weak tea and Merlot (not together)
When I am brought home, Tim has been informed about the hostage situation at the bank; warned, perhaps, about my fragile state.
Through the kitchen window I watch the taillights of the police car. Behind me, Tim asks, ‘Darling, are you alright?’
He hands me a cup of tea.
‘I put them to bed an hour ago. They were restless because you weren’t here.’
His face looks drawn and ashen. ‘I heard about it on the radio. I called the police right away and told them you were in there. What happened?’
I sip my tea, too tired to answer.
‘The officer said two robbers took hostages. Said we were lucky there was only one customer in the bank. I told him where to stuff his luck,’ he continues savagely. ‘Did they hurt you?’
He holds my hand in his.
‘It’s alright. We’ll talk tomorrow.’ My eyes flit to his. ‘Or whenever you feel ready.’
He hugs me until it hurts.
‘I’m relieved that you’re home safe and sound, you know? Just happy you’re here.’ His voice trembles. My heart does too.
In bed, I stare at the ceiling. Tim tries to be supportive and stay awake with me. He soon slips into oblivion, and his features soften on the pillow. Envious, I watch him in the light that seeps through the blinds from the street.
Just before daybreak, I succumb to exhaustion. I sleep for an hour before I scream myself awake and frighten the girls in the adjoining room.
I hear Tim rush upstairs and calm Emma and Jade.
When I enter the kitchen, he’s already throwing out the toast which got burnt while he was getting the girls to brush their teeth, and dress.
He gives me a peck on the cheek. ‘I’ll take the girls out after breakfast if you’d like to go back to sleep.’
‘I don’t think I’ll be able to avoid the nightmares, anyway.’
His gaze is offering to listen if I’m ready to talk, but I avert my eyes.
When he puts the plate with eggs and sausages in front of me, he hugs me around my shoulders. ‘Love you, Kate.’
I caress his hand over my heart and close my eyes. He and the girls were all I thought about while the madmen rampaged through the bank, threatening, shooting at the ceiling. I jump at the memory. I’m on my feet before I realize the loud bang wasn’t a rifle shot but the kitchen door which slipped out of Jade’s hand.
‘Can’t you be more careful?’ When Jade’s face crumples, I hate this angry person who shouts.
Tim looks from Jade to me and back, probably trying to decide whom to calm first.
‘It’s okay, Jay. Mom’s just tired.’ He carries the three-year-old to her chair. Emma skips across the room behind them, oblivious of the tension in the air.
‘Hop up,’ he tells Emma as she climbs her chair. ‘For you two, princesses, I made pancakes. Raspberry or strawberry?’ Tim holds up two jars of marmalade and the girls’ eyes soften with craving as they try to make the difficult choice.
I stand by the table, watching Tim effortlessly distract Jade from her fright, throwing me a worried glance over the kids’ heads. I look out the sunlit window which feels like a portal out of the effort that everyday life seems to have suddenly become.
My hands shake as I sit down to eat, avoiding everyone’s eyes. I feel guilty for letting my twitchiness get the best of me in front of my daughters and angry that I’m not allowed to express my emotions.
My fork slips and clatters to the tiles, and I jolt again. I pick it up and catch Jade’s stare. I expect her reproach – ‘Mommy, can’t you be more careful?’ – but I see only the child’s delight while munching on her huge pancake. So easily forgotten and forgiven. If only.
That evening I tell Tim how I slipped into the bank just before closing hour. The tellers were closing up their windows, except for a young girl with her dark hair ends dyed bright red. I tell him how at first I thought I found myself in a film when two masked men entered. One of them pointed his rifle at me and I raised my hands without him having to ask. I still feel stupid for that.
Tim listens and tries to understand what I’ve been through. When we go to bed, I turn my back to him and he doesn’t try to reach me.
He wakes me at five a.m. when I’m sweating and tossing in a nightmare, hearing the teller scream when threatened by the gun.
Giving up on sleep, I prepare breakfast instead. By the time the others wake up, the grease on the bacon has curdled, but they eat it anyway.
We go for a walk down to the beach where the girls gather stones and seashells. It’s warm and humid but I can’t bear to take off my cardigan. Soft as it is, it feels like armour to my shattered self. Tim looks at me with questioning eyes but doesn’t comment.
Jade wants me to read them a story before bed. ‘The one about pirates!’ Emma claps and jumps on the couch. ‘Yes! Pirates and parrots!’
‘No, no pirates tonight. Let’s read something nice and happy,’ I say because I can’t stand to read about guns, even picture book ones. ‘How about Cinderella?’
Jade’s face falls and Emma starts to protest, but I sit them down on either side of me and start reading with a soft voice so they have to calm down if they want to hear the story.
After two days, this is the first night I put the girls to bed. When I manage to extricate myself from their hugs, I join Tim in the living room watching Wallander on the telly. The wine he serves relaxes me, and I refuse Tim’s suggestion to change channels if I don’t feel like watching a police drama. I didn’t think of the robbery for hours at a time today. But the fear is not gone; it is only metamorphosing into anger.
