My eyes snap open and I moan into my pillow. The room is dark but a gap in the curtains casts a grey light. I stretch my legs out, wincing as pain shoots up my right leg from the knee. I shut my eyes and take inventory of my bruises. I can feel my right shoulder aching. It will probably be the worst. It’s stiff and during the night it had ached. My left thigh is throbbing. I reach my hand under the warm blanket to stroke it. It’s a swollen lump.
It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.
Alice stirs in the bed beside me. I roll over to look at her. She is sprawled across the mattress; her head is on my pillow, her feet in his back.
Does he have bruises from that?
An alarm starts chirping. I roll over to face the window, closing my eyes again.
I am asleep. I am asleep.
I can hear him getting up, rummaging in his closet next to the bed. I hear a rustling as he pulls his suit out, then the door that adjoins our room to the bathroom slides open and he is gone. I turn my head to look at Alice. She is perfect. Her mouth parted in her sleep, long dark eyelashes sweeping her cheeks. Her plump hands are curled into fists resting near her face. She snores quietly. I can hear the rushing of water from the bathroom, then silence, then dishes clattering in the kitchen. Finally, the front door opens and bangs shut. The echo of the slam rings throughout the house. Alice snorts awake.
“Good morning, bubba.” I say brightly. I scoop her into my arms, kissing her chubby cheeks, and carry her out into the kitchen. The curtains are opened wide and a butter-yellow light pours in through the windows. We have the whole day to ourselves.
I make Alice breakfast. I tidy the kitchen. I do the laundry, taking Alice out to play in her pool whilst I hang out the washing. Sometime after lunch I start preparing dinner. I am careful to not use much capsicum. He hates capsicum, says the flavor overpowers the rest of the food because I always use too much. I glance up at the clock, 4:30 pm stares back at me.
I can hear that door slam again. Bang! And then the silence, his way of
communicating to me. Cautiously I approach the computer and turn it on, the machine whirring as it starts up. One word dominates the screen: password. I type it in, incorrect. His way of communicating to me also, the phones that have been unplugged and the password to the computer reset. I switch off the machine and hurry back to stir the pasta sauce, scared that I even tried.
I keep my own phone close, in my pocket at all times. I am lucky to still have it.
Should I ring again? Should I ring? Should I ring? But, what good would it do? What would I say?
By five we are sitting around the table, eating the spaghetti. Alice has hers in the high chair. She has thrown her plastic fork aside and is using her hands, scooping handfuls of pasta and shoveling them into her mouth. Pasta sauce stretches from her neck up to her nose. She grins at me, reaching up to run a hand through her hair.
“Oh, Alice.” I sigh as she leaves a trail of sticky noodles. She laughs, picks up her bowl and throws it to the floor.
“All done,” she declares. I haven’t the heart to yell at her.
“Okay, darling.” I say, leaving my own bowl untouched. “Let’s get you cleaned up.”
Water slops over the edge of the bath, soaking into the pile of spaghetti-splattered clothing, as Alice kicks her feet in delight. I pluck some spaghetti from her hair as she bends her head. Wet curls cling to her cheeks as she licks the bubbles foaming on the surface.
“No, Alice. Yucky!” I exclaim, widening my eyes in mock-horror. I scoop some of the bubbles up and cover her in them.
“Yucky bubbles,” she whoops. I scoop some more and, holding them in my hands, show her how to clap and send them flying. I could sit here all night scooping bubbles and clapping- listening to Alice giggling. I turn around to check my phone, hidden behind my makeup bag. No messages, no missed calls. I meet my reflections gaze, worry and fear lurking in my expression. I can see my skin blackening already. I look away, unwilling to look directly. If I pretend it’s not there maybe I can pretend it never happened.
It didn’t happen. It didn’t happen.
“More, more.” Alice whines, reaching a soapy hand out to me.
“Okay! More bubbles.” I force a smile, cringing at my shrill cheer. Thank god she is too young to notice. I hear a door bang shut and footsteps just as my phone rings. The ringing sounds too loud as Alice stops giggling. The screen shows my parents number. I reach for the phone, hesitating as I hear him outside the bathroom door. Alice stands up reaching out to me.
“Mummy?” she trembles. I silence the phone, throwing it beneath a towel, as the door swings open.
“I’m just giving her a bath.” I explain. “She was covered in her dinner, threw it everywhere…It was even in her hair.” I avoid his eyes.
“Where’s your phone?” he asks. I pause, not knowing what to do.
“I haven’t rung anyone,” I answer.
“Where is your phone?” he repeats, stretching out his hand. I reach down and pull it from beneath the towels. He takes it, looking at it thoughtfully.
“Missed a call from your mum, I see.” He says. “Been trying to ring her, huh?” Paralyzed by my own weakness, I choke back tears. Alice begins to cry.
“I have to get Ally ready for bed.” I squeak. I pick her up, wrapping a towel around her, and kiss her on the forehead.
“It’s okay, darling.” I whisper as I brush past him to the safety of Alice’s room.
It’s okay. It’s okay.