The following story is purely a work of fiction, and yet sadly, the topic is all too painfully familiar to many people. I hope that I have done the subject justice, and apologies if you feel that I haven’t.
“No, you don’t understand! It was just an accident. I fell down the stairs … honest.”
They looked at my bruised and swollen face with open scepticism. “This is the third time this year, Mrs. Barrett.”
“I guess I’m a little clumsy,” I claimed, my eyes pleading.
I didn’t want to make a fuss. I just needed a couple of stitches and I’d be on my way.
The doctor shrugged his shoulders with resignation and went to work on my cut. A few minutes later he was done. He handed me a prescription to collect at the chemist and went through the symptoms of concussion that I should be aware of.
As I was leaving, one of the nurses stopped me.
“Here,” she said. “I think you need this more than I do.”
She handed me a small paperback book. I tried to decline, but she insisted.
I read the title: Finding the Freedom Within.
The cover showed a heavily bruised woman lying in a hospital bed.
The book had clearly been through a few owners, and I noticed passages highlighted in different coloured pens.
In the centre of the book, in place of a bookmark, I found a business card.
Dr Angela Whyte
Abuse and Crisis Counsellor
A 24 hour lo-call telephone number was listed on the bottom of the card.
Hurrying away, I buried the book in the bottom of my handbag and hobbled outside to my car. I’d already spent far too much time in the Accident and Emergency Unit. I needed to get home and start preparing my husband’s dinner. David could get quite upset if his dinner wasn’t on the table waiting for him when he arrived home.
All the way home, I continued to berate myself.
There really had been no reason to go to the hospital.
I was sure the bleeding would have stopped eventually. Why did I always make such a fuss?
I was being pathetic, as usual; ‘melodramatic’ as David would say, ‘Always making a mountain out of a molehill!’
I’d wasted the doctor’s time, and to make matters worse, I’d probably get David in trouble. Some busy-body from social services was likely to give him a call now.
He hadn’t meant to knock me down the stairs. I’m pretty sure about that.
He’d been very apologetic afterwards, and told me that it would never happen again.
It was my own stupid fault, anyway.
I should have known to stay out of his way when he was hungover, but no, I had to open my stupid mouth and start an argument.
He’s not himself when he’s been out on the lash with his mates.
I could hear the phone ringing as I opened the front door. I rushed inside to answered it.
“Hello!” I panted, catching my breath.
“Where’ve you been!” David demanded. “I’ve been calling you all morning!”
“Sorry, I-I was out shopping. I was looking for something special for you for dinner.”
“All morning! I could’ve done that in twenty minutes. What’re ya like!?” he continued, clearly annoyed. “You’d forget your bloody head if it wasn’t screwed on. What would you ever do without me?”
I could hear the tension in his voice, and wondered why he was calling. Whatever it was, I sensed it must be bad news. He said something else, but I didn’t catch it. I must have been too busy daydreaming.
“Sorry, what was that?” I asked.
“I said, what’s for dinner then, seeing as you’ve been gone all morning?”
I quickly racked my brain for a suitable reply, “Steak!” I replied. “I got you a really nice T-bone steak.”
“Is that it!?” David exclaimed. “What took you so long then? The butcher’s is only around the corner.”
Flustered, I tried to find an excuse. “I was looking for some sea trout for you, but the Delicatessen was all out. I bought the steak from them instead – It’s Organic, they said; from their own Aberdeen Angus herd.”
“Jeez, I’ve told ya before, that organic lark is a con. All cows are organic. The eat grass, don’t they! That’s just a marketing ploy to rip you off. The butchers around the corner had been good enough for my Ma, so it should be good enough for you too. I don’t work all the hours God gave me so that you can squandering my hard earned cash on that sort of crap.”
“Sorry, luv. I won’t do it again” I answered. “I just thought you deserved a treat, that’s all.”
There was a long silence from the other end of the phone, and I waited nervously for him to reply.
Finally, he told me the reason for his call, “Listen, my Beamer’s in the garage. One of the warning lights came on, and they need to run some tests on it. You’ll have to pick me up from work in your car.”
“But, what about dinner …?”
