This post was written in response to this week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: Backward, where we were asked to tell a story beginning with the end.
She takes a last look at the apartment before she pulls the door shut behind her. She left the keys inside. There is no going back now. She picks up her bag which is heavy for her slender arms, but also light. She should not be able to carry her entire life in her arms. But perhaps that is how it should be? Perhaps it is best to leave the past behind you. As she drags the bag behind her down the stairs it bumps loudly on each step. It is an exclamation. I am leaving, she says to the silence of the hallway. At the bottom of the stairs she pushes open the door and steps into the light.
A few hours earlier she was sitting on her bed with her suitcase open beside her. Momentarily lost in thought, forgetting that time was slipping away. The urgency she felt only half an hour earlier replaced by sadness. Her life spread around her in an array of familiar objects. The hideous vase her parents gave them when they moved in, the statues they bought back from their trip to Kenya, the carpet she fell in love with and convinced him they should get, even if it was way too expensive.
She had sometimes thought of leaving, but there had always been too many reasons to stay. But that morning she saw herself in the mirror. For a brief moment it was not her, the woman looking back. There was an instant when she looked at her own reflection and saw herself with somebody else’s eyes. The image frightened her. It was not the bruise on her right cheek. Well, maybe it had something to do with it, but there was something more. She looked tired and worn out. Her skin drawn taut over her cheeks. And she looked lost. That is someone who does not know what to do anymore, who has no reason for going on, she thought, and then shied back in horror from her own thoughts.
The woman in the mirror must have been who the cashier at the supermarket saw a few days ago. The cashier looked at her with pity in her eyes. She hated that. Don’t feel sorry for me, she wanted to shout, I’m ok, my husband loves me. And he does, she knows that. Afterwards he is always full of regret. His heart breaking for her. Full of self loathing. She used to believe him when he said it was the last time. But of course it never was.
How did she end up here? When did she become a battered woman, a victim of domestic violence? The terms sound foreign to her and it takes an effort for her to place herself in those categories. She always imagined that men that hit women were mean, sick bastards, but he is nothing like that. He is kind and funny and charming. But sometimes he comes home in a foul mood with alcohol on his breath, and there is nothing she can do to escape his wrath. He wants a fight and will have it, however much she tries to please him.
The first time came as a shock to her, but she also believed it was a one-off. He had been humiliated at work and had been drinking all afternoon. He was not himself. His mean and spiteful words were not meant for her, and neither was the blow he struck at her face. She had never been hit in the face before. She had never really been hit anywhere. The pain of it as her head snapped back and she fell was indescribable. For a long time afterwards it felt like a dream. She almost managed to convince herself that it had never happened. Until it happened again. And again. And again.
Perhaps she should have realised it on that first evening. Because when she looked up at him from the floor his face showed no signs of regret. The regret only came the next day. Or perhaps she should have seen it in him even earlier. Maybe it should have been obvious when he insulted the waiter at the Michelin star restaurant on their one year anniversary. He was beside himself about the slow service and she felt embarrassed. But his mood passed and things went back to normal.
Surely she knew nothing when they rang the bell at a beautiful apartment building near the sea-side. She had seen the ad in the paper and called immediately to make an appointment. Her heart was beating with excitement as they walked up the stairs toward the open door on the first floor. He squeezed her hand and they exchange an excited glance. She knew it already. This was going to be their home.