|At Least He
Doesn't Hit Me
2002 by Kelly Healy
He comes in from work and heads straight upstairs. No hiya, no how are you, nothing. I don’t expect one of course. He’s upstairs for some time. I realise he’s taking a shower. So now his dinner will be freezing. I put it in the oven then pour him a beer from the fridge. As I sit back down to my lasagne, that took me an hour thirty minutes to make, I scan the sitting room for things he might nark about. Jack’s toys are stacked tidily in a tub, the magazine rack isn’t overflowing too much, the ashtrays have been emptied (last night they were filled to the dusty brim from his chain-smoking), the cushions are straightened and the one with the stain has been turned over. I’m still on edge when he comes into the room. He retrieves his plate and beer from the kitchen without saying a word. Something is about to happen though, I can sense it. He eats for a few minutes and his disgruntled face tells me that the lasagne is too dry again. I’ve made too many layers, four would have done instead of five. Finally, he speaks.
‘Did you wash my trousers today?’ The tone of his voice is obvious. He knows I didn’t.
I tell him no. I daren’t say any more. He spilled curry on them two days ago and yesterday I told him I’d buy stain remover before I washed them. It’s just hit me that I forgot.
‘Did you buy stain remover yesterday?’ He says it like I’m a little kid.
‘No.’ We both know I didn’t. He’s just trying to make a point, you see. Trying to make me feel even more useless than I already do.
‘Fucking hopeless.’ He mutters with a mouthful of pasta.
Nothing more is said. He’s said enough already. He’s made his point. He looks at me and shakes his head. His face says: can’t do anything right can you.
He continues eating his dinner but his eyes tell me he’s not enjoying the food, he’s only eating it because he’s starving. I’ve seen the look before. He even sighs impatiently with each mouthful. Look what I’m putting him through; he’s having to eat this food he doesn’t even enjoy. He finally throws his fork and knife onto the plate and scrapes the remaining lasagne into the bin, making another point. He never scrapes his food into the bin, that’s left for me to do. All the while he glares at me with those eyes, and that look, if only you could see that look. The greatest actor in the world couldn’t pull it off. It’s a look of pure hate. This is my husband. He’s not perfect, but at least he doesn’t hit me. He’s never once hit me.
I have dreams, of the way my life could be. I dream that he’s not there. I don’t wish him dead, I just wish he wasn’t there. Life would be so blissful. Jack and me would be so happy. It would never happen. I’d have to leave him, he’d never leave me. And how could I? I’ve nothing, no money, no job, no future, no talent, nowhere to go. Everyone would look at me and see the failure. He would be the pitied one whose bitch of a wife left him. It’s a dream. Just a dream I sometimes play out during the day, while he’s at work.
Like today. For a while, it’s as if he isn’t there. I’m able to forget, to do things without worrying what he would say or do about it. I get up early, I drop Jack at nursery, I go to the library and bring home five books. Five, can you imagine. If he ever caught me reading them he’d go nuts. He says I’m just sitting on my lazy arse when I’m reading a book. It’s laziness, he says. I should be up, cleaning the bathroom, folding the ironing, or cleaning the windows. I tell him that I use my free time to relax, that I’ll clean the house later, once I’ve picked Jack up from nursery. Then he tells me I’m a lazy cow, and a bad mum, I should have done my cleaning while Jack was in the nursery. I should be spending time with my son instead of cleaning. I should be playing with him, nurturing him. I tell him I do, but Jack likes to play alone, he always has. Then he says I made him like that, his kid’s a loner and it’s all my fault.
All the while I don’t mention that he never spends any time with Jack, he never plays with him. He ignores him when he comes in from work, he ignores him at the weekends, when he lies in bed until noon then gets up and plays golf with his friends. I don’t mention that I’m actually glad when he’s in bed or at golf, because I can actually sit down and watch telly with Jack, without having to pretend to look like I’m doing something constructive. I don’t mention that looking after Jack is nothing compared to looking after a fully grown adult. I don’t mention any of this because it would only make him angry and I spend every waking hour trying not to make him angry.