“Stuff the bleedin’ dinner, I need a lift home. I’m not wasting money on a taxi. Listen, I’ll treat you. We can stop off at the chipper on the way home, and I can have the steak tomorrow. If it’s such a good steak, I’m sure it’ll survive overnight in the fridge. It bloody better!”
“That’d be great, luv. What time should I pick you up?”
“Five thirty, and don’t be late. Don’t leave me standing around looking like a pillock.”
“Five thirty then. I won’t be late. I promise.”
The dull beeping sound indicated that he’d already hung up.
I sank down onto the stool, feeling a little light-headed. After a few moments, the dizziness passed, and I remembered the prescription I’d been given from the doctor. Grabbing my bag from the counter, I rummaged around inside for the pills.
It was then that my hand brushed against the book. I’d forgotten all about it.
I’d better get rid of it before David came home. There’d be hell to pay if he caught me reading something like that.
My hand hovered over the rubbish bin. No, I thought. I’d better put it in the outside bin. Less chance of it being spotted out there.
Opening the back door, I walked down to the end of the garden, book in hand. I even got as far as lifting the lid off the bin before a thought occurred to me.
What harm would it do if I took a little peek?
It had turned into a pleasant day outside. The sun was even shining. It was a perfect day to sit down for a few minutes in the back garden and put my feet up with a cup of tea.
After all, I reasoned. I didn’t have to rush around getting the dinner ready. We were eating out this evening.
I could spare a few minutes to myself after the horrible morning I’d had.
Heading back into the house, I flicked on the kettle and started reading the first chapter while I waited for it to boil.
The book quickly had me hooked.
I could have written it myself. All of my doubts and self-recrimination were there, laid out in Chapter One. It sent a shiver down my spine that someone could know me so well.
I read Chapter Two, standing there in the kitchen, before remembering about the kettle and putting it back on again to re-boil. The water had gone cold while I’d been reading.
Tea in hand, I settled into the lounger to start Chapter Four.
I’d never read a book like it. I couldn’t put it down.
It was only as I finished the final powerful chapter that I noticed the chill in the air. Looking at my watch I gasped. It was already 17:15.
I was going to be late.
Grabbing my handbag, I dashed to the car and backed hurriedly out of the driveway. I floored it all the way into town, my eyes watching the minutes tick away, knowing that despite my best efforts I was in trouble.
David was standing at the kerbside when I arrived. His face was mottled with supressed anger.
“What bloody time do you call this?” he demanded, getting in and slamming the car door so hard that I flinched.
“I’m sorry. I got stuck in traffic. I’m only a couple of minutes late.”
“I warned you …” He hissed. His voice droned on as I started to drive home, but to be honest, I wasn’t listening. My mind couldn’t focus on his tirade. I’d heard it all before, so I switched off. Instead, my mind kept repeating lines from that damned book, over and over in my head.
“… What’re you doing?” David demanded. “Stop the bleedin’ car!”
“What?” I asked.
“The chip shop! You’ve passed the bloody chip shop. Why aren’t you paying attention?”
Mumbling an apology, I pulled over to the side of the road and parked. “Stay in the car.” He ordered. “No point in wasting good money on parking meters. I’ll be right back.”
He slammed the car door again and stormed off.
It was only after he’d crossed the road that I realised that he’d forgot to ask me what I wanted to eat. Hopefully, he’d get me the cod. He knew I liked a bit of battered cod.
I waited, the car idling to prevent the windows steaming up. The book swirled around and around in my brain.
As David came out of the chip shop, something dawned on me.
In my haste to leave, I’d left the book sitting in plain view It was on the kitchen counter, where my handbag usually sat. If David spotted it I was in serious trouble, especially with the mood he was in.
He sat down in the passenger seat, already stuffing his face with a cheeseburger. In his other hand was a can of coke.
It dawned on me then. He hadn’t bought me any dinner.
“Where’s mine?” I asked, finding a new confidence after reading the book. Chapter Three had been all about asserting yourself in your relationship.
“You should have thought of that earlier, shouldn’t you,” David replied, stuffing his face. “If you’d have arrived on time, I might have treated you.”
“I was only a couple of minutes late, for crying out loud.”
