The oncoming headlights are blinding. You squint hard against the glare and wonder whether the hob has been turned off and whether there is food in the cat bowl. There had not been much time. The children are asleep in the back of the car, their soft breath filling the void; you wonder whether they will survive another move. He yells words at you in front of them, words that make your stomach lurch. They used to stick; now they run off you and smash to the ground.
You might have left sooner if it wasn’t for them, for their innocent questions and a longing for life to stand still. But they saw, watched you turn from under his frame as his voice rose to a thunder. You saw your son shaking, begging you to go somewhere else, to get away. You knew it was over. You knew long ago, before the rage and the veiled threats, before you begin to share information sparsely. You are creative about where you have been and with whom you have spoken. You tried to leave before, but it didn’t last. You are reeled back in by guilt, and longing.
He offers to lend you money, to store your belongings, but somewhere in the pit of your stomach you lack trust and, despite never knowing whether you can trust your own judgement, there is something in your gut that is ready to run, over and over; but you don’t. Fear paralyses you with what if’s and maybes: What will people think? Maybe it will get better. It doesn’t. You know it won’t. They warn you it will get worse. You look for the best, hope things will improve. Your judgement is overtaken by charm and false promise. It all seems plausible at the beginning, but the pendulum between affection and anger — back and forth — leaves you feeling confused. It is all your fault: if you are just a bit better, kinder, more of a person. More. Just, more. You don’t even know what the more is, what it is that’s missing from your personality, until there is nothing left of you but to run.
One day you will learn that you are enough. One day you will learn that it’s not about you, but not yet.
You jam your foot on the break as something crosses the road; a deer, maybe. The car behind breaks short of your rear bumper. You raise your hand to apologise but apologies are worth nothing and he cannot see you in the dark. You turn on the radio. There is a country and western song about love; you change channels, unable to stomach the lyrics. The news cuts in, something about a shooting in another State, talks of a new government, and some item about global warming and whether scientists are right, but you no longer care. You cannot think beyond the journey and you don’t even know if your aunt will be there when you arrive, but it’s the only place you know that might be safe. She is the only person you never mentioned.
Your phone rings. His number flashes across the screen. You freeze and, without answering, pick it up, wind down the window, and throw it out into the darkness. The calls have become incessant. He will not be able to trace you now. You can pick up a pay-as-you-go phone when you are somewhere safe.
Droplets of rain trickle down the windscreen but you have not turned on the wipers. There is something strangely comforting about watching them drip downward. It has been difficult to cry, you are unable to feel anything at all. The blur of the windscreen is a shield to the outside world.
Blue flashing lights emerge from the distance. The patrol car is visible in the rear view mirror. You hold your breath, wonder if he has reported you all missing, or made up some elaborate story. You have rehearsed the possible conversations that could emerge. The car closes in. You maintain a steady pace. It pulls out and draws along side, and you realise it is overtaking. The lights flash on into the distance. You draw in a sharp breath and exhale.
This doesn’t feel the way you had imagined it would and you are not yet free; maybe you will be, in time. You realise that 'maybe' punctuates most of your sentences, scattered across your words like a full stop.
F.C. Malby is a contributor to Unthology 8 and Hearing Voices: The Litro Anthology of New Fiction. Her debut short story collection, My Brother Was a Kangaroo includes award-winning stories, and her debut novel, Take Me to the Castle, won The People's Book Awards. Her short fiction has been longlisted in The New Writer Magazine Annual Prose and Poetry Prizes, the TSS Publishing Microfiction Contest, and won the Litro Magazine Environmental Disaster fiction competition. Her stories have also been widely published both online and in print.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.