This short story is fictional. However, this fiction is founded in fact. I’ve twisted what I was told, in confidence, to fit what I needed. I hope I’ve managed to write a story that encompasses what I’ve heard and what I’ve come to understand. To me, Rissa is the epitome of fearless but, I wonder, how you will feel about her.
Fearless, that’s what people called her. Fearless, ha… The word was nothing but a label. A label that described the opposite of what she actually was, what she felt. Each day was a constant battle, to move, to get up, to do something, anything. Each and every day she awoke. From the moment she opened her eyes to the moment the little pink tablet took effect she forced herself to function. Aware of how her life had changed through one single unconscious action, one instinctual act, she lived day by day. Even asleep she didn’t escape, couldn’t escape. There was no escaping the dreams, nightmares really, but at least the Estazolam gave her a full night of rest. Though trapped in a dark dreamscape of twisted images and imaginations she’d awake mentally exhausted but physically rested. For now, it was enough.
Rissa shook herself into the present, away from her musings and worries. Today would be different; already it felt different. Determined now, she swung her legs to the ground and burrowed her toes into the deep pile of the rug beside the bed. Grabbing her robe from the back of the door she tightened the belt at her waist with a double knot, pushing the cord left through right, then right over left, before she shuffled from the room.
Following her routine she began getting ready. As though compelled, she moved stiffly from task to task, following the ordered sequence she always used. Firstly she moved to brush her teeth, carefully squeezing the exact amount of paste onto her brush before working right to left, top then bottom, counting the brushstrokes. Then, after using the toilet, she turned on the shower, folded her pyjamas and robe carefully and dropped them into the laundry basket. Scrubbed raw she left the shower cubicle, wiping down the glass with a small clean towel before stepping out. Flip, fold, fold, and the towel was added to the laundry. Reaching a clean towel from the shelving she wrapped it about her torso then returned to her bedroom and carefully selected her outfit for the day. A hurried trip back to the bathroom and the towel was added to the steadily growing pile of laundry.
Makeup and hair were last in her routine, left until she was mentally prepared to begin her day. Pale enhancements dusted her eyes and cheeks, her lips left naked of all cosmetics. He preferred her to look natural, naturally perfect anyway. Frowning she wiped her face and reapplied a lighter layer before she was satisfied. More time was taken arranging her hair, checking and rechecking in the mirror that the feathered layers hung over her left cheek without blocking her vision. Then, finally ready, Rissa took a deep fortifying breath and headed downstairs.
At the kitchen door she paused, one hand reaching, hovering indecisively over the wood. Straightening her shoulders, her lips curved into a practiced smile as she pushed the door inwards. Noise cascaded over her, drowning her nerves in the sheer volume as a barrage of shouted questions, arguments and demands pulled her forward.
Lifting Joe from the high chair Rissa carried him to where John sat tapping at his tablet. Looking up as the baby landed in his lap, John sent a glaring glance that promises retribution her way, his only sign of annoyance. Holding the baby without comment John accepted the bowl pushed in his direction, slowly lifting the mush into Joe’s gaping mouth. No words of greeting passed his lips, his fingers still tapping at his tablet in between Joe’s mouthfuls.
The twins’ arguing quietened as Rissa looked in their direction. Their bickering clearly caused by some miniscule misdemeanour that obviously wasn’t worth telling mum about. Both girls turned to their breakfast and hurriedly filled their mouths, successfully halting any possible conversation. Neither looked in Rissa’s direction as she moved to the sink and began her duties. Eliminating the mess made before she’d even woken, she concentrated on one task at a time until almost everything was sorted.
“Mum, I want…” Sarah didn’t complete the question before a drink found its way into her outstretched hand.
“What about mine?” A second glass, ready and waiting, was placed silently into Melissa’s reaching hand.
Both girls accepted the glasses without thanks, their heads dropping back to their cereal. With a frown Rissa watched the girls eat, worried she’d been too accepting for too long. Turning she faced the sink once more, wiped the counter and squeezed the sponge before turning to face the room. “I’ve been invited to join Lisa’s birthday party. I’ve said yes.” She waited knowing that they’d all understand the impact of her statement, once they realised exactly what she’d said. Once they realised she’d actually spoken. Too used to them only hearing what they wanted to and ignoring what they didn’t want to hear, she waited and watched.
John’s head rose from his tablet, his gaze hitting hers like a blow. “What do you mean, you said yes?”
“I mean that I said yes, that I agreed, that I acquiesced to her request.” Rissa knew she was instigating an argument but this had taken a long time coming. She’d built herself up so much that now everything was just ready to… well, spew over.
The baby continued to gurgle, blowing bubbles as three pairs of eyes, all identical in shape and shade, bore holes into her. Melissa glanced to her sister for support before asking her question. “You mean you’re going out? Out, out?”
“I mean Lisa is my closest friend.” Actually Lisa was her only friend but she shoved the thought aside and continued regardless. “I’ve known Lisa forever and it’s her 40th birthday. I mean I’m going away for the weekend.” Rissa watched John’s face pale before it reddened in anger and she braced for what was to come. Before the fire, her going away for a weekend wouldn’t have been a problem, now it would be, but she’d made her decision and she’d fight to keep it.
Lifting the baby, John passed him to Melissa and stepped towards her. Rissa felt her neck strain as she looked up at him, and waited. “When were you going to discuss this with me?”
Rissa turned away, giving him her back. She was stronger with her back to him. He wouldn’t hit her with the children close and she couldn’t see his anger so she’d be brave. “I didn’t think we needed to discuss it. You didn’t discuss the boy’s weekend, or that sailing with me. I didn’t realise I had to ask for permission.”
