Photo Day

He beats me every day now, and it’s getting more and more difficult to cover up the bruises. My old makeup isn’t thick enough to hide them: the truth always shines through.

He drinks every day and the empty cider bottles are beginning to pile up at the backdoor. I can’t manage to lift them out to the bins anymore. I don’t see why he can’t just put them out in the bin, it only takes a second and he knows I’m not as stable on my feet as I used to be. Not that he cares.

Even if he took a little more pride in the place, this house we share together might start to feel like a home again. Ever since the kids grew up and left to begin their own lives there is only the two of us left here. We never see our little ones, we do get the odd Christmas card with a photo of smiling faces stuck inside, but that is about it. I still can’t believe how big the children are getting. I really wish we could see more of them. Last I heard Emily had started studying for her GCSEs and had a new boyfriend that had lots of those piercing things all over his face. I could never understand why someone would want to look like that, all those pins and stuff all over them. I guess I will never understand these things now.

We spend every aching day, awkwardly bumping into each other, never speaking, but breathing the same stagnant air. The dust shows on the surfaces and sparkles in the air around the house. I can’t clean properly and I used to be so houseproud: the perfect little housewife. I try to keep the place looking respectable, but I just can’t reach up to the high bits. Not with this bloody knee of mine constantly throbbing away. The pain is constant and keeps me awake at night as I keep rolling around trying to get comfortable, desperate to slip into a deep impenetrable sleep. I sometimes worry with this knee that I’m not going to make it to the toilet in time and I will have to surreptitiously strip the bed and put the sheets in the wash. Not that he will ever notice. It’s not the first time I have woken up with a cold damp side, when he has passed out after too much booze. He just lies there grunting and snorting like an animal, blissfully oblivious in his bottomless cavern of restful slumber. I don’t dream anymore. I pray that he chokes. I have accepted that this is how my life is destined to end.

I sit and look at myself in the mirror and I don’t recognise the wrinkled mess of flesh that gazes forlornly back at me. The bags under my eyes are getting deeper and I pull the skin around them tight to try and make myself look younger. I brush my hair and the strands of white get caught and tangled in the hairbrush. I can see through my hair now, it is getting so thin. My scalp shines through, so I have to wear a hat when I manage out for the messages. There are dark brown spots on my hands and my fingers are becoming more and more gnarled and misshapen. My engagement ring still sparkles when I hold it up to the light and I still remember that day so clearly.

That was back when my hair was thick and blonde and luxurious. He used to say that it looked like a waterfall of melted honey, and I still remember how I would sigh in contentment as he languidly ran his fingers through it. I still remember a time when we sat outside in the cold night air and he just held me gently, until the sun came up. And as we watched, the first virginal rays of golden light spread across the dark shadows on the crisp morning grass, we felt like we were the very epicentre of the universe. I remember so clearly how safe I felt enveloped in those strong, muscular arms. I felt like nothing could ever touch me and that we would feel like this forever.

But now, the memories are fading and the names and faces become more and more blurred every day. I look at photographs that I keep in an old battered shoebox under the dresser and no matter how hard I try, I still can’t remember all the names from my school picture. All those scrubbed faces and crisp white dresses. All the boys with their hair reluctantly scraped to the side with their father’s hair treatment. Photo day was when I was allowed to wear the special blue velvet ribbon in my hair and my mother used to let me use just a little tiny bit of her blusher on my rosy, hopeful cheeks. I always felt so proud as I sat there with a bright smile. One thing I always had was straight white teeth and I was never afraid to show them off. My old dentist Mr Shanks used to say that they were the nicest teeth in the village and I should be an actress or a moviestar or something. I still remember his hot breath and how I felt uncomfortable when he put his hand on my knee and how his palms would always feel moist against my skin. I would always wriggle out from under his grasp, but I can never forget that smell like damp wood and harsh synthetic chemicals.

Those were the days when my smile was genuine and pure, but now I am haunted by the things that I have lost. The missed opportunities, the glances exchanged at bus stops, or in the queue waiting to go into the cinema. Now all I do is sit in my chair watching endless TV programmes that don’t seem to make much sense to me. They are always so loud and colourful and brash. The people seem to speak so quickly these days and I can’t make out what they say properly. But we still sit there, just passing the time, listening to the clock ticking on the mantelpiece. Sometimes when he isn’t drinking he still looks over at me and I think I see the glimmer in his eye like I used to, but now I can’t tell if it is just the milky cataracts forming beneath his eyelids. I try to read books, but I can’t concentrate for long and I sometimes wake up, but I don’t remember falling asleep. I get a wee bit confused sometimes and find myself in the kitchen clutching the old breadknife so tightly that my knuckles turn white. A hand I don’t recognise, the thick blue veins are so pronounced on it. It surely can’t be mine.

I find myself standing at the window for what seems like hours on end, just adjusting the curtains or looking out to see if there are any children playing outside. Seeing them play always makes me smile, they always look so happy together. They are just content to be kicking a ball around, or playing on their bikes. Their smiles are still real, they don’t have to pretend. He is asleep, snoring in his chair again. His mouth is wide open as usual and there is a thin stream of saliva dribbling down from the corner of his lip. He sickens me.

His paper has opened and spread out across the carpet. I will have to pick that up later; otherwise it will just give him another excuse. Especially when he has been drinking all day, even the tiniest thing sets him off. I don’t even know if he realises how much he hurts me. I had to explain away the cast on my arm since he had absolutely no recollection of picking up the poker by the fireplace. He never remembers and he always cries and blabbers when he sees my injuries. He snivels and begs and pleads and I always forgive him. I don’t have any other choice.

I look at the clock on the mantelpiece and realise that I better get the dinner on. He will be grumpy when he wakes up and he will shout at me if it isn’t ready and on the table. I stand and look at him, watching his chest rising and falling in sleep. The broken veins on his nose get darker and darker by the day. I lie awake at night and beg that he will have a stroke, or a heart attack. Just so I can wake up and feel him cold next to me.

I walk through to the kitchen and lament as I look at the shelves that are hanging off the wall. He promised that he would fix them, but he never seems to get round to it. I mean all he has to do is put in a few screws and it would be sorted. I would do it, but then he would claim I was interfering and that would inevitably lead to him accusing me of undermining him and being a “stupid fucking cunt” as he so eloquently puts it.

I shuffle over the linoleum and into the kitchen. I stand and stare out at the washing blowing in the breeze. I don’t even remember putting it out and now it’s starting to rain. It doesn’t seem to matter anymore; it could have been out there for days. I pull a pan out of the cupboard and quietly curse as I knock the colander out onto the floor. I’m getting so clumsy since my hands won’t stop trembling. I open a can of soup and pour it into the pan and watch as it slowly heats up and starts to gently bubble on the surface.

I stand there watching the bubbles rise and fall and I think of all the days that I have wasted; all the places I could have seen. He never wants to do anything; all he wants to do is check the football results to see if his coupon has come up. It seems to be the only thing that makes him happy these days. Although it is quite the opposite when it doesn’t and then I have to bear the brunt of his anger.

I reach down under the sink and pull out the sink and plug hole blocker. I look at the label and then struggle to get the top off.  I can hear him snuffling and swearing and the creaking of his chair as he begins to wake up.

Then, I pour the full bottle into the pan, as a silent smile spreads across my face.


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