Hannah stood at the stove frying Jimmy’s steak when she heard the door slam behind her. Ronni was sitting on the benchwatching her cool. The little girl’s eyes widened as she stared towards the door. Her thumb flew to her mouth.
Hannah turned around, unsurprised to see Jimmy staring back at her with unfocused glassy eyes. The smell of alcohol leeched from him; a sickly sweet, almost rotting smell. He was always like this on Friday nights.
’Hello, Jimmy. I’m just making your tea.’ She pasted a smile on her face and kept her voice calm and even, not wanting to provoke him.
’I hope it’s not burnt this time.’ His vacant smile had twisted into a nasty sneer.
’No, see the meat’s all red.’ She gestured towards the steak sizzling in the pan.
’It better be,’ he growled, ’or you’ll wear it again like you did last night.’
She felt the cold sweat of fear as he stalked towards her. He reached out and grabbing her by the hair and shook her head roughly. Like a snake his attention switched abruptly to Ronni, who was sniffling on her perch. Jimmy let go of Hannah and glared at his daughter who sat perfectly still, staring at him like a trapped rabbit.
‘What’s the brat doing up there? Do you want her to fall and crack her head open?’ He lifted Ronni down and pushed her none too gently towards the back door. ‘Go outside and play, and stop whining.’
‘Sorry love, you’re right of course,’ Hannah said quickly. She starting shaking, tension building inside her like a spring, the familiar sickness in the pit of her stomach. The baby kicked inside her, as if aware of the gathering storm. It was going to be a bad night.
’What a rotten mother you are! You’re such a stupid bitch’ he screamed at her, his voice rising, spittle flying from his mouth.
Then it happened. Without conscious thought, Hannah swung back to the stove, picked up the cast-iron frying pan and hit him over the head with it. His eyes rolled back into his head and he dropped like a stone to the floor. At first she didn’t know what to do. She crept over to his body and looked for signs of life. He was slumped on the floor in an awkward position, a dark purple lump rising on his head as she watched. She couldn’t see if he was breathing but she didn’t want to touch him in case he woke up and hit her.
Is he dead? What will happen to me if he is? What have I done?What will he do to me if he isn’t dead?
Everything after that was a blur. Her teeth chattered and her hands shook as she rushed around the house gathering whatever money she could find and quickly stuffing her bag with a change of clothes for her and Ronni. Her mind was blank except for one word. Run!
She shot out of the house and grabbed the little girl by the hand.
‘Come on sweatheart, we need to go.’
‘Where? Where’s Daddy?’ Ronni’s bottom lip came out and her face screwed up as it did when she was about to have a tantrum.
Hannah tugged on her little hand, gritting her teeth against the scream she could feel rising in her throat.
‘Come on. We have to go. We’re going on the train to visit cousin Hatty.’
At the mention of her favourite grown-up Ronni’s face brightened. She stopped trying to pull away from her mother and started skipping down the road. As they hurried down the street Hannah’s mind flew across the miles to her family.
I want to go home. I want Ma and Da and the boys. But it’s such a long way to Wales. How are we going to get there?
Luckily she had enough money to get to her cousin’s house. When she got there sh explained to her what had happened. Hatty understood immediately – she’d never liked Jimmy and couldn’t hid her glee at the thought of Jimmy getting knocked on the head.
‘About time someone did it,’ was her only comment.
She was also calm and practical in her advice. Her husband had a manager’s job and she had access to enough money in the bank to pay for the trip home. She was sure he wouldn’t mind her helping her cousin. She gathered together some food for their trip and walked with them back to the station. They waited together for the next train to Sydney.
‘I’ll ring Aunty Florrie and let her know you’re coming’ Hatty said as the train pulled in to the station. She hugged them both, sad tears starting to run down her face. Ronni whined that she wanted Hatty to come too.
‘Sorry sweetheart, I can’t come this time. Maybe next time,’ she said as she kissed the little girl on the head, and helped them into the train.
The trip to Wales was long and tiring, especially with a three year old who didn’t understand what was happening and constantly asked where her favourite dolly was. Hannah’s growing belly added to her discomfort. But it was worth it for the feeling of safety she felt, and the time it gave her to consider her choices. What a fool she had been to have married Jimmy! She had only known him for a month before they married. But he had been so charming and handsome and hard to resist. And how could she have known what the drink did to him? Her Da and the boys drank too, but they didn’t turn into monsters like Jimmy did.
Hannah considered the choices she had made and hoped she could steer her little girl into a better way of life. Definitely not to let every silver tongued Irishman sweep her little girl off her feet.