Leave Means Leave Episode 3

She showed the bruises to a WPC, the WPC called social services and Anna was referred to a shelter. The woman looked at the bag she was carrying. ‘Do you want to go back for your things? An officer can go with you.’

‘No.’ There was no going back: Leave Means Leave. So she went in the police car to the shelter where she was welcomed by a brisk, hard-faced woman called Eve who showed her up to her room.

By the time I get to Phoenix… the song had run on in her mind all day, altering the words to suit the case. By the time I get to the police station, he’ll be in a meeting. By the time I get to my room he’ll be having lunch, by the time I have dinner he’ll be coming home. He’ll be swinging his car into the street and spotting the car blocking the driveway. He’ll be cursing and yelling and threatening to call the police, resentfully parking on the road next to the offending vehicle (Leave Means Leave) resisting the temptation to smash in the windscreen, storming into the house ready to have a go at me. By the time I’ve finished dinner he’ll be running round the house calling out my name, demanding to know why the car was parked there… by the time I’m watching TV he’ll have found the note and – what? Would he laugh at it or howl in rage? Would he smash things? Or would he confidently sit down, open a beer, feet up and TV remote in hand, expecting her to walk in the door? How long before he realised she wasn’t going to? By the time I go to bed… It occurred to her that according to Einstein there was no such thing as simultaneity. She’d been meaning to pursue that idea before they got married.

Already her brain was sharper, coming back to life. All the time she’d had to hide it because he didn’t like clever women. Any female politician or pundit always got him yelling at the TV. Smart bitch, clever clogs, snotty cow, grammar-school gargoyle. She’d go and busy herself in the kitchen, staving off the inevitable.

No more now. No more covering up, no more hiding away, no more fending off his irrational rages. Vast vistas opened up all around her. She could go back to college, finish the course he’d interrupted. An interruption, that’s all he was, a hiatus. All her words were coming back; they settled on her shoulders like birds coming home to roost.

But next minute the ground was falling away and she had to clutch at a railing to stop herself overbalancing. What was she doing, how would she cope? She’d never been away this long. What would she do about work? That’d be the first place he’d go. She’d take a few days off, say she was sick. Yes, that was it. Then think about what to do next. A panic engulfed her, the earth seemed to break away from under her feet and she was falling, feet and arms flailing, grabbing onto the nearest thing… she clutched the railing, breathing hard and trying not to draw attention to herself, pulling out her phone and pretending to check for messages. People mostly looked through her anyway; it happened so much that she’d come to feel like a ghost. She straightened up, feeling nauseous – like that time he’d turned on the gas. What was she thinking? Of course she’d never make it without him. Who was she? Without him, she was nothing and no-one; she needed him and he needed her. Sometimes when she threatened to leave he’d beg so pathetically her heart would break. Then the next day he’d be worse again.

He could be so tender… when she thought of his tenderness her bones ached. But they remembered their brokenness too. She set her face to the horizon and walked on. She could go to London! He’d never find her there, she’d have a new name, do her hair differently, even learn to walk differently! Just a slight catch of the knee from the coffee table…

He’d find a replacement soon. By the time I get to London… because that’s what he did, once he lost something he looked around for something to replace it and like a great swollen spider in the middle of a web he reached out and grabbed it. Some poor girl on the rebound, some sad neglected kid who’d come running soon as he showed her a bit of attention…

Going to the shops, her feet dragging, dark glasses on, timing herself in case she took too long (Who did you meet? Don’t lie to me! Who did you talk to?) and if she said ‘one of the neighbours’ he’d say ‘which one?’ and then he’d check up on her the next day, go up to them all nice and friendly, Anna said you had a chat yesterday! like he was just passing the time of day. None of them had a clue, they all said how great he was, every last one of them. He’s such a lovely man, your fella! And Anna would nod and smile, all covered up like some incognito celebrity to hide the bruises.

One night in the shelter they were all smoking (Anna didn’t smoke but it helped her fit in) she was shocked by the casual way they all accepted violence, then heard herself joining in. Broke my arm in three places. Had to keep going to different hospitals. Shoved me down the stairs, held my hand over the gas, put my face in the oven, held my head under water… the endless, banal litany of domestic violence. The women were all on a short fuse and fights would break out over nothing, over a pair of tights, a hairbrush – then there’d be a sudden tenderness, everyone huddled in the kitchen listening to each other’s stories, nodding sadly.

I thought if I took it, if I never fought back…

I thought once I’d been to hospital…

I thought once I’d called an ambulance…

I said I’d never go back but I done it…

I thought, I thought…

Some days the universe seemed to speak to her, leave little messages in graffiti or slogans written on walls and coffee-cups. Be your best self. Today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Always be yourself unless you can be a unicorn. Then be a unicorn.

Leave means leave.

Kirk out

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