Frank hides in the bedroom. He hears the distant conversation, the start and stop of it, he hears the children playing outside on a normal day after school. A normal day…”
by christine tothill
The way she talks, the way she nods, agreeing with him, accepting him. Her hair falls over her eyes and she sweeps it back all the time, emerging from her tent of safety – beneath the dark, lank hair.
He is talking quietly, but now and again, his voice becomes loud and she stiffens – leaving her bangs alone to hide her thoughts and eyes. Her hands on her lap. Still.
Her bruises are hidden by her top. The collar turned up and the silky scarf tied at throat. If you were to look very carefully you would be able to see the purple ends of bruises, the dark yellow of the stain around it but she moves away from him pulling her top straight, touching her collar. She positions herself on the edge of the chair.
Children play outside, sun shines through the net drapes, the breeze coming in through the window move the drapes from time to time and fresh air wafts over the man and woman while they talk, or not.
Her hands are a battle ground of scabs, dried blood and brighter dots standing up on the back of her hand. She pulls the sleeve over them, stretching it and she sighs as she looks at this man. He is a giant of a man with gentle eyes and a bald head. If she had met him in The Mall she would have been frightened, but here he is, in this apartment she shares with…
‘He’s mixed up,’ she explains to the stranger. ‘He is so in love with me.’ ‘He’s trying hard to manage his anger, he is truly.’ ‘We will get through it so we will.’ ‘Thank you for answering the call, great stuff, neat,’ she says, ‘my friend upstairs called you out.’ ‘When Frank comes back I sure will talk to him, make him calm and if not… give you a call.’
Frank hides in the bedroom. He hears the distant conversation, the start and stop of it, he hears the children playing outside on a normal day after school. A normal day. Normal.
Frank has a cough – a sort of habit – of clearing his throat. He is sipping beer, the only drink he has with him, to stop the urge to cough. He splutters and sneezes and waits to be found, but nothing happens, Letitia is talking now, he can hear her low voice, and occasionally a laugh, he supposes – a laugh. Why? A laugh? Frank wants the man he called to come and find him. ‘Come and find me you jerk,’ he whispers to himself. ‘Out the back, in the bedroom, come on.’
He undoes his shirt. A scar running down the centre of his chest, the healing time still to come, pus seeps out from between the stitches. He wipes the pus with his sleeve; it stings. He pulls the shirt off, his left arm hangs at a weird angle, it is swollen and throbs.
Letitia makes promises to the stranger. Spends time staring at him from her cool olive eyes. She continues playing with her bangs, shifting on the edge of the chair. After what seems hours to her she bids her farewells as he leaves the apartment. As soon as the door shuts she pushes her bangs back and pulls her hair up in her scarf, the one she has taken from her neck. She turns the lights off and the phones and makes her way to Frank.
(illustration: kurt eisenlohr)
Christine Tothill lives in Hampshire, England and writes short fiction. Her stories have been published in QWF, Scribble, Bright Light Cafe, Clover Books, Diddledog, Quiction and more. She is working on her novel and also plays the organ, if there is time left over. Many more of Christine’s stories can be found in the Vault of Smoke.