Copyright © 1996-2003 Sarah Henderson.
Denise Hollinson was a small, wispy woman. Fine blond hair framed a porcelain face, and dark eyelashes framed delicate blue eyes. She was birdlike in her manner, always seeming to be darting and hopping around, full of nervous energy. Her slender limbs made her look like a china doll, but the slight swell of her stomach betrayed the presence of her unborn child.
She was sitting at the kitchen table, inhaling the aroma of strong coffee, perched in such a way so that she had a good view of her children's activities in the lounge. The kids were playing peacefully, with colouring books and crayons, but she knew that in an instant, hell could break loose.
She'd woken at 5 am that morning, as she did every morning in a vain attempt to lick the house into shape and prepare breakfast before her husband awoke at 6.30am. She believed in having a place for everything and everything in its place; to her, clutter signified a disordered mind. However, with four preschoolers, even her tireless efforts couldn't impose order on the house. She began the day by washing a daunting pile of dishes, complete with congealed pieces of the previous day's meals. She never washed up at night, as her husband liked to go to rest after dinner, and complained that the noise disturbed him.
Denise's next task was to prepare a morning meal for her husband, Bill. A large man with a mammoth appetite, she had to fry an inordinate amount of bacon and eggs to be ready at precisely six-thirty every morning. She winced, remembering a time when breakfast hadn't been on the table when he arose. Thankfully he'd seized upon a nearby plate, hurling it through an adjacent window. This seemed to momentarily appease his anger so she could produce his meal. That was the first time she'd had any fears for her own safety.
The rest of her day was a hectic melee of crying, hungry, active children, cleaning up messes, kissing away hurts, encouraging quiet activity and trying to stamp out the disturbing violent tendencies beginning to show up in her oldest son. Yesterday she had caught him playing Daddy, threatening to knock out the teeth of one of the neighbourhood children. The children never ceased to get into mischief, with her daughter just having discovered Mummy's makeup. She'd had to clean it off almost every wall in the house.
The children were exhausting. They were never still, and were always tearing off on four different directions. She prided herself on being able to cope. Her children were always well-dressed, clean and tidy, and usually well-behaved in public. No-one could ever accuse her of being an unfit mother, even if she didn't clean the skirting boards every two days.
She tried to grab a quiet moment to herself whenever she could. She had long ago given up attempting to escape into the novels that had once been her solace. Instead she snatched a few moments of dreaming. Her favourite dream had her travelling to Greece, sunning herself on magical tropical beaches, seeing beautiful exotic locations, and meeting interesting people. She regarded this dream as most people would regard a dream of walking on water. The other dream she allowed herself to indulge in from time to time was the dream of going back to work as a legal secretary. She reflected that it was probably more likely that she would go to Greece. Bill didn't believe in women working - he felt that she should stay at home looking after the children. She resigned herself to this with only the small seed of a feeling that she could do something better. She never regretted giving up her life for marriage and having children. On her wedding day she had sworn to stand by Bill until death, and she would. Marriage was for life, and children were also a lifetime commitment.
Her reverie was abruptly interrupted by her husbands heavy footfalls. The door was nearly torn from its hinges as Bill thundered into the house. He was a man of enormous proportions. A thick, dirty black mop sat on top of a ruddy, mottled face that looked like a rotten tomato. His patchy beard barely disguised his thin mean lips, or his lack of a neck. Huge wet patches were visible at the armpits of his dirty white t-shirt, and the odour of sweat poured off him. Skin was visible as his hairy belly bulged over his black shorts. His legs were like well-muscled tree trunks and his thick arms looked as though they were well used to getting their own way.
"Where the hell's my dinner?" he roared, seeing the empty table.
"I...I..The rugby's on. I....thought you might...um...want to watch it first." Denise's eyes were firmly fixed on Bill's muddy boots, refusing to meet his angry glare. He grunted and threw himself into an armchair. He shifted his bulk and lit a cigarette.
"Well, where's my bloody beer then?" he demanded of Denise. She scurried off to fetch it, and he picked up the remote control for the TV. He was a rugby man. He prided himself on watching every game, while puffing through a pack of Marlboro and a dozen cans of Lion Red. He smoked the man's fag, guzzled the man's beer, none of this low-tar, low-alcohol shit for him. He was a real bloke. He had quite a reputation down at the pub - Smasher, they called him. He'd been responsible for many a broken jaw
"Denise, where's my beer?" he bellowed.
He worked hard all day, came home to a pack of messy kids and a pregnant wife who couldn't even have dinner ready on time. He considered himself a fairly tolerant man, he would wait for dinner tonight, but if he had to get his own beer during a game, well, that was too much.
"Get me a beer, son;" he said to his oldest boy, who was playing on the floor beside the TV set. Wide-eyed, the boy darted out of the room, returning with a can.
Bill settled his bulk back into the chair, his half-smoked cigarette dangling grotesquely from his lips. He pulled the ring tab on the can, and was sprayed with creamy beer foam. It dribbled down his face, off his chin, and dripped onto his shirt.
Involuntarily, the boy laughed.
"You little shit. You shook my beer. I'll teach you to shake my beer." Bill lunged at the boy, roughly grabbing him by the shoulders and lifting him off the ground.
"I didn't, Dad, honest I didn't." Tears began to form in the boy's eyes. "Please, Dad," he said, "put me down."
"Liar!" Bill shouted. He savagely shook the boy, who began to cry loudly.
Denise walked into the room to see her small son being haken like a rag doll by her huge husband. This wasn't the man she married. Something inside her snapped
"Put him down." Denise didn't know her voice was capable of so much force. Bill looked at her, disbelieving.
"Put him down," she yelled again. "Don't ever hurt my kids."
"Your kids," he snarled. "Yours. What was I, the sperm donor? Yeah, well I don't need you or your kids. Plenty of women out there a damn sight better'n you." Bill slowly lowered the boy to the ground. Still crying, the boy ran to his mother.
"Go find one then." Denise was totally calm.
"You want me to leave?" There was a vicious sneer on his face. "Fine, I will. But just wait, you'll be crawling back to me yet. Just you try living without me."
Denise turned her back on him, and began to comfort her distraught son.
The whole house shook as Bill slammed the door behind him.