‘What are ye growin’ that for?’ he grumbles.
His tea is made, just mince and tatties, salted to his taste. She wears a skirt that’s not too skimpy, not too frumpy. Her makeup’s subtle, don’t want to be slutty now, do we, she’s covered just the marks, and the weans are long to bed. She’s given them a cuddle and their iPads, just in case. He bought them last month, when he came back from his cell, contrite and softly spoken. They hugged him for it. Smiling, with dead eyes. So, are you happy now, he’d asked, is everything forgiven? And they’d said yes and thank you, Sir, with a rehearsed formality reserved for strangers and social workers who ruffled their hair and asked them if everything was alright at home and you can tell me and oh, is that the time.
While he is shovelling down the food, she stares at the lidless teapot on the windowsill. She’s filled it with compost, placed a single seed on the surface and covered it loosely. She keeps the earth moist with little loving squirts of fresh tap water from a plastic spray bottle, every morning, before he wakes and feels the need to remind her that he comes first. She’s rinsed the bottle many times but it refuses to give up the bleachy odour of the cleaning fluid it used to hold. The day is almost over, and she has been safe, but knowing retrospectively is of no comfort in all the moments, when she balances from eggshell to eggshell, and she is drained.
‘Oh, just kitchen herbs,’ she says, and butterflies escape with each word uttered. She tries to guide their flight within a narrowly defined path, as they are swatted should they seem defiant, and taught a lesson, wings and legs plucked one after another, the twitching bodies dissected with the scalpel of his tongue. But should they sound demure, they will be swept away in the tsunami of his swelling irritation.
‘Don’t waste yer time,’ he says, and rises, pushing back his chair. The seed has germinated and a single tiny seedling, fragile at this early stage, will not survive if smashed against the wall. She’s played the midwife for two weeks, at times was ready to give up. But here it is, lifting its tiny head of hope, straining towards the light, like her. She will require gloves to handle it from now.
‘Shall I get you a glass of wine?’ she asks, deflecting his attention. He pauses. And his face, all suave and charming to the outside world, begins a metamorphosis under the full moon beam of his suspicions. It’s imperceptible at first, he freezes for a fraction of a second, but her heart sinks and she’s resigned to take what will inevitably follow. Just keep me breathing, she pleads silently. Just five more weeks and this small plant will tower over you.
‘Call me a drunk?’ he snarls. She knows he needs her to be scared. He has conditioned his arousal to be fuelled by despair.
‘I am sorry, honey,’ she replies, ‘please, don’t be mad.’
‘So, now you’re saying I am mad?’ he growls, and all his fangs are fully grown. ‘I’ll show you mad, you cow, I’ll show you good!’ He grabs her by the waist and spins her round, her face is pushed into his empty plate. And while she’s frozen in her place, he follows through while she keeps quiet for the boys. Her eyes are fixed on that one seedling now, her only sword. One day the plant will sprout a bud, and then the bud will open, burst into wolfsbane bloom before her eyes. And she will make him mince and tatties yet again, and she will take the kids to bed, and she will face him one more time. And she will watch him, not the plant, will watch when he is doubled over in defeat and grabbing for his chest. Will watch when he is shamed by losing all control, of her, of them, his bowels even. She’ll listen to his breath, will hear him gasping, fighting, not with her but for his life.
And then she’ll wake the kids, will take that bag that she has packed a long time back, will walk and keep on walking without fail. She’ll take them to a place where they can trust and bloom and blossom into life and where their eyes can shine and smile.