Jane Daniels huddled in the corner of the living room, her breathing coming out in a thin whoop-whoop sound that almost made it sound like she was drowning, drowning in a despair that was born with the utterance of two little words which now seemed like ages ago. The paper-back novel that she had been reading when her husband Vincent had come home lay face down and tattered. Pain throbbed deep down in the middle of her, in a place where until tonight there was only the quite sense of a new being growing.
Jane had never felt pain like this before, not when Vince had smacked her so hard across the mouth she needed stitches for her bottom lip.
"She tripped over the garden hose." Vince had told the paramedics.
Not even when he had grabbed her by the shoulders and slung her into a brick wall, the back of her head slapping off the surface with a sickening thunk, her consciousness abandoning her...
"Fool woman fell off a ladder." He had told the doctor once her migraines had started.
Those experiences had been painful, but nothing like this agony, this horrible agony. Her stomach felt taut and numb, as if her living baby was replaced with a small boulder.
Oh please God, please let my baby be okay, she thought desperately.
But now as her breathing finally began to settle, she realized that the baby was not alright, that he had made sure of that. When you're four months pregnant the baby is still more a part of you than of itself, and Jane felt as if she had swallowed a hot stone whole.
A sinister warmth began to spread against the inside of her thighs.
"No," she whispered, "no. Oh my dear sweet God no."
It's sweat, she thought. It's just sweat...or maybe he hit me so hard I peed myself, it hurt so bad I didn't even feel it.
Deep down however, she knew that it wasn't sweat and it wasn't pee. It was blood. She was sitting in the corner of her living room, her womb preparing to vomit up the baby that she had carried with no complaint or problem before today.
"No," Jane moaned, "please God no!"
Through her haze of tears she could see her husbands shadow, as twisted as the silhouette of a burly scarecrow, dancing and bobbing on the wall of the archway leading from the living room into the kitchen. She could see the shadow phone pressed against his shadow ear, his shadow gesticulations as casual as if he were discussing the weather.
Her first thought was that he was calling the police. Ridiculous of course – he was the police.
"Yes it's an emergency," he said. "You're damn skippy it is sweetie, she's pregnant!"
Jane ground her teeth together to stifle a scream, she knew better than to scream while he was on the phone. Besides, who would cross him, contradict him? Only someone who didn't know him like she did.
"Of course I'm not going to move her, you think I'm a retard?"
Her fingers crept under her dress and up her thigh to the soaked, hot cotton of her panties. She didn't remember how many times the word 'please' ran through her mind since Vince had come home and now it was here again as she prayed to whatever God that would listen that the liquid on her fingers would be clear.
But when she brought her hand out from under her dress the tips of her fingers were stained with blood. Another monstrous cramp ripped through her like a chainsaw and she let out a pitiful moan.
"Look, never mind all that bullshit just get your asses over here now!" He ended the call, his shadow swelling and bobbing on the wall until he was standing in the archway. His handsome face was flushed with sweat, and from behind his wire rimmed glasses he regarded her with eyes that carried as much warmth as twin glass shards.
"Now would you look at this mess," he said, holding out both his hands briefly before letting them drop back to his sides with a soft clap.
Jane held her own hand out to him, showing him the bloody tips of his fingers.
"I know," he said, as if his knowing made sense out of this senseless mess. His gaze shifted to the tattered paper-back. As he knelt to pick it up Jane could see the cover, which showed a richly tanned woman in a red silk gown standing behind the ancient battlement of a castle. Her hair blew dramatically in the wind, exposing her bronzed shoulders. The title, La Fluer Chateau, was rendered in bright red foil.
"This is the problem," he said, wagging the remains of the book at her like a man shaking a rolled up newspaper at a puppy that just pissed on the floor. "What kind of grown ass woman reads trash like this?"
Jane knew that she would still be sitting in a corner having a miscarriage if he had come home and found her watching TV or sewing a pair of his trousers. It was a bad time for him at the job, with Internal Affairs causing trouble for him and several other less-then-civil officers, and when you caused Vincent Daniels trouble, he made sure to share the wealth. Come here...he would always say before he descended upon her with fist and feet.
"I'm losing the baby," she whispered.
Incredibly he smiled. "You can have another one," he said with all the sympathy of someone comforting a child who had dropped her ice cream cone. He then took the torn up novel out to the kitchen to throw away.
You bastard, she thought. The cramps continued, not just one this time but many, a nauseating wave that ebbed violently. How I hate you so.