Suddenly he whirled around in a rage and grabbed me by the front of my blouse. Violently, he yanked me towards him. The seat belt bit into my shoulder, nearly yanking it out of its socket. I let out a yelp of pain.
“Watch your mouth, you stupid bitch!” he cursed, spitting bits of burger into my face. “Don’t forget who’s the bread-winner around here.”
“I-I’m sorry!” I pleaded, “I don’t know what came over me. I think it’s this bang on the head. I’m all over the place today.”
He glared at me angrily for a moment longer, before releasing me. “There you go getting over-dramatic again. Next you’ll be telling me you have a brain tumour or something.”
I sat there, shaking uncontrollably, trying my hardest not to start crying. He hated it when I cried.
Chapter Two went into great detail about overcoming your fears.
“Well, what’re you waiting for? The football will be on soon,” David ordered, indicating I should start driving again.
Wiping my eyes with the back of my hand, I turned on the ignition. Blinking away the tears, I looked in the mirror and pulled out into traffic.
Chapter Four discussed the issue of recognising that you are the victim. It was titled, You Are Not To Blame.
Indicate and turn left onto the dual carriageway. Change into fifth gear and press down gently on the accelerator. Don’t snatch at the gears. David hated to be jolted around when he was eating.
It was a small car in comparison to David’s BMW, but it was still nippy. A typical housewife’s car. It didn’t take long to get up to the speed limit.
Chapter Eight focussed on finding freedom. It talked about leaving an abusive partner, moving in with family or friends. It even discussed seeking accommodation in a shelter for you and the children. Thankfully, in my case, there were no children, which was perhaps part of the problem. My fault again, apparently.
Remember, I am not to blame!
The book made it sound so easy, but reality isn’t like that. I couldn’t leave David. I had nowhere to go. I didn’t have a job to make my own way in the world. I wasn’t qualified to do anything, apart from being a housewife, and that didn’t count. I’d married soon after leaving school.
Chapter Ten was about dealing with separation and divorce. Get real! I’d get nothing out of any divorce. David had seen to that with his pre-nuptial. Apparently, such things were quite common in his office. They all got pre-nuptials.
So I was stuck, ‘til death do us part.
I pressed the accelerator down a little farther.
“Hey, watch what you’re doing! I’m not forking out for speeding tickets!”
By now I was clocking seventy.
Until death do us part.
The final chapter had been a revelation. It told me to be brave. Bottle my fears up inside and grasp life by the hand. Next time, it said, you might not be so lucky. Instead of going to the A&E, you could find yourself in the morgue. Do whatever you need to do, but find a way to break free.
“SLOW DOWN!” David yelled.
The speedometer was now passing eighty.
Up ahead I saw a sharp bend with an oak tree on the side of the road. Strange. I’d driven down this road hundreds of times, but I’d never noticed that tree before.
Dropping one hand away from the steering wheel, I unclipped David’s seatbelt, seconds before the car struck the kerb.
I barely had time to grip the steering wheel before we hit the tree.
Three days later, I awoke. I could hear a rhythmic beeping of a machine nearby and opened my eyes.
Bright lights burned into my sockets. I lifted a hand up to block out the light and tried to sit up. Pain washed over me and a feeling of nausea.
“Careful, pet. You’ve been through the wars this time.”
It took me a moment to recognise the voice. Blinking away tears, I opened my eyes again. The nurse who had given me the book was leaning over me, helping me to sit up.
“How you feeling?” she asked.
“Like I’ve been run over by a bus,” I mumbled. “What happened?”
“From what we could make out, you had a row with a tree … and lost. Your car’s a right off.”
The memories came flooding back.
“What about my husband?” I asked.
The nurse hesitated, unsure what to say.
I gripped her arm, “Please,” I urged, “I need to know.”
“Look, I-I’m sorry. He didn’t survive,” she finally admitted. “He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt.”
Tears poured down my cheeks. I was shaking uncontrollable. It had been so long since I’d felt free enough to weep openly.
The nurse comforted me, murmuring platitudes to help me with my grief, but I wasn’t crying for the loss of my husband. I was crying with relief.
I was finally free.
And it was all thanks to that book.
I promised myself that as soon as I felt better, I would find a new owner for the book.
It had changed my life.