She pulled back the door, revealing herself to me, and her eyes ran with tears, and her broken mouth tried desperately to smile, but that was impossible, and all that emerged was a strained grimace. Six months, I thought, as Lucy and I stepped cautiously through the open door, can it really be six months since I left? She closed the heavy door behind us, and just stood there staring at me. It was awkward to say the least, so I gazed around at the hall, thinking shit, here I am, in the bastards new house. I could feel him there, and I’m not joking. Everything was bright, white, clean and sparkling, but that didn’t diminish the darkness that seeped through everything. I shivered, and went cold all over. All was how I had expected it to be. Pristine and spotless. The carpet was thick and cream, the walls white and the ceiling high. I felt immediately uncomfortable, stifled and uneasy. I stood waiting, not saying anything because I had no idea what to say. My hand remained linked with Lucys. I wondered if we ought to remove our shoes, or wash our hands, or something. My mother clasped her hands together under her chin and looked me up and down. She was sobbing. Just a little bit at first, but they were getting louder and harder, racking her rail thin body, and all she could do was stare at me, and look me up and down.
In the end, it was me who moved towards her. It was a sort of sliding, half step, my free arm lifting, as if reaching out. I don’t even know why I did it. She went to me, sobbing harder, and throwing her skinny arms up and around my neck. I was taller than her now, I realised then, as she cried against my collarbone. “You’ve grown,” she was murmuring. “Had that growth spurt.” I felt myself stiffen under her touch, and while one hand remained with Lucy’s, the other fluttered reluctantly down to the small of her back. She sighed, sniffed, and pulled back, taking my face in her cold shaking hands. “Oh Danny,” she said, again attempting to smile through her split and swollen lips. “You’re really here…and you’re okay, you’re okay.” I wasn’t sure if she was asking me or telling me, so I nodded and cleared my throat.
“I’m okay.” She stood back from me then, her shoulders dropping as she exhaled loudly, and I looked her over and raised my eyebrows. “He did this to you then?”
She nodded miserably in reply, and rubbed at her wet eyes with the sleeve of her apricot coloured cardigan. She gestured towards a door behind us. “Please, go through. I’ll put the kettle on.” With that she turned and walked into the kitchen. I got a glimpse of it before following Lucy into the lounge. It looked too bright, and sparkly, black and white floor tiles beaming back at me, neat white blinds, and kitchen units so white they hurt my eyes. The lounge was no different. It had Howard’s stamp all over it. It was huge, at least three times the size of the room we’d had in the old house. The walls were a dusky green colour, the carpets cream again, and arranged around the biggest TV I had ever seen in my life, sat three huge, fat, black leather sofas. I didn’t want to sit on any of them, so I hovered around the edges, hands in pockets. Lucy sat, in a slow, stiff manner, as if the sofa somehow offended her. She sat on the very edge of it, and her face was set hard, as my mother walked back in, and placed a tray of tea and biscuits down on the large, glass coffee table. I looked at Lucy’s face and knew exactly how she was feeling. She looked like she didn’t want to touch anything in case she caught something unpleasant.
My mother lowered herself onto one of the other sofas, and I could tell she was trying not to wince, or gasp or invite attention to her injuries. I scratched the back of my head, walked around the sofa and sat down next to Lucy. The sofa groaned beneath me, making my stomach turn over. I watched my mother restraining her pain and thought god I did that so many times back then. Keeping it all under wraps, under clothes, pretending even to myself that it wasn’t there, that the pain did not exist. She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again. Her hands rested lightly on her tiny knees. She looked shrunken I thought. Like he had sucked the very soul out of her. “So when did it start?” I asked her. Lucy’s hand landed on my knee and stayed there. My mother looked surprised and her eyes rose reluctantly to meet my stare.
“After we moved in,” she croaked through her battered lips. “Although, if I’m honest, looking back, the signs were there for some time. Him being controlling, and strict, flying off the handle over silly things. I always shrugged it off though, you see. Blamed it on the stress of his job, moving. After a while though, there were no more excuses to be found.” Her eyes travelled back to the carpet and stayed there. “I should have known better,” she said. “I should have believed you when you tried to tell me what he was really like.”
“Hmm,” I said. “So what do you want?”