Jane scuttled into a fetal position as he came back through the archway towards her. For a moment she was positive that he meant to kill her this time. It wasn't enough to hurt her, or rob her of the baby she had wanted for so long. He wanted to rob her of her life. There was something inhuman about the way he loomed over her, his head lowered as if he were about to charge and his hands slowly swinging back and fourth like meat pendulums. Forget a pig, bull is a more apt description.
Vince shook his head wearily, then squatted and slid his arms beneath her. "I'm not gonna hurt you," he said as he lifted her, light as a doll. "So quit your bitching!"
"B-but you told..." Vincent...always a man of his word.
"Yeah I know," he replied disinterested. He studied the room, trying to decide where the accident happened – she knew what he was thinking as surely as if she were inside his skull. "It's okay, just setting the scene is all."
He carried her across the room to the stairs where he settled her at the landing.
"Comfy?" He asked.
Jane closed her eyes. She couldn't bear to look at him anymore, not right now. He brushed strands of her mousy brown hair away from her sweat sheened face and cupped her chin, their eyes meeting, and she could see that look he would get sometimes, the vacant absence behind his glasses.
"You might wanna clinch your stomach." He said.
Before she could respond her husband rose from his squat, took aim, and punted Jane square in the gut – so long little one. The pain crest and then let go in a sluice of liquid squittering which she heard as much as felt. Suddenly it was as if she were sitting in a bath-full of warm, thick gravy, the stench of must scented blood washing over her in nauseating waves.
Vince went into the kitchen, his shadow bobbing on the archway as the refrigerator opened and closed and water ran in the sink. He began to hum a tune as he continued to rummage around – she thought it might have been The Temptations My Girl – as her baby oozed out of her.
When he came back through the archway he had a sandwhich in one hand and a damp rag in the other. He began to wipe up the spatters and drops of blood with the rag, eating while he cleaned. The aroma of roast beef and vinegar mingled with her stench.
He looked at the stained rag, inspected the floor for more splotches, then retreated into the kitchen to dispose of the evidence. She could hear the feint howl of a siren approaching, probably the ambulance he called.
When Vince came back he knelt before her and took her hands in his own.
"I'm sorry sweetheart," he said, "It's just those rat cock-suckers a the station..." He stopped and smiled, a smile that said I don't have to explain myself to you.
"The baby," Jane whispered. "Baby..."
He squeezed her hands. Squeezed them hard.
"Never mind the baby, just listen. They're going to be here any minute." The siren whooped through the evening like a Hellhound. "You were coming downstairs and you missed your footing. You tripped. Capice?"
She looked at him, silent. Another pinch of her hands made her gasp in pain.
"Do you understand!?"
"Good," he said. "You know what'll happen if you say anything else, right?"
She nodded again.
"Say it. It'll be safer for you to."
"You'd kill me," she whispered.
He nodded, looking pleased, looking like a teacher who had coaxed an answer from a particularly slow student.
"That's right. And I'd make it hurt so bad you're gonna beg me to finish it."
Outside scarlet lights pulsed in the driveway. Vince gobbled down the rest of his sandwhich and started to get up, his role as concerned husband set to begin. Before he could turn away Jane grasped the cuff of his shirt.
"Why," she whispered. "Why the baby Vince?"
"It was an accident," he replied. "That's all, just an accident. I didn't have anything to do with it, and that's the way it better come out when they ask, so help you God.
So help me God, she thought.
Doors slammed outside and feet ran towards the house. There was the toothy, metallic clash and rattle of the gurney on which she would be transported beneath the siren. He turned to her again, his eyes opaqued.
"You'll have another baby, and I promise this won't happen again. The next one will be fine. A boy. Or maybe a sweet little girl? The flavor doesn't matter, does it? If it's a boy we'll get him a little sailor suit. If it's a girl..." He gestured vaguely. "...I don't know a Barbie or something. You wait and see." He smiled, and the sight of it made her feel like screaming as it looked like a corpse grinning in its coffin.
"Everything will be fine if you just mind me, you can believe that sweetheart."
Lights...camera...action. Vince opened the door to let the EMT's in, telling them to hurry, telling them there's lots blood. She closed her eyes as they surrounded her, not wanting to give them any opportunity to look into her as she begins to drift towards her special place, a place of water-colors and brush strokes.
Don't you worry Jane, he can't ever touch you in your special place.
