The pain only hurts for a little while — then you become numb. On her back, the bedsheets rumbled and stained; Lisa stared at ceiling, waiting for him to finish. Greasy bloated face hanging above her; blubbery white flesh rippled like an enormous sea mammal. Grunting, sweat dripping on her, Gary groaned loudly.
She hoped Jayden didn’t hear anything; he’s sleeping in the other bedroom. She’d just tucked him in under his choo-choo train blanket; his tiny body in pirate pjs, with whispered “I love you’s” and an army of teddy bears to protect him. Good night, sleep tight.
Gary rolled over, grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, already staring at a late night talk show. On his night table, a half empty whisky glass sat with an ice cube melting; pooling coolness into amber liquid.
Lisa stood up, adjusting her nightshirt. “Honey, you wanna another drink?”
“Sure.” He nodded, eyes not moving from the TV. Flickering light and laughter filled the room; Gary snorted at a joke.
In the kitchen, ice clinked loudly into the glass. Lisa waited, listening. Canned laughter echoed through the apartment.
It’s a change from the yelling. Last night one of the neighbours heard them fighting again and called the cops. It’s the fifth time this month. Two officers stood in the doorway, asking questions, taking notes. Gary glowered at them. Just an argument, he said.
Lisa kept her face turned in profile, her arms wrapped around Jayden; smoothing his hair, nodding at the officers. Sorry about that, things got carried away.
Jayden’s toy cars were still scattered across the living room; he sobbed noiselessly, face pressed against her belly.
Once the officers left, Gary continued. Menacing. Silently cornering her, staring. Challenging her to do something. She tried to evade him – making up excuses to go in the kitchen, the bathroom. Afraid to leave Jayden alone with him.
That night she took a long time tucking Jayden into bed, reading stories, smoothing his hair. Arranged the teddy bear army just so. She pulled the blankets up and turned out the light, closing the door behind her.
As Lisa stepped out of Jayden’s bedroom, she startled to see a looming figure blocking the tiny hallway.
In the dim light she didn’t see it coming. Crack, exploding stars. Searing pain. Nausea. Reeling, she clutched the wall for support.
“That’ll teach ya,” Gary whispered. He turned and shut the door of their shared bedroom; canned laughter from late night television drifted from beneath the closed door.
Lisa crept to the living room. Collapsing onto the sofa, nauseous and disoriented, she stared at the rug. Moonlight streaked across cheap polyester; bought on sale when she first moved in.
Lisa rubbed her face, wondering if she should ice it. There was still a bag of peas in the freezer. She got off easy this time; he’s done much worse.
That was yesterday. Tonight things were very different.
Lisa reached into her purse and slid out a small plastic bottle from the pharmacy, covered with bright orange and yellow warning stickers. Bold print statements of Do not and This medication will. She tipped out a couple pills.
It was from her last trip to the doctor, where she cried in his office and said how stressed she was and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. In tight fitted jeans and a low cut top, she tossed her hair, and pleaded for help.
The doctor reached out to touch her shoulder, then thought better of it; instead he pulled out his prescription pad. Try this, it should help you sleep.
Lisa got the prescription filled at the pharmacy that was just down the street from the bank. How convenient, she thought as she withdrew another hundred from the ATM. Cash was much easier to deal with.
The money was now nestled in the bottom of her purse with another couple grand that was carefully squirrelled away. All of her tips. Cash advances here, bounced rent cheques there, bit by bit she built up her nest egg. The missed rent payment notices were shredded and tossed down the garbage chute with the overdue utility notices. Gary had no idea they were just days away from eviction.
When he came home with a winning Pro-Line ticket, she knew this was it; that ticket alone’s worth five grand. She eased it out of his wallet after the second drink and smiled. It’d be enough to keep her and Jayden going until they get back on their feet again. All wrapped up in a maxi pad wrapper and buried under a couple tampons.
