Friday, 27 March 2015

Pack Up Your Troubles

by Sophie Whitehead

In the wild those that cannot keep up, cannot match the pace of other mammals, slowly and gradually become extinguished. They die and fade into the undergrowth and the cycle of life repeats. The animals become the very land others prey upon. Yet with humans its different. With humans, I found out, the very cycle is breakable; it is merely a tangible web where even the weakest can regain control if they want to. So I ask myself now Am I am the one with the power?

Im awake. My dream dissipates fast, fading into reality and Im thrown from my world of solace to one that I loath. Sunlight bursts through the barred window, dances off the walls, pirouettes on the floor and the room fills with an array of colours. Salmon pinks, rich ambers and feverish vermilions are my morning call. A flash of recognition crawls across my face and I stumble from my hazy utopia. Its early but my heart beats loud and clear, echoing through my chest and a feeling of bitter-sweet sadness gnaws at my heart. There is a quiet serenity to this time of the morning and I love it. Nothing else has awoken yet; in fact it is as if the world slumbers on wrapped in a duvet of tranquility until it decides it can face the day and awakes from its nest. I stare at the perpendicular lines that make up this room, folding over each other neatly in ninety degree parallels to each other, painted dutifully in Magnolia, the perfect colour. Of course. In the early days, a short while before things had started to go bad, he said he wanted to start up a refurbishing company. I, naturally of course, complimented his decision and from that day made a deliberate effort to keep scraps of cord, cotton and silks wherever I went, so that I could always sew up delights for his entrepreneurial mind.  We had bought the paint together, along with several other room supplies; an exquisite oakwood bedroom suite and an eighteenth century painting of the Sistine Chapel, which had been my personal favourite expenditure of the afternoon. I had always loved art, I felt it provided me an opportunity to escape the monotony of a day to day lifestyle into the world of the artist where your mind could explore whatever wisdom and experiences the artist wished to convey. It was always up to interpretation; there was never a right answer so I cherished this painting, and still do now. It is the only reminder of the life I had; a cruel in-between limbo linking my isolation now with my freedom then. It hangs above my bed and fills me with a creep of hope each morning that maybe, one day, things could be different. 

I shiver recollecting the fact that this room, my room, the one thing I own, is merely a cell to the unfortunate inhabitant trapped within it. The paint has chipped in the rusted corners and the carpet is slack and flaccid underfoot, trod on simply too many times by too many unearthing searches for help. Squashed and crushed down by my anxious paces and the reign of time alone. The refurbishing company never happened unless you would call renovating the top room in the attic just for my confinement, rehabilitating the house. Oh I dont mind really. For a long time I fought his battles, his nightly calls but gradually the hope I had within me fizzled out and I became as I am now, an empty soul irreducible to passion or love. I still have that oakwood suite, tarred and rotten as it is now, sitting along with my memories of that day but my most prized possession; the painting, takes pride of place centred on the wall so it is the first thing I see in the morning and my final thought at night.

My friends? Well I have little problem with friends these days, they grew jealous a long time ago. I ask myself if only they knew now? If only they knew how little Gracies life had turned out in the end, maybe they wouldnt have left and closed the door on friendships that Id had since I was an infant. But the rumours had grew, had they accidentally burned my number or was it that there just werent enough hours in the day to stop by and say hello? I dont know. I lost count of the poor excuses, the snickers, the whispers that had consumed me for months as slowly my friends diminished away. Yet I cant blame them. I was the one who did it. I was the one who chose a relationship over my friends. The law of karma was bound to trap me in the end; look at me now and look at them. As I remain still, a caterpillar that is forever trapped in its chrysalis, they flourish in their high powered jobs, with their omnibenevolent husbands on their arm and children that devote them with attention in suit. Meanwhile I turn to all manners of friendship I could find in my little room. Maybe it was this year or the year before or the year before that; my mind keeps little contact with time these days, that I befriended a small, round mouse and kept that as my cherubim to look over me in the dark nights. We had great times. I would feed her from my delivered food tray, hastily impelled under the door frame mechanically and she used to perch on my flesh until I was asleep. Then one day she was gone. A warmth in the night, a spark in the day extinguished. I wish I could go.
The room is alight with colours but the air is biting ice. Nothing could survive the algific conditions that feast here so at least I know I am safe. For now. It also helps that he is not here. Yet. He has not clawed his way into my little room of sanity that I maintain. Yet. I open my eyes a little and see a shadow lingers by the doorway, already dressed in a tailored suit, carefully manicured for the days events. When I first met him, thats what had appealed; his perfect ways. I thought I was so lucky, everyone had said it. How did Gracie get such a lovely man? How can Gracie possibly ever please him? I close my eyes tight, begging that he hasnt seen me, praying he thinks Im still asleep. A tender, salty tear trickles from my eye and I glance briefly, but with great intensity, at the battered alarm clock on my bed stand. Its one of those alarm clocks that show the time and the date and I had managed to buy it at an outstanding, discounted price at the neighbours car boot sale five years ago. I always remember that though. That day had been one of the only times I had ever seen my husband happy. The sun had been so high on that day, set so neatly in a bloodshot horizon, and I remember feeling so blissfully, uncontrollably content. All because, well, he had been.

