll.
“Ma’am, have you considered talking to him about getting some help?” He asks, carrying my husband to the couch.
Fat chance of that. “We will, I swear.”
I’ve gotten so good at lying, I don’t even feel like myself anymore.
“In the meantime, I’d make him swallow some Tylenol. He’s got to be up for a shift in four hours,” the officer says, sighing. Her eyes Winston and shakes his head.
“You have a good night, ma’am.”
“Good night, officer.”
I close the door behind him and head to the linen closet to grab a sheet and an extra throw blanket. Winston’s too heavy for me to move upstairs so it looks like he’ll be sleeping off whatever he’d had tonight, down here.
I close the closet door and turn around, but every molecule of breath escapes my lungs when my nose stops an inch in front of my husband’s chest.
“Jesus, sweetheart. You scared me,” I say, placing a hand on my chest.
Winston smiles lazily and I wonder how he’s even standing. His glassy eyes are exhaustion wrapped in liquid poison and I wonder just how long it’ll be before that shit detoxes from his system.
The benders had stopped for a while. After the last time. But I’d come home from my shift at the library to an empty house and Winston’s cold dinner still sits untouched, covered in the microwave.
“Holiday. So beautiful,” he says. My stomach rolls over at his fingers on my cheek. Nausea comes so easily to me these days, it’s only a matter of time before he finds out.
And when he does, it’s only going to be harder to leave.
“Why don’t we go lay down, honey. You’ve had a long day.” I place a hand on his chest, but too fast for a drunk person, my husband grips my bad wrist. I wince.
“Honey, you’re… squeezing too tight.” He hates when I accuse him of hurting me. It’d only make it worse.
“You’re right, Holiday. I’ve had a very long day. I don’t remember asking you to go lay down,”’he slurs, poking me in the chest with his free hand.
I yelp when his grip tightens on my wrist. Winston nips at my ear and bile rises in my throat.
Please, no. Not tonight.
I’d thought I’d have more time. Winston hasn’t touched me in two months and after the last time, I swore I’d find a way out before I let that happen again.
I’ve never meant that more than I did, leaving the women’s clinic this morning.
His usual acrid breath is sterilized from enough vodka to kill a horse. My stomach somersaults but I will my dinner to stay down. “I got an interesting call from your brother this morning. You been talking to him?”
The answer doesn’t matter. I’m already guilty.
Tears spring to my eyes at the sharp pain in my wrist. I shake my head.
“You should never lie to the police, Holiday,” he sing songs, his words slurring like a prelude to my worst nightmare.
“Let’s just please go to bed, honey,” I squeak, trying to ignore my smarting wrist.
I hear the slap across my cheek before I feel it. I never feel them anymore— not physically anyway.
The force of it throws me off my feet and for the first time, my brain doesn’t shut down.
Anger is a luxury I’ve never indulged in, but a hand on my belly, the adrenaline dumping into my veins surges like wildfire.
It’s not just me I have to protect anymore.
Scrambling to my feet, I spit blood from my mouth as my drunk husband looks like a lost little boy.
I hold a hand up. “It’s okay,” I say, backing up slowly. He approaches me, reaches for me but I shake my head. “Let me get some ice for your hand.”
He nods, swiping a hand over his face and I try to steady my own shaking hands as I put ice cubes into a plastic bag. With one hand, holding bag of ice to him, I act quickly.
Grabbing the empty, but still-hot tea kettle from the stove, I throw it at Winston with everything I have. The bottom sears into his flesh and I don’t even stop to assess the damage.
One hand on the door handle, I can taste freedom like an inhale after a long held breath, but like the grim reaper shadowing my six, Winston rips me away from it, throwing me onto the floor.
“You fucking bitch! I could have you arrested!” He shouts, approaching me.
No! Tears well in my eyes as he bounds toward me. I need to get off the floor.
I scramble backward, but Winston lifts me by my hair and I have to stand or it’ll be pulled from my scalp.
I feel every bit the coward I’ve been for the last four years of my life, but my silence is necessary. My attempt at escape failed. The only way to protect my baby— Ella— is to live long enough to figure a way out of this.
“Winston, I’m s-sorry. I don’t know what came over me—”
“You like to play rough, girl?” He asks, glaring at me wickedly. He throws me onto the sofa and I choke out a sob under his weight. His hand snakes up my thigh and rips my panties from my body. “Give me one good reason I shouldn’t throw your ass in jail and divorce you, you ungrateful little—”
Bringing my knee up, I aim for all I’m worth and the man’s satisfied whimper is the only invitation I need to push him off of me, but Winston is nothing, if not stubborn.
I hop to my feet, but I see his arm swing out too late. Winston grips onto the skirt of my night dress and like a silent film playing in slow motion, my body whips in the opposite direction, ripping his hold from me.
But I’m thrown off balance and when I look down, there’s nothing to break my fall but a glass coffee table. I brace myself for impact, but it’s futile.
Front first, my body shatters into the glass and a sharp pain shoots from my toes to my lower belly and all the way up my spine.
I reach for my belly, but the last thing I remember is succumbing to the swirling black.