"I'm so sorry. This isn't me. It won't happen again."
My hand shakes, holding the frozen pea bag to my cheek, my response silenced by fear. I back away with snail slowness, my eyes trained upon him.
In the distance, my ears capture my sister's indignant gasp.
"I nnnneed you to go, nnnow."
My free arm gestures like a game show hostess towards the front door.
"Sheila, stay out of this — this is between my wife and me."
"Fred, it isn't anymore, not that it should have been happening at all. GO! Leave my house right now or I will call the police."
"You are such an absolute bitch. I clearly chose the better sister when I married you, Patsy."
"Fred, just go, nnnow."
"Patsy, come home with me where you belong."
I shrink away from his extended hand, shaking my head, my eyes staring at my feet. Fear drapes my body, stifling my breath, my stomach is nauseous.
Time ticks with turtle speed. Icy water drips down my bent elbow, a tiny pond forming at my feet. Aching ranges from my head to my neck across my shoulders sliding my spine spiralling to my soles.
Sheila's arms surround me, bracing me from falling, opening the gates, releasing a wave of tears, emotion roiling through my system.
My lips draw up in a curve. I hug my arms about my chest, squeezing and comforting myself. Leaning against the locked apartment door, my eyes survey the boxed bits and pieces of my new life.
Padding barefoot past the piled boxes, I step into the freshly painted main room, proud of the restful Sapphire Blue walls, my first project for my new home, something just for me.
Sheila's family room sofa reclines along the wall facing the picture window. In my mind, I imagine the couch covered in a different fabric, instead of her bleak grey, too much like Fred's preferred dour colours.
BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ
I stand still as a statue, my heart hammering in my head, holding my breath. Anxiety and alarm accessorize my demeanour.
Tip-toeing to the kitchen, my fingertips turn over the iPhone, a message about a missed call radiating from the screen. Angry tears trickle from my eyes. I scrunch up my eyelids willing this weakness to leave.
My joyful balloon now deflated, I trudge, subdued as I unpack, arrange, invite order into this space.
Hot, sweaty with my efforts, my skin celebrates under the sting of the shower, washing away worries, weariness, welcoming winsomeness. . Dressed in coziness from top to toes, I slip into the kitchen, pouring myself a generous goblet of Chardonnay, a solitary celebration of this fresh start.
I sink onto the sofa, curling my feet under my bum, soft jazz playing, made more joyful by the fact that Fred refused to listen to any music save heavy metal-rock. Soft snow sifts down sprinkling dusty whiteness over the trees, streetlights, cars, people on the sidewalk.
Beneath the streetlight standing as if amid my window, one figure waits, staring at my building, unblinking. A man, whose coat, hat, stance scream Fred.
My feet pound as I sprint to the window. I pull the draperies tight, still feeling the power of his glare. I slide to the floor, my knees tight to my breasts, my head bowed, unbidden tears wetting my cheeks.
I extinguish the lights, tidying up in the dim light, before checking, rechecking the deadbolts. As my head meets my pillow, fatigue fights with fear, winning this battle. I lie rigid, listening, alert.
Sunshine tickles my closed lids. I sigh a deep breath, grateful for this new day.
My nose sniffs perking coffee. My mind sends a special thanks to Sheila for the house-warming gift. With tentative steps, I approach the drawn curtains; peering out through the slit, spying down onto the sidewalk. It is empty. Snow lies white and clean, glistening in the cold sunshine.
A cape of calm encircles me as I key the deadbolts locked, my safety sustained by the solid metal door of my apartment.
BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ BUZZ
This time a voicemail tempts me to investigate. With tremulous fingertips, I tap in my passcode, the speaker sharing aloud.
"Patsy, I miss you. I'm so sorry. It's such a good sign that you haven't changed your cell phone number. I'm waiting for you. I watching out for you. You are MINE! You are my wife. You should be home with ME!"
With a seven, his words vanish from my phone. How they echo in my mind, in my muscles, strangling my breath, tensing my tendons.
Splashing cooling water on my burning face, my bruises have transformed into purples and yellows, more easily hidden under concealer.
"Sheila, it's Patsy."
"My dear, I'd know your voice, little sister."
"He's calling. Left a message this time. I think he's figured out where I live."
"Patsy, what are YOU going to do about this?"
"I'm so scared."
"Of course you are, that's entirely sensible. What are YOU going to do for YOU?"
"I DID leave him."
"Okay… make it official."
"Patsy, call me when you're ready, I'll accompany you. Love you."
As the moon rises, the windows let the moonbeams dance across my floor. I peer onto the sidewalk, hidden from view. A man, that same man, stands staring, silently, mocking me, again.
With a deep, belly breath, I feel my lungs full of resolve, to confront, to move on, to …
My finger fly, lacing my boots, buttoning my coat, slapping a touque on my hair. I slide my phone, set it on record in one pocket. The click of the door jars my emotions to taut attention.
The elevator descends, the doors whirring open onto the stark foyer, a bare bulb swinging overhead. Pulling my shoulders back, lacing my keys between my fingers, my elbow slaps the automatic door opener.
Fred crosses the empty street, hands in his pockets, closer and closer to me, where I remain, below the portico. Snow flies onto my face, stinging with cold sharpness.
Fred's hand shoots out, his fingers like a claw. I jump back.
The snow creaks with our steps: me backward, him forward, a weird wonky dance that finds us in the middle of the street.
Snow muffles the sounds, cocooning us in a sphere of stillness.
"Come home where you belong. Stop being so silly. This is no different that what my ma and pa had. It was okay for them; it's okay for me."
The entry door handles slam into my back. I can withdraw no further.
With both hands, he grabs my upper arms, pulling me towards the street, my feet dragging a pathway, no voice coming from my throat.
Fred wholly focuses on my face. I see the bus.