Contest #256 winner 🏆

Injury Time

Submitted into Contest #256 in response to: Write about a moment of defeat.... view prompt

91 comments

Drama Contemporary Sad

This story contains sensitive content

Trigger warning: Domestic abuse, rape


Thalia wipes down the pristine kitchen countertops, impatient for the game to start. She glances at the clock, then her eye catches the pile of bills on the table. The radio blares pre-match commentary filled with praise for the footballers. She turns down the volume so it won’t wake little Gabbi. 

She takes a seat at the kitchen table with a sigh. Another hard shift at the hospital is behind her, but it was always worth it in the end. Today, an elderly woman hugged her and gave her a peppermint. “As a thank you for being so kind, my dear,” she had said. 

The commentator’s voice interrupts her thoughts: “There’s Kieran Trippier now, one of England’s finest, earning every bit of his £50,000 a week!” Thalia’s grip tightens on the cloth, her lips curling into a bitter smile. Fifty thousand a week. She doesn’t even get that much in a year. She starts scrubbing the table, imagining what she could do with just a fraction of that money — pay all the bills, build up her savings, buy that Nintendo Gabbi’s always nagging about. 

How ridiculous for grown men to obsess over other grown men chasing after a ball for hours. “Why does the world value entertainment above healing and care, or basically anything else?” she said to Mark once. She won’t make that mistake again. “It’s not just a game!” he had screamed. 

“Tonight, all eyes of the football world fall upon the Luzhniki Stadium as Croatia and England battle for the privilege of playing France in the 2018 FIFA World Cup final,” the commentator announces.

Mark is watching the game with his mates at the pub, as usual. His absence looms over the quiet house. She glances at the door with dread — so much depends on the outcome of this game. 

During England’s first game in the group stages, Thalia secretly hoped they would lose. The earlier they exited, the better — up to a point. The short-term pain would be much easier to bear than the tension of a prolonged tournament. She almost got her wish. While they sailed through the group stage, they nearly lost against Colombia in the Round of 16. The longer the tournament went on, the more was at stake and the riskier it became. Having made it to the semi-final, losing wasn’t an option anymore. 

“Come on boys, you gotta bring it home, or else—,” she mutters. 

“And we’re under way in Moscow!”

She can’t manage to sit still for long. She gets up, paces the room, and then starts doing the dishes. The sound of the running water and clinking dishes provides a distraction, but the commentator’s voice and crowd’s cheers are constant reminders of what’s on the line.

“GOALLLLLLLLLL!” the commentator screams and Thalia almost drops the cup she’s washing. England has scored only five minutes into the game, with Kieran Trippier curling his free kick neatly into the corner. Maybe he deserves his 50k after all. She sighs out in relief and continues washing. 

Though England is ahead, the margin is wafer slim. Thalia knows all too well how quickly fortunes can change. She finishes the dishes and looks around to see what she can do next to keep her hands busy. She grabs a broom and starts sweeping the floor. 

Less than 30 minutes into the game, the crowd goes wild again. Not a goal, but it should have been. Harry Kane couldn’t capitalise on his two chances at doubling England’s lead. Only two minutes later, Croatia has a chance to equalise. The goalie saves it, and the game remains on a knife’s edge; just one mistake can change everything. A few more chances close out the half, with England clinging to a 1-0 lead. 

“Out of the 18 teams leading at half-time in a World Cup semi-final, all but one have gone on to win,” the commentator says during the break. 

“Jesus, don’t jinx them, man,” Thalia whispers. “Don’t fail me now, lads.”

Thalia recalls the nerve-wracking game against Colombia. She can still hear every whistle and see each missed opportunity. The game had gone to penalties, each shot sending her heart rate soaring. They had won in the end, but only just. 

When Mark came home from the pub hours after the match, Thalia was already in bed but couldn’t sleep. She strained to hear the sound of the door unlocking, his footsteps getting louder as he approached the bedroom. His smell — beer and sweat and smoke — always preceded him. He stumbled into the room, his mood as of yet unpredictable. Elated because of the win? Frustrated because of the anxiety? Or irrelevant because all his feelings got drowned in eight pints of beer? 

He climbed into bed and started kissing her. With a subtle shift, she turned, hoping for peace, but he grabbed her arm, turned her around and pinned her, clumsily removed her underwear, and pushed himself inside. He was barely erect and fell asleep after a few minutes. Thalia pushed him off gently, got out of bed and took a shower, the water mixing with her tears, washing away the smell of him, and her shame. She wrapped herself in a blanket and curled up on the living room couch, seeking solace in the quiet darkness.  

“We’re back under way in Moscow, folks. Buckle up, this is going to be a wild ride!”

Thalia grabs the mop and attacks the kitchen floor with ferocity. She concentrates on one tile at a time, cleaning it much longer than required, as if trying to scrub away more than just dirt. The following 20 minutes go by in a blur. Croatia is playing the second half with renewed intensity, matched by the commentator’s voice and the noise from the crowd, which was overwhelmingly in the Chequered Ones’ favour. Thalia’s heart races in sync with the momentum of the game, her grip tightening on the mop handle. And then —

“GOALLLLLLLLLL!” the commentator screams for the second time in the match, but this time it isn’t in favour of the Three Lions. “Perisic beats Walker to the cross and directs his shot past Pickford into the bottom corner. Just over 20 minutes to go.”

