I hold my breath and wait, quiet as a mouse caught in a trap. Tightly wedged between the tiled wall and the cool white vitreous china toilet pan I lean my head against its cold surface trying to relieve the pain.
The recent episode flashes through my mind and I feel vomit in the back of my throat; the minutes tick away, but I dare not make a sound. I cup my hands against my mouth attempting to prevent the urge to spew the contents of my stomach into the bowl. I have learned well the unspoken rules. No matter what pain I suffer I am not allowed to make a sound. He calls these episodes our special game and the rituals must be maintained.
I listen carefully and intently. I am waiting for the next ritual. He sometimes uses his key, so he can leave the house silently and on other occasions he will let the door bang, but not be gone so that he can catch me out. I strain to hear. I am sure I heard the click of the front door although I am reluctant to move just yet. I wipe my tears away with the back of my hand and very cautiously ease myself out from the cramped space. I sit on the toilet seat worried that he has sussed me. I believe I have now grasped the rules, that is of course if he sticks by what he usually does. Another five minutes pass. I feel it is safe to move now …I breathe properly for the first time since running into the bathroom, literally feeling my stomach unclench as I do so. I creep outside the door and look over the bannister. It appears he has gone.
Now the ending can begin.
I wonder who will be on duty. I frantically use quick dial to call up the Samaritans. I am in he foetal position on the couch and wait to see who will answer my call
I sigh with relief. It is a woman’s voice: her voice.
“Oh Carol I’m so glad it’s you … this is Dawn.” I am so tense my voice comes out with very little volume.
“Hello, can you speak up please?”
“Yes it’s Dawn.” A stream of words pours instantly from my mouth. “It’s started all over again. I have truly tried so hard for it not to happen. I must have done something wrong because he said if it wasn’t for me his life would be miles better.” I am sobbing and gasping for breath.
The silence worries me. Carol has never been lost for words before. I can feel the panic rising up inside of me and I breathe deeply to stop myself from screaming.
“Are you badly hurt?”
Relieved that she is still there I gasp. “Not enough to go to hospital.”
“Okay” she says and then there is another long silence. I can hardly bear it.
“Are you there Carol?” I ask anxiously. “Please don’t give up on me. I will stop it honestly I will, but you must understand it is so hard. I love him so much and I don’t know how I could live without him … and … I know deep down that he loves me … like I always tell you, it’s because I frustrate him with my silly ways. Sometimes I get careless. If I feel depressed I get very emotional when he threatens to leave me. He says he only shouts and raises his fists to let me see how unhappy I make him”
I stop, waiting for Carol to say something and think to myself, how much longer am I going to keep on saying the same old things? I no longer feel confident enough to speak and the, without reason, I have a sudden insight.
“You know what Carol? it’s when I beg him to let me start again and promise how good I can be that he starts his ghastly game.”
Carol’s ruthless tone hits me like a brick. “But it’s not a game is it Dawn? It’s violence.”
I’m frantic to protect him. “I know, I know, but he doesn’t mean to hurt me. He just gets carried away and forgets his own strength.”
Carol stays quiet.
“Please speak to me Carol. I know I keep saying the same things and that I let you down by not leaving him, but I will try soon, very soon to pluck up the courage and walk away.”
“Dawn, it’s nearly twelve months since you began to contact us here at the Samaritans, and I promise I will always listen, and to say I am not here to judge you. I feel you might find it more helpful to seek one to one counselling where you can have on-going support instead of hoping it will be me who answers the phone to you.”
“But I like speaking to you Carol, because you understand me, you do understand me don’t you Carol?” I am crazy to be comforted. There is an awful whine in my voice. “Please don’t give up on me.”
“Where are you at the moment Dawn?” Her question takes me by surprise” Oh … where I usually am. On the couch; straight from the bathroom. I know I promised you that I wouldn’t do it any more, but it’s kind of comforting when I hurt. I’m sorry, really I am. Give me time. I will stop honest I will.
I wait for Carol to reassure me as she always does.
“Mm. I sometimes wonder if I know the steps to this dance as well as you do now.”
I am shocked, I don’t understand. “Pardon? What dance?”
Carol gives a little sight. “How long have you got Dawn?”
I look at the clock on the opposite wall. “Oh my goodness, I’ve got less than two hours to sort things out. I have to go Carol.”
“You do realise don’t you Dawn that you end your call in the same way each time you phone?”
“Do I? I hadn’t noticed. I’m sorry I will have to go Carol. Thank you so much for being there for me I do appreciate it.”
Stepping into the shower and setting the dial to the highest spray setting, I brace myself to feel its full force upon my tired and battered body. It is painful, but not half as painful as Rick’s last words to me. I use baby shampoo. I have learned over time that at least this reduces the stinging.
Dabbing my body dry with the softest white bath towel I own, I see my image in the mirror. It makes me wince. My left eye and jaw is swollen and bruised. Thankfully I have not lost a tooth this time. I give a yelp when I lift my arms to dry my back and have to take small short breaths to reduce the pain. It’s a pain I recognise. I have broken ribs. It really is humiliating to admit that I know the signs from previous occasions.
I take my time to pull my jeans on and decide to wear a long-sleeved shirt-blouse rather than a jumper. The thought of pulling one over my head is awful. The rules are that I must be fully clothed with no flesh showing.