Walking into the bedroom, she glanced Gary, naked and sprawling across the bed, and handed him the drink. “Here you go, hon.”
He patted the bed beside himself. Glass in hand, eyes glued to the TV; he chuckled along with the laugh track.
Lisa regarded him, bloated belly and limp penis. A big fat fucker, and a total asshole. How she ended up with this guy, she didn’t know. He faked her out, like he’d conned so many others.
Well, she was done with this shit.
But honestly, he wasn’t that bad tonight, helping her clear dishes in the tiny kitchen, he swatted her ass and laughed too loudly; just like he used to. He hung around while she put plates away, grinning and standing in front of her, then stood watching her from the doorway. Played with her keys and pretended to wear her purse – what a goof.
She ignored him, he was interested and obviously in a good mood, and that was all that mattered.
Lisa sat down on the bed, propped up by pillows and flipped through a novel without reading anything. She waited as canned laughter was soon drowned out by snoring.
Low rumbling snore, he paused, gasping, then resumed snoring. A bloated sea creature beached on the bed; she watched disinterestedly as his chest rises and falls in a long familiar rhythm.
She considered pressing the pillow to his face, and holding it until his chest stopped moving. Her arms straining as she held the worn pillow, he might simply wheeze and gasp, then slowly drift into unconsciousness, breathing his own toxic fumes. If she was lucky, death would soon follow. As she fingered the edge of the pillow, she thought better of it. Gary’d probably jolt awake, suddenly alerted and sitting up, ready for a fight.
And then she’d be in trouble.
Canned laughter continued on the late night talk show; Lisa reached over and turned up the volume on the remote, slightly. Just enough to drown out any other noise.
Gary still lay sprawled across the bed, sheets twisted around his pasty legs.
She dressed quickly, watching his chest rise and fall, snores rattling, punctured by pauses and gasps. Lame excuse in her mind about going out for milk if he wakes up.
He snorted, emitting rapid fire fart noises; a sulphurous stench filled the air. His head lolled sideways.
This was it – he wasn’t waking up anytime soon.
She was nearly gone. This time would be different. A thrill of excitement struck her. This was it. They were gone and then –
Lisa walked out of the bedroom, closing the door behind her. Afraid to turn on a light, she felt her way through the tiny hall, and stood in front of Jayden’s door.
Idly, she wondered if the pills would work on Gary. He’s a big guy, maybe she should have given more. He’s faked her out before. That time she said she needed more smokes. He didn’t really believe it, even when she came back with a new carton. She got another black eye that night.
She stood, listening for Gary’s rumblings; snores and gasps continued steadily – and then a pause.
Lisa stood frozen – if he woke now –
Choking down panic, she shook her head. She had to hurry. Focus. Sliding open Jayden’s door, she crept across his bedroom floor and gently shook his tiny frame. Small animal surrounded by teddy bears, the child curled up in a ball, snuggling further under the blanket and mewed in protest.
“C’mon honey, wake up now. We have to go.”
Stretching, Jayden yawned, puzzled. “What?” His voice rang too loud in the apartment.
“Quiet,” she hissed, and reached under the bed, pulling out a shopping bag; she grabbed a couple teddy bears and shoved them inside.
His eyes widened. “No, I want them all.”
“No – we talked about this.” And they did, through guarded whispers when Garry wasn’t around. Swearing the child to secrecy.
“My teddy bears –”
Lisa hissed, “No, we don’t have room. And I’ll buy you new ones.”
“I don’t want new ones. I want all my own.” Tears threatened.
“No, we’ll just take these honey,” she glanced around. “Where’s Mr. Stuffy?”
“I don’t know,” he wailed. “I can’t leave him.”
“Shh…” Lisa glanced back at the bedroom door. Snoring continued uneventfully. “Hush, sugar, look, Mommy’ll help you.” She crammed another stuffed animal into the bag. “That’s three.”