She looked taken back. Her eyes blinked rapidly. “What? I don’t want anything…I mean, I…” she lifted her shoulders in a weak shrug and gave up. I felt irritated then, looking at her.
“Why now?” I asked. “It’s been six months mum. Why now? You know where I work, you could have come there any time to see me.”
She met my stare. “I thought it was safer for you if I didn’t,” she said softly. “He went very strange Danny, after you left…I thought he’d be pleased really, you know, to have you out of his hair, but he went wild, and it was like all he wanted to do was find you, and he wouldn’t let it go. He even accused me of helping you, and of knowing where you were.” She looked down at her hands, now gripped together tightly on her knees. “One day he came home and just grabbed me round the throat, for no reason…I mean, I was just stood there mopping the kitchen floor…That was the first time.” Her head dipped lower under the intensity of our eyes. Nobody had touched their tea.
I stared at her for a moment. I half thought about getting up and walking out. But then I realised she was offering me something I had never had before. A chance to speak, an opportunity to tell my side. Years had been filled with silences, one after the other, dark nights wrapped in private pain, surreal days where I walked stiffly, cloaked in dirty shame, silent. I took a breath and opened my mouth. “You want to know the first time he hurt me?”
She looked shocked, and desperate, and she sort of rocked forward towards her knees and shook her head in misery. “Second time I met him,” I told her and right away, her head jerked up, her eyes clashing into mine. She frowned heavily, not understanding. I nodded calmly. “Oh yeah, you remember he came to dinner that time, because John arranged it, because he was leaving and everything?” She nodded, her mouth hanging open, her hand rising to it. “He stayed in the kitchen to help wash up. He came up to me and told me nothing I could do would scare him off and then he squeezed my neck. Had bruises the next day, but I didn’t know what it was, I didn’t want to believe what it was.”
Her hand caressed her broken mouth and she released a noisy, juddering moan behind it. “I didn’t know that…oh I didn’t know that Danny, is that what he did? All the way back then? …Oh god…I am so sorry.”
“I tried to tell you,” I said to her. “You and John both thought I was making up lies to split you up from him. Then you let him move in. You hardly knew him mum.” There was anger in my voice now, even I could hear it.
“I didn’t know,” she said again, shaking her head. “I thought you were being malicious, after the way things went with Frank? Why didn’t you come right away and tell me?”
I shrugged. I felt reckless. Part of me was enjoying the haggard and bewildered look upon her face. “Loads of reasons. I didn’t understand it. I wasn’t sure what it was, if he meant it, or what. I didn’t know if I was imagining it, or making a big deal, and I knew you’d take his side over mine, I just knew you would! Then I was scared, as time went on, when he got worse, and worse, and I was embarrassed and I didn’t want anyone to know, and I bet you get that now, don’t you?” I nodded at her swollen face, my eyes narrow. “Or do you invite the neighbours round to have a look?” She shook her head at me because she had no choice, and because I was right, and she knew it. I nodded and went on. “He turned everything around, I bet you see that now too. It’s never his fault is it? He’s always got his reasons, I mean number one being it’s for your own good, yeah? Number two being he makes you think life will be worse if you tell. He told me constantly I’d end up in care if I talked. He threatened my friends, he fucked them over, jesus, you don’t even know the half of it mum, what he did to Anthony?” She shook her head violently, and I laughed. “Well, long story, if you’ve ever got the time. But he got him sent back down, all because Anthony knew what was going on and stood up for me. So after that, I stayed away from my own friends, so he’d leave them alone. Just went around on my own. Perfect for him.”
I stood up then. I just had to. I pulled away from Lucy’s grasping hand and stormed around the back of the sofa away from the both of them. The memories and the escalating anger were too much for me then; and I wondered how to go forward, what to say, where it would end. Why was I even there? Talking to her? There was so much she didn’t know, so much she had turned away from. I looked up and found her staring at me. “I got arrested once,” I said then, planting my hands on the back of the sofa behind Lucy. “For fighting down at the beach with some kids from school. You never knew about it, because he kept it from you, because we had a deal. He picked me up from the station because you were at work, and he took me home and taught me a lesson. A pretty bad one. I had no doubt after that day, mum. He was fucking insane. We had this deal. He wouldn’t tell you I’d been arrested, and I wouldn’t tell what he’d done to me. Cool, hey?”