Now I felt locked up in a dungeon I could not escape, no matter how hard I tried and I pondered deeply on how a woman like me, could have ended up like this - with no friends, no money, nothing to call her own - completely at the mercy of someone who had never truly loved her? I had been so naïve back then. Such a ridiculous fool caught up in loves promise of the impossible happily ever after. Whatever that is? Why hadnt I asked him more questions? Had I really been that stupid? I hate myself for my dispute yet I sit and contemplate anyway. My life's an undeniable paradox in its own right. I shut my eyes tight again and reconcile on our first meeting. It had been in the local bar in town, my only night off a week. I had been so determined, so desperate to find a place for myself in this world back then so how had I let myself be pulled in by the stranger that I met there? He was very wealthy, ludicrously so, and part of me felt so lucky that I could even be acquainted with such a man. That he might even want to spend his time with someone like me. I say this but it was not the money that he controlled that created the attraction, even to this day I know that, nor the lavish, immoderate lifestyle that went with it. I cant explain it, and I guess, I never will. But there was something about him. Something so uniquely different that made me feel blessed to even be in his presence and urged me to play a role, to fill the shoes of, someone I could never have hoped to be. He was sitting, staring right at me. Azure blue eyes extending as lengthy as the ocean, locking me in their hypnotic gaze. We were on opposite sides of the room yet I really had felt a connection with the stranger I had never met before. Later we talked and shared a drink until late. I found that, surprisingly, I was doing the mass of the talking, which is unusual for me, but still he seemed happy to listen so I carried on. I must have told him things that night that I had never told anyone before, and looking back Im not sure why I did. Why was I so drawn to the stranger with piercing eyes, who, when I pressed for information, turned the question around and sent me off again on a long, dissected essay that seemed to last forever. I remember how special I felt. How perfect he made me feel. It was contagious. A feverish passion that sprouted when I neednt have encouraged it.

Anyway Im losing my point; I bet youre wondering what happened when we said our goodbyes at the end of the night, once wed exchanged phone numbers, emails, even addresses and said our farewells. Well. I didnt see him for eleven months. Not a peep. Until one day. One single day when an overflowing fountain of cardinal red roses appeared on my doorstep attached with a handwritten note apologising for his lack of contact. At first when I saw his clumsy flock of blond hair that accompanied the parcel, and his fierce blue eyes that held me in their wake, I had wanted to be angry. Why hadnt he gotten in touch? Why hadnt we spoken? I tried, I really did, but I found it more and more difficult the longer I spent time with him. Everything was justified, rationally; even the large space of time he had spent away was explained in such a way in which I felt guilty. I blamed myself for the time we had spent away from each other. It was my fault. Couldnt a girl have called a man more than three times? His phone had been broken, of course it had! What a stereotype to believe he had been elsewhere, of course he had always been thinking of me, always been dreaming of me, he had just been preoccupied elsewhere with unfinished business before he could devout his days entirely to my suffice! After that, on my 25th birthday, he proposed. The speech was long and cliché but I fell for it. Like any other girl thats ever had their heart tossed about like useless flotsam floating on a dirty, green ocean. Every part of my body said no back then, but my heart, said, yes. The excuses he made about his disappearance for that long period of time seem trivial now. They do not matter.

