At least he doesn’t hit me anymore.
The empty words paraded through Stephanie’s mind on a loop as she curled up on her husband’s sofa. The phrase had become her mantra over the last few days. It was a crutch to prop up her denial and to help see past Giles’s creative outbursts. No matter how hard she tried to focus on Giles’s good points, just simply surviving in this toxic relationship was poisoning her thoughts. These days it was getting harder to suppress the more upsetting ideas that teased her fragile mind. But it could be worse though; at least when Giles got angry, he never really meant to hurt her.
These thoughts wormed through her mind as she browsed through a copy of Take-A-Break. As she glanced through the glossy pages Stephanie suddenly became aware she was no longer alone in the house. Gingerly peering over the top of her magazine Stephanie almost jumped as she saw the brooding form of Giles glowering at her from his armchair on the opposite side of the living room. She hadn’t seen her husband all day and although his absence had been welcome, it had filled the home with a pregnant silence that seemed to echo through every room. She’d never heard him come in and she couldn’t even smell the cigarette that flared like a warning light as he took another silent drag. How long had he been sat there? She had no idea. What’s more the poisonous look in his eyes told her not to ask. The fading light from outside picked out his cold eyes in the gathering gloom. Those eyes narrowed into that familiar piercing stare that Stephanie could never meet directly. Accusations burned in in his pupils as he regarded her with such quiet intensity that Stephanie was forced to look away. Her magazine dropped to the floor but she hardly noticed.
He won’t hit me this time; she repeated the chant, hoping to find reassurance in the words. She said nothing out loud to her husband – don’t speak until you’re spoken to! Experience told her Giles wouldn’t say anything either. This routine was played out most evenings now. His penetrating stare slowed everything down; stretching seconds into minute and minutes into hours. The stillness of the room oozed around her, pressing in from all sides. Her watch, usually so quiet now boomed with every second in the tense silence, making Stephanie squirm under his forceful gaze. It was times like that that the beatings were actually preferable. At least he would get it over with. She could handle his fists. Stephanie felt her shoulders begin to ache as the thick silence pushed and pulled and pummelled at her like a strong tide. But all she could do was to sit still and wait quietly until Giles was ready, because any other response on her part would likely provoke his rage.
It was her fault she was going through this. She could have left him and she almost had done so this morning. Yet she was still here and she wore her failure and humiliation like a veil. Trying her feeble best not to cringe away from her husband’s severe stare, Stephanie sought refuge in her thoughts and her failed attempt to leave.
Earlier this afternoon she had discovered Giles had ransacked their bedroom again. It was an intimate punishment that left no scars. All of her clothes lay strewn about the room, as if a hurricane had devastated the place. The doors and draws of all the furniture were hanging open; each one empty. Their contents lay scattered in crumpled heaps. Alongside the hurled garments was the large mirror lying on its back. Thankfully it was still in one piece but the portrait of Stephanie’s niece and nephew that hung on the opposite wall lay in a broken frame with shattered glass covering their wide beaming smiles. Not for the first time this week she became aware of the sore crushing feeling in her throat. But she wouldn’t get upset at this, what was the point?
She hadn’t even heard Giles crashing around up here making all this mess, unlike last time. Standing dumbly by the bedroom door she couldn’t think of what she had done to invoke his displeasure, although Giles never really needed an excuse to punish her. She swallowed hard hovering on the landing like an idiot.
Had he found her hammer?
Stephanie was spurred to her side of the bed where she groped about underneath looking for her hammer. For one brief moment a rush of panic had covered her like a winder frost. But then she found the bag. The plastic crinkled in her grip and she let out a shaky breath. Stephanie had purchased the hammer from B&Q about a month ago. She had bought it on impulse not really knowing why. However she did know she needed to keep it secret from Giles. Unable to allow herself to feel anything more than a mild relief at knowing her hammer was safe, Stephanie had surveyed the chaos of her bedroom with a detached mind. The room looked terrible.
At least he doesn’t hit me anymore, she had repeated.
It had taken Stephanie nearly two hours to dutifully restore the bedroom to an acceptable standard of tidiness. She recalled looking down at the broken smiles of her niece and nephew in the smashed photo. It was the only thing she had left of her estranged family and it was a heart-breaking sight; the cracked glass gave them a sad almost painful expression. She had been too weak to hold back the wave of sorrow that washed over her. She must have looked so pathetic standing there looking at the picture in her hands. It was good that Giles hadn’t seen her like that; he wouldn’t have liked it. Traces of that unhappiness threatened to surface again now as her maudlin thoughts lingered on her failed attempt to leave.
