The Busy Day

Fiction
Hannah Hopkins


Photo Credit: convex021/Flickr (CC-by-nc-nd)

“Had a busy day, love?”

He looks at me from behind his notepad. His eyes are red, milky, lined around the edges.

To him, it’s just another day at work. He’s glancing at his watch, dreaming of his wife’s homemade cooking, thinking of the car ride home, the half-drunk can of Coke in his cup holder, the cigarette he wants to roll. He wants it over. He’s waiting for freedom.

I’ve lost all of mine.

His partner is entertaining the children. Keeping them busy so he can ask me questions.

Had a busy day?

The words hang in the air. He’s making small talk. He’s glancing at the mess around us. Wrapping paper strewn about the floor, a pile of assorted junk on the table, crumbs on the chair I haven’t cleaned, the faint smell of cooking in the air.

Had a busy day?

Not a question, but a judgement.

“Yes,” I say. I can struggle to speak, can’t look at him. “My son’s birthday.”

Resentment boils inside. He’s making me chat. Small talk. After everything that’s happened. He wants to understand, but his attempts to force normality proves he never will.

You, with your balding head, your big strong arms, the thing between your legs that buys you privilege and safety. You’ll never understand…

“Lovely. Special day then. How old is he?”

“Three.”

I look over to him and his brother playing with their toys. They’re happy, shielded, innocent. Somehow, it makes it worse. They’re acting out the safe and normal life all children deserve. He wanted to take it away.

And no one gives a damn.

“I’m going to have to go over some questions,” Officer Chit-Chat says. “You might have answered them before, but it’s important we ask them each time there’s an incident. Understood?”

“Yes.”

 

I listen, answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as he goes through his list, lowering his voice on the words ‘strangled,’ ‘choked,’ ‘drowned,’ and ‘sexual consent.’ Violent words uttered inches away from innocent ears. I worry for them. It’ll traumatise them. Hover in their subconscious. Manifest later in their life. But it’s too late for all that.

 

There’s a pause as Officer Chit-Chat looks at me again. I wonder if I should offer him a cup of tea. It seems absurd. We sit in silence. I choke on my sentences before they leave my mouth. There are many things I want to tell him, but they stay trapped inside my head.

 

See my eyes? They didn’t always look like this. They had life once. When I used to be someone. A real person. I wasn’t destined to sit in mess and chaos barely holding on to myself. I was meant for more. And it was all taken.

 

My eyes drift towards the window. It’s dark outside. The neighbours’ Christmas lights are up. They twinkle at me, taunting me, blinking as they say, ‘you should be happy.’

My mind drifts to the Time Before, when dewy-eyed I’d stepped onto a street of terraced houses filled with young students and into another night of fun. Life was romantic then. Tinted with a cinematic quality that bathed everything in gold. Bad Things happened, but they were far away. They didn’t happen to me or anyone I knew. Not really. Not in a way that couldn’t be fixed by alcohol and denial. Bad Things were for the news. Or for stories you nodded at but forgot straight after. Drama, not trauma. It was all just part of the story. Growing pains. Nothing serious.

 

There were boys who hurt girls, of course, but they didn’t mean it. They didn’t understand. Boys will be boys. And besides, as they so often reminded us,

 

There are two sides

To every story.

 

In the Time Before I walked the streets shielded by friends, protected by low inhibitions. No fear. We yelled into the night, stumbling, and laughing, drawing attention to ourselves. I wore short skirts and danced with boys I didn’t know. I went into strangers’ houses, walked home by myself in the dark, never questioned that pervasive feeling that came when I woke in someone’s bed without remembering the night before.

 

It was Wonderland. An illusion. I was never safe. I just didn’t know it.

 

At the beginning of the end, I arrived at a bleak, brown house and opened a rusted gate, weaving past smokers and overflowing bins to find the front door. The Cure was blaring, the upstairs windows were open, all sorts of smells wafting out.

 

Inside, the smell of aftershave and sweat, faces I didn’t recognise. I went into the living room, stepping over an abandoned mattress being used to bobsled down the stairs, and sat down among bottles and ashtrays and strangers who argued about the best James Bond films and looked at me and my friends with a desire I took as a compliment.

I joined in their debate. They watched me enthralled. Behind the make-up, the body on show, there was a brain. Who would have thought it? I let their surprise nurture my confidence, let it feed my power.

 

A thrill.

