You keep your medals under the bed we no longer share. You unwrap them carefully, caressing the yellow paper with a lover’s touch. You never touched me like that. When you’ve burnished the metal, you polish us with orders. The baby is too young to understand how to be, but you want it drilled into him.
‘It’s never too early’, you bark.
‘Or too late’, I tell myself.
I need to feed the baby, but you have decided now is the time to unwrap us from the stale surroundings of our home and pin us to you like symbols of your success.
He’s crying now and I cringe in case my sheer top shows the milk stain seeping through my bra, the non-maternity black lace one which sears my engorged breasts but that you say is the only thing that’s going to make my tits look any good again.
I’m trying to spoon feed him, but he hates it when we rush and I’m terrified that he’s going to be sick on the clothes you picked out for me, but not as scared as I am about being late. My skirt is long enough to cover the bruises from the last time I delayed you, long enough to hide my legs which aren’t good enough for anything shorter.
You walk one step ahead of us until we reach the carpark of the club where you’re due a promotion, come into line with us when we are in sight of the Jaguars and Range Rovers, the Porsches and Aston Martins.
‘Children aren’t allowed in the bar. We’ll leave the pram downstairs’, you tell me as if it’s something you’ve just discovered at this place where you’ve worked all this time.
I shake my head, knowing even before I utter a word that it’s too late.
The shove comes hard and fast, and I stagger backwards into the buggy. It rocks and I wheel around to save him, not me. I don’t recognise the shout. It’s not mine. There’s a man calling out of his car window. You call back, silencing his embarrassed apathy with a shout taught on the parade grounds of your military academy.
‘Don’t say a fucking word’, you hiss as my hope drives away. My hand is bleeding where I hit the ground.
‘I’m not done with you yet. If I lose my fucking job because of this, it will be your fault. And it’s not like you’re going to find work. You’re on a fucking gravy train and you’ll never get off.’
Upstairs, the men in red trousers and blue blazers suck their lips at me, study me with grunting appreciation as if I was on display at a cattle market. ‘Cambridge’, I hear you say. ‘Ex BBC’, my wife’.
‘Just marvellous, old chap’, one after another smacks you on the back and offers you another drink. They don’t ask me. If they did, I’d have to say no. I can’t hold a glass with one hand hidden inside my pocket and the other poised to shake theirs.
Alcohol softens your grip on my arm and when we have finally done the rounds, I pull my hand from my pocket. My finger is set at a funny angle. The pain makes me sick, but I know better than to show it.
Downstairs the baby has fallen asleep in a pool of his own vomit. I wipe his tiny mouth, lay a clean muslin beneath his head and beg him not to wake. He snuffles in his sleep.
‘You know I love you, don’t you? You just push me to the edge sometimes. You know I’m the only one looking out for you, don’t you?’
I nod all the way home, keep nodding as you tug at my shirt, grab handfuls of swollen breast, breathe drunken desire over me. I nod when you say my name, when you tell me how close you are, while I wait for you to finally finish. I used to believe it when you said those three words. I used to feel your relief when you let go. It made me feel loved because I thought you felt the same.
Now when you’re done, you cowboy swagger into the living room. I listen for the sound of the drinks’ cupboard opening, the liquid rush of liquor being poured, the sound of the television that rocks you to sleep. You told me once that you couldn’t sleep without the TV because in war zones the nights are never quiet. Sometimes you cry out from your dreams like a frightened child. Not tonight. Tonight, beneath the noise of the TV, you are quiet. The baby sleeps too. Only I lay awake.
Beneath my side of the bed, I stash my possessions, the small bag of belongings that were mine before I was yours. In the morning, when you have gone to work, I will leave you a note on the table we’ve never shared. Then I will bend my injured finger around my son’s future and open the door.
Hannah Storm has been a journalist for 20 years, living and working in dozens of countries around the world. She has recently started writing flash fiction, creative non-fiction and memoir, in tribute to some of the people she has met and the places she has been, as well as a way of processing her own experiences. Born in the north of England, married to a Kiwi, she now lives on the south coast of the UK, where she juggles writing with motherhood, marathon running and work. Her Twitter handle is @hannahstorm6.