A Ghost Story about Domestic Abuse
It took me two whole days to unpack all our belongings. I wanted everything to be perfect, this was our fresh start. James took the first day off work to help but just ended up grumbling about the disorder. He instructed exactly where everything should be placed. I made notes in case I forgot.
When James was back at his office, I was able to breathe. I worked hard, emptying boxes, and every last item was packed away by late afternoon. I made myself a coffee and nestled into the welcoming arms of our three seater. Tiredness seeped into my brain.
I sipped the bitter nectar and allowed myself to take in our new house. It was perfect; our furniture, kitchen utensils, everything. It all fitted in as though it was tailor made. James would be happy with this. He had to be.
I placed my empty cup on the oak coffee table in front of me and sat back for five minutes’ relaxation before I cooked dinner. I yawned and warm contentment spread across my chest.
The first thing I knew was when the living room door slammed shut. I sank backwards, cowering in anticipation. I must have fallen asleep. How did I let that happen? I stuttered as I said, “D-doesn’t it look good? I-I’ve worked hard today.”
James’ face was crimson, twisted into that of the devil. His eyes narrowed as he stared unfalteringly at me. I braced myself for the onslaught. I tried to remember the reasons why I hadn’t cooked for him yet, but I knew they would only make this worse. “Where the hell is my food?!” A rhetorical question, we both knew I would stay silent.
I flinched as James lifted his arm. The blow, when it came, was hot and it knocked me off the sofa. On my way to the floor, my cheek struck the coffee table. For a moment, I think I lost consciousness. I was brought round by two rough hands lifting me by the shoulders. “I want spaghetti bolognese. Now!”
I made my way to the kitchen, using the wall as a crutch. After a minute, I heard the bathroom door close and the water began to run for James’ shower. I sat at the table and examined the angry purple and red reminders of my sin. I took some painkillers. A stubborn tear escaped my eye and rolled over my damaged face. Some fresh start, I thought. He’s never going to change. My head was full of fuzz and my body prickled with fear. Despair seems a strong word to use, but it was overflowing my senses. I had no hope left.
Once I was less dizzy, I stood to make his dinner. My appetite was all gone, but I had to get his food. I wobbled as I stirred the meat, feeling sick as the chunks of raw flesh sizzled in the pan. Every part of me ached. I can’t do this, I muttered and glanced back at the newly opened bottle of Tylenol.
Then it happened. I wasn’t sure it was real at first. A gentle, motherly whisper in my ear, “You’ll be okay, Lorna. I’ll help you.” I figured the bang to my head must have knocked something loose. All the same, I felt a warmth radiate from my head to my toes. I felt safer than I’d felt in years.
I turned to see my protector, not sure I would find anyone there. But I did. A lady in her fifties wearing a plain brown trouser suit. Not what I had expected. Her eyes drew me towards her with invisible strings. I was filled with a desire to be held by her. It didn’t occur to me to be frightened. “Who are you?” I asked.
The lady smiled and said, “Oh, don’t you worry about that, my dear. Just know that you are strong and you will survive. I won’t let anything bad happen to you again.”
My browning meat hissed and I turned to stir it. “But how will you do that?” I said as I looked back to the lady. I gasped when I saw my husband filling her space. She had disappeared. “Where has she gone?” I asked, instantly regretting my tone.
“Where has who gone?” said James. He furrowed his brow as he waited for my answer.
“Oh. No-one,” I replied, “I think I’m a little spaced out on painkillers.”
James’ face blanched at the mention of my injuries. He always looked so hurt and broken afterwards. “Sweetie, I’m so sorry. I had such a stressful day at work. There was so much to catch up on from yesterday. All I wanted was to get home, eat my spaghetti and cuddle up to my wife on the sofa. I was even planning on christening our new bedroom. We still could, you know.”
He winked as he said this, as though we were an average couple with normal rules of contact. I believe he may have even thought that was true. I looked at him and saw a man who was out of control. He twitched as he spoke. He was wound up tightly, ready to spring into conflict at any time. I wanted to tell him I couldn’t do this any more. But this was not the right moment.