After the equaliser, the English team starts to fall apart. They’re shocked and stunned. Thalia doesn’t know what else to clean. Harry Kane has another good chance in injury time, but it’s not to be. Full time ends on 1-1 and the match goes to extra time. 

Mark’s transformation was almost imperceptible at first — like a boiling frog. On their third date, he surprised her with tickets to a local art exhibition she’d mentioned in passing. He listened with deep interest as she shared her thoughts on each painting. 

After they moved in together, he started criticising — her cooking, choice of friends, work hours. The first time he raised his voice and broke a plate in anger, it was because she made a joke about a handsome colleague at the hospital. Thalia brushed it off as stress from his new job.

Then Iceland beat England in the Round of 16 of Euro 2016, one of the most embarrassing losses in their history. Mark stormed in, reeking of beer. When Thalia suggested they watch something on the telly to cheer him up, his hand connected with her cheek before she could process what was happening. “You’re obsessed with those stupid shows!” The sting of the slap was nothing compared to the shock that froze her in place.

His tearful apologies the next day seemed sincere. “It’ll never happen again, baby,” he promised, with her favourite lilies. Thalia wanted to believe him. Everyone made mistakes, after all, and he was a good bloke — most days. It was just a one-off incident, fuelled by alcohol and disappointment.

But it wasn’t. The incidents became more frequent, often coinciding with football matches. Even England’s victories weren’t safe — the adrenaline of a win could just as easily turn into aggression at home. Thalia found herself walking on eggshells, carefully monitoring Mark’s moods along with England’s performance. She wanted to leave, but the logistics seemed insurmountable. Her salary hardly covered essentials, and years of financial control left her with no savings. Plus, he was a good father and Gabbi adored him. The thought of starting over terrified her almost as much as staying. The miserable truth was she needed him. And she badly needed England to go all the way in this tournament. 

For the third time this night, the commentator announces the return to Moscow. 

“England are tentative in the final third and are struggling to find the space they had earlier in the match.”

England beat Sweden 2-0 in the quarterfinal, and Mark was so chuffed with the result, laughing and joking, even dancing around the living room. They watched the game at home together, and he didn’t drink as much as he would on a night out. For a brief moment, Thalia allowed herself hope. Maybe the man she fell in love with was still in there, somewhere. But those moments were fleeting, overshadowed by the constant fear of what might come next.

The roar of the crowd from the radio snaps Thalia backs to the present. England almost scores, but the opportunity slips away. And then, the worst happens. 

“GOALLLLLLLLLLLL! Mandzukic fires it home! Croatia goes ahead as England fall asleep in defence. Croatia are closing in on a place in the final.”

The last 15 minutes of the match fly by as Thalia paces the room. She stands in the middle of the kitchen with her eyes closed as the seconds tick away, along with England’s chances, and her and Gabbi’s hopes for safety and a future. Suddenly, she jolts into action, makes a quick phone call. She walks to Gabbi’s room and wakes her. 

“Come on, sweetie, we have to go.”

She dresses her in a tracksuit, then proceeds to the main bedroom to get their pre-packed suitcase. It contains just the essentials: a few changes of clothing, toiletries, important documents, medication, some money she managed to stash away, and last but not least, Dinky — Gabbi’s favourite stuffed elephant. 

With the suitcase in one hand and Gabbi, sleepy and confused, in the other, she takes one last look at the place they’ve called home for the last few years. It’s the only home Gabbi has known. But she deserves better than this. 

“And there’s the final whistle! Croatia is in the final, and the cup won’t be coming home.”

The cup won’t, but he will, Thalia thinks to herself, and hurries out the door. 

She read in an article this morning that if England loses tonight, reported domestic abuse cases will go up by 38%. No-one will ever know by how much unreported cases will increase. But Thalia will not be one of these statistics. Tonight, Thalia is safe. And tomorrow? Tomorrow she will start her long journey of healing. 

June 25, 2024 08:56

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91 comments

09:40 Jul 01, 2024

Everyone else has said it but this is truly riveting and heartbreaking. I was dreading the husband coming home as much as the MC. That's great writing.

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21:42 Jul 01, 2024

Thanks so much!

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Carol Stewart
19:08 Jun 30, 2024

Great work. Had me on the edge of my seat even more than tonight's match, and what a sad and poignant reminder of how sport which is supposed to be enjoyed can so adversely affect so many people. The cleaning of already clean surfaces made Thalia's story extra real.

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20:33 Jun 30, 2024

Thanks for reading Carol, I'm glad you enjoyed it!

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Carol Stewart
17:50 Jul 05, 2024

Congratulations! A well-deserved win.

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00:35 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you so much!

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Mary Bendickson
19:22 Jun 26, 2024

Amazing details on the game matched with his responses. Wish her all the help she needs in her new life. Congrats on the win🥳🎉

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06:33 Jun 27, 2024

Thanks, Mary! I'm glad to hear the details worked for you. I was a little worried that there's a bit too much football in there.