Smarting all over, I brush my hair wishing it was not so long and tie it into a ponytail. I have often thought of having it cut and shaped with some highlights to give me a younger look. I shudder just to imagine Ben’s disapproval and my cowardly failure to stand up for myself.
A sickening sharp pain zips in my left ear. With my hand pressed against it I feel another wave of nausea. What started as a twinge is now a raging throb. I know what to expect, it will be torture for hours, possibly days.
In the kitchen I find the paracetamol and swallow three tablets with a large tumbler of water. I still have a lot to do.
Before I clean up the debris and straighten the furniture I place a bottle of champagne into the fridge. It has to reach the correct temperature. I then scrub at the blood splattered on the oven and cabinet doors and mop the floor.
Feeling rather delicate and tired I go into the dining room and open the French doors onto the paved terraced patio and breathe in the early evening air. I resist the urge to go out to sit and relax in the cushioned chair at the white wrought iron table for fear of being caught out in the act.
Instead I move about careful not to cause myself any more pain and start dead-heading the crimson geraniums growing amongst the deep green ivy and blue lobelia. With the yard broom I clear away leaves and creamy coloured rose petals, dried petunia and fuchsia flowers. Once in pristine order, which is how I want my life to be, I go back indoors.
It is the bedroom next. The bedspread has to be straightened until it is exact with not a crease in sight. I rub furiously at the mirror to remove the smudge my face made when he rammed it into it. I have to remove all tell-tale signs of our altercation from the place.
I repeatedly check all the rooms for any visible signs of my having been dragged and pushed. So fixated is my quest it numbs the incessant stabbing pains that battle for attention. It has to be this way if I am to block out the whispering voices inside my head.
I begin to clock-watch waiting for his key to open the front door.
I have to complete a mental tick box list that is now fused in my mind. This is how the plan works, and then everything goes back to normal.
I understand the drill. He will arrive home with a look of reparation and a bouquet of flowers, pausing for a moment before handing me the flowers, and asking me what I have been doing. I will ruefully reply “Nothing much.”
He embraces me; it is grim striving not to flinch from the pain. He will tenderly take my face in his hands and kiss me on the mouth. He will convince me that he loves me more than I will ever know, insisting that nothing can change our love for each other.
I always submit to his caresses, every time spellbound by his promises of everlasting love.
He then carries me in his arms to the bedroom; removes my clothes slowly, teasing me with gentle bites to excite me. He then asks with concern who inflicted these injuries on me. He weeps as he kisses the bruises and cuts and exclaims he will kill the swine.
Fear and dread overwhelms me; suppose I get it wrong this time. It is imperative I know the next move; up until now I have guessed correctly but it is always chancy. I begin my familiar inner chant – all will be well he will love and adore me if I just do what he wishes.
Without warning Carol’s words flash through my mind. What did she mean by a dance.
I can’t make sense of it. Except for that most extra-ordinary remark our conversation was much as it always was. I make myself really think about it. What is a dance? It’s a number of steps set to music. Does it matter if you dance the steps out of order? Only if you have a partner I guess. It takes a lot of practice for two people to dance perfectly together. It is conventional for the man to take the lead and for the woman to follow his lead. I remain perplexed. Carol has always shown me a lot of understanding, but today I can’t say that. I am convinced she has lost interest in me and wants me to stop ringing her and for some reason I feel upset. The word dance constantly flits around my mind and I imagine I am in the arms of my Rick. He is the perfect partner and we are dancing with ease.
It is wonderful. We are vibrant, smooth and accomplished. I can feel the excitement, our bodies licked into each other, almost moulded into one. I sail; I fly; and my feet hardly touch the ground. My dress sparkles with sequins and Rick looks a million dollars as he supports and guides me around the floor. We appear to have the ballroom solely to ourselves and it feels euphoric. Imagine then my surprise when I realise that other couples have joined us on the floor. It is thrilling, we are contestants! Filled with enthusiasm I eagerly look into Rick’s eyes, only to see they are ablaze with displeasure. Appalled I wonder how I can pacify him and in my anxiety I forget the steps and falter; my foot clashes with his. He loses his balance, trips and in an ungainly heap we both fall to the ground.
My daydream comes to a startling halt. Shaking with shock I feel raw with emotion. What would Rick say if he knew I was capable of conjuring up such a nightmarish fantasy? Shivers run up and down my spine. Suddenly I understand Carol’s comment.
The key went into the lock. Rick was home. His face dropped. Where was she? He gave a perfunctory glance into each room, becoming more anxious by the moment.
“Dawn” he bellowed.
The silence curled itself around him and he fought for breath. She was supposed to be in the hall waiting for him; where was she? Pulling his inhaler out of his pocket he sucked in to ease his gasping. Bloody woman was going to be the death of him.
He walked unsteadily into the kitchen and sat down at the kitchen table. Still fighting for breath he opened the fridge door. Where the hell had she put the champagne? Gulping for breath he glanced through the French doors. Confused and unnerved he stared in disbelief.
Slowly he opened the door and stepped outside.
An envelope propped up against the bottle of champagne had his name written on it. He ripped it open and yanked the letter out. Beads of perspiration ran down his face. What the hell had she done?
Before he could react he heard the door bell and knew they had come for him. He smirked and reminded himself that Dawn would never go through with it.