The Next Room.

nightmare_by_unaobsesion

Nightmare, by UnaObsesion

The couple in the next room fight all the time. Through paper-thin walls, my husband and I hear the shouting, the insults shot bullet-like back and forth. Invisible weaponry in a largely invisible war.

Usually we have the music on, or the TV, so we can drown it out. But it’s in the silence between songs or when the conversation drops during a movie that the fighting in the next room catches us off guard. A yell. A thud. The sound of a sobbing child. Piercing the solitude in our home, setting our teeth on edge, making us nervous for reasons we can’t quite explain.

At night when my husband switches off the TV and takes me in his arms, the sound of our quick breaths and long sighs fill my head, leaving room for nothing else.  But later, when we lie in bed with nothing to distract us, we listen quietly as the shouting continues into the night. I can see worry lines deepen on my husband’s usually smooth forehead when he hears the little boy pleading with his parents to stop, the babyish voice heavy with tears. I jump involuntarily as the sharp sound rings out – a hand striking soft skin. The crying is silenced.

I reach to hold my husband but he turns away and I know he’ll be awake long after I fall asleep. I know he wants to interfere somehow to help the little one in the next room, but he never does. No one interfered for him.

*

I never see the couple together. They’re always separate, always apart, except for when they fight together in the next room.

Sometimes I pass her in the hallway or climbing up the stairs to our common floor. Bloodless lips stretch tight across her face as she forces a smile for me, her neighbour. I know my smile in return is as artificial. She walks gingerly, as if she is hiding pain beneath the cover of her drab patterened dress.

Once I saw her with a black eye. It was new – it seemed to be blossoming as we stood there staring uncomfortably at each other. She looked guilty, as if she hadn’t been prepared to meet someone on her quick dash to get the milk early morning. The bruise looked almost like ink on a tissue, tinting her skin an ugly, painful grey.

I couldn’t help asking what was wrong or if I could help, trying to comfort her in some small way. And when I involuntarily reached out to touch her shoulder, she jerked back and stepped sideways, an expert reflex move of avoidance. Knuckles white, fists balled defensively at her side, ready to hit, lash, protect. Embarrassed, I dropped my hand, hardly hearing her quick recovery, something about a bad fall. I mumbled useless offers to help as I left, heaving a sigh of relief when I got back to my house, glad to be out of the awkward situation.

*

I barely see the husband, knowing him mostly by the sounds he makes, apart from the hitting and shouting.

Sometimes, late at night, I hear the distinctive sputter of his pick-up truck as he parks it haphazardly in our lot. I get up, out of bed and watch from the window as he almost falls out of the seat and stumbles to the entrance of our building, blind drunk. I hear the erratic foot falls, heavy on the wooden staircase; then the dragging shuffles as he makes his way down the corridor to his apartment.

I get an unpleasant image in my head of his wife, listening to the sounds of his approach just like I am doing. But whereas I am safe from him – an outside spectator – she is waiting there in that next room, tense,  afraid, but resigned. To the surprising strength of the drunk man as he pushes her rudely to a side, on his way to the bottle of brandy in the kitchen; to the foul stink of alcohol on his breath as he rails at her, his mouth millimeters from her face; to the violent, clumsy rape that inevitably follows – an appalling violation, every single time. Another dress to mend tomorrow. Another excuse to invent for the benefit of her little one when she is hurting too much to bend to play with him. He knows she’s lying – children always know – but she does it anyway.  

I jump when I hear him bellowing her name, rudely demanding that the door be opened. Silence. When door finally creaks open, I imagine it sounds reluctant, as if she is stalling for time she doesn’t have.

And the one-sided war begins.

I get back into bed, my thoughts upset and confused. I lie there, breathing hard, unable to settle in one position long enough to fall asleep. The sheet suffocates. The air is too still. And that damn shouting just doesn’t stop.

My husband is asleep, the ear plugs we bought the other day having worked their magic. I feel a rush of love for him and his easy personality. He could never hit a woman. Even his anger was quiet and gentle – he would sulk for an hour or two but the smallest thing would be enough to bring that slow, sweet smile back to his face.

I shake him awake, kissing him fiercely almost before he can wake. There is a question in his returned kisses but I don’t explain. Just fill my head up with the sound of our breathing, thanking him silently with a body that has never been touched in anger.

