Another slap, and she collided with the fire guard. His mother’s crystal vase toppled. Thomas stopped, steadying it with his hand. Martha held up her arm, as he roughly dragged her to a standing position.
Ridges materialized in her upper arms, where his grip tightened until red welts remained. His right hand hovered in the air. Before Martha could blink, another blow, a fist this time, twisted her face in two.
‘Please Thomas, I won’t . . .’
His arms raised and fell so many times, Martha wasn’t sure where one began, and the others ended. She tried to wrap into a small ball, but Thomas didn’t relinquish his hold on her arm. His grip was so tight, even Martha’s trembling stopped.
Her favourite poem recited in her head, she drifted in and out of consciousness. His fists no longer hurt. Harsh words scorched through until his true hatred revealed itself. It was then she lost consciousness, for the final time. Begged for death.
When she finally woke up, the afternoon turned into evening, and the streetlights stabbed at the shadows in the corner. At first it was difficult to move. She couldn’t quite see properly, but it seemed like Thomas wasn’t in the room. With each undertaking piercing into old wounds, Martha struggled to her feet. He had nearly done it this time and that’s exactly what she wanted – kill her then her agony would be no more.
Lights flickered on their pine tree and all the bulbs went out at once. Martha wanted to throw it out of the window. What would Mrs Carmichael say if it landed amongst the snowdrops in her garden?
She should have been used to it by now, but as each Christmas passed her belief in God had shrunk like clothes in too hot a wash. Her home was both a sanctuary and a prison, where Thomas reigned supreme. Christmas Day was the worst – it didn’t matter how perfect it was – Thomas still found fault.
Candle wax had melted on to the red satin cloth, and she snuffed the flame between her fingers. The table still looked restaurant worthy, but food had gone dry on the china plates. Martha lifted the empty wine bottle. How much drink had Thomas consumed from the early morning, because its Christmas whisky, until the moment he fled the room?
Did he stare at her unconscious form on the carpet and regret hitting her? Did he stumble up the stairs to bed? Did he lock himself in his office? Would he wonder if she had gone to Theresa again? Martha had thought about it, but her injuries were worse than last time. This time Theresa would insist on a hospital visit and there was no energy left in her to fight.