Final Results for 2013
The competition has made £636 profit, which will go to Women’s Aid, for the children that they help.
A very big thank you to you all.
1st – Pamela Evans, North Wales. “Our Summer Garden”
2nd – Nigel MaCarthur, London. “A Trillion Fairy Tears”
3rd – R West, Wiltshire. “The Shunning”
Runners up: Angela Greenwood - “Returning Home”. Louise Hird – “Meet Me At The Garden Gate”. Pam Keevil – “Memories Are Made Of This”.
1st – Mary-Rose Benton, Worcestershire. “Vackies”
2nd – Ken Mathers, West Yorkshire. “Child’s Play”
3rd – Sheila Powell, Cheshire. “Pre-fab Summer”
Runners Up: Jayne Morgan – “Sing Something Simple”. Richard Bramwell – “Childhood Home”. Samantha Molyneux – “Sunday Training”.
School years 10 and 11
Chioma Ifeogwu, Wembley
H Qi, King Edward VI, St Edmunds
K Norton, The Weald School, Billinghurst
Darcey Kelly, St Albans,
Robyn Edwards, The Westlands School, Sittingbourne
Anisha Faruk, Wembley High
Ayaan Mohamud, Iqraa Afzal, Wembley High
Lauren Mullins, The Westlands School, Sittingbourne
Saima Khan, Wembley High
School years 7, 8 and 9
Melissa Baker, Brewood Middle
Ashley Dawson, Christleton High
Reece Bradley, Cheslyn Hay
Sophie Bateman, Brewood Middle
Ben William Jackson, Byrchall High
Billie Powell, Penrice CC
Orli Vogt-Vincent, JCSS
Ruby Haynes, Brewood Middle
Phoebe Roberts, Brewood Middle
Molly Harriman, Brewood Middle
Joshua Hayes, Brewood CE
Laura Snape, Cheslyn Hay
Olivia Cookson, Cheslyn Hay
The winners are as follows:
1st – Shirley Osborn, Lancashire ‘Moving On’
2nd – Nigel Macarthur, London ‘Bars’
3rd – Sarah Line Letellier, New Zealand ‘The Castle’
D Bruton ‘Sleight of Hand’
Elizabeth Day ‘The Message’
Linda Menzies ‘The Last Straw’
Nita Lewsey ‘No Going Back’
Jill Scarr ‘Thunderstorm Flies’
Joy Thomas ‘Dear John’
1st – Audrey Caie, Glasgow ‘For Better or for Worse’
2nd – Pat Metcalfe, High Peak ‘Skimming’
3rd – Pam Upton, Burton on the Wolds ‘Velvet’
Sara Ridgley ‘Skeleton’
Sarah Buckmaster ‘Silence’
Robyn Bradbury ‘Missing Pieces’
The recommendations will be receiving a book either ‘Writers Toolkit’ by Sue Johnson or ‘What If?’ by Number 8.
The standard of all of the entries were exceptionally high, especially with such a difficult theme. I hope you all enjoyed entering and would consider entering the next competition which will raise funds for ‘Help for Heroes’, the theme will be ‘Future’.
The competition raised £330.00 for Womens Aid which they received just before Christmas and it was designated for work with children – a very big thank you!
The winners' stories and poems are published under the tag 'Winners' entries', please read, they are fantastic.
Thank you for entering.
For Better or For Worse - by Audrey Caie
Have I been asking for too much?
For peace to enjoy ordinary things,
Gentle conversation with friends,
Quiet times for simple contemplation,
A film, a play, listening to music,
Simple pleasures others take for granted.
Going out and coming in freely
Without questions or recriminations.
Watching the marmalade cat lazily licking soft paws
In a shaft of sunlight on the window sill.
Hearing the lapping of waves on the sand
While leisurely strolling along a deserted shore.
Instead of these – harassment and grief –
Dad after day silent suffering.
Dreading the key turning, constantly lying,
Covering the bruises, making excuses.
Yesterday though, Hope gave me strength,
Soothed my trampled spirit,
Told me it was time to move on
And, this time, no turning back.
I came here alone, wounded and weeping,
No bags packed, no time for possessions,
Desperate to reach sanctuary
In just the clothes I stood up in.
The faces of strangers here are kind,
Though etched with similar sadness.
Last night I slept a safe sleep
Wrapped in silky clouds of comfort.
But in the early morning light – a nightmare
Real and terrifying behind closed eyelids....
In one awful moment of disquiet
I thought I heard you calling.
Skimming - by Pat Metcalf
She’s a stone skimmed on water.
Flies first from her father’s hand
In her fourteenth year
In the boys’ clothes
His friends enjoyed
Touches down in the arms of the law;
Lost property brought back PDQ.
