A Domestic Hell



Keys rattled outside the door. Maria flinched. He came in. She heard him chuck the keys into the dish on the shelf by the door. A pause, then the sound of the door banging shut. Not locking it tonight? No. Not tonight. The sound of uneven footsteps from the hallway, loose floorboards creaking through the carpet. No other sound, no talking. Just slow, heavy, unsteady movement. She sat on the sofa, her legs curled up underneath her, her arms wrapped around her, stiffening, twitching and flinching. She heard him move towards the kitchen. Good or bad? Had she missed something? Is he going to be wanting something?

She thought about him. The other. Her heart pounded so hard she felt light headed. She calmed herself the usual way. If he’d found out about the other, he’d kill her, and she was still alive. He didn’t know. About the other.

She could hear him in the kitchen, opening a can of lager from the fridge, the hiss. He’d have one straight off, before starting on the rest. She always had beer in the fridge for him. Even though he didn’t like her going out at all. The jealous kind. Even though he loved her, he was jealous. He admitted himself. He loved her so much.

She stared at her lap; her legs pulled under her on the sofa by the window. Her fingers played with the frayed lining of her unfashionable skirt, the sort he insisted she wore. She had a glass of wine, still cool from the bottle in the fridge, on the small wooden table just to her left. She left it there. She’d had enough. He was home. She lit a cigarette, pulling hard enough to leave a delicate length of grey ash which she knocked carefully into the ashtray next to her wine glass.

Cain came in from the kitchen. Her husband. The man she was being unfaithful with. She had another man. Adam Roshi. She didn’t love either of them, but she was tied to both.

Cain was holding his ribs. There were cuts and grazes all over his face, blood in his mouth. She didn’t say anything. She’d never say anything. Lifting the remote control from the seat next to her. He fell into a chair on the opposite side of the room. He was drinking from a can; three others dropped to the floor next to him. Toying with the remote, he flicked through the channels. Maria watched, waiting for the moment when he’d look over, waiting for the movement in his neck, so she’ll know to look away, look down, anything but look him in the eye. Look in his bloodshot drunken eyes. She flinched as he raised the gold can and drained the remains. He looked across. No words. She sat carefully, quietly, eyes fixed on the television.

He dropped the empty can on the floor. “Pick that up.” He kicked at it, his foot glancing the side, setting the can spinning on the carpet. His eyes drew back to the TV. She watched, without moving, as the can moved a few feet from his chair, into the middle of the room.

“Have you eaten?” She was his wife. She was playing his wife. She was living in a fantasy world where none of this was real. Even Adam. She’d taken him in desperation. She knew that. Desperation was the word that came to her when she sent the text to arrange to meet and deleted it straight away with shaking hands, locked behind the toilet door even when Cain was at work.

He opened another can, slugged it in one go. That used to be his party trick when they first met. A long time ago. “Why would I have eaten?”

“Do you want something? I could…”

He looked across at her, eyes hooded, the glaze of alcohol playing across his face. “Do whatever the fuck you want. Usually, do, don’t you? My darling.”

She sat, huddled at the edge of the sofa, her hands wrapped together. She didn’t speak, staring at the carpet, watching the small dark stain where the dregs of his first beer can had leaked before she could get to it. She felt he was following her eyes, she knew he would see the stain, and she knew it would be her fault. It was her fault. She should have been quicker. It was her job to keep the house nice. It was her fault.

“Where you been?” She looked up, saw him staring, sat up in his chair, his hands gripping his knees, feet pulled back, ready to stand. She looked down, somewhere different this time, drawing attention from the stain.

“I haven’t been out. I went to the shop this morning to get some food something to drink, but I haven’t been out apart from that.” She forced herself not to think about Adam, not to think of being with him. She knew that if he found out, she would be dead. He was in one of his worst kind of moods. God knows where he’d got those injuries from.

“So you haven’t been out, but you managed to go to the shop.” She knew the tone, mocking, laughing at her. It was understandable, it was a simple question that she couldn’t even answer. She sipped her wine, then gulped a mouthful. He wasn’t trying to trick her, but she still managed to say stupid things. No wonder he got angry. She was the one having an affair, not him. Whatever he was, he still came home to her. He paid the bills. She had nothing of her own.

“I asked you if you’ve been out. You have been out, haven’t you? Don’t lie to me.” She heard the creak of the back of his chair coming back up. His gasp made her look up and see him holding his ribs.

“Just the shop. For the food. I’m sorry, I got it wrong, but I’ve, just the shop, nowhere else.”

“Who is he?” He was standing, his feet inches from the stain. He asked the same question, again and again. She consoled herself with knowing that if he genuinely knew if he even so much as suspected, he wouldn’t mess around. He can’t know.

Nothing happened. He was struggling with his ribs. She could tell he had had a good few drinks before he got home, and he was topping up. She needed to play the part of the good wife. It was for her to make amends as best she could, to make up for all the times she had let him down in the past if that was possible. Her mum always accepted her lot. She’d come off worse against her father many times. He liked a drink down the club. What goes around comes around. What goes around…

This is an extract from my novel, ‘Innocence’.

Innocence by John Brackenridge

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