I feel a rough hand against my chilled skin and this tugs me from my disjointed thoughts. Shivers subconsciously send at atomic speed down my spinal cord and all hairs stand erect on my arms and legs. His shake wakes me from my dream, even though I am not asleep. This hand is not a hand of a loving mother who wakes her child in the morning for school, nor is it like the pathetic drone of an alarm clock that reminds you to go to work, it is simply a harsh recall to my life. A life that started becoming miserable when I first accepted those vows. Then the nasty threats and then the incontrollable beatings. First just a hand against my cheek, harsh and unexplained. But then he apologised. Rationalised his behaviour and it was my fault I guess. I should have organised and sorted out that problem for him. I was to blame. It was fine though, it was just me that suffered. To the clearly visible scars on the outside; I wore more layers and few people questioned why I was always falling over. Then it was my self esteem that faltered. I was bad. I didnt deserve to be with him. He was much better than me. I was below him. All things I heard several times. After that it was my friends. I became isolated by his harsh words and he ganged up on me with the people I had grown up with, like a cowardly bully in high school. My friends loved him, he oozed charisma and charm and the dinner parties he held were exceptional. He trapped my friends, like he trapped me. One instance of abuse turned into several, which turned into the norm. Then one day I pulled into the driveway absent of the knowledge that I would never leave home again. What upset me the most for months on end was how no one could ask where I was; no one checked and no one called. Or maybe they did? I would never know. He could hide it perfectly, he was perfectly able to be the most benign gentlemen that no one would ever expect to be the culprit of my misery. My usually friendly nature had turned into an emotionally drained disorder then anyway so people probably pitied him, rather than accounted him to blame.

I smile but it is not a joyful smile, not a smile that speaks of true love or happy-ever-afters. Its a sadistic smile. I cannot live in a world of fear and anxiety anymore.
I turn around slightly under the bedclothes, finding the best position to lay my tired body, but he catches me. Sees my eyes flicker as I move. His bellowing voice resonates off the walls, burning the insides of my ears as his hand hits me hard against my cheek. I leap, narrowly missing the next blow. My head throbs but my heart pounds deep within my chest, sending an ocean of blood along my veins. The momentum of my heart keeps me going and I run out of the room, down the stairs, counting them as I continue down. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. They trickle away from my eyes and I charge to the front door and burst it open. He is on me though. Grabbing me by the hair, blocking my screams with his rough, grating hand, dragging me inside. My mind is a blur and all I can hear is the heavy pound of my heart within my chest. I know there is no escape. If I stay here, he will kill me; so I make my decision. I kick him hard in the chest and stare at his repulsive body for a small moment. A feeling of unconfined superiority reigns through my blood, setting me alight.

I continue. From the kitchen cupboard I withdraw a long, glistening, bread-knife. Now everything slows. I hear the ticking alarm clock yelling away from upstairs but time is no longer an enemy, it is a friend. I think of all the times I have felt shunned. I have felt scared. I have felt humiliated. I have been abused. These feelings are all I go on now as they creep up, overwhelming my senses one nerve at a time. Everything blurs, everything silences. I plunge the knife straight into my husbands chest. And then again, and again. His face does not quite register what I have done, but mine does.

Most people would drop the knife, would remove all DNA, and would run. But I dont. Instead, I smile, and this smile turns into a laugh. A wholesome, hollow laugh from deep within my soul. I have not laughed like this in years, and as this dawns on me, I hackle even more. The feeling of hysteria seeps into my cold bones, such a feeling of intensity, of heat and I make no attempt to wave it away. I am past madness, yet the demoniacal feeling continues to control my senses and to delude my vision. I cannot stop; his lifeless, dead body fills me with a strange sensation of liberation. Now I am free, free from him, free from his condemning tones, free from the pain he brought with him. The sight of his breathless body again brings that to my attention, and, for once in my seven years of marriage with him, gone are my troubles as I am the one with the power.    

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