Resignation settled in David’s eyes. He asked Grace to leave the room so that he could make a phone call in private. A damp stain of fear spread across her chest. She left, slipping into the bedroom where Sindi was still asleep, blissfully unaware of the events that would shape the rest of her life. It was going to be okay, Grace told herself. David was angry and sad now, but he’d recover and realise that it was for the best. Who would want to hold onto a halfway love? David’s voice travelled in a low whisper through the kitchen and bedroom. Grace couldn’t make out the words, but she heard the sobbing, the breaking all over again. She stifled the urge to go and soothe him.
A long silence fell on the house, broken eventually by the fall of David’s feet on the wooden floor as he moved towards the bedroom where Grace lay with Sindi. The digital alarm clocked screamed 6:45 am in bright red numerals.
“Pack your things. Now.” He was calm, measured. “Be quick.
Don’t waste any more of my time. I want you out of here.”
David threw a canvas tote at Grace, who unzipped it and moved away from the crib to the chest of drawers at the other side of the room.
She pulled out some of her clothes and reached into Sindi’s clothes drawer, but David gripped her hand.
“I said pack your bags.” His face hovered close to hers and his lips curled back into a sneer as he spat the word. “Sindi is not going anywhere, do you hear me? Just take your stuff and get out! Now!”
Grace’s courage sank to her feet. This was not how it was supposed to go. She reached out and laid a hand on David’s upper arm to calm him down, but he jerked away violently. He clasped both her hands together and pulled her out of the bedroom. He never raised his voice in front of Sindi. He hadn’t needed to before.
“David, I’m her mother…”
“Now you listen to me, Grace. That child, my daughter, will leave this house today over my dead body. Clear? You can go and be with the fucking love of your life, but you’re not taking my child. Is that understood?”
“David, please. She needs me.”
“Apparently not enough to keep you home nights. God, Grace, look at you. Look what you’ve become. Filth. You disgust me. Get out!”
“David, I understand that I hurt you…”
“Hurt me?” He laughed. The next words cut sharp and deep, mercilessly. “You rip my fucking heart out and then you want to take my baby? Not happening! Now get out, before I do something we’ll both regret.”
Grace moved back towards the bedroom door, but David blocked her with his body.
“No, no, no! Not with my daughter. Get out, Grace! I’m warning you now. I’ve never lifted my hand to a woman, but as God is my witness, if you don’t get out of my sight this minute, I will.”
Grace felt the line that she could not cross, knew instinctively to push no further.
A key turned in the front door lock. It was Gwen, Grace could tell by the click-clack of her high heels.
“Coward!” Grace screamed at David, enraged and emboldened by Gwen’s presence. “Calling on mommy to come and save you. Why don’t you fight your battles like a man?”
David grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her around and started marching her towards the front door. Grace screamed and Sindi, awakened by the commotion, joined in.
Gwen was in the living room. She nodded silently at David, looking away as Grace tried to catch her eye. She moved past the struggling couple to go and soothe her granddaughter. As David forced her towards the front door, Grace could hear Gwen cooing at Sindi, comforting her. For once she had slept through the night, not waking to eat. She must be starving.
“God, David, she’s hungry. Let me feed her at least!”
“No. She doesn’t need you. We’ll manage.”
He unlocked the front door with one hand and pushed Grace towards it with the other. Then with one big, final heave, he ejected her from the front door, slamming it against Grace’s breathless pleas.
A few seconds later he reopened the door, but only to throw out her handbag and coat. The door crunched again, locked. Grace rifled through her purse, searching for her keys – she was not going to leave Sindi without a fight – but David must have already removed them.
With sweat dripping down her back despite the cold morning, Grace paced frantically around the stoep. She had lost all sense of decorum, all fear of what anyone might think: she needed to get back inside, back to her daughter. David would have to be reasonable. Words tumbled out of her, shrill and incoherent, punctuating the cold morning air. She heard herself shriek about lawyers, bastards and bitches, while a small crowd gathered in the street below to watch the unfolding drama.
Grace looked down at herself – she was wearing the same clothes from the night before – so much for her emergency plan. David had not given her time even to pack the tote bag.
“What you looking at! Fuck all of you!” she screamed at the neighbours.
She went through her bag again and found a cigarette; lit it while she moved towards the front window of the house, trying to peer in. She found herself transported back to a spring day on Saturn Street, years ago, in another part of the city, when it had been her on the other side of the door, Patrick pacing the stoep like an animal. And here she was, years later, disgraced, retracing his steps. His words still rang in her ears – “Please, Mary, open the door” – and in that moment her hatred for him solidified and rose up through her, building into a full-throated, raucous shriek that ripped from her throat as it propelled her entire body – a ball of solid hatred – against the front door.
“Open up this door! I want my baby!”
Like pistons, her fists pummelled the wooden door, which refused to budge an inch. No one stirred inside. Grace remained oblivious to the growth in size of the audience down on the pavement. She didn’t care who was watching, what they thought of her. She wanted her baby!
Johnny’s car pulled up at the agreed upon time. Defeated, Grace made her way down the stairs under the collective gaze of the neighbourhood and got in. Now they were really talking. They drove away – Grace crying, Johnny consoling – carrying the neighbours’ judgement on their backs. Johnny promised her that this was not the end. He had a friend who had a lawyer friend. They would fight and get Sindi. Grace nodded, but doubted: since when did men who wore steel-toed boots count lawyers amongst their friends? As if reading her thoughts, Johnny withdrew his hand from hers and sped further away from the house that contained her heart, her Sindi.
Tell us: What do you think of the story?