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WM .
14:24 Jul 11, 2024

"It’s the only home Gabbi has known. But she deserves better than this." This was powerful.

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20:46 Jul 11, 2024

Thank you!

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Paul Simpkin
06:16 Jul 10, 2024

Great story. I loved the way you combined the story of the football match with the narrative of the relationship. Congratulations on the win.

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06:58 Jul 10, 2024

Thank you, glad you enjoyed it!

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02:07 Jul 09, 2024

Congrats on your well deserved win on a very fast paced and emotional story. Interesting character and viewpoint. Partner of a football hooligan. The updates on games mesh well with learning of the trajectory of the abuse she's suffering. At the end I'm left really hoping that england wins, and Thalia makes it away safely and never has to watch football scores again.

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07:27 Jul 09, 2024

Thanks, Scott!

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08:49 Jul 08, 2024

this is such a great story keep it up !! :)

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09:24 Jul 08, 2024

Thank you!

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Story Time
23:21 Jul 07, 2024

Melissa, I was so happy you were recognized for this story. It stayed with me days after reading and I waited to comment until I could formulate some insightful thoughts. I think your use of tension and the care with which you treat the characters is so admirable. I worried that at times it might slip into movie of the week territory, but you kept an eye the art, and I think that's what makes it land so well.

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00:50 Jul 08, 2024

Thank you so much! That really means a lot. I'm glad it made an impression on you. There are definitely many ways I would change it now, but I'm glad it still worked. Thanks for commenting!

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Emily Nghiem
08:16 Jul 03, 2024

Very creative composition, to alternate between the turnovers in real life and in sports. Both the sports segments and the real life drama are well written and crafted. The only thing I would suggest to improve the flow and readability is to put the sports broadcast in "italics" to set these off more clearly. (If you made a short film of this, it would be clear when you are shifting back and forth with flashbacks.) Well done and thank you for such an artistic way of presenting this subject both realistically and metaphorically. Excellent work!

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09:07 Jul 03, 2024

Thank you so much, Emily! I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it, and that's an excellent suggestion, thank you.

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Ego Asadu
17:47 Jul 12, 2024

I must have held my breath until the end! This was such a painful, beautiful read. My heart raced with each "GOALLLL!" The ending gave me such joy. No one should ever have to live like that. Well done! Congratulations!!

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21:50 Jul 12, 2024

Thank you so much! I'm glad the story was able to engage you.

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18:52 Jul 07, 2024

I'm a Canadian football wife and while my hubby is a sweet and calm man the story really spoke to me. The amount of emotional investment some fans put into the players and scores can be scary. I worked for years at a women's shelter so I've also seen and heard just how close a lot of women are to abuse daily. Congratulations on the win, your story was so worth it!

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00:49 Jul 08, 2024

Thank you, Maureen! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

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Marty B
22:24 Jul 06, 2024

You showed the emotions of the MC well, and what her thought process was. Great work!

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22:47 Jul 06, 2024

Thanks a lot!

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Barbara Williams
15:49 Jul 06, 2024

This is amazing. Very deep and intense. I also love how you concluded this story, It really makes you think. I'm so happy see left!

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21:52 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you, Barbara! Yes, I really wanted her to have a happy ending.

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Barbara Williams
23:49 Jul 08, 2024

Great work! I can't wait to read more of your work!

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Shaili Dutta
14:30 Jul 06, 2024

This story had me on the edge of my seat!! One of the most painful depictions of domestic abuse. The ending gave me so much hope. Well deserved win.

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21:54 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you so much! I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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Michelle Oliver
08:55 Jul 06, 2024

Harrowing! A nerve wracking wait for an inevitable end. Congratulations on this win.

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09:21 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you!

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Steve Williamson
06:42 Jul 06, 2024

I loved your story. I like how it seamlessly switched between her in-the-moment actions and her recollection of what happened after previous big matches. The scene was set up for a repeat of past events. Then you surprise us with the ending, showing Thalia's inner strength and wisdom.

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06:52 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you Steve, I'm so glad you liked it!

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02:47 Jul 06, 2024

I know I read it and liked it. Also commented about this profound story. Now I have to congratulate you. Well done

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02:54 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you so much!

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Zack Herman
22:59 Jul 05, 2024

Sadly, this story was a bit of an eye opener for me. I think that I understand now why some women I once knew dreaded college basketball season so much.

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00:32 Jul 06, 2024

I'm glad it had an impact, Zack. Thanks for reading!

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Kathy Bose
22:18 Jul 05, 2024

I am crying as I read the story. It is so sad to see Thalia and Gabbi heading out into the night with no preplanned place to go. Why is it men can do whatever they feel like and get away with it?

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00:33 Jul 06, 2024

She did make a quick phone call, so she does have somewhere to go! But yes, sadly it doesn't always work out well. Thanks for reading, Kathy!

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Martin Ross
20:47 Jul 05, 2024

Congratulations!

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00:33 Jul 06, 2024

Thank you!

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