No one knows what he is like. His parents think he is a great dad, a great husband. He has his faults, he can be moody and a little selfish, but no one’s perfect right? I even used to blame them for the way he was. You see, his mother did everything for him as a child. She picked his dirty washing from the floor where he’d discarded it and hurriedly washed, dried and folded it away for him, ready to wear again the next day. She was a chef, had been for years, and made the most delicious home-made steak pies, roast dinners, and steaks for him. Every night.
Ever since I moved in with him, he’s expected the same from me. It didn’t matter that I was only eighteen, and had never made a steak pie in my life. When I bought ready-made ones from the supermarket he threw his plate across the kitchen, so that the pie landed on the floor, and told me he wasn’t eating that shit. You see, he used to work in a crummy food factory when he was younger, where they made meat and potato pies. He said the meat was made up of cow’s ears and eyeballs, and it disgusted him to think that people ate it. Since then he’d never eat any pie from a supermarket, or anywhere for that matter. He would only eat real steak mince, fresh from a butchers, and thick cuts of expensive steak, along with real peppercorn sauce (it took me two weeks to get the flavour of that sauce right). It didn’t matter that our food budget was fairly low, we simply had to do without other things, like new clothes for myself and Jack, just so he could have the dinners he was used to.
For two whole years I blamed his mum for my miserable life, but now I know that she was only doing what most mothers blinded by love do. Spoiling her son with good food, countless toys, clean, pressed clothes and a tidy house. No one can blame her. She thought she was doing him good. And anyway, I’m the one who married him. But I still hate the way she gave him anything he wanted as a child. Anything. Even if she couldn’t afford it. She’d run up debts of hundreds, just so he could have the latest trainers or computer, just because he’d asked for it. I sometimes think that’s why he’s so selfish today. He thinks nothing of spending half a grand on golf clubs, even though we can’t afford it. He doesn’t worry about the rent being paid, because it’s me who goes to the rent office each week and pays it. He leaves the bills for me to pay. He tells me to take money out his bank account and pay them, whenever they need paid. But if I take too much and he’s left short one week, he goes crazy and demands to know what I’ve spent all his money on. He never believes me when I try to reassure him it only went on bills for the house, nothing else. He has no respect for money, never has. He takes and takes and takes. He thinks money can never run out. But it does. All the time. And I’m the one left feeling the brunt of his angry words when it does.
Like today. He tried to use his credit card to buy some expensive parts for his car, that he says he needs, or the car will stop running properly. The cashier refused to put his purchase through; his card had insufficient funds. I can only imagine his fury at the time. Now he is tearing round the house, kicking over my belongings that he says have cost him money; a wicker bin I bought for the sitting room (it cost a fiver), a new potty for Jack (his old one had a small crack in it), the new camera I bought just before Christmas. The camera only cost me twenty pounds, our old one had broke, but today he is enraged so he kicks and stamps on it until it is noting but tiny pieces of plastic, shattered and useless, lying on the floor. As I sit and watch in tears, his vicious, crushing words hit me like punches, until I feel as broken as that camera, as shattered and as useless, and I finally sink to the floor and cry out to him, please no more, I just can’t take any more.
Not long after that I find myself in a secure ward in a strange hospital. They tell me I’ve had a nervous breakdown, but I also have severe anxiety and self-esteem problems. It will be a long time before I’m better, they tell me. The other young women in here all tell stories of husbands and boyfriends who have broken every bone in their body, yet still they find the courage to smile. At least he never hit me, I tell myself. At least he never did that.
Of course the doctors reassure me that my little Jack is fine.
He is with my husband’s mother, they tell me. She will take good care of him, they tell me. She’ll feed him good food, buy him countless toys and provide him with clean, pressed clothes and a tidy home. And they actually tell me this like it’s some kind of comfort.
Kelly Healy is a
23 year old web designer from Sunny Scotland and has been writing for...well,
forever. She has written several short stories and is currently working
on a novel.
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