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Drama Suspense Contemporary

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

Like most people, a new year is a good time to take stock of one’s life and make some necessary changes. My dream is simple: to find a little peace amid the chaos. 


But if the world has taught me anything, it’s that dreams often come true in ways we could never imagine.


1.  GET ORGANIZED.


I spend the morning going through my belongings. Like most women, I have a closet full of shoes and various styles of clothing, many of which I haven’t touched in a while. Clearly, I have a hard time throwing things away. But since I can only take essentials, I really need to decide what’s important and what I can do without. On my bed, I lay out a meager pile of clothes along with some necessary toiletries, snap a photo with my phone, and put it all away. Then I go to each of the kids’ rooms and do the same for them. This way, when it’s time, I don’t have to think about it. I can just grab the stuff and go.


2.  MAKE A BUDGET AND STICK WITH IT.


For the past eleven months, I’ve been tucking away small amounts of money as I find it. Sometimes I find loose change on the counter. Sometimes I find a random twenty in a coat pocket. Sometimes I find it in his wallet after he’s passed out. A little bit at a time, so he doesn’t notice. Occasionally, I am able to make time to clean a house for one of the old ladies on the next block, and I stash all of it without him knowing I made any extra cash that day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it adds up.


3.  GET IN SHAPE.


I begin going to the YWCA three days a week to use the gym. It’s crowded and smells awful, but it’s cheap and comes with childcare. Twenty minutes on the elliptical, 15 minutes with the free weights, and about 10 minutes doing planks to build my core. I feel stronger every day. The last time he hit me, I vowed it would be the very last time. I’m not going to allow him to treat me like his personal punching bag anymore. I’m not going to allow the kids to see me with bruises and a limp anymore. I’ve already let it go on for far too long.


4.  FIND MORE TIME TO READ.


One afternoon in February, I drop by the local library and use the public computers to look up some information. I don’t dare to use the home computer. He often checks my browsing history, and I can’t trust that I’ve erased it properly. I learn that one in four women is impacted by domestic violence, which is the leading cause of homelessness for them. And I keep reading to find out that emergency shelters provide not only food and a place to stay, but they can offer counseling, laundry facilities, and even transportation. I jot down the 800 number for the National Domestic Abuse Hotline and add it to my phone contacts under the name “H. Tubman.” Somehow it feels appropriate.


5.  JOIN A CLUB.


There’s a support group for battered women that meets every Thursday in the basement of the Baptist church on Birch Street. I tell him I’m going to a yoga class and phones aren’t allowed, then shut it down so he can’t track me. When I walk in, there are four rows of white folding chairs facing a small podium. A woman steps up behind it to share her experience, then invites others to do the same. I sit in the back and just listen. Everyone’s story is a bit different, but they’re also all the same. No one speaks to me, yet I feel like I belong here. I think I’ll come back.


6.  SPEND MORE TIME WITH FAMILY.


It’s now April, and the kids are on spring break. I use this as an excuse to visit my mom. When I was a teenager, my mom and I rarely saw eye-to-eye. I blamed her for making my father walk out the door, and she blamed me for looking like him. I thought when I moved out the day I turned 18 things would get better between us, but that didn’t happen. The parade of men through her door is proof of how little she thinks of herself. I guess it’s no wonder she can’t see past her own needs to notice that I’m hurting here. Even her grandkids don’t warrant her attention. It becomes clear after a few days that she wants us to leave. Would it kill her to simply throw her arms around me and tell me everything is going to be okay? But after one particularly heated argument about some toys left in the living room, I pack the kids up and go back to him. I have no choice.


7.  LEARN A NEW SKILL OR HOBBY.


A middle-aged woman with four grown kids and an angry, alcoholic ex-husband has taken me under her wing. She has been going to the support group at the Baptist church on Birch Street for nearly three years and has heard every kind of story there is. She insists that I go with her to the shooting range and take a lesson or two. It turns out that I’m pretty good, and she rewards me by pressing a case that holds a small pistol into my hand. “Just in case,” she says and squeezes my shoulder. 


8.  GO SOMEWHERE I’VE NEVER BEEN.


He’s onto me. He knows that I was trying to hide out at my mother’s house. He seems to enjoy reminding me that he is in control and I have nowhere else to go. He couldn’t be more wrong. Just after dinner, he shoves me against the wall for asking him a question he didn’t want to answer, then lopes to the car and drives off to meet his friends for a few beers. Thirty minutes later, the kids and I are on the bus. The shelter isn’t as awful as I thought it was going to be. A woman with a kind smile and purple streaks in her hair completes my intake and gets us settled quickly. 


Later that evening, with my children asleep next to me on the bed, I lie back and stare at the ceiling. He’s gotta be home by now. I wonder what he thinks? Will he even bother to try to find me? Will he care about the kids missing school? No doubt he will throw all my shit in the trash once he realizes I am really gone. I check again to make sure my backpack is secure in the little safe in our room. I can’t lose what’s in there.


9.  REMOVE TOXIC PEOPLE FROM MY LIFE.


I left him four months and nine days ago. I’ve been tallying each day like a recovering alcoholic. A lot has changed since those first days at the shelter. We are now living in a small apartment near a busy shopping center where we blend in, and the kids are getting ready to start a new school in a few weeks. My new job in the property management office here comes with a discount on my rent. I bought a secondhand car from one of my mother’s “friends” who took pity on me when we visited to watch Fourth of July fireworks from her backyard. 


Four months and nine days. So much can happen in that amount of time.


But I can stop counting now. 


Today, they found his body. He was last seen leaving a bar after he groped some girl on the dance floor. The bouncers showed him to the door. His body was lying in the alley behind the building. A single gunshot wound to the head. 


Four months and nine days. He never did come looking for us.


10.  PAY IT FORWARD.


It’s been two years since all that happened. My kids are finally not frightened all the time. And I am sleeping better at night. I have a new job and am taking online classes to get my associate’s degree. My dream of finding peace did not work out how I had imagined, but it did work out. We are okay. I am okay.


But most importantly, every Thursday evening, I can be found in the basement of the Baptist church on Birch Street. Except that I no longer sit in the back on the white plastic chairs. I stand behind the podium and share my experience. Just like someone did for me.


Maybe I can make some other woman’s dream come true.

January 05, 2024 19:56

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4 comments

Martha Sanipe
15:40 Jan 12, 2024

I had the same thought as Martin about the wife possibly murdering her husband, but decided she was better than that and only read about it in the papers! I enjoyed the story and am glad your character and her kids came out on the other side (though not without some scars, I'm sure).

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Karen Kinley
16:27 Jan 12, 2024

Thank you so much for reading and commenting! As I said, I'm not sure if she did it either! I like that you think she is better than that. ♥

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Martin Harp
17:00 Jan 08, 2024

I really like this and in my head I am making the decision that the wife is the one who killed him cause she was obviously keeping tabs on him!

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Karen Kinley
17:16 Jan 08, 2024

Thanks so much for reading! And I'm so glad that you thought about whether or not she killed him! I honestly don't know if she did. I wanted to leave it open to interpretation.

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