Mum swallowed more tears and sat up a little straighter. “What about that time I went away?” she asked. “When your Gran was ill?”
I laughed and folded my arms. “Oh when I had my infamous bike accident?” She nodded stiffly from across the room. “Oh well that was probably the first time I actually thought I was gonna’ die. I mean, seriously. You had that yet? You been on the floor yet, with him kicking the shit out of you? I mean, he’s got a powerful kick, right? You felt that yet? Sent me right across the room every fucking time.” I closed my mouth, pressed my lips tightly together and closed my eyes briefly. When I opened them together, she was still staring at me, and waiting for more, silent tears running rapidly down her sunken cheeks. I felt hard, and then I felt weak with it all, weakened and close to sagging and dropping. Tears were threatening, but then so was violence. I looked around at his palace and felt like whipping out my dick and pissing up the walls. “He used his belt on you yet?” I asked her just for fun, and I watched her mouth gaping again, behind her hands. It was like I was torturing her for the hell of it, but what else did she expect? What did she even fucking want? It was all rising up inside of me, and instead of feeling pity or empathy for her, and the state she was in, all I could think about was the times I’d been on the floor, just taking it.
“Danny,” she started, barely able to form words behind her sobs. She reached out to me with one hand, but remained seated. “I didn’t know…please, I didn’t know, I didn’t know all that…”
“Does he stand on you?” I asked her, getting to my feet. “He likes doing that. Makes him feel really big, I reckon, keeping you down with his big fuck off boot. You see, that was an interesting time. Jack shows up out of nowhere, and next thing we know Anthony is arrested. Someone got in their house and hid drugs there, and he got busted and sent back to jail. That was your husband mum, and Jack. They did it to get Anthony out of the way, because he was trying to help me! I thought I was gonna’ die up in my room. It went on so long. He phoned the school, told them I’d had an accident. Everyone fucking believed him, everyone except Michael. But I couldn’t go near him after that, you know why?” She shook her head, sniffing and whimpering. “He threatened to do something to him, like he did to Anthony. I believed him mum. He said he’d kill you too. God, he said that a lot.” I walked around the sofa, and started rubbing at my head with my hands. It was all getting too much, and I could sense Lucy shifting uneasily on the sofa. There was too much. My head was full of it, and I’d tried so hard to crush it all down, to make it fade away. What did the fucking bitch want to do to me? Dragging it all out again, and why? For what? “So I didn’t tell anyone, ‘cause I was scared of what he’d do. I hated myself for what happened to Anthony. So you don’t even know, if he’s just started knocking you about, you don’t even fucking know what he’s capable of.” I dropped my hands and stared at her. “He’s evil mum. He’s sick. Why else would I run away and not tell you where I was going?”
She got shakily to her feet, and hugged herself with her arms, quivering from head to toe. “I was blind,” she said, her voice strangled with tears. “I just saw what I wanted to see. I know that now. You were being good, and he was so firm all the time, and sometimes…I know this sounds terrible, but I just felt relieved, to take a back seat, you know? I was wrong. I was a mess. I should have stood up for you more…That time he hit you, at Christmas?”
“Yeah that was me trying to show you,” I told her through my teeth. “I tried to provoke him so you’d see the real him. And I told you once, and you accused me of telling lies. You believed him over me. You would have seen it, if you’d cared mother. But you never cared about me, you never wanted me, so I suppose it was easy for you really?”
She came towards me then, this awful shivering whining mess of a woman, and I stood my ground and crossed my arms. I glared into that face and I thought of all the times I’d needed her. “Not true, that’s not true,” she was blubbing on. Her hands landed on my arms, gripping and clawing. “He might have told you that, but it’s not true Danny, I couldn’t cope with you, I admit that, but I loved you!”
“Bullshit,” I laughed at her, tearing my arms from her grip. I looked her up and down in pure disgust, and the anger was winning now, and I knew that somewhere deep and ugly inside of me, I hated her, I really fucking hated her. “If you’d cared you would have kept an eye on things. You never once asked me if I was happy. Never once asked me what I thought of him. If I’d thought for one second that you cared, I would have told you stuff. You’d be in one room, off your head on sleeping pills, and he’d be in my room attacking me! He didn’t even care! You let him! That’s the truth of it mum! You let him!”
