The Last Time

She was a dead weight to him. All he could see was brown hair as her body flailed and bounced from one side of the room to the other. He inhaled through gritted teeth while she stared open-mouthed at him as if he were a stranger. And although he could hear cries, screaming, sobs, gasps, words… nothing registered. It was only when she ran into the toilet to vomit that his demon was temporarily exorcised. Only then could he make sense of the scene. And it was only then, when his rage subsided, that he could hear one of the neighbours banging on the front door, voicing concern.

The next morning, she was a mess. Bruises on her neck, a swollen nose, puffy eyes, discoloured limbs. He said good morning and kissed her – her mouth was tainted with clotted blood. It was a metallic, mechanic kiss. She put on a polo neck and went to work. Later that day, she would gloat about the love bites she was hiding and her colleagues would laugh and find her endearing. She was a good liar.

It was a typical Andalusian summer when they met – sticky and soulless. They exchanged a couple of sentences. That was enough and something clicked. He felt her eyes burn into his; she knew him and he wanted her. They wanted each other. And there they were; walking hand in hand along the shore. With a couple of drinks in their systems, they were like a pair of kids. Play fighting, even then. They kissed and he whispered in her ear: “I can imagine waking up with you in the morning, every morning. And I can imagine making you breakfast and making love to you. I can imagine loving you.” He never did have much of a way with words.

From there, the love grew like a tumour. Predictably, chapters of her past were revealed. Things he didn’t like. Revealed accidentally. Gradually. The foundations were cracking. He knew it would tumble. It had happened before.

She was never really the same after the major ‘incident’. He didn’t realise at the time, but this free spirit had become a broken recluse. An inevitable shame gnawed away in the pit of his stomach. His father stared back at him in the mirror and the tattoo he had carved into his flesh in his teens stood out on his upper arm more than ever before; the Chinese symbol for ‘beast’. An eternal reminder – a relentless poke. He had become the monster he was so desperate to slay.

“Stick around until I break your nose. Stick around ‘til I smash your jaw in,” he had warned her.

“Do you want to hurt me again?” she mumbled through salty lips.

He shook his hung-low head and closed his eyes tightly so the tears wouldn’t escape. 

“Then don’t,” her doughy eyes pleaded.

“I can’t promise that,” he spat.

“You can’t promise not to hurt me?”

Silence.

“Promise, baby, please. Please promise not to hurt me again…”

She forced the promise out of him. And to be fair on him, he desperately wanted to keep it.

February. That was the penultimate ‘incident’. An argument about an ex of hers. He never would remember how the fight escalated – but as sure as his self-made hell would consume him, it spiralled until he felt her face collide with his fist.

And the last? Something stupid. Dinner, perhaps. Yes, it was the time she warmed up baked beans after he spent hours slaving away in the kitchen over a gourmet meal. He wasn’t impressed so he grabbed her by the neck and threw her onto the floor. The fan fell over, her laptop went flying, and he heard her whimper. Her hand was cut and her elbow stuck out at an odd angle. Face to the floor, she wept.

As her pain seeped into him, the previous ‘incidents’ resurfaced with vengeance – the first slap, the way she held onto him as he threw her around like a rag doll, how she crumpled on the floor, the force at which she hit the wall, the grace with which she slid down it, all the while begging him to let her go, the piercing screams, the knocking at the door, the fury with which he smashed his head into her nose, the gush of blood, the back hand slap, the full-force punch, the tremor of his hand as he gripped her hard around the neck, the wheezing as she struggled for breath, the time she was forced underneath his weight, they way he sprawled on top of her, holding her head before slamming it into the marble floor, the retching… and the silence.  The silence that drowned out the screaming.

In the various aftermaths, his reflection would stare back at him from the bottom of a glass of vodka. Down it went. Once again, he drank to forget. 

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