Knows that night
As the reckoning begins
She’ll die before she’s caught again.
Nicks his wallet for a long-haul train ride,
Picks some pockets
For a place in Care.
Safe here, they think she’s a boy.
Short back and sides and
A filthy mouth on her.
Three quiet nights then the brutes
Find her out.
She absconds to the welcoming streets,
Finds a squat, some mates. They offer
Sanctuary, then speed, then smack.
Then for a fix they sell her stuff,
All she’s got but her self-respect
And while she’s stoned
They sell that too.
To the medics. She’s having a baby.
Someone who’ll love her; someone to love.
Hospital, care-worker, small bedsit;
Hopes comes in when least expect it.
You must understand the girl’s addicted,
And those cigarette burns? Self inflicted.
Can’t keep the child, she’d never cope.
No choice but to give it up.
A stone skimmed on a bottomless lake,
Lost to view as the waters break.
Velvet - by Pam Upton
When he moved in
He gave me a velvet dress
Wine-red and warm
Like love in winter.
Six months later
He gave me a velvet purse
Blue-black and clasped
Tight for safety.
On our first anniversary
He gave me velvet gloves
Purple like bruises
From an iron fist.
Moving On - by Shirley Osborn
I could just make out the shape of a woman, silhouetted in the grey mist of a rainy November evening. She was sitting under the bus shelter, a pile of plastic bags strewn on the wet pavement, contents tumbling out: underwear; shoes; a teddy bear. As I got nearer, I realized a child was huddled up close to her, almost completely submerged in a quilted jacket, hood pulled down, anchored with a scarf. I had no idea if it was a boy or a girl. By contrast, the woman was not dressed for the wet chilly weather. Her light denim jacket hung unbuttoned, showing a cotton tee shirt. Her bare legs, mottled blue with cold, were crossed, one shoe balancing on the end of her foot. As I approached she looked up at me. It was if she had been tipped upside down: all emotion drained away, every last drop. Her blonde hair was wet and hung like knotted ropes round her face; she looked almost beautiful. But then I saw her half closed eye: the surrounding tissue a violent palette of black, red and purple.
I was an expert on black eyes, but familiarity hadn’t lessened the horror. My stomach lurched and I thought I might throw up. I walked faster and looked over to the other side of the road, pretending something had just caught my attention.
I couldn’t tell you exactly when it all started. The realization crept up on me stealthily, catching me unawares: a sudden tap on the shoulder; a figure lurking in the shadows. For a time I tried to convince myself it was all my imagination. As long as I could remember there had always been arguments; but they had become longer and louder. They nearly always started after I had gone to bed, and usually when Dad had been drinking. I would hear Mum say:
‘Stop it, you’ll wake her up.’ But he didn’t stop and I was awake anyway. The noise they made was truly terrifying: thuds, bangs, screams. It became so familiar; I used to lie there working it out: was that a chair thrown over; was that a slap or a thump? I got really good at it. Now, it seems a sort of cold and calculating thing had to be done. But it was better than just lying in bed, wishing I was dead, or they were. Sometimes the ensuing silence was even worse. Perhaps he had killed her? And if he had, then I would have done nothing to stop him. I couldn’t even try to sleep until I heard them come up to bed: never together. Mum was always last, crying quietly. Once she came in and I pretended to be asleep. She sat on the bed stroking my hair and her tears wet my pillow.
‘I’m so sorry,’ she wept, ‘what have I done?’ I nearly sat up and shouted,
‘What have you done?’
In the mornings I used to put off going downstairs for breakfast for as long as I could. I would make sure that Dad had already left for work. After the previous night it would seem eerily quiet and normal; just a bad dream perhaps? But no, I would see Mum’s back deliberately turned, and when eventually she had to turn round, I would look anywhere but her face, but in the end of course I ha to.
‘You’ll be late for school, hurry up!’ she would say. Sometimes it came out all funny, because her lip would be swollen and she couldn’t talk properly. When I left to catch the bus I could never bring myself to kiss her, to touch that awful messed up face. I felt bad about it, but would just shout,
‘See you later,’ and dash off as if I didn’t have a care in the world. I would take gulps of fresh air, trying to rid myself of the horror of it all.
Of course people must have known. I think I wanted them to in a way, but then, when I had the chance to tell someone, I didn’t take it. I was ill at school. I used to get really bad headaches. My teacher was so kind, I really loved her.
‘I’ll give your Mum a ring,’ she said. ‘You need to go home, you look dreadful!’
‘No, no please don’t!’
‘Why on earth not?’ Because: if you see her face..... I thought.
‘She’s