She reached for me again, and I moved back. “I didn’t know, I thought he was talking to you, sorting you out…I thought…”
“I know what you fucking thought!” I roared at her then, my breath taking the hair from her face. “You thought it was fucking good the control he had over me! That’s what you thought mother! You thought it was great how well behaved I suddenly was, and hey, what’s wrong with the old fashioned way anyway? Odd clip round the ear, the odd slap. Belt when you really deserve it. Kettle cord once at Jack’s place. Oh yeah. Pretty inventive hey? Probably did me good, eh? That’s what he thinks, you know. It’s all supposed to make me a good boy. Yeah? Does he say that to you? Does he?” I stepped towards her, leant down so that my face was close to hers. “Is he trying to make you into a good girl mum? Is that it eh? Are you tidy enough for him? Is the house too dirty? Do you look at him the wrong way?”
She looked like she was sagging slowly down to the floor, her mouth hanging open in horror, her eyes a mess. “I didn’t know…” she kept saying it. Over and over again. “I didn’t know he went that far…I didn’t know…he was so good at convincing me it was all you, it was all your fault, and all he was trying to do was help you, and have a bond with you.” She sniffed, sucking her snot and tears back up her nose, and she wiped her face and glanced down at the floor. “He’d even cry sometimes…cry because you hated him, because you wouldn’t let him be a dad to you. I fell for it…I was such a fool, such an idiot! I didn’t know the truth until we moved here. Not really.” She looked up then and her eyes met mine. “You remember once you said to me, we reap what we sow? Well this is it isn’t it. I’m reaping what I sowed. What I caused.”
I snorted and moved back from her again. “You don’t expect me to feel sorry for you do you? ‘Cause I don’t! He hasn’t even got started on you yet! This,” I gestured violently at her battered face. “This is nothing! Wait til he really gets started! Wait ‘til he burns you with his fags, kicks you around the room!” I wrenched my coat up then, yanking my jumper and t-shirt up, turning just enough so that she could see. I heard her moan. “Like that!” I yelled in triumph. “Wait ‘til you look like that! Then I might feel sorry for you!” I pulled my clothes down and faced her. I was shaking hard. I smiled at her viciously. Was a part of me enjoying this? Seeing her suffer, making her see the truth, finally? I’d waited so long, I thought, I’d waited so long for her to see me.
“I don’t want or expect your pity…” she started to say to me.
“Well you never felt sorry for me, did you? Do you know how sick it used to make me, watching you two fawn all over each other? Kissing and cuddling on the sofa? When behind your back he was pure fucking evil? Oh you thought it was great, didn’t you mum? Danny doing what he was told finally, finally. Danny keeping his room tidy, so he could come and inspect it twice a fucking day! Oh you loved it, don’t tell me you didn’t! Danny doing what he was told, whoo hoo! Yeah I did what I was told because I was fucking terrified the whole time! Do you want to hear any more about how it was?” I asked her, bringing my face aggressively close to hers again. “’Cause I can tell you a horror story from beginning to end, if you like!” I pulled away, my face crumpling, pain crashing in, and I wanted to get out of there, I wanted to get far away from her and her beaten face. Lucy shot up from the sofa, came to me and wrapped her arms around me.
“Don’t do this to yourself,” she said. “Let’s just go, you’ve had enough.”
“No, please don’t go! Not yet!” My mother spread her legs, held out her hands, as if that would be enough to stop us getting past. Her hands were shaking, as she looked at me pleadingly. “Please don’t go yet, I know you’re angry, and you have every right to be! You can tell me, tell me anything, please, I need to know, I want to know…”
“Why?” Lucy turned and shot at her. Her voice was different, I thought. She didn’t sound like my Lucy at all then. She kept one hand on my arm, and faced my mother. “Why do you want to know? Why now? You have no idea do you?” Her voice was rising, becoming shrill and tight with anger. “Danny is lucky to be alive! Did you know that? What about the drugs Mrs Howard? What about the big uproar from you and the school over that? You know who gave him the drugs, do you? Your husband and his sick little friend! They were in it together from the start.” Lucy’s lips snarled back, and she looked at me, holding my hand, rubbing it with hers. “Let’s go,” she hissed.
