-1000 Below: Flash Prose and Poetry Contest
Judged by Michael Martone
Last night I heard the screaming,
loud voices behind the wall.
Another sleepless night for me.
It won’t do no good to call.
The police always come late
if they come at all
and when they arrive
they say they can’t interfere
with domestic affairs
between a man and his wife
and as they walk out the door
the tears well up in her eyes…
~”Behind the Wall,” Tracy Chapman (1988)
Memory Slide 1
I remember where I was standing when I saw him coming down the hallway like a bowling ball down an alley, intent on knocking all the pins down, an intention I could see and feel in his coal-colored eyes that high beamed me in the night, how I tried to back away but there was nowhere to go except to splay myself against the bedroom wall. I was 30. We were 10 years into our marriage when he became eerily distant and prone to sudden anger after which he would feel relieved while I struggled to survive the aftermath. I had said to him in the living room that I was leaving and he backed me down the hallway and pin-pointed me with his eyes and these words: I will follow you wherever you go. You will not escape me.
Memory Slide 2
I remember standing outside the front door of our house on a hill overlooking the Ohio River: stark naked, screaming. I was coming out of the bathtub and reaching for a towel when he came in and grabbed me and threw me out of the house and locked the door. I remember feeling shocked as if some intruder had broken in, terrorized I would be beaten and my children taken, robbed of life. I remember pounding, pounding on the door, finally being let in, shivering, hugging my children, as if relieved they were spared, but wondering where, where we were now, how none of this could be undone.
Memory Slide 3
I remember his suddenly throwing a large bowl of salad I had just prepared: how it flipped upside down and landed on the kitchen floor, scattering some green leaves while others stuck inside a plastic dome they couldn’t escape and my sitting in a chair, my body frozen, my mind thinking that all the leaves inside or out would have to be disposed, no nourishment here, and re-thinking “until death do us part” when my two-year old daughter climbed up on my lap and patted me on my back pat pat-pat to comfort me as I used to do after I nursed her and rocked her to sleep.
Memory Slide 4
I remember his pinning me against a wall, shouting, drooling with anger, pulling my hair, scratching my face, spitting saliva and the words You whimpering cunt! when our 6-year-old son walked into the room and his words Mom, mom! A policeman’s at the door! releasing me, my going down the stairs, trembling, blood trickling down my face, hearing the policeman asking me if I was alright and my saying Please help me and his saying that he can’t interfere with domestic affairs, that the neighbors had heard a disturbance and called and he would write a report and his turning around, leaving me tearstained, bloodstained, standing at the door, framed like a still life.
Memory Slide 5
I remember meeting with the divorce lawyer—just one, he said—we can’t afford two—and the lawyer saying what a nice couple, why would you get a divorce, and my not saying why for fear he would attack me later. But outside he was being friendly as if everything was all right and let’s have lunch like our friend Bill used to do every time he divorced. I remember the restaurant in Louisville—the old brick walls, light streaming through a stained-glass window, the noise of ladies having lunchtime conversations—then just as we were about to leave, his making some discordant remark I don’t remember, then slam! being slammed against a brick wall just as I rose from my chair, his eyes piercing me like darts and the whole restaurant gone quiet, everyone caught in a still black & white photograph, except for me squirming, his eyes shifting toward the door, his grabbing my elbow and ushering us out into his car, where I was afraid so afraid to be contained that I could not sustain.