After a night of little sleep, I was exhausted. I made sure I was up in time to make James’ breakfast. I was just flipping the eggs when I heard a shout from upstairs. My body froze. Literally. I began to shiver. I was terrified. I normally had a few days without incidents after a bad fight. It seemed the rules were changing.
James burst into the kitchen, making a hole in the wall where the door handle battered it. He looked to be ten feet tall, his shoulders back and head determined to seek out my eyes. I remained fixed to a speck of dirt on the floor. “What the hell do you think you’re playing at?” he said, spit flying towards me in a shower of hate.
I desperately searched through my brain to find the source of my guilt. But there was nothing. “Come on, Lorna. The message on the bathroom mirror. Leave her alone.”
I snapped my head up. I had no idea what he was talking about. I opened my mouth to speak, but the words caught in the back of my throat. As he approached me, I noticed the belt in his hand. I heard myself begging for mercy, pleading for forgiveness. For something I hadn’t even done! It was pointless, he was too far gone. As he raised his hand, I realised my eyes had betrayed me again. My face was wet. I was weak. But what happened next stunned me.
I prepared my body for assault, only as James tried to strike me, the belt pulled itself upwards and wrapped around his neck. Then I saw her, the lady in the brown suit. She was pulling tighter and tighter. James’ head was becoming a tomato, his voice was growing smaller and smaller. It took me a few moments before I realised I should stop this apparition. “Stop,” I said, a little half-heartedly. “Enough now. Please, stop.”
As soon as I said this, she let go. With that, she disappeared again. James had a look in his eyes I’d never seen before; fear. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse and barely there. “What just happened here?” he said. I realised I didn’t know. It appeared to be supernatural but I’d never believed in ghosts. Other explanations, though? I couldn't find any.
James left for work, opting for a cravat rather than a tie. I thanked the lady and asked her who she was. But she didn’t show herself. Nevertheless, I noticed the house smelt of freshly baked bread and rosewater. I sniffed the entire house through and I couldn’t locate the source of the aromas. They were everywhere. I found myself speaking out loud to the lady (who I decided to call Maria) all through the day. I felt she could hear and see me, even though I couldn’t see her. But I could sense her protection, ever present.
For a few days, harmony seemed to have entered our house. James was caring and kind and I began to believe Maria had saved our marriage. Then I was late home from my zumba class one afternoon. The moment I walked through the front door, I knew I should have stayed away.
James was crashing around in the kitchen, swearing and slurring his words. Great. He’d been drinking. I walked towards the kitchen, silently asking Maria for help. I tentatively pushed open the door and was confronted by a mess of pots and pans. “What have you been doing?” I asked, without thinking.
James rounded on me, his eyes tiny pinpricks of black. “What have I been doing? Well, let’s see. I haven’t been cooking my dinner. Clearly. There are no good pans here. I haven’t been out gallivanting with my friends either, have I? That was you!” His face was so close to mine I could smell the spicy sausage he had for lunch. I tasted bile in the back of my throat. Maria, where are you?
The next few moments were watery and dreamlike. The edges around my memories blur and fade out. What I know is James would have killed me. I also know he is dead now. The lady in brown stopped him just as the metal of the knife was beginning to feel cold on my skin. I only bled a little. He bled a lot.
I look at the two police officers stood in my kitchen. I can see they don’t believe me. I can’t blame them. I wouldn't believe me either. But it’s true, I swear.
As the female officer is handcuffing me to take me away, I hear the other officer say how unlucky our house is. “The woman who lived here before was killed by her husband. Very sad case, he’d been beating her for years.”
“Excuse me, Officer,” I say, “What did she look like, did she have dark hair and brown eyes? Did she like to wear a lot of brown?”
“Actually, she did,” he says and I can see he is reconsidering my guilt. He is too scared to admit paranormal belief, though, and ushers me towards the police car.