“I don’t understand,” my mother cried, her hands back over her mouth. “What are you talking about? Lee doesn’t do drugs! He doesn’t….” She shook her head behind her hands, and I guess the full truth was really hitting her then. You could practically see it, when you looked at her face. She reached out for the sofa, gripped the back of it with one hand. I could have sneezed and knocked her over then. She looked like she was going to be sick, as her eyes moved from Lucy, to me. “What about Jack?” she whispered. “Why would he do that? Why would he sell you drugs?”
I had to sit down. My eyes were pissing me off, filling up with fucking tears, pain rushing in from every angle, memories, horrors, chasing away the anger, and I couldn’t take it. I sat down and covered my face….don’t go there…don’t go there, for fucks sake, why did I come? “They were in it together,” Lucy was saying behind me. “Your husband brought Jack here on purpose, supplied Danny with drugs, to keep him quiet, to keep him out the way, and while you were swanning around with new haircuts and clothes, your son was practically having a nervous breakdown! And it gets worse…” Lucy came around the sofa, holding her hand out to me. “We’re not staying though, ask your precious husband if you want to know the truth, we’re going, come on Danny.”
I didn’t take her hand, because I couldn’t move. I was rigid, frozen, barely there. Tears were sliding slowly down my face behind my hands, and I didn’t want either of them to see. Lucy tugged my hand away from my face and pulled me until I got up. “Please don’t go,” mum was sobbing again, still clinging to the sofa as if she was too weak to stand up alone. “What are you talking about Lucy? Why does it get worse? What do you mean?”
“Ask your husband,” Lucy snarled at her, dragging me towards the door. “Ask him about Jack’s past, ask him why he was thrown out of the police, ask him why he sent him round to Danny on the day he ran away! Ask him why!” She was shouting now, really shouting, and I had never heard her raise her voice before. I shook my head, it was hurting it was hurting everywhere.
“Don’t Lucy,” I uttered, glancing at mum.
“We’re not staying here to rake it up anymore,” Lucy went on, her arm suddenly tightly around my waist. We were in the hallway and my mother followed us, her face aghast, her hands up under her chin. “You’ve no idea how long it’s taken Danny to get his life back together again, and I’m not gonna’ let you ruin it all!” She was at the door, fumbling with the handle and lock. Her cheeks were bright red, her eyes wide and glazed with fury. I hung back, felt my mothers hand on my shoulder, tentative and light.
“Please come back another day,” she was begging me. “Please come again, please tell me about Jack, tell me everything, please, I need to know, I need to make it up to you somehow, I need to…I am sorry, Danny? Danny?” I turned slowly, and her hand turned with me, moving to settle on my chest, just below my shoulder. Tears made her face look like a blurred reflection. “I need to get away from him too Danny…He’s going to kill me. I know it. I don’t how to..I’m not as strong as you are…”
I looked at her, and my jaw tightened. I wondered what to tell her. I wondered if I owed her anything. “I was lucky I had my friends,” I told her stiffly, my lips barely moving to allow the words to escape. She nodded vigorously. “They helped me. They saved me. I’d be dead if it wasn’t for them, one way or another. That’s the truth. They stood by me, they put themselves at risk, and everything is good now.” I breathed out slowly, turned and found Lucy’s hand again.
“Good,” my mother babbled, smiling through her wet washed face. “Good, good, I am so glad, I am so relieved. Please say you’ll come again? If he’s away? Or we could meet? Please say you will…I know I don’t deserve it, I know I don’t deserve anything from you, but please, we need to talk. There’s so much more that needs to be said Danny. Please. I don’t want to lose you again.”
I nodded and sighed. I glanced behind me and saw the hall table, neatly laid out with telephone, notepad, pen and vase of carefully arranged flowers. I went to it wonderingly, picked up a sheet of paper and scribbled on it. I folded it in half, and turned to my mother. She had a hopeful smile, pulling up her busted lips. It made her look like she was snarling at me. I pressed the paper into her hand. “Call that number,” I said to her, before heading out the door with Lucy.
“Thank you,” she gasped after us. “Thank you!”
Outside, the February sun was a hammer upon my head, and the ice cold air a slap across my face. I caught my breath, and started walking. Lucy quickened her pace to catch up with me, but suddenly I did not want her anywhere near me. “What did you write?” she asked me, her breath puffing out in front of her like bursts of steam. “What number did you give her?”
“999,” I replied, and walked on, head down, shoulders hunched.