*

Sometimes I don’t even hear the yelling. Isn’t that terrible?

I’ve got so used to it now, I can just filter it out. Sometimes. Just sometimes.

It’s the little boy that keeps alive the horror of it. I see it in his eyes everyday. And everyday the pain is fresh; new. More. 

On my way home from work, I see him playing in the park with his friends. Laughing almost hysterically as he dodges a chasing playmate; hooting boastfully as he swings on the bars of a colourful climbing frame, kicking his legs for momentum. I see how he basks in the affectionate cuddles from his friends’ parents, although he dutifully squirms away from them after a few precious minutes.

I see the transformation when his own mother comes to pick him up. The smile disappears and his face plunges into a shadowy scowl, as if a light has been switched off somewhere inside him. The playful kid is replaced suddenly by a sullen man-child, dragging his feet in his reluctance to go home.

Sometimes he sneaks out of the apartment to play in the corridor and I sit with him, watching while he makes believe. He tells me about his made-up Lego family, how happy they are and the adventures they have together. I smile through my heartbreak.

Invariably though, our play sessions end with a sharp voice calling him inside and once again I see the smile vanish and the dark cloud settle over his sweet features. He gathers up his toys, not caring if he breaks his perfect Lego-constructed life. I can read such a mix of emotions in his jerky movements and I wonder silently how such a small body can take it. Helpless anger. Frustration. Terrible insecurity. Shamed fear.

I ache to prevent him from going into that next room.

But I don’t.

The door opens and the child disappears quickly into blaze of heated words and worse. The door is shut once again, giving me a few moments of temporary silence.

I let myself into my house and exhale shakily, consumed by unnamable grief. And, once again, guiltily close my door on the next room. 

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31 Comments Add yours

  1. RD says:

    Poignant and powerful Gyppo. It’s kind of left me without words, except for these ones.

  2. Oh wow. You need to write a book MFG. You have what it takes to be an amazing story-teller.

    BTW, have you heard the song “my name is Luca”? It kept running through my head while I was reading this for some strange reason.

    Keep writing my lovely one :)

  3. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Thanks, R. I love your feedback, it’s always so good! :)

    MFMS, thanks, writing this really upset me for some reason. I love ‘Luka’ – Suzanne Vega’s fantastic. It’s one of those songs I always listened to but never LISTENED to, you know? Went and looked at the lyrics just now, and, wow. I know what you mean.

  4. Another brilliant one Gypsy.

    Thank god for small mercies eh?

  5. TheWhacksteR says:

    painful story gypsy.. nicely written.

  6. Zephyr says:

    Wow Gyppie!!! You should make this into a short film!!!!!!

  7. Makuluwo says:

    For like the umpteenth time on your blog.. Wow.
    Speechless at the end of it really, and my heart feels heavier after reading it as though the protagonist was in my head.
    You’d make an excellent novelist. (:

  8. akashio says:

    Ah, The Next Room. Great work. Suspicion, suspense, imagination, judgment, and apathy all rolled into one :)! Nice work, keep it up! The genre you’re working with is what I’m working up to in my blog. Have a look if you like and we can correspond :)!

  9. Fallen says:

    What about the husband? What was his childhood life? What led to his alcohol abuse? I have a feeling that the child would turn out the same. As perfect as his Lego life might be, that’s only a dream, reality is what he sees everynight. Reality to him consists of bruises and screams. Would he grow up to resent his mother for putting up with all of it and allowing him to witness it? Who would he hate more? Would hate be all he’d know? Earbuds or even blindfolds won’t shield him from the truth.

  10. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Charm: Thanks :) What do you mean by small mercies though?? And WHY do your comments always end up in my spam folder????

    The Whackster: Thanks :)

    Z: Thank you darling, I’ve had a lot of inspiration for it this past week. I only hope I can do the issue justice. There are more on the way – I just need to find a way to put it across originally.

    Makuluwo: If only I could work up to a novel one day!! Time will tell. Thanks so much for your comment.

    Akashio: Thank you! I would love to read your blog – I don’t think you’ve linked to it in your comment. Can you get it across to me somehow?