“But Mr. Stuffy –”
“Here sweetie, look. We’ll take two more. And now you have to get dressed.” Wheedling, Lisa lifted the child out of bed, and propped him standing beside it. He wobbled sleepily as she pulled a sweatshirt over his pyjama top.
“I have to pee.”
She glanced back at the bedroom door, snores drifted down the hallway; pause – gasp, and then, slowly resuming steady rhythm. Lisa whispered fiercely, “Ok, hurry, be quiet, don’t wake him up.”
“Why?” the child’s automatic question was startlingly loud.
She grabbed his arm, twisting him toward the bathroom, her fingers digging into soft flesh. “Just go.”
“Ow, you’re hurting me.”
“Shh…” she hissed again.
Bag of teddy bears on her arm, Lisa stood in front of their bedroom door, listening to steady snoring with occasional gasps. If Gary woke up now –
The tinkle of little boy pee interrupted her thoughts. Jayden stood sleepily in front of the toilet, pee spattered all over the seat, a pull-up diaper around his knees. Lost in dreamland.
“C’mon,” she hissed. “Let me help you.”
Jayden stood yawning while she stripped off his pyjamas and put underwear and sweatpants on him. She tugged on socks, and lead him to the front door.
“Where are –” Jayden started.
“Shh…” Lisa raised a finger to her lips and then lifted his feet into running shoes.
Her car keys and oversized purse waited on their respective hooks in the foyer. She grabbed them, muffling jingling keys. Faint late night infomercial sales pitches whispered from behind the closed bedroom door; she pictured Gary, naked and snoring amid a sulphuric stench, oblivious to the limited time offers rattling on a loop.
And if you act now, there’s an added bonus – for first time customers only–
Opening the front door, Lisa guided Jayden into the long hallway. Worn carpet and rows of doors glowed under harsh fluorescent lighting; faint smell of boiled hot dogs filled the air. Exit signs flicker at each end of the hall. Jayden stood blinking. “Where –” he started.
Lisa held her finger to her lips.
She locked the apartment door, laughing at herself for such security measures. It won’t matter now. Pulling Jayden by the hand, car keys jingling and purse flapping, they sped down the hallway with teddy bears in tow. Passing by the closed doors of other apartments; brown rectangular sentries, each dotted with a brass door knob, she prayed they didn’t open. It was the middle of the night, but what the neighbours don’t know –
Her heart racing, Lisa pressed the elevator button. Going down. Waiting for an eternity, all the while glancing back at the apartment door. If she heard the telltale click and slide of the deadbolt now –
They were nearly gone. She resisted the urge to reach into her purse, to check once again to make sure everything was still there; her fingers seeking the reassuring weight of the wad of cash, the sharp outline of the Pro-Line ticket.
With a couple grand, and now the ticket, they’d go far; get a place of their own, she wouldn’t have to shack up with a loser again –
The elevator doors slid open, thankfully empty. They stepped inside, doors sliding shut behind them.
Lisa breathed a sigh of relief; Jayden looked up puzzled.
Safe inside the elevator, Lisa slid her hand inside her purse, searching for the wrapped bundle of cash. Checking once more, just to make sure.
Nothing but the crinkle of an empty maxipad wrapper.
Jayden shifted beside her, “Mommy, what’s –”
“Just give me a minute.”
Her fingers sought the glossy ticket. Nothing.
No – no –
Hot metal taste of panic filled her mouth. She opened the bag, fumbling in its depths, shoving past spare underwear and a balled up t-shirt. Nothing, but a small stuffed animal.
Jayden looked up at her. “Hey – that’s Mr. Stuffy.”
Her eyes met his. They were gone.
Liz McAdams is a short (again, we’re talking height, not word count), sharp writer living in the wilds of Canada. Her work appears on Yellow Mama, Spelk, Near to the Knuckle, Shotgun Honey and other places around the web. You can check her out at https://lizmcadams.wordpress.com/