A needle stung her arm and then she was lifted, both physically and figuratively, her eyes shut tight.
Don't you fret Jane, it's just a baby, you can have another one. Besides, you're just to blame as much as Vince. If only you were stronger, less afraid, if only you were more like...her.
Jane Daniels life had become a Lifetime movie on an absolutely Apocalyptic scale, and she played her part as the dutiful yet accident prone and fragile housewife just as well as Vincent played his role as the hardworking so innocent his shit reeks of roses husband, and for another six months after the miscarriage there was nothing but the endless bedlam of their dark, twisted production.
Jane busied herself in the kitchen. Vince would be home soon, and his days were getting bleaker, his temper shorter. Noodles broiled on the stove, ground beef simmered in the pan, and she deftly sliced peppers for the red sauce, all the while wondering what sort of mood Vince would be in once he arrived.
Two months after her miscarriage, Vince had received his official reprimand from the precinct, and she had received one of the worst beatings of her life. This time she had coughed up blood, and after three days of Vincent praying that it would go away her coughing fits got progressively worse. He finally relented and told her just what to say (he always told her just what to say) and took her to Misericordia. It turned out that she had a fractured rib that was poking at her her lung, and she was forced to tell the falling-down-the-stairs story for the second time in two months.
She didn't even think the intern who'd been there observing the examination and the treatment believed it this time, but no one asked any uncomfortable questions; they just fixed her up and sent her home. Vincent knew that he had been lucky, however, and after that he was more careful.
She continued to dice her veggies, wondering if she had seasoned the beef enough, if the tomato sauce would come out to pasty, how the knife in her hand would feel against her wrist, whether she should go up the road or across the river...
Jane often found herself lost in the boundless tangle of her imagination, either morbid thoughts of suicide or more pleasant fantasies of her special place, a physical place just as much as it was a haven tucked away in the furthest corner of her mind.
Hidden away in the attic of their two story Victorian style house was her past; all manner of paintings, water-colors, acrylics, unfinished canvases, artwork of hers from a time so distant they may as well have been painted by someone else. Jane had cowered in her sanctuary many times after Vincent's beatings, provided she had the energy to climb the ladder tucked away in the linen closet. He never wanted to see her face after he beat her anyways, which gave her plenty of time to reflect, to regret, and to drift.
She unconsciously traced the blade along the cutting board. It was her imagination after all that almost always earned her husbands ire. When they moved in together her artwork was the first thing he put a stop to. He wanted to keep her down, defeated, and in her place, which was according to him in the kitchen and on her knees. And just like that Jane Daniels gave up her dreams, all because she was afraid. Afraid of him, too afraid to live, and too afraid to die.
Outside a car door slammed, driving her from her musings. Her blood ran cold, an oily dread twisting in her gut like a snake. He had come home from work far too early, and that could only mean one thing.
She could see him stagger up the walk, a lumbering bull in blue. He obviously found the time to inebriate himself after his departure from work, so it was a sure fire bet that whatever had caused his early departure from work had been grave.
And guess who he's ready to take it out on?
Jane slid the cutting knife into her apron and crept to the archway. She could see his hulking figure behind the glass as he fumbled with his keys, too drunk to get inside his own house. He must have sensed her presence in the kitchen threshold (or maybe he smelled her) because he rose to his tippy toes and stared straight at Jane through the clear glass above the door.
Though she had always thought her husband a handsome man, anger as sharp as knives contorted his face into a flush, ugly mask. His eyes bulged, the veins in his bull neck protruding as he shouted slurred yet muffled obscenities.
Jane was no psychic, and she could discern the patterns of fate in wet tea leaves just as well as she could read her future on her palm, be she didn't have to be Nostradamus to know that the beating he was going to inflict on her would be the last, as he was going to send her to meet their unborn child.
That realization spurred her into moving as his fist pounded the front door, shaking the house to its foundation. She flew up the stairs, two at a time, a palpable fear giving her wings, a burning desire to visit her special place just one more time.
From downstairs glass shattered and despite herself Jane shrieked, a helpless, pathetic sound. She could hear the door being forced open, glass shards crunching underneath Bellevilles.
"Daddies home!" Vince shouted. "Come here you stupid little cunt!"
Vince always wanted her to 'come here' when he was angry, and whether it came out as a menacing whisper or bellowed at the top of his lungs it always ended with his fist on her body or if he couldn't bring himself to care enough, her face.
