For the rest of her life, those few minutes will inhabit Grace. Sometimes she is right back there, eternally in that present, choking on the rusty smell of blood. At other times those minutes are a song stuck in her head, unshakable, drumming out the beat to which she marches along to life. We all have our crosses to bear.
For many years, the unfolding of events remained blurry. At first she remembered nothing. Then, gradually, images, smells, sounds swam back into consciousness the way a photograph slowly gives up its secrets after being submerged in developing fluid. Once fully recalled, they would come unbidden, in and out of her mind, floating, arriving, leaving, coalescing. Her will had nothing to do with them appearing or disappearing.
Sometimes, when Grace tried to summon them, they wouldn’t come. At other times they’d converge upon her, threatening to overpower her and shred all coherence. Then they would collapse like a deck of cards, scattering across the empty chambers of her mind. There was forever after a sense of confusion, a slippage when, just as the mind got to that moment, it would reel, retract, and skip a few frames, jumbling everything. Her mind could never fully grasp that day, could never hold on to the fact of what had happened.
But as years stretched by, moments of lucidity shone through more frequently. She remembered the crunch of the key in the security gate, the pause while Mary swung it open, the fumbling for a second key to the front door, seeing her mother’s shape on the other side of the dimpled glass. Mary’s head was bowed as she entered, and no amount of willing her to look up on Grace’s part made her take in the scene before it was too late. When Mary finally did look up, shock scuttled across her face like a cockroach scurrying from the light. Her eyes darted from Grace to Patrick and her head jerked back a little.
“Why did you let him in?”
The accusation would haunt Grace for the rest of her life.
But we all have our crosses to bear.
Mary could still have run at that point, retraced her steps and walked right back out the door. She could have gone to the neighbours and asked for help, walked away and never looked back, but they all knew, Patrick most of all, that she would never leave her daughter; not with this crazy, wild-eyed man holding his old Okapi knife to Grace’s throat.
“No, Patrick, no.” Mary’s voice was a raspy whisper.
No movement or sound followed. Patrick was breathing heavily like a man who had finished a long, hard race.
“Come over here, Mary.”
“Patrick, please, we can work this out, Patrick. Put that away, let’s just talk. Please.”
“Now you want to talk?”
He gestured towards an armchair for her to sit down. She put her handbag down and slowly walked towards her husband and child.
“Close the door.”
Mary turned, and in the moment Grace willed her to run, get the hell out. She wanted to reach out, scoop her mother up and fly right out that door, over the rooftops and into the future, but the lead in her veins refused flight. Mary shut the door with resignation.
“Now lock it.”
“Please, no, Patrick. Don’t do this.”
She started to sob, her hands pressed against the pane of the door in supplication to some unseen force. She turned back around, rummaging through her bag for her bunch of keys – taking longer than necessary, shaking.
“Patrick, leave Grace. Let her go. Please. Let’s just talk for a while. Just you and me.’
“Lock the door!”
She obeyed, grinding the key in the lock one final time, turning time and the narrowing trajectory of her life with it.
“I’m sorry, Patrick. I’m sorry. You were right. Let’s try again. You move back. We’ll get married again, what are papers….” Tears streamed down her face, smudging her lipstick, making her mascara run, distorting her face into that of a clown.
“Shut up. Shut up, Mary!”
She whimpered, quaked. Grace had never seen Mary like this before.
“Come and sit down. No, here. On the couch.”
Mary obeyed, walking demurely past Grace and taking a seat next to Patrick. The whole happy family on the couch, thought Grace.
“See what it has come to, Mary? See what you make me do? My own flesh and blood? Why didn’t you listen to me?”
Patrick relaxed his grip on Grace and turned his full attention to his wife. Mary exhaled, folded her hands on her lap and fixed her gaze on him.
“Put that thing away, Patrick. There’s no need for that.”
“No, Mary, no. You are not telling me what to do any more. Throw me out of my own house. Won’t let me see my child. Who do you think you are, huh? Just who do you think you are? I worked for this. Worked for all of this around you, so you can dress in your expensive clothes and enjoy the way men look at you. Look at you! Painted whore!” He slammed his fist into his thigh for emphasis.
On and on, Patrick’s mouth moved. Words circled like vultures in the air. Grace’s eyes rested on the knife – a short knife, looking smaller than it had felt a few seconds ago against her throat. She stared at it, fixing her entire being on it, willing it to fall out of his fingers and under the couch. Against the backdrop of the dirt-mottled brown carpet it would be dull – not this electric, living thing recklessly flicking its tongue each time Patrick moved.
The shouting grew louder. With his left hand Patrick gripped Mary’s shoulder. Tears fell down her face, her expression a silent beseeching: please, don’t hurt me. Not again. She, who had finally found the courage to leave him, to say Enough! Yet he had forced his way back, back into the house, back in charge, a powerful body coiled to deliver retribution.
Fingers tracing Mary’s lips, roughly, smearing the bright red lipstick all over her face. Evidence of her depravity, her disloyalty.
And then, a sharp painful breath is forced into Grace’s body, exploding in her chest. A blinding shock of fresh air shakes her so that she finds herself, for the first time in her life, fully awake.
In swift, staccato movements, Patrick plunges the knife into Mary: one, two – sharp, precise movements, and it is over.
He has shut up, finally.
Mary falls forward, her eyes a wounded question, Why?
Her lips are moving but no sound escapes.
Then he’s on top of her, cradling her before her head has a chance to hit the floor.
Grace sits, stultified, as her parents sink onto the floor, grotesquely intertwined. Lying on the floor like one person, it seems both of them are bleeding from the same wound. Her father’s hands are cradling and stroked Mary in the most tender of movements.
“Mary….” A softer calling, an affirmation. A recognition. Grace should have felt something. Fear, sadness, hurt.
But there was nothing, nothing to fixate on, nothing to look away to, nothing to grasp onto. It was as if she was swimming underwater, unable to make a sound.
Then she broke the surface, gulped in air, and screamed. No words, just animal sounds. She dropped onto the floor next to her mother. Patrick had moved away from her. He was at the phone, holding the receiver in his hand. Grace screamed and screamed for her mother to hold on, as she tried, desperately, to staunch the blood from the gash in Mary’s throat with her hands.
After all of the years of torment, of being scared, watching their step, calibrating Patrick’s moods, staying in line – every little thing they did to avoid his wrath was meaningless. In the end it took a mere moment of him being God to snuff out Mary’s life, and the rest of Grace’s life with it.
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