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Freedom by Fiona Pretswell

Woman sitting at a desk.

My dearest James (she stops writing and crumples up the paper, throw it in a bin with other).

James, James my JJ. I don’t know what to put. I don’t know where to start or how to explain.

At the beginning? But this is no fairy tale with a happy ending. You know how it ends. Although to you I’m the wicked witch or just a f-ing bitch. I heard you shout that at me that day. The last time I saw your face. That face I once kissed the tears away and wiped the snot and jam from. It was twisted in anger and hatred, and I can’t blame you. I blame myself. Never you. I can’t even blame a global pandemic. All this started years ago and I did nothing.

I never told anybody. I felt ashamed. Like it was my fault. It was only a few times while you were at home. I hide my bruises or told you the cupboard opened too fast. You believed me.  You would never have believed me as he was your hero, and I was just mum. He always said he was sorry, and he always told me it was because he loved me. And I always believed him.

Afterwards he would treat us to something nice. Remember that Christmas when the huge TV and DVD player arrived. That – well that was a broken rib. I can’t even remember what started it. Just how it ended.

You left home. I was so proud when you gained your uni place. I knew you would succeed; I am still proud of you as you as nothing like him – or me. I should have been brave. I should have left once you did.

I yearned for your visits home. I knew that for those few days I’d be safe. That he wouldn’t want you to see the other side of him. You are special. Our amazing boy. Something wonderful that we created.

But.

But.

Things changed and your life got busy. You’d visited less and less, and I found other ways to cope.  My wee job in the café kept me out of the house. If things looked bad, I would fake a shift and walk about in all weathers just to not be in the house. I knew how long it would take him to pass out on the couch and it would it safe to come home.

I want to tell you all this. I want you to understand what I did. Why we are where we are. I need you to hear it. But how can I write it down after all this time of never wanting to even accept it myself. My counsellor has said that I need to take responsibility for my actions but not the blame. Easy for her to say as she has never been where I have or at least I hope she never has. I suppose the beatings became part of my life. I lived in fear of each slap but needed each sorry. It meant that he still cared and loved me.

Then March and the lockdown. His boss just sacked him. He couldn’t be bothered with the hassle of the furlough scheme. Probably made it too hard to fiddle his books. The café closed. So, there you have it. The same as millions of others. A married couple stuck together 24 hours a day in the house.

I can’t remember what increased first, the drinking or the beatings. The ‘sorrys’ and the gifts stopped. I couldn’t do anything right. Everything was my fault.

The times you video called, and we didn’t answer. You can image. He wouldn’t have wanted you to see the bruises. I wanted to tell you. I want to run to you, but I never did.

Then he became more paranoid. He took my phone away. Told me we couldn’t afford two phones. He started doing the shopping and locking me in the house. I wasn’t allowed out in case I came home with the virus. I lost the last of my freedom. My time to get away. A few hours outdoors. I even started to dream about catching the virus and getting taken into hospital. I would get away safely. But somehow, I knew that he would never phone the ambulance. Just lock me in the bedroom and then sit downstairs watching the TV.

I can’t even remember what date it was or even what day of the week. I remember making tea. Fish and chips with beans and bread. I was doing the dishes when I heard the roar. Maybe a horse lost the sure cert win or the news was on. I don’t know and I never will, but I do remember the roar. It exploded in my head. It tore through my skin. Peeling the flesh back and eating away at my bones. I could feel my life ending and something in me sparked and I roared back. Every part of me ached and fought and struggled and punched and kicked to survive. And then I ran and ran and ran. Perhaps I am still running but now I know that I am free.

(Bell rings. Three short rings)

(Announcement off stage) Lights out in five ladies. Good night.

So, there we are James. My story. I hope one day I can tell you and you will want to listen. I want you to know that for all the awful things that have happened last year I believe this pandemic has saved at least one life. But I guess it won’t be soon.

By Fiona Pretswell.

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