It had been the sight of the photo rather than the bedroom itself that had been the catalyst for Stephanie’s decision. She had found Giles’s overnight bag and proceeded to stuff it with her clothes. Speed was the key and so she made a mad grab for anything and everything without noticing what she was packing, because if she stopped to think about it she would end up talking herself out of it. Things were going well until she got downstairs.
As if sensing her imminent freedom Stephanie’s determination had wobbled as she reached the hallway. It was when she took hold of the door handle that she froze and reality impaled itself through her like a spear, trapping her inside the house. There she had stayed with her hand on the handle for several minutes watching with impotent frustration as her courage had bled out. In her mind’s eye she had visualised herself opening the door to see Giles walking up the driveway. Or else she would go out onto the road and see him drive around the corner. He could appear at any time. He could be waiting for her anywhere.
At least he won’t hit me for this! She had whispered to herself as her hand dropped from the door handle in acceptance of her failure. A gaping hole seemed to yawn open in the pit for her stomach as she was swallowed by disappointment once again. It felt as if she were watching through someone else’s eyes as she wearily trudged back up the stairs to unpack.
Even if she did leave where would she go? She couldn’t really see Tara. Her sister had never liked Giles and she would take every opportunity to put him down. It was hard listening to the constant put-downs about Giles and his bible-bashing friends and so in the end Stephanie had taken Giles’s advice and decided to cut off all contact with her sister.
Besides, Giles wasn’t that bad. In fact he could be quite funny: Knowing how often she got things wrong he would often joke that she would test the patience of the Dali-Lama!
Giles looked out for her as well: He hadn’t liked her working at Fitness First because of the lecherous men staring at her so he had suggested that she left her job. Now Giles looked after her and paid all the bills so she never had to work. She was really lucky and hated herself for being so ungrateful for all Giles had done for her. An obligatory smile brushed her lips as she recalled Giles’s romantic side. He could still surprise her from time to time with flowers; telling her he would love her forever and they would always be together.
As she had finished putting her clothes away for a second time that afternoon she had kicked the bottom draw of the chest of draws shut. It was a hard kick and her toe hurt for some time afterwards. She could still feel it now several hours later.
On the other side of the room Giles slowly rose to his feet and began moving towards her without saying a word. He carried himself with all the serene authority of an arch bishop, only without the warmth and compassion associated with real men of the cloth.
Without looking down Stephanie found her hammer, the rubber grip of the handle moulded comfortably into the palm of her hand. Giles was only a few feet away from her as he came closer. He was moving in nightmare slow motion, always advancing but never quite reaching her.
Stephanie continued to watch his feet quietly pass over the cream coloured carpet. The icy beam of his eyes intensified on her face the closer he came, until he stopped directly in front of her.
“What do you want?” she asked nervously, unable to look up at his intimidating form.
Giles said nothing.
Please, I don’t know what you want; just leave me alone, the voice in her head whimpered.
Her husband leaned towards her exhaling a curtain of smoke into her face.
“Get away from me” Stephanie begged weakly. Pathetic! Then she remembered the hammer and fumbled it up before her as if it were a cross and she was trying to ward off a vampire in one of those old Hammer Horror films she so loved.
Giles continued his silent scrutiny completely ignoring the weapon. He bent down almost nose to nose, forcing Stephanie to look at those frighteningly chilly eyes. The very atmosphere in the room had turned to treacle. The cloying silence was constricting her throat while the roaring hush deafened her ears. Smoke clouded her eyes and she was momentarily blinded before it was dispersed by her quick panting breathes, revealing Giles’s disturbing features once again.
The hammer quivered in her hands.
He won’t hit me again. Stephanie hoped as her knotted stomach churned with a sickeningly vertigo. The hammer felt ever so heavy in her trembling hands.
After a moment Giles’s frosty stare cracked into a cold smile. He stood up to his full height and grinned mirthlessly down at her. She was too weak, too stupid to do anything and Giles knew it. The hammer slipped from her fingers to land softly on the floor. The truth was clear: She could never leave him because he’d always find her. She couldn’t tell anyone about the abuse because no one would believe her and she couldn’t hurt him either.
As Giles turned his back on her and drifted silently out of the room. Stephanie glanced down at the hammer lying on the floor. An overwhelming urge conspired within her to pick it up and go after her husband. It was a strong intoxicating feeling that lifted her spirits with promises of liberation and release. But it would be no good she reasoned. She couldn’t do anything like that to Giles again and so left the hammer where it lay.
Bio: I have had stories published with SSM as well as on Microhorror, Popcorn Horror and local magazines. I also run a website entitled Black Cat Tales (blackcattales.weebly.com).