An addiction.

A rush.

Dice I rolled every night.

Not knowing how high the stakes were.

 

I walked into the kitchen and found him standing there, a red party cup in his hand, a leather jacket on his shoulders. His face wasn’t nice, but he was tall and charismatic. I could tell from the way he filled the room. He commanded something. I poured myself a vodka lemonade into a cup with lipstick on the rim and looked up.

 

Our eyes met.

And something exploded.

 

He walked over; his eyes fixed to mine. They held me with intensity. Electricity. He had me. A movie moment. The first connection.

He had me.

From that moment on.

I talked and he listened. He said things that came straight from the pages of a novel. It was what I wanted to hear. What I wanted to believe.

So I did.

‘I’ve never felt like this before. It was meant to be. No one will ever see you the way I do. No one will love you as much as me.’

And love me he did.

Until he didn’t.

Until his eyes turned cold.

Until they were empty.

Emotionless.

Until he threw things and screamed the worst insults I could imagine.

Used all my fears against me.

And when that wasn’t enough.

Used his fists instead.

He was tired. Struggling at work. Going through a rough patch. I was lazy. I was weak. He worked so hard. He expected things to be done. People react to anger in different ways. Men will be men. What could I expect?

And besides, as he often reminded me

There are two sides

To every story.

I learned fast. Do what it takes to keep him happy.

And he’ll keep his fists away.

From me and the children.

If I make him angry, he’s not responsible for what he does.

And I can handle it.

I can keep this balance.

Stop everything from falling apart.

I know him.

Except I didn’t.

He was a monster.

I’d invited into my life.

Swearing blind he was an angel.

*

“I did my best to protect them.”

Officer Chit-Chat looks at me, his mask slipping. He’s confused.

“I did my best to protect them. And when things got bad, I got us out. Kept us safe. I was careful. I was so careful…”

I stop talking. I’m losing my composure. If I make myself look like a Mad Woman, no one will listen.

Officer Chit-Chat clears his throat.

“Do you have any idea how he might have found you? Anything you might have posted online? A friend who might have given your address?”

“No.”

“Alright. Well, I think we’ve done all we can do here for tonight. You have my suggestions. A list of charities to call. They’ll help you get a restraining order.”

I smile.

A piece of paper was never going to stop him.

 

Officer Chit-Chat and his partner get up to leave, their eyes glazed with thoughts of evening plans.

I see them to the door. Say goodbyes. Nod my head as they remind me of their safety tips, the places to get information.

When I close the door, the horror breaks free.

It comes out in waves. Tears pour down my cheeks.

“Mummy’s crying.”

“Mummy’s okay, darling.”

I drag myself up the stairs.

For bath, story, and bed.

Normality.

Holding it together.

Like I always do.

My seams are bursting, but I can’t spill out. Not in front of the children. Otherwise, it’ll be me they turn on.

As if it’s my fault.

He turned up.

Wanting to hurt us.

Wanting to scare me beyond repair.

 

I put the children in the bath. Soap, warm water, bubbles. I listen to their chatter. I watch their cheeks turn pink. Cut their nails. Clean behind their ears. Wash their hair.

I put my hand under the shower head to check the water. Red pours into the bath.

Red like passion, anger, fear, heat, and blood.

Red like murder.

I close my eyes and open them. The red is gone.

Everything is pure and proper.

 

I pull the children from the bath and wrap them in towels.

I follow them into the bedroom. Hours earlier I stood at this window, my eyes meeting the gaze of a man who could destroy me and feel nothing.

And his eyes looked at me in shock

When I left the boys watching T.V.

Went into the yard and found the crowbar in the shed

Snuck through the alleyway that led to the other side of the road

Crept up behind him

Heart in throat

And struck him once on the head

The only way to be sure

He could never hurt us again.

The light in his eyes faded.

Mine grew cold.

And Officer Chit-Chat would never suspect

The bleary woman he met today

With mascara on her face and coffee stains on her shirt

Would be capable of such things.

Had a busy day, love?

Don’t check the garden shed, officer.

I’ll have a busier day tomorrow.

pencil

Hannah Hopkins is an emerging writer currently working in education. As a survivor, she wishes to use her experience to help others through the medium of fiction. She is studying a creative writing course through Oxford University and is working on a young adult novel. TikTok: @whathannah_writes Email: hannahelliehopkins94[at]outlook.com

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