In the middle of the night Lizzie woke. Her eyes half opening, trying unsuccessfully to adjust to the dark. She moved her hand marginally – just enough to feel if he was still in the bed. He was. She expected he would be asleep after last nights drinking, but she listened hard to hear if his breathing was steady.
When she was sure he was asleep, she quietly slid out of the bed, padded round and felt for the familiar door handle.
She didn't go into the en-suite, instead walking soundlessly down the hall and downstairs to use that bathroom. Where she could turn the light on without fear of waking him. Her husband.
Looking in the mirror she felt slight relief – the damage wasn't as bad as she had thought it might be. A blue tinge on her left jaw line – easily disguised by make up. As she leaned over the bathroom basin she realized the pain was more in the ribs and on her right forearm.
With a deep sigh she stared hard at herself in the mirror again. Not really seeing, not really feeling, or even thinking. Just blank. Nothing. Over the past years of marriage she had conditioned herself to switch off. Not feel sorry for herself – she was beyond that. Not thinking to seek help. If she felt anything it was more self hatred. She was ugly, she was not worthy, she was dumb, she was stupid, she never did anything right. She got what she deserved. And what she'd got last night was a hiding.
She had mastered the art of soundlessness. She quietly went to one of the spare downstairs bedrooms and crawled into that bed to at least try to get a little bit of sleep.
Waking the next morning she glanced at the clock beside the bed. Nine o'clock. Oh please God let him have woken up and gone to work. Her ribs hurt like hell but she didn't think there was anything broken. Just suck it up. She pulled on a sweatshirt (she had spare clothes in this bedroom for times like this), and padded up the stairs again. Thank you God. He wasn't there. He must have gone. At last she could relax. It was Monday. Morning tea with Ginnie and Sarah at 10.30. An hour and a half to get ready. She turned the shower on – as hot as she could bear, and started her day.
She noticed the homeless man on the corner before she got out of her late model SRV. Rummaged round in her handbag and pulled out a $5 note that she dropped into his box as she walked past, barely glancing down, grimacing slightly at the unpleasant aroma that wafted up. And immediately forgot about him – more pleasant things on her mind.
Coffee with old friends. A chance to forget about life for an hour. A few laughs with people who care. But don't care too much. No one really knew what was going on in her life. That was how she liked it.
She walked tall, years of on-line yoga, and a ketogenic diet enhanced an already elegant posture, a complexion younger than her years. And she dressed fashionably, but neutrally – a pair of fitting black jeans, a ink blue/black top, low heels. She had long ago learned how to dress without drawing attention to herself.
Ginnie and Sarah were already there...