With hands that felt far too distant Jane fumbled at the knob of the linen closet and slid into cool darkness. She could hear him clambering up the stairs as she flicked the naked overhead bulb to life and scaled the ladder. Dust motes swam languidly through slanted shafts of dusky sunlight and the air reeked of time itself distilled and bottled, a musky, wooden fragrance. She closed the trapdoor behind her and just sat there on her knees, breathing in the scent of dead dreams.
Canvases, easels, and assorted supplies cluttered the attic amongst mildewed cardboard boxes and other junk. Her most prized painting was sandwhiched haphazardly between two crates, an oil painting about three feet long by two feet wide and encased behind thick glass inside a mahogany frame. It depicted a lone female warrior with her back turned, dressed modestly in a royal blue doublet and short coat of chain mail armor, her right hand raised gallantly towards the faded denim colored heavens, brandishing a blade made out of pure light. She stood in a field of sprawling sweeping grass, all alone save for her sword and her conviction.
The warrior was none other than Joan of Arc, a woman who Jane had looked up to for as long as she could remember, a woman who wouldn't take crap from anyone, not even Vince. A woman that Jane could call her hero.
"Cooze looks like a goddamn man!" Vince had said while looking over the painting all those years ago. "Get it out of my sight before I tear it to pieces!"
Joan couldn't save her now however, just as she couldn't save her the many times she lay crying and gasping for air in her special place. Below her she could hear her husband methodically searching room by room.
Something at the base of the painting caught her eye.
Frowning, she scuttled over to the crates and slid the painting from out in between them. She fished out the objects embedded in the cracks of the floor and held them up to her eyes.
They were clover flowers. Tiny, pink clover flowers.
Her heartbeat now a muffled drum in her ears, Jane leaned towards the picture, towards the dissolved, layered shades of old paint. Dotted along the forest-green and olive-green hues of the grass were small pink blobs. Clovers.
Where did these come from? She thought mystified. Where on Earth did these come from?
The answer of course was so cosmically wondrous that even entertaining the thought would cause even the most rational of people to lose their minds. However years of abuse and escapism looped in a vicious circle had turned her rationality into a concept as fleeting as a clover flower in the wind and replaced it with a child-like curiosity so strong it ached.
With delicate care Jane turned the painting around and touched the backing. It crackled when she poked at it. Crackled too much. And when she felt it lower along the border, she felt some things...
Despite her shaking hands she used the knife from her apron to slit the backing where she felt the bulges. Over a dozen clover flowers tumbled out onto the attic floor along with emerald strands of grass cuttings and dirt. With a sudden decisiveness she inserted the flat of the blade under the top part of the frame and levered upwards. She would have stopped immediately if she sensed heavy resistance – after all she still didn't want to damage the painting. - but the nails holding the frame together gave easily.
The painting slid out amongst settling dirt and more rustic treasures; ants, the jagged corpse of a cricket, the sort of daisy petals you plucked while chanting he-loves-me, he-loves-me-not. The smell of the phantom grass hit her full on now, a husky, dank scent. The painting seemed to breath, as is she had let some ancient being from its slumber.
Your special place Jane, he can't ever touch you in your special place.
Jane swallowed so hard it hurt. She touched the canvas lightly, fully expecting to feel the old, layered oils. Instead the canvas quivered as tremulously as the surface of a puddle rippling.
The thunder of Vince's anger below her intensified. She knew that once he caught her he would not only kill her this time, he would make it last. He loved to test the effectiveness of his police issued gadgets on her, and nothing was off limits to him save shooting her point blank with his Beretta.
She remembered the way his pepper spray had turned her sinuses into an inferno of blazing tears and mucous, the electrical burn of his taser (the fluid that had run down her legs that night had been piss), the disgusting, unspeakable thing he had done with his night-stick...
Despite the heat of the attic, Jane shuddered. He won't ever be able to do those things again in your special place, the child in her beckoned.
...But he's a cop, that's what he does is find people and if he finds you, you've just made a terrible situation 1,000 times worse. A more practicable, sensible voice in her pleaded.
The surface of the painting still moved, but instead of the ripples, she could see a faint breeze undulating through the grass and the minute motion of the clouds, as if she were looking through a window.
A window. A way out. He can't ever touch you in your special place.
Shutting out Little Miss P.S., Jane took a deep breath and plunged into the painting.
A SUIVRE (TO BE CONTINUED)