“You don’t need to ask for permission. Of course you don’t.” She sensed his smile even though she refused to look. “You’re not going.” His footsteps sounded as he paced behind her. “Who’s going to look after the kids? For God’s sake, who’s going to cook and sort the house?”
Children or not, Rissa couldn’t let his comments pass. She was his wife, for goodness sake, not the maid. She hated to argue in front of the girls and Joe was getting old enough to repeat what he heard. He was already beginning to copy John. Still, she turned and stared at the man she’d once loved enough to risk herself. Once, so long ago now, they’d been happy. Now, since the fire, she wasn’t sure what happy was. Shooting the girls a look, she jerked her chin towards the door then watched as they scurried from the room.
“You, John – you are going to look after the kids.” His face heated more at her words but she continued regardless. “You, are going to cook and you are going to clean. It’s only two days, John.” Rissa stepped close, peering up as she pushed herself further than she had before. “You, need to grow a pair!” Her hand clasped her mouth trying to grab thee words back, but it was too late.
“Grow a pair!” He pressed his body close, looming over her, intimidating. It had worked before but she wouldn’t let it work this time. This time she’d earn what came. This time she was ready. She dropped her hand to her side and stood tall. Then, Rissa nodded.
Even expected, the slap shocked her. It always did, even after all the times it happened. Every time it happened she’d gotten an apology and for a while things got better, but it never lasted. “I have a pair already, thank you.” He grabbed his crotch lewdly before another slap followed the words. “You’ll call Lisa and cancel.”
“No, I won’t!” Rissa braced but was still propelled backwards with the next hit, this one made with clenched fist.
“You’ll call, if you know what’s good for you.” His voice was a mere whisper of sound. The words still strong enough to cause her to shiver.
Lifting her eyes she stared into his as she repeated, “No, I won’t.” Then, Rissa closed her eyes. It would hurt, she knew it would. The blows rained down, her stomach clenching as bile rose along with the pain. Collapsing to the floor she bit her lip. She’d not cried out since the first time he’d hit her just after she’d been released from the hospital. She’d thought it was her. She’d thought she’d been wrong, about something, everything. Not since that first time had she shown him her pain, accepting the blame, and she refused to cry out now. As the blows eased, Rissa she dared to look up. Above her John stood, his anger clear to see as his fists clenched by his sides.
“I want the man back I fell in love with, John. I want the happiness we haven’t had since before the fire. I want lots of things that I probably won’t ever get, but I will get this time away. I need it. I’m going, John. I’m going even if I’m bruised from head to foot.” Pushing herself to her hands and knees Rissa met his gaze. “I’m going!” The last words almost grated her throat as she screamed them in his face.
The thump of his fist caused the world to dim and she wondered if it was all over, finally. His feet disappeared from sight and again the silence reigned. Dragging herself upright she used the table to hold her weight as she gulped mouthfuls of air into her lungs, almost making herself sick. Tears long held at bay rose to the surface only to be willed back.
Looking down at herself she frowned at her disarray, straightening her shirt. Calming, she began the rest of her day. Grabbing the dishes she gathered her wits whilst tidying, an autopilot reaction she’d come to rely on. She needed the order, the routine and the solitude to calm her. She needed the automated sequences of events to be able to process.
With nothing else to do to stall her, Rissa left the kitchen. Pausing she glanced at the framed newspaper cutting on the hall wall. Reading the heading ‘Fearless Woman Goes Back into Fire to Save Husband’ she sighed. She’d become some sort of overnight sensation when she’d rushed into her burning home to pull John free. Sometimes, now, she wished she hadn’t. Since the fire everything had changed, especially John.
Rissa touched the rigid welts of the burn that covered her cheek before smoothing her hair into place. She’d been lucky, she knew that, but she still wished. Wished things could have been different.
Careful not to pull on her aching ribs as she walked, Rissa headed to the stairs, calling the girls as she went. School would start in thirty minutes and the twins needed to head out soon or they’d be late. The cacophony of sound, like a herd of stampeding elephants, signalled their movement before they ran towards her. Accepting Joe from Sarah, Rissa handed each girl their school bag and waved them off. Neither spoke, both ignoring her wave as they hurried out. She could hear John moving about upstairs as she eased up the steps.
In her arms, Joe whinged his annoyance at the girls leaving. His little fists banged against her shoulder and neck with each mew of annoyance. Pausing she looked at her youngest child, the one she hoped to save by this act of rebellion. Her children had to come first, whether they appreciated that or not.
Rissa winced as she gently stopped Joe’s fists, his shriek of anger at her actions further evidence that things needed to change quickly. The other times she’d spoken out, the times she’d not carried through on her threat to leave them alone, didn’t count. This time the need of her children outweighed her needs. This weekend away was to get her ready to fight for her family, whoever that consisted of. She could live without John if he couldn’t or wouldn’t change. She sighed. John may not be part of her future but he’d always be the father of her children.
Determinedly she hummed as she changed Joe, then sent a text to Lisa letting her know she’d be there at the weekend. Step one down, on to the next part of getting her life back.
Maybe she was fearless after all.
I’ve read and reread what I’ve written and hope I’ve written the piece in such a way that the reader pauses and thinks, ‘yes, I understand’.
Even if you wonder why I wrote this, I hope it makes you think of how you’d cope. I’d always thought I’d hit back, that I’d leave and make my own way. The more I wondered the greater my understanding that I’d probably try to fix the damage, or stay thinking things would change, get better. Changes are never easy, even when they’re for the better. Sometimes the groove you’ve made, the bed you lie in, feels the safest.