an excerpt from Five Hours

by Alison Bourke

My hand went to the freshly bruised skin around my eye which stung with the strain of focussing on the man standing before me. My vision, blurry with pain and shock, took in a shaking form, a hand retreating before my face. It took in a heaving T-shirt clad torso, a thick neck so tense that the veins stood out like braids. A twisted mouth working furiously around guttural words.

- You stupid bitch you cheap tart don't you ever question me again. I'll go wherever the hell I want to go. I'll tell you what the hell you need to know..I'll..I'll..actually you know what? Yeah I was with her. What choice do you give me? You don't expect me to be satisfied with this, this...I'm, I'm.. I just know what I'll do..?

He was stumbling. Then he was stuttering. I knew the signs. The stuttering came when he'd worked himself into a frenzy of anger. Came when the frustration that he felt exceeded his ability to articulate it, when a fresh tormenting thought distracted him and obstructed the forming of all previous thoughts, when he wanted to hurt me but couldn't find words equal to the task. He just could not hurt me enough.

It signalled a level of rage that could not be accessed by others.It defied definition. It defied his will to express it. Its medium was physical. This stuttering meant that Dan was not himself again, that tonight would be bad. I wanted the next hour to be over before it began, I shouldn't have opened my mouth. I'd fucked up again.

"Bitch", "useless","ugly", "I'm a man", "I need", "me", "me", "me.." His voice was a dull painful sound in my head. I didn't need to listen. My eyes continued their journey as I raised my head further. My neck put up a fight. It had been wrenched to the side when he'd blackened my eye. It felt as though little livewires had been hooked up to it to conduct the pain. Pain running up and down, up and down. I observed him passively, passing the time, waiting like a sitting duck. His lips were drenched in saliva as they battled to cram as many hateful words as they could into one faltering sentence after another. His skin was wet, his jaw unshaven. Sweat was caught in the dip that runs from nose to mouth. Sunken cheeks. Shadow under the eyes. Under the eyes.

Those eyes. In the same instant that our eyes locked, his mouth stopped. The world stopped. My blurred vision cleared instantly once the physical pain had gone. I had seen something in is eyes that I had not seen before. What was it? It felt like a life or death situation. The dusty air was charged with intensity, uncertainty. The walls of the apartment seemed to be closing in. Until such time as I could read him - discern his new emotion - the room would remain a trap, even more so than before. I had to be on my guard; the lamp was still a weapon. He held me like that for a while. It could have been for five seconds or five hours. Time was not in this room, just me and him.

And then, as though some decision had been made in the remote auspices of his mind, his expression changed and his eyes registered some new emotion that I could read. It hit me like a punch in the face, or like he was squeezing relentlessly on my heart. I felt pain. I felt faint. I saw pure hate in his eyes.

- Get out. I don't want you here anymore. I can't do this anymore.

It was a clear, resigned voice. I heard certainty in it. No stumbling, no stuttering, no indecision. He wouldn't look at me and so I could not read his eyes. Maybe it was still hate for me. Or for himself and therefore love for me. It all seemed to mean the same thing. He loves me, he loves me not. I never could predict. He loves me, he hits me, he kisses me, he hurts me, he hates me, he holds me. The story of my life. Our life.

And yet I understood. I always did. I'd made him hate me. I had to go. So I did. The door was no longer a jailer guarding my patterned cell. I'd tried to walk through it a thousand times before, this time succeeding, and I kept on walking.

I was like a zombie; walking without thinking, I couldn't have turned back if I'd tried. Flashbacks, images, memories were all vying for attention. One battled to the forefront of my brain.

Disco Lights. Pulling down the back of my mini to save my modesty as I bent precariously to the side to check a snag in my tights. A voice sounding above me.

- Do yeh want to dance?

I straightened and looked at him.

- Maybe.

A pause. His face had 'sinking feeling' all over it.

- Aw, g-go on, please.

- I dunno, I'm with my mates, amn't I?

- W-would you ever just g-give me one poxy dance?

- Em,.. lets see...No!!!

I was just acting out a ritual. His face was beetroot. His sweaty hand rubbing the back of his neck nervously. His forehead furrowed. His mates watching him like grinning vultures. Mine watching me like proud mothers.

- A-alright then, p-please yourself.

- I am.

But he didn't move. He just stood there. Couldn't talk properly and couldn't move it seemed. It was embarrassing. Everything was embarrassing at fifteen. I observed him. A skinny awkward kid back then. And those green eyes.

- Jaysus, okay, I'll dance.

I made sure I sounded adequately exasperated for the girls.

- R-really?

- I said yeah, didn't I?

- Thanks.

An embarrassed grin that I hadn't seen before. A sharp exhaling of breath. A wink to his friends. I was in control back then.

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