There are all kinds of fear. Some are the kinds that make you sweat, that make you hesitate on the brink of something terrible. Another kind is the slow, creeping fear that ties you down and strips away everything that makes you, you. That’s the the worst fear, the one you don’t even recognise until it’s too late…
I’m scared. I’ve always been scared. Dad told me I was a scared sort of girl. He said I never played on the big things in the playground, or enjoyed stuff when there was too much noise around. He’s never said it, but I think he thinks that’s why I married Steve.
Because Steve scares me and maybe that’s what I want. I want to be scared. That’s what dad thinks. I love my dad, but sometimes I hate him. He has a way with words that you know he doesn’t mean but still cut like razor wire. Except, I think maybe he does mean them.
‘You know, Tricia, you really don’t have the right build for ballet. Why not try something more suited to a big girl?’
‘Come on now, Tricia, you know painting isn’t ever going to get you anywhere in life. You have to be really good to make a go of it.’
‘Tricia, please, stop being ridiculous. He never loved you. Why would he?’
I’ve got a list. A long list. I started writing them down when I was nine, just because it was only way to get them out of my head. Otherwise they’d creep around in there and stop me sleeping. They still do, sometimes, but not as often.
Steve isn’t much different. He’s subtler with the way he speaks. He doesn’t attack as often and, when he does, he sneaks it in around compliments.
‘Tricia, this meal’s delicious. Is it the one you copied from Sally?’
‘You look lovely, darling, I can barely see your stomach.’
That last one was only last week. I bit my lip, same way I’ve always done, and got changed. Not that it helped. He still flirted with the waitress and smiled at the woman on the table opposite and managed nothing more than a ‘hmmm’ when I told him was miserable at work. I almost left the ‘at work’ off, but realised it would have elicited exactly the same response.
But I’m rambling. I’m not doing a good job of explaining why I’m scared right now. I’m scared because I’m sitting in our flat with my legs pulled up to my chest, my jogging pants on, and a small suitcase packed and ready to go. I’m scared because I’m leaving. And I’m scared because I have no way of knowing what Steve’s going to say.
My counselor says this is the only thing to do. She says it’s either this or go mad and I don’t want to go mad. I’m sure dad would have something to say about that, like, I was born mad so I won’t notice the difference. But I know I’m not mad. Because if I was mad, I wouldn’t be so scared.
He’s home in four minutes. I can set my watch by his routine and sometimes do. Four minutes until I tell him I no longer love him. Four minutes until my life changes forever. Four short minutes. I swallow and take another large sip of the wine beside me. Probably not the best choice, but I needed it. My hands are still shaking, but not as bad as they were.
I should have done this five years ago. I should have done this the first time he hit me. That was the point of no return, really. The moment his hand struck my cheek I should have walked out and not come back. But I was scared. I haven’t ever lived alone except for a year at uni and even then, I was in halls. That’s not living alone, not really.
I met Steve in my third year. His friend called me a ‘sympathy shag’, whatever that means, but we kept seeing each other and he wasn’t sleeping around. I knew because I followed him. I was scared he might be cheating on me, so I followed him every time he went out. All he ever did was meet his friends somewhere he could be seen and talk in a loud voice about how brilliant he was.
I loved it. He was everything I wasn’t. Confident, capable. I heard people around campus talking about the stuff he was doing in economics. The girls admired him but he was only interested in me. I don’t know why. Sally’s always quick to tell me why. She tells me I’m smart and kind and caring, all the normal words reserved for girls too big to wear the right clothes.
I forgive her, of course, because she loves me. I mean really loves me, not the twisted thing Steve claims is love. It didn’t feel twisted to begin with, but now it does. When I can still feel the burn of his hand on my face or my back, it feels like anything but love.
I listen and, sure enough, the front door of the flats opens and closes. We live in a beautiful apartment overlooking Regent’s Park. He’s never told me how much it cost, but I know it’s in the millions. There’s so much space in here, non of which I use. I used to. I used to stroll around it just to feel like I was making the most of it. Nowadays I confine myself to this sofa and the kitchen.
Ironic, really, that the sofa is the thing I’ll miss the most. There are ornaments in here we’ve bought on our travels. We’ve been to India and China and America more times than I can count, and I’m surrounded by all those memories. Searching for a happy one takes time and isn’t always successful. It’s amazing what you can convince yourself of given enough time and a good enough reason.
But marriage isn’t what it was. There was a time when marriage meant you didn’t abuse one another. It meant you didn’t hit your wife. It meant you didn’t find innovative new ways of telling her she’s fat and ugly without actually saying it.
The front door opens and I take a deep breath, place my wine on the table, and stand. Steve walks in, glances first at the wine, then the suitcase, then at me.
‘Good evening, sweetheart, what’s for dinner?’
My hands are shaking. Lucky I put the wine down. ‘There isn’t any.’
‘I haven’t made any dinner. I’m leaving.’
‘Where are you going?’
I’ve been dreaming of this for years, planning it for months and making it a reality for weeks. But I can’t answer that question. I’m going to the airport. That’s as far as I’ve got. He’s waiting for me. I think I might wet myself. His eyes are flashing, like he’s either about to laugh or swing for me.
‘None of your business.’ Better than I expected.
‘You’re my wife, anything you do is my business.’
‘I’m only your wife in name. I filed the papers this morning. I want a divorce.’
His eyes bulge. I half expect them to pop out of his head but they sink back into their sockets and he smiles.
‘Patricia, I’ve had a long day at work and I’m really not in the mood for games. What’s for dinner?’
‘There is no dinner, Steve. I’m leaving you. You’re an abusive dick and I don’t want anything to do with you ever again.’ Not as powerful as it sounded in my head, but it’s still a wonderful feeling.
‘You’re my wife.’
‘Stop saying that like it means something.’
‘It means you can’t just leave.’
‘Actually, last time I checked, we lived in London, not Saudi Arabia, so I can do whatever the hell I want. Now, please, get out of my way.’ With every word, my shaking subsides. It’s still there, making my legs tremor, but I can ignore it now. I’m not scared anymore.
He’s turned purple. Literally, every ounce of blood in him has rushed to his face. He drops his briefcase and comes at me. But I’m ready for this. This is the part the counselor didn’t tell me about. I did this part all by myself.
I grab the string that’s hanging by the side of the sofa and the blade drops. Steve’s hand is most of the way to my face when the axe hits him. I expected it to dig into the back of his skull, but it smashes straight through, throwing chunks of blood and bone my way.
I’m light on my feet, for a fat girl, and dance out of the way. He’s still got that horrible expression on his face as he crumples to the floor, but I can ignore it now its covered in his blood. I scoop my suitcase up with one hand, grab the car keys with the other, and head for the door.
I feel like I’m walking on air. I’m not scared anymore.