She looked around her cramped one bedroom apartment. Dark stains ran across the ceiling where the roof had leaked – or rather where it still leaked on rainy days. The smell of damp gym socks hung faintly in the air. Her landlord refused to take care of the mold growing near the entry door. Light filtered dully through the dirty windows lending a brown hue to the room.
She sat on the second-hand sofa she had picked up on sale at Salvation Army. Rusty springs creaked under her weight, even though she’d lost nearly 10 pounds since she moved in. Weighing 120 at 5’ 6” she couldn’t afford to lose more. A butterfly could land on these cushions and still sound like a ghost rattling chains, she thought. The fabric under her bare leg felt like burlap as she moved unconsciously away from the brown splotch that seemed to grow bigger of its own accord. Soon it would be impossible to avoid.
She rested a foot on the battered coffee table she’d rescued from the dumpster. One of the wobbly legs was shorter than the others but she kind of enjoyed rocking the table back and forth. It soothed her frazzled nerves. Leaning her head back and closing her eyes she pushed it away, then let it fall toward her. Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall. Focused on the repetitive movement she almost missed the mouse that scurried inside the wall behind her head.
A few weeks ago she would have screamed at just the thought of those beady-eyed creatures. Now when they crossed her path she didn’t even flinch. For the most part they went their own way. The exception, of course, was the kitchen. It took a while but she learned how to keep what little food she had from her tiny roommates. Now she opted for cans and jars mostly. She kept cereal and bread in the fridge. Since the refrigerator was barely cooler than the rest of the apartment she never bothered to buy milk or yogurt so there was plenty of space and the mice couldn’t get to them there.
Push, fall, push, fall. Over and over she rocked the table. This is better? she wondered to herself. Were things really so bad?
The answer was yes. Not just a regular yes…but a resounding YES! As bad as her living conditions may be her previous situation was worse. Much worse.
She may have been living in a beautiful home with expensive furniture, but it wasn’t hers. She had been a slave. Sure, the word they used for it was “wife,” but if the truth were told she had been treated no better than the poor souls who had fought for so many years to gain freedom. Only she didn’t have Dr. King on her side.
Because her skin bore no visible scars they had said it wasn’t abuse. For years she had believed them. “He’s just joking,” they’d say when she was hurt by his cruel criticism. They didn’t know him like she did.
They didn’t see what he would do when he came home after she had spent all day cleaning his beloved house and his cherished possessions. They didn’t know that he would look for any tiny crumb, any speck of dirt, any excuse to find fault. And then he would destroy all she had done. He would throw knickknacks on the floor – only hers of course, never his – crushing them beneath his heavy boots. He would rip pages from her favorite books and scatter them around the room.
She had learned to ensure the trash had been taken to the neighbors’ can as on more than one occasion he had dumped trash over her glistening kitchen floor. She thought she had won when she began taking the trash out every day before he got home. But he wouldn’t let her get the best of him. Oh no, he simply went out to the trashcan and brought it inside, pouring out coffee grounds and half eaten food.
But if it were at the neighbors’ there was nothing he could do.
In front of everyone else he was charming, the perfect husband. Perhaps a little demanding but that was to be expected since she didn’t work. After a long day at the office didn’t he deserve to have supper waiting for him? It really was the least she could do. She was fortunate he wanted to support her. She had everything anyone could ever want! That’s what they told her and she believed them.
Her life was in a shambles but they told her it was paradise. Her husband was ruthless but they called it love.
Push, fall, push, fall, push, fall. She rocked the table faster as she remembered the night she told him she wanted a divorce. It was the first time he actually lifted a hand to her. She was sure he was going to strike. She almost hoped he would. At least then there would be proof. But he knew that too.
In the end he’d told her to go, to get out of his house. It didn’t matter that she had spent 17 years cooking and cleaning for him. It was irrelevant that he wouldn’t let her work because he wanted her at his beck and call. The house, and everything in it, belonged to him. She had nothing.
“Go sponge off someone else,” he’d shouted as she walked down the driveway.
She almost turned back. Where could she go? But she knew it was too late.
She had no friends to turn to – he hadn’t allowed her to have friends of her own. She had no money. She hadn’t worked in almost 20 years. She was alone and penniless. What had she been thinking?
The first night she spent alone, shivering under a bridge in spite of the heat, praying for morning to come. Once it did she set out to find a job – any job. She applied everywhere, telling them her phone wasn’t working and she’d be back to schedule an interview. Within a few days she had been hired at a local diner. Although she was still sleeping outside she kept herself clean, using a public bathroom in the park when no one was around.
She kept her tips in a tin can she buried under a rock. After she cashed her paycheck she added that as well. Slowly she saved enough to move into her crappy apartment. Gradually she was rebuilding her life.
Push, fall, push, fall. Suddenly the table crashed to the ground as short leg broke off completely. It doesn’t matter. I’ll get a new one, she thought. She pushed it away and stood. It was time to get to work.
This post is in response to the daily writing prompt Shambles.