First he hit the refrigerator — his ring put a dent in it. It was his college ring. When he hit the kitchen door, his whole fist went through the wood. It was a cheap, hollow-core door, but nobody would hit anything that hard with their bare hands on purpose. Nobody would hit anything that hard unless they’d gone crazy. I was already cowering, sliding down the kitchen wall, when he came at me. I think my cowering drew him. I remembered my mother once saying, If you are ever with a boy who drinks too much and drives, get out of the car, young lady. Walk home if you have to. But I couldn’t walk home; I was married; I was already home.
I fell on the floor and covered my head with my arms. I remember thinking it would be easier if Tom hit me, if he shattered me into manageable pieces. I was too much for him. I was on Tom’s side.
He grabbed my wrists, unlocked my arms from my head and jerked me upward. I felt ready to be hit, conditioned, although no man had ever hit me. The air in the room, charred from cooking, seemed all breathed up; the space between us seethed. I waited for his rage to thicken into a hand and for the blow of the hand to darken all that I saw. But doom would not materialize. The rage had a sad domestic transparency like plastic wrap, plain and see-through like that. If I could see through it, I could live through it, too. It was all happening too fast for me to be scared until I saw his eyes and that he didn’t recognize me, that I was a thing and the thing that I was meant something to him that I was incapable of understanding. “Tom,” I said, “help me.”
The instant I spoke, his raised hand dropped, and I knew that I’d always possessed the power to turn him away, to call him off just by speaking his name. Yet I nearly hadn’t this time. This time I’d held out to be hit. If a man ever hits you, my mother told me, that’s it. Walk out the door, climb out a window if you have to, jump from the roof and never look back.
I saw that he was crying. He swiped at his car keys on the kitchen table, but they fell, jangled when they hit the linoleum like a bunch of armored tears. When he darted a hand to retrieve them, I saw the knuckles were bleeding. I felt an impulse to move towards him, yet my back held rigid against the wall. I didn’t know how to comfort him or from what, and, knowing this, I was more afraid of him then when he’d come at me.
He slammed out of the kitchen. I heard him start the car and screech backwards down the driveway, hitting a metal trashcan in his rush. I followed the maniacal sound of its clatter and roll. Neighborhood dogs woofed reproachful, and there was another sound, too: the lone cymbal crash of the moon banging against nothing. I pressed my backbone against the plaster wall where he’d pushed me. The wall was cold, but it was not a tombstone and nobody had died. I meant to tell a love story, and I would. Because early marriage was give and take, compromise, push coming to shove, didn’t everybody say that? Who could argue that I hadn’t learned something that was both difficult and necessary? And even though Tom had hurt me a little, who could say I wasn’t the better for it, improved. There were dirty dishes in the sink and eventually I started washing them.
About Marianne Gingher (1 post)
Marianne Gingher has published seven books of fiction and non-fiction, most recently her comic memoir about the writing life, Adventures in Pen Land (Missouri Press, 2008) and Long Story Short (UNC Press , 2009), a flash fiction anthology of 65 North Carolina writers. She is the co-founder of Jabberbox Puppet Theater (a venue for original adult puppet plays) which celebrated its third sell-out season summer, 2012, with the comedy "Rumpus in Rome" (visit www.jabberboxpuppettheater.com). She is a longtime professor of English and Creative Writing at UNC-Chapel Hill where she has served as Director of the Creative Writing Program. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including the New York Times, Southern Review, North American Review, and Oxford American.