During commercials, he turns to me, slowly, sleepily.
‘You look relaxed,’ he says. I know he felt lost when he couldn’t get me to talk to him. We are a sharing couple. Or we were until I was taken hostage.
‘I feel better,’ I whisper and kiss him. He feels warm, familiar, winy. Somehow that makes me feel threatened. But the feeling vanishes as he cups my face in his soft illustrator’s palms.
‘I was out of my mind when I heard about the robbery.’ His voice falters. ‘You mean the life to me.’
‘I’m sorry I scared you, Tim.’
Our kiss is desperate, re-connecting us after too long. He pulls at my cardigan and the sleeves slip down my arms. My skin breaks out in gooseflesh despite the warm room.
‘Tim …’ I mumble.
He keeps kissing me, and my hesitation dissolves. But when his hand reaches to unzip my jeans, I freeze.
‘What is it?’
‘Nothing. Let’s go upstairs.’
Tim turns on the light in the bedroom, sweeps me up and carries me to the bed. Breath catches in my throat when he drops me on top of the bedspread and covers me with his heavy body. He’s missed me. I can feel it in the way his hand pulls the t-shirt up my back resolutely. Panic rises in my throat at the intimacy, and I taste the heavy acid of the Merlot at the back of my mouth.
‘No, Tim …’
‘But we need to get you undressed, Kate.’ He chuckles into my neck and licks the vein pulsing frantically.
‘Stop.’ I try to push him away.
He still thinks I’m joking.
When I push him again, he collapses off me.
‘Just leave me alone!’
‘Good God, Kate! What’s wrong?’
I cower by the headboard, hugging my knees, pulling the t-shirt as low as it will go. After two days, I finally cry, but I don’t feel relieved, only more terrified.
When he lifts my chin to look at my face, I pull away.
‘Tell me what’s wrong, love,’ he pleads on his knees.
‘What’s wrong, Daddy?’ comes like an echo from the dishevelled, sleepy Emma at the bedroom door.
I see and hear her, but the images can’t penetrate through to me. I’m so angry, so frightened and disgusted, my vision is blurry and there’s ringing in my ears.
‘Go to bed, honey, I’ll come tuck you in in a minute,’ Tim reassures the girl.
The doorknob rattles when she lets go of the door and tiptoes back to her warm bed.
Tim gathers me in his arms and cuddles me as though I were the girl who just got woken up in the middle of the night.
‘You’re home, you’re safe.’
I whimper in his chest and shake my head.
‘What is it then? What didn’t you tell me?’
Him knowing me so well makes me wail aloud. I clutch at him and let him rock me. I keep whispering, ‘I’m sorry,’ but he shushes me.
I know it will be in the papers, if it hasn’t been already. But that’s the outside world. This here, this is my world. The thought of my husband and daughters thinking less of me punches me with a searing pain just underneath my collar bone.
‘I held the gun,’ I mumble into his chest.
‘He made me point the gun at the girl. She was so young, Tim. Pretty, all smiles. But then she cried like a baby.’
Tim groans and I feel the rumble like an earthquake under his ribs.
‘I was shaking so hard I was terrified the gun would go off. That made me shake harder.’ I wipe my eyes with his shirt, but the tears keep coming.
‘I hold the gun in my dreams every time I close my eyes.’
I pull away from Tim. I can’t bear the contact. ‘Her eyes were like Emma’s, huge and warm. I could’ve killed her.’
He pulls me into a hug although I resist. ‘Your life depended on it, Kate. You had no choice. Imagine what the girls and I would do if you hadn’t come home on Friday. Think about that, think about the girls. You returned safe and sound to them. And that girl is okay, too. Probably terrified but unharmed.’
I understand his reasoning. But there are parts of me which know he is wrong. I had a choice.
‘I hate those men.’ Terror still churns in my belly, but it seems with every breath a mouthful of it is released into air where it oxidizes and fizzles into mist.
Tim goes to take care of Emma, while I climb under the covers and try to calm down.
‘She was fast asleep, sitting against the headboard. She didn’t need me to tell her there were no monsters under her bed this time,’ he says when he returns.
The mattress dips as he climbs in. ‘Feel better?’
‘Yeah,’ I say softly. ‘You were great, taking care of the girls. And of me. Thank you.’
He gathers me to him and tucks the covers in around me. I feel safe, or a part of me does anyway. Another part which will keep me awake at night wonders whether I’d have been able to pull the trigger had the robber ordered me to. I might claim it would’ve been for my daughters’ sake because they need their mother, but that would’ve been a lie. I would’ve done it for my sake. Selfish monsters don’t skulk under beds; they hide comfortably snuggled in clean sheets.
About the author
Brigita Orel has published short stories and poems in numerous literary magazines. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She currently studies creative writing at Swansea University. www.bsoulflowers.blogspot.com