You stagger in to the living room, a room that is filled with the echoes of sobs and the shadows of black eyes. Alive with the faint cracking of bones against cartilage. It is your house, but good luck feeling at home here.
He should be home soon. If he finds you like this he won’t be best pleased. The fear of Marcus finding you drunk, however, is overshadowed by a complete reluctance to be sober. You should be more afraid. The sensible part of your brain tells you that, the part whose job it is to anticipate his next move, to tell you whether tears would provoke sympathy or agitation, to warn you when to keep silent, keep hidden. That part of your brain is muffled by the drink, speaking in a whisper, as though from very far away, making it easier to ignore. You choose to do just that, lifting the bottle to your lips to take a long, bitter swig.
You make a toast, raising the bottle to the empty room.
“To my husband,” you say, and fall down on to the couch.
You like this feeling. Enjoy it while you can. Enjoy the absence of the jolt of fear at every sound outside. You can even appreciate the dim realisation that despite the inevitable consequences of your drunkenness, you no longer care. In for a penny, in for a… something. It doesn’t matter anyway. Nothing does. You are alone. The empty room does not acknowledge your toast.
There is a knock on the door. You jump up, dropping the bottle. Has he forgotten his keys? Or is he just taunting you? Go on then. You might as well find out. Leaving the bottle to spill its amber secrets on to the thick white carpet, you take a few short, unsteady steps, and open the door.
Relax. It’s only Tina. But she isn’t so relaxed herself. She pushes past you, inside, face flushed with excitement.
“We’re ready to go.” She grins at you. The words take a second to sink in to the marshy bog that the drink has made of your mind. They swirl and dance around on the surface and, unable to find purchase, you allow them to dissolve in to the silence, letting them be forgotten. She is so pretty, Tina, don’t you think? The long curls that frame her face, the button nose, pink from the cold and excitement. Those deep green eyes, staring at you expectantly. Sometimes you wonder why Marcus ever married you after being with her for so long. What is it about you, you wonder, that could possibly make him love you more than her?
“Jennifer, have you been drinking?”
Her words bring you back to your senses. Her voice, as usual, offering the simplest kind of comfort, a damp paper towel on the scabbed knee of a whimpering child. It soothes you, harsh even as it is now. As long as she is around your thoughts and fears will not run away with you. He doesn’t love you. He never loved you. He never loved her either. Love is the pink swirl of kind words, the deep red of passion, the warm glow of butterflies in the stomach – not the purple and blue of the bruises he gave you, not the grey metallic tint of hopelessness. He does not love you. Never forget that.
“Just a bit.” But your slurred words betray you. Tina takes you by the arm, but not forceful – not what you’re used to. She sits you down on the couch and kicks the bottle away.
“Don’t give up now.” She tells you. “We’re so close.”
Remember how you met her? She had accosted you on your wedding day, you had been so outraged, so appalled. To you, she was nothing more than his spurned ex-girlfriend, the old flame set out to ruin your long happy lives together, turn them to ashes in her blazing path. Of course you didn’t listen to her when she warned you. It’s only right that you ignored her admonitions of what he was like – what he would reveal himself to be.
She had given you her number. It had taken two years for you to begin to understand, and another five before you came to truly regret throwing away that vital slip of paper. It was only a stroke of luck that you had ever seen her again. A stroke of luck that you cling to now, reminding you that sometimes, just sometimes, the world weighs in your favour.
“I’m so lucky you turned up that day” you slur at her, taking her hands and watching her face fall from excitement to impatience. You barely register it, just like you barely register that Marcus is due home in less than an hour, and that he absolutely cannot know that Tina is here. It’s there, in your mind, but it’s background noise. Right now, what’s important is that your lips find a way to form the thoughts swirling about in your mind.
“In my office, remember? You started working there just before Marcus told me to quit, remember?”
“Yes, Jenny, I remember, but right now we need to focus on – “
“It was like fate.” You’ve thought about it a lot. Ever since that day, through all the other times you’ve met up, all the plans you’ve made with her, you’ve had this gut instinct that meeting her again was fate. It wasn’t though. There is no such thing as fate. There is good luck, and there is bad luck. If Marcus was your bad luck, then Tina, Tina is the good.
She’s thrusting coffee and toast under your nose. When did she even get up to make you that? You take it obediently, and when the coffee is finished she brings you a glass of water. You use it to chase down the toast, and you begin to feel steadier, weighted. You are grateful, but you are beginning to sober up, so naturally you cannot find the words to thank her.
“Better? Good. Jenny, I came to tell you that we’re all sorted. Passports, tickets, alibis. We’re ready. We can leave tonight.”
Again, this takes a moment to sink in, but this time it is more down to shock than alcohol. You blink stupidly at her.
“We’ve been planning this for months, I thought you’d be a bit more excited.”
You shake your head. You are excited. You are. At least, you thought you were, but now it’s so close. Less than half an hour away, in fact, when you glance at the clock on the mantelpiece. Just think for a moment about what you’re about to do. Can your conscience handle it?
Thinking about Marcus hauls up memories that hit you like waves of nausea. An oncoming fist, his face contorted with anger, so close to yours that the flecks of spit mingle with your tears. His rough hands in your hair, on your wrist, around your neck.
“Jenny, are you sure you’re ready? If not, we can wait, we can do it another time.”
And you are. You’re ready. You have been ready for much, much too long.
The next day you are gone. There is little memory of you, it was so easy to slip away in to nothingness; he had made you so small, by the end. Soon your story will be all over the newspapers, but you will not be around long enough to find out how that story ends.
For now, it’s Hawaii, but who knows where next? For the first time in nine years you will finally be able to taste freedom. You will do so with Tina by your side. Tina, your stroke of good luck. Tina, who has been through all that you have and walked out of the other side. Tina, your proof that sometimes, the world weighs in your favour.
You have blood on your hands, but at least now, it is no longer your own.