(Trigger warning: domestic abuse theme)
Muffled music drifts from an all-night party across the road. Beneath me, the mattress sags, pressing my bones hard against the peeling wall. A slice of moon provides a night-light as I cradle my suckling newborn, Anna, whilst my fingertips trace the pattern on the old shawl she’s wrapped in. The repetitive movement soothes me, as it did when I was a child, until I brush the edge of the cigarette burn and my hand recoils. Outside, the party noise is amplified as a door opens. Glass shatters against tarmac and the door slams shut. Beside us, my husband, Innes, groans. He’s shaking already and it won’t stop until he’s had two or three whiskies. Sometimes, like today, he needs alcohol as early as five am.
‘I need a drink, Isla.’
‘But, it’s Christmas morning. Can’t you—’
‘Don’t start, OK, I’m ill!’
I unlatch Anna and push back the duvet, lowering my feet to the bare floorboards, wincing as my post-birth stitches tug. My heel catches the edge of my sewing box, toppling it. Scissors land with a thud and needles tinkle onto the floor. Anna lets out a mewling whimper.
‘Are you getting me a drink?’
‘I’m seeing to Anna.’ I unwrap her from the shawl, leaving it on the bed. Lowering my head, I inhale her milky scent then lay her in the Moses basket. My hands move at speed, swapping nappies, despite my aching wrist.
‘You’re always fussing over that bloody baby.’ He throws off the duvet, spilling the shawl onto the floor.
‘Please, the shawl…’
‘I’m sick of hearing about the shawl! I said I’d fix it, didn’t I?’
My mouth opens to respond, but a flash of red followed by tapping on glass stops me. A robin hops around on the outer sill before taking off again.
‘What sort of mother leaves needles all over the place?’ he asks, staring at me, unblinking. I lower my eyes, focusing on the pinch-grab pattern that circles my wrist. Then kneeling, I pick up scattered contents from the sewing box, but I can’t find the sciss—
A ferrous slicing fills the space. Innes has the shawl and his shaking hand guides the scissors around the charred circle. My mouth falls open.
‘Fixed!’ he says, discarding the shawl on the floor and stomping out of the room.
‘Where’s my whisky?’ he shouts a few seconds later. I freeze. Will he know I poured it down the sink? Retrieving the shawl, I spread it over my knees ready to receive Anna. After swaddling her in generations of warmth, I fit her into the crook of my arm. We both start as the front door slams. Anna screws her face but I shush and rock her as I move towards the window, looking out onto rows of dank terraced houses.
Across the road, Innes passes a flat-tyred car that has been static for weeks, and disappears into the party house. Sliding my hand into my pocket, I pull out a card for the women’s refuge. Outside, two discarded crisp packets waltz with the wind before blowing along the street. I tap the refuge number into my phone and as I wait for an answer, my gaze rises above the estate, resting on a sprinkle of stars.
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