Bubbles

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.

Breakfast Time

It is morning; after breakfast. The sun is up and pouring burning light in through the kitchen window, promising a long and hot summer to come. I am deep in my own head, as I often am. I don’t hear or notice anything around me. I’m worse when my head is in a book. When my head is in a book mum has to yell a dozen times for me to hear her.

“Use your initiative,” she yells. Using my initiative means knowing what she wants and doing it before she has to shout, “or else!” Or else! Is a belt on the leg, cool leather marking my skin, or a slap across the face, the sting of a palm on my cheek. This morning something manages to pull me from my own head. It’s a box of flying cereal. It lands in the kitchen, spilling sugary puffs of grain across the floor. Dad had already stormed out, leaving his empty bowl on the table. There is only my little brothers and I. And mum, standing in the pantry, mumbling to herself. I look from her to the cereal. Am I going to be in trouble? I get up, meaning to clear up the cereal and use my initiative.

“Leave it,” she orders, voice low and dangerous. Then comes a box of biscuits, a packet of noodles, then jars of tomato; crumbs and sauces and shards of glass splattering all over the floor. I feel a tugging on my hand and look down.

“I’m scared,” whispers Timmy. He is six and I am ten. Ben is four and too young to understand. I take Ben’s hand and the three of us run outside into the shining light. None of us have shoes on but together we run up the driveway and cross the road into the bush. It’s quiet here, and still. Green grass, fallen trees and hundreds of wildflowers as far as I can see. No one is throwing food and cups and knives here.

“What should we do?” Timmy asks, picking some blue flowers.

“Let’s pick her flowers,” I suggest “we can take them back and maybe she won’t be angry at us” but what I really mean is maybe she won’t be angry at me.

“You should give mum the flowers,” I tell Timmy as we all pick “she never hits you”

“No, it should be Ben,” he says quickly “he’s the youngest. He’s mum’s favourite”

We start back home, walking slowly. The ground beneath our feet is a dusty red contrast to the blue sky above us. I feel sick with fear as we approach the house. We find mum curled up on a couch. I nudge Ben forward and he goes to her, flowers held out.

“I got you flower”, he says in his baby voice. Mum reaches out and pulls him to her lap, hugging him. Timmy releases my hand from his iron grip and rushes over to give mum his bunch.

“I picked you flowers too,” he says. I am angry and scared now. I don’t have a bunch to give because I had helped to pick theirs and tied them into bunches using stringy grass. They’re cuddled up to her now; safe and happy. I hang back in the doorway but mum looks over at me anyway. Her eyes find mine. Hers are a green and filled with hate. Wanting to cry, I look away.