    Fallen: Interesting points, all of them. I couldn’t address them all in my post, I just wanted to take a sort of snap shot of a situation, seen through the eyes of a normal person. A person who, quite humanly, feels so sympathetic but also does nothing to help. This is something I feel quite strongly about so I think I want to write more on it. Thanks for your suggestions, maybe I’ll think about putting them into another post in the future.

  11. Read this, and sat quietly for a while, not knowing what to do next. Sad, feels so real. You bring your stories to life in such wonderful manner, Gyp, you are one hell of a story teller.
    You are officially in my top 10 authors list – better bring out the book soon!
    ;)

  12. Small mercies was with reference to what we take for granted, what the little kid in this story can only wish for. Small things like a happy family and a good childhood. :)

  13. and NO idea abt the spam!!! :(

  14. Kalusudda says:

    I work once a week with under privileged children, I teach them how to swim and they teach me how to be a man plus I learn slang I never knew. I have seen this (and welts on backs) in real life many a times and being the strong guy I am, hide my tears in swimming pool water. More than one occasion, I have gone to the authorities. It sickens me to think/see how people neglect and hurt their children, for life.
    Great Writing, as usual!

  15. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Serendib: I felt exactly the same after I wrote it. Sad and rather depressed by it all. I’m not sure about the book but let’s hope I get there some day!

    KS: Wow, that sounds wonderful and terrible at the same time. Terrible for what you have to see and wonderful for what you’re doing to help. Good on you. Thanks :)

  16. Makes you wonder why is the world so cruel, do you have to carry on your dark childhood to the next generation. Don’t you want to put foot down n say no my son/daughter should be a better person.

    Great story though. Wonder if it’s somethin you read/experienced… :) but its a lil harsh and can explain why it would have been hard for you to write about it..

  17. johndoe says:

    Hmmm at least there’s plenty of evidence to say that i’m not biased when I say your writing is awesome.

    Read this last night before heading to bed and lay awake for ages!

  18. The Unsilent says:

    Beautiful. Your writing amazes me, time and time again. Loved every word of it. Waiting for more…

  19. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Lost Soul – No, I’ve never experienced it, actually. The reason I wrote it is that I’ve been doing some workshops on Gender Based Violence at work which sort of inspired me to write. I always like putting myself in the shoes of someone I don’t know and writing as if I am a different person. Sort of like acting, but through words. Maybe that’s why it was so hard to write about though – because it’s so real and happens all over the country and no one does anything about it. Thanks for your comment :)

    John Doe – Aw honey. Hope I didn’t depress you considering this is your day :)

    Unsilent – Thanks babe, as always :)

  20. akashio says:

    Sorry about leaving my blog addy out :)! It’s http://akashio.wordpress.com/ . I look forward to reading more of your work!

  21. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Akashio: Lovely. I had a look and I loved it, will keep reading.

    Charm: Those last two comments you made were in spam as well. Argh! Get what you mean now about the small mercies and I agree. Sigh :/

  22. Archisman says:

    Great work. Complex yet subtle. Shows the grays of life. Keep it up. Do drop in on my blog. http://furtiveglances.wordpress.com

  23. Jerry says:

    Brilliant, you’ve managed to make me gloomy :P
    Brilliant stuff though!

  24. delilahsays says:

    amazing post. i read this so many times over the last few days. can relate to it in more ways than one. i ache for him. brilliant work Gypsy.

  25. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Archisman – Thanks :) Will drop by your blog sometime soon!

    Jerry – Hahaha, sorry about that! But thanks!

    Delilah – Thanks babe. It’s sad that so many children have to go through this. No child should know what that’s like.

  26. Words actually fail me. Absolutely fab! :)

  27. Angel says:

    Amazing…. absolutely amazing…

    I’m your groupie! :)

  28. Fallen says:

    would you mind if I try writing on this?
    from the perspective of the kid i.e.
    I won’t post it without your permission, of course (:

  29. thebohemiangypsy says:

    Scrump & Angel – Thanks :) I’m thoroughly flattered!

    Fallen – Yeah sure :) Look forward to it!

  30. Slow Chills says:

    I was thinking of “Luka” and “nothing broken, nothing thrown – just don’t ask me how I am” was running in my head too. You write beautifully. Great post!

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