I am posting this excerpt from chapter 10 of The Wailings to try and show what I knew as 'love' - before I met The Man.
Ani let herself into the house in time to start the supper before Margaret and Jerome arrived from the store. She stood at the stove busily flipping hamburger patties and getting the vegetables ready. Sierra, Daniel and Pet sat at the kitchen table lazily reading the day’s newspaper while Grandma Brydges was downstairs preparing her own little supper. The savory aroma of beef stew floated up the stairwell with the sounds of the religious radio station Grandma liked to listen to.
Through the closed bifold door, everyone heard the garage door open and the car drive in, and the clacking noise the door made as it lowered back to the ground. There was a sudden pounding on the hall door as Jerome yelled for someone to come and open up. At first Ani ignored the pounding, expecting one of the three at the table to go. She was trying desperately to get the supper finished before her parent’s arrival, and she stood with both hands busy while trying to check on the baking bread at the same time. As the pounding continued, Ani finally grunted with exasperation and turned and looked at the three around the table pointedly. When no one moved, she threw her hands in the air and slid open the bifold door in time to see her grandmother trying to hurry along the hallway as Jerome finally opened the door with his own key. Glancing at her father and the brown paper bags in his arms, Ani turned and headed back to the stove to save the supper from burning.
With a roar, Jerome pushed past his mother-in-law who fell gasping against her bathroom door. He took the stairs two at a time as he raced for the kitchen with a red-faced Margaret not far behind. Bursting into the kitchen, he threw his groceries at the counter and headed straight for Ani, his hands outstretched. Canned peas and cat food spilled from the ripped brown bags and crashed to the floor, dinting edges and tearing the labels. A carton of homogenized milk burst open and vomited its white liquid down the front of the counter. He caught her arm viciously as she turned towards him, causing a hamburger patty to go sailing onto the potato peels in the sink. The glistening hamburger grease reflecting off the potato skins caught her eye and vaguely registered as small rainbow pools as his huge blunt fingers dug into her. She looked at him questioningly as he started to wrestle with her, the greasy lifter still held in her right hand.
“Just who do you think you are not coming to the store after school!” he screamed into her face, his hot spittle spraying across her nose and flushed cheekbones.
“I’ve been getting the supper ready!” she stammered as his huge hands wrapped themselves around her throat and started to squeeze. Ani beat at him futilely with the egg lifter, but Jerome batted it away as he would an annoying fly. It flew across the kitchen in a graceful arc, spraying its own viscous spittle as it rotated through the air before hitting the fridge and clattering to the floor.
Ani’s three siblings sat frozen at the table as if a giant nut and bolt held them to their yellow chairs as the scene started to unfold directly in front of them.
“You think you’re something these days don’t you! You think you’re ‘In Love’! Well – I’ll show you what love really is!” Jerome growled. With one swift motion, he grabbed her hair and hurled her to the floor, punching her face as she went down, then straddling her. She could see her own blonde hairs clinging to his right fist before it connected with her left eye and pain ricocheted around her head. Then Margaret burst into the room and immediately started kicking Ani’s prone form as Jerome held her down, her blue coat flapping about her thick legs with each swing. Through the pain that shot to the back of her skull when Jerome’s hairy knuckles compressed her eyeball, Ani noted that seconds had only passed instead of the eternity she felt.
“You’re getting what you have coming to you young lady!” Margaret screeched as she landed a solid kick to Ani’s ribs, causing both of them to grunt with the loss of breath.
A shocked silence emanated from the three at the kitchen table, and as Margaret drew her foot back and Jerome reached for her burning throat, Ani heard the distinct sound of milk dripping onto the linoleum. The clock on the spattered stove made a small clicking noise as it flipped over another number on the minute side.
With her head pressed up against the yellow flowers on the wallpaper, Ani stared up at the black vinyl curls in the extended cord of the telephone that hung over her head. They swayed and bounced slightly from the impact her head made as it connected repeatedly to the wall. She struggled futilely against Jerome’s weight as she tried to hold him off her, wrenching at his hands as he squeezed what little air she had left out of her throat. With what felt like superhuman strength, she slowly pried the fingers that heralded disaster away from her throbbing neck. A layer of grease still coated her fingers, and she was no match for his strength or his anger. With a little cry, she watched as her fingers slid off his and the hand clench into a huge fist. It loomed like an incoming comet, its black hair almost streaming in the wind as it made a direct contact with her right eye. Pain exploded in shooting stars and she reacted automatically. Pulling her knee up hard she made a direct contact with Jerome’s groin, sending him backwards with a furious scream. “I’ll kill you!” he roared as he jerked away from her knee and grabbed his genitals. Seeing her chance, Ani scrabbled up the wall and made a grab for the phone.
“Just who do you think you’re calling?” Jerome hissed as he held his crotch with both hands. The veins on his neck bulged and pulsed with his fury and pain.
“I’m going to call the police,” Ani gasped, “this is child abuse and you can’t get away with it.”
Ignoring the throbbing in his swelling balls, Jerome reached forward and grabbed the phone, wrapping the cord around Ani’s aching neck.
“We’ll see who’s calling who here,” he growled as Margaret landed a few more kicks on Ani as she slid down the wall. Her head felt like a balloon and her swollen eyes were on fire. A hand connected with her cheek and snapped her head sideways, causing her teeth to crunch with the impact. She spit out blood and some tooth enamel when she tried to scream, but the constant kicks and blows took her breath away making any speech impossible. Each connection sent stabs of pain through her body, and as she fought to hold her own, she fought to appear unaffected by their efforts to hurt her.
Blood trickled from her left nostril as Jerome picked her up bodily, as if lifting weights, and dropped her onto her back. The immediate searing pain that shot from her lower back to the top of her head suddenly transported her back to the seconds that followed her fall in the skiing accident. With the same determination that had seen her through that accident, she turned her groans inward and clamped her jaw shut, refusing to let them win.
“I’ll have you charged,” she gasped as Jerome’s black work shoes kicked her in the small of her back. Unable to stand the pain, Ani rolled over and tried to retreat into a ball, but Jerome picked her up again and dropped her. As she lay there staring up at the ceiling, she noticed the dead flies that had collected in the bottom of the kitchen light. The question of how flies managed to get into lights briefly crossed her mind, then winked away.
“I’m the boss in this house, not you!” he seethed. “Now get up and get the dinner on the table like you’re suppose to. And if you ever try this trick again the results will be worse than this.” With that, he gave Ani another vicious kick around her tailbone as Margaret’s winter boot connected with her shoulder. For a brief moment, Margaret stood looking down at the crumpled form of her daughter lying on the floor before she drew her head back and spat on her. The fury swept out of the room with them as they stormed out of the kitchen and the sound of the newspaper settling onto the kitchen table almost hurt the ears in the silence that followed.
Moving slowly, Ani pulled her knees up under her chin and stared at the drops of blood that spattered the kitchen floor. The pain emanating from her lower back helped minimize the agony she felt everywhere else, and she almost gave into it. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the puddle of milk where it was collecting in front of the counter and noted where the cans had rolled under the table. She knew it was going to be up to her to clean up the kitchen. No one would be offering to help. She had gotten herself into this mess and it was up to her to resolve it. A brief wave of self-pity washed over her and she clamped down hard on it, refusing to allow it to take over. Deep inside her she knew that if she didn’t take some sort of action now, then she might never again.
The stove kept retreating to the end of a dark tunnel as Ani edged her way over and managed to lever herself up with the help of the door handle. Taking slow breaths, she let the air seep into her throat like flames before she turned slowly and looked each of her siblings up and down. Daniel’s hand remained in the air where it had been holding the newspaper before Ani’s world collapsed. Were they made of clay, she wondered? With a fractured rasp, she asked them to move so she could set the table, and as Ani turned her back on them, they hurriedly folded the newspaper and deserted the kitchen.
With slow, agonized movements, Ani rescued the hamburger out of the sink, set the table, and cleaned up the spilled milk and groceries. The entire house felt like it was holding its breath when she called the others for supper and silence prevailed as they avoided looking at Ani and seated themselves at the table. With downcast eyes, Ani placed the meat and vegetables on the table, and the smell of freshly baked bread almost made the atmosphere seem warm and cozy. She arranged everything carefully then turned and headed for the kitchen door. Her father’s voice grated across her raw nerves like a rusty rake.
“You are going to sit here and eat supper with the rest of us before doing the dishes.”
Without a word Ani returned to the table and sat, pushing the food around her plate. She was not sure if she had a loose tooth or not, but there was no way she could get anything down her sore throat. When they finished the meal, she rose silently and started rinsing the dishes before putting them in the dishwasher. She washed the pots and baking dishes in the sink, then cleaned the counters and table before hanging up the dishcloth and tea towel. The rest of the family had disappeared as quickly as they could, most of them unable to watch Ani’s painful progress around the kitchen, their guilt eating away at them.
Slowly she climbed the short flight of stairs to the upper level where she made her way into the bathroom, and closed the door. Turning on the light she took a deep searing breath and peered at the image in the mirror. Red circles surrounded her eyes and she could see the bruises starting to appear where the knuckles had made a direct contact. Her eyelids were puffy and scabrous looking, as if they were going to split under the pressure of the swelling. A bluish red handprint stood out on her cheekbone and the distinct mark of the telephone cord circled her throat like little red waves. A faint smudge of dried blood remained under her nose and she ran some warm water over a facecloth and wiped her face gently. Her blonde hair stood out from her head as if she had been rubbing it with a balloon to create static energy and she combed her fingers through it to try to remove some of the tangles that had formed.
While using the toilet she felt like she was going to pee blood, but the water remained clear as she wiped herself. Returning to the sink, she washed her hands and stared at herself in the mirror. Her green eyes were cold and brilliant looking, the redness that surrounded them making them even more startling. She could feel the dam of tears wanting to burst free but she braced herself, refusing to let them hear her cry. Instead, she fished her toothbrush out of the drawer and headed down the hall to the bedroom she shared with Pet at the front of the house.
Quietly she moved around the room, taking some underwear out of her drawer and her few valuables off her dresser. She tightly folded a couple of small blouses and crammed them into her purse with her underwear, deodorant and toothbrush. Putting on an extra pair of jeans and two sweaters, she crawled under the blankets and turned towards the wall, feigning sleep. Staring at the wall she waited for the hours to pass. When the house finally slept, Ani slipped out of bed and put on her winter coat and boots. Tucking her purse firmly under her arm, she silently opened the front door and slid out into the night.