"Look how far I can jump, mum!" Tabby runs and takes flight, her tiny legs flailing for a second, "look, mum, look how far I can jump!" She does it again,
"Amazing," I cry out with forced cheer; if she can hear the lack of enthusiasm, she doesn't show it. I measure this path by the tightening in my chest. It's like a noose that tightens around my throat with every step. The tower block looms ahead, a grimy monolith. A one-way trip back to hell.
"I'm going to show dad how far I can jump," Tabby says, pushing out her bottom lip grotesquely, her bright, too wide eyes shining in the weak winter sun.
"You should." I am having a heart attack. A panic attack. An 'anything but this place please' attack, just like I do every weekend. In the piss smelling lift, she jumps, her bubble gum pink wellies smacking on the dirty floor. She runs ahead to his freshly painted door and rings the bell.
She answers, Lucy. She answers in silence, as usual; she avoids my eye, she ushers Tabby in, then offers a weak smile and a shrug. We don't need to speak, the past is the past; we both know what happened. We both know what is happening. I never wanted revenge on her, not really, but if I did this would be it; she is still with him. She got what she wanted.
Tabby's voice fills the tiny flat completely. You can hear everything in places that small. That's something I think about often when she's here. The walls are so thin.
Sunday rolls around like a steam train; Lucy gives me the same lowered eyes, smile, shrug combo, and I take Tabby back. This is our routine; we both dance around Harry while he looms in the background like the ghost of misery past. The spirit of disaster impending.
The honeymoon phase lasts precisely six months. I know that from experience. Mine, and theirs - his other mistresses. We're all stupid enough to take him back. Were. We all were; not me. Not again. We're walking through the last days of it, and she's already pale and drawn. Her hair is getting stringy. If I were Christian I would pray for her. Instead I push a flip phone into Tabby's bag and tell her to call me if she needs me. I tell her big girls have their own phone's. I tell her it's in case she gets lost or she leaves something at home.
I tell myself I'm surprised when my phone screams in the middle of the night and then gather my threadbare courage like a cloak, making the walk frenetically and sluggishly by turns.
Harry opens the door and shoves Tabby at me, throwing her bag out before he slams the door. I do not stay to listen. I almost wish I had by the time we're halfway home; my girl has fallen silent. She has questions that won't come out. Not yet. She has questions and a runny nose, but no bruises. Sometimes you have to take what you can get.
Her silence becomes louder, and I can't break it. There's no fight left in the dog; no money left in the pot. No more legal aid to claim. Not until she speaks. Her words are free, mind come at a cost; parental alienation would be the item, and the bill would be high.
I check her for bruises every Sunday. I hug her tight when I find one. Someone has to break the silence.
We make the Friday walk; she doesn't jump or skip. She holds my arm like a life preserver. Like a rope. Like the harness on a rollercoaster. She doesn't understand and I hope she never does. I hope she never knows how I cling to my phone, heart in my mouth, one hand on the landline just in case I need to make the quickest dial of my life. I hope she never knows that I do not sleep, or that I lose my mind for a few seconds when the warm voice of a police officer is the one I hear on the other end of the line.
The hospital is bright, painfully so, and no-one stops me as I rush through the doors towards the reception. The kind, round faced girl at the desk points the way and stands, but ends up following me as I rush through door after door to find her, red faced, snotty, and hiccupping but whole. Whole and free from injury, except for a red welt on her cheek. It's textured. Three red lines rise as if someone had drawn canyons, or clipped her with the first three fingers of a large hand.
Lucy raises her head and looks me in the eye for the first time... with her one good eye. It's red as an apple, with a bright green iris. The other is swollen shut.
It blinks, that single eye and then she lets her head rest on the pillow again as the nurse enters, followed by a uniformed officer. The words are lost; they can't enter the space between us. The line between her eye and mine is unbreakable.
I don't need to hear them to understand. I already know the story, but the ending will be different this time. In the bowls of the hospital, there's a roar I recognize. Like a bull rattling against its pen. I don't need to turn to know its him, of course, but I do. Just to see the glint of metal around his wrists. Just to understand that it is real.
I place my body between them as Harry struggles to shout at her over my head, snarling at spitting like a dog. I want to tell you I am immovable, but I'm not. I back away, ushering Tabby behind me, as the nurse and officer step forward... but I find her hand, and squeeze the fingers that aren't splinted gently. And she, Lucy, she squeezes back. Tabby is huddled between us, and though she is shaking, she doesn't scream.
My silent girl. She used to have colossal tantrums when she was a toddler; I miss them. I want her to scream and shout, not freeze like fawn in the woods. When he's gone, she does cry. She cries and sniffles and lets lucy tug her onto the bed. As Tabby curls up beside her, reaching out to hold my hand in a vice-like grip, that one green eye rolls to me again.
As she blinks, I see his face clearly again, and hear him telling her she's done.
You're done, he said, I'm pressing charges.
His face had been a mess. I can see the blood on his shirt as clearly as if holding it. I had assumed it was hers. The officer and nurse whisper behind us and, for some reason, I can't ask her; I jerk my thumb in the direction they took him, point to my face, and then point to her. Did you do that? I am asking, though it is ridiculous. Did you break his nose? I tweak my nose.
Lucy looks down, gives a pained shrug, and then smiles. Her old routine. This time the glint of metal shows; her jaws are wired shut. She winks her one good eye and gargles out a laugh. I shouldn't join her; it's not a laughing matter, but hysteria takes over. I play that image over and over, the image of this tiny, blonde hairdresser breaking hulk Harrys nose. I pretend it exists in isolation. That Tabby was not there, that there was no aftermath. Tabby blinks and gives a watery smile, then starts to weep, and two sets of hands soothe her and three eyes focus on her round, red face.
About the Creator
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions