The house had been quiet since Hallowe’en. As we got closer to Christmas and our one year anniversary, Kevin was being especially quiet and I wasn’t sure what to think about that. I decided to think “at least we aren’t fighting all the time” and let it be. Not fighting was a good thing. After the terror the first time, Kevin had gone out of his way to make it up to me. He brought me flowers and told me how sorry he was. He took me to dinner and then dancing and we made love. He went out of his way to be kind, paying me compliments and showering me in endearments. But those good times after the storm didn’t seem to be coming this time.
He had bought me an orchid. It had been on the table by the door when I got up, but Kevin hadn’t been there. Just this odd little black cloud hanging over the apartment. Almost four weeks later, the black had lessened to a hazy grey but lingered still.
He had been suspended for 2 days because he had argued with a customer. So, here he was at home, moping and dampening the mood for all. It was nerve-wracking waiting for the explosion that seemed just below the surface of his furrowed brow. He hadn’t gone ballistic again, but I was noticing small things that told me how edgy he was. Slamming doors and dishes, he was grabby and pushy, he was barking orders at work. Actually, raising his voice had become so normal, I had almost forgotten what his “inside voice” sounded like.
The tension was palpable and moving now through my own apartment was like wading through quicksand. Each agonizing step a caution as I tested the footing to see if it was solid.
I hadn’t tried to make light of what had happened at work, in fact, I tried to make nothing of it at all. I knew that if I asked, it could be taken as a challenge. Challenging him would likely set him off and that was something I needed to avoid. My black eye was more purple now, but there had been significant damage to my orbital bone and it was still swollen.
Despite my efforts to make it up to him, his mood wasn’t improving. I still wasn’t sure what had gotten into him that day or why Mike lied about seeing me. When he had been confronted, Mike stuck to his story that I had been at the bar talking to Jessie. Kevin cursed and threw things but didn’t take it any further.
I knew he had confirmed my story with my mother because she had called worried. He had been in a vicious mood, she said, and didn’t appreciate the controlling way he had checked on my story; as if it had been a lie. Afterward, I avoided my mother because I didn’t want her to see what that mood had done. I especially didn’t want to hear anything she might say about the damage I had endured. At first, I lied telling her Chloe was sick and needed to be kept quietly at home and I was still exhausted. That worked for a week, when she insisted I take the baby to the doctor if her illness was persisting this long.
“mom, she’ll be fine. It’s just a cold.”
“If it’s just a cold, then meet me for lunch. You can’t keep her cooped up in the apartment with the stale air you have in there. Bring her out. You know when you were a little girl, I used to put you out on the back porch in your stroller for your afternoon naps. You were never sick! That brisk, fresh air will do her lungs good.”
“Maybe tomorrow? Sorry, I’ve got to finish the laundry today and I’m already totally exhausted, mom. I just can’t seem to get enough sleep.”
So I had to start screening my calls to avoid her.
Last Friday she had stopped by unannounced. Fortunately, Chloe was down for a nap so when I saw her through the peephole I kept quiet and pretended we weren’t home. Sleeping peacefully, the baby didn’t give us away. I felt bad lying to my mom and avoiding her like that but I didn’t have any choice.
Occasionally, I would find myself thinking back to the fight. Honestly, I had only just stopped bleeding recently from giving birth; how could I have been cheating on my husband? I was so drained all the time, I couldn’t figure out when I would have found the energy to cheat on him. But if he was worried about it, I believed I must be doing something wrong that made him think I had been unfaithful. I had to make sure I wasn’t being even a little flirty with any man from now on.
I pushed those thoughts aside. I was still a little sore in my back and hips from the attack, but I was doing my best not to show it. I knew he felt remorse. I knew he hadn’t meant to hurt me so badly. He had apologised at least 12 times since it had happened and had even brought me that orchid. My favourite; I knew he was trying. And I could see the hurt look on his face if I winced or moved too slowly because of the bruises so I did my best not to let it show. But it was hard.
I couldn’t do anything to hide the cuts on my face for the first week, or my swollen, purple and now yellow eye. I had tried, in vain, to cover it with powder and when that hadn’t worked, I pulled out the big guns: foundation from somewhere in the back of our vanity cupboard. My complexion had changed since I bought it, or maybe it had always turned me slightly orange. Either way, it only made the discolouration look worse, so I washed it off, gently and reapplied the powder. At least it made the purple less shiny.
“I’m taking Chloe to the doctor’s later today for her 3 month checkup,” I said lightly as I emerged from the bathroom, “if you want to come, I’d love the company.”
“Nah, no thanks.” It was more of a mumble than a statement. I kept a cheery attitude, worried about upsetting him and started to get ready to leave, humming ‘Hark the Herald’.
I’ve always loved Christmas carols, they’re uplifting, joyful. It’s a shame we don’t play them year round, but living in Edmonton, we had two stations that would play only Christmas music exclusively as of Black Friday in the US. I planned to start decorating when we got back from our appointment and had already pulled the boxes out of our storage locker in the basement.
Our apartment was on the third floor of a walk-up and we had lived here for almost three years now. It had been a large old house before it had been converted. A mansion, really. Our landlord had inherited it about 10 years ago when his wealthy aunt had passed away. A typical story of a loaded, spinster aunt with no other heirs to whom she could bequeath her exorbitant wealth. Jim lucked out. He had been the only son in a family of 4 children and the only one his aunt Gertrude had liked. So, when he inherited the disheveled old house, he invested a good sum from his inheritance sprucing it up, retrofitting the outdated electrical and plumbing and ultimately subdividing the interior into 9 apartments.
We were the youngest in our building. Most of our neighbours had retired and were now living on their meager pensions. As I walked out the door, cooing to my daughter and adjusting the oversized sunglasses I grabbed at the last minute, Mrs. Ball stepped out her door in her baby blue velour housecoat and fuzzy red slippers, carrying a grocery bag. I smiled and said hello with a little wave. She lifted the hand with the garbage bag and shook it a little at me.
“Tara, be a dear, and take this to the cans for me, would you, please? My gout is acting up and I forgot to grab my cane before I came out. I don’t want to take a tumble on the stairs.”
I looked at my already overly full arms and shrugged mildly.
“Sure thing, Mrs. B. Anything for you.”
“And when you come back, stop by. I’ve got some lovely molasses snap cookies for you. That man of yours has been awfully grumpy lately, and whenever I would bake up a batch of these, Mr. Ball would snap right back into the right frame of mind.”
I smiled and assured her I would stop by on the way back and headed down the stairs to the back where the garbage cans were stored. The apartment house was on a very large lot, with parking at the back and side enough for 14 cars, including the two spots to be left open for visitors and Jim when he came by. Five garbage cans were lined up neatly against the wall of the converted workshop.
As I stepped out into the lot, the bright sunshine hit my sensitive eyes. I squinted as I realised I hadn’t left the house in at least seven days and took a deep, cleansing breath. Maybe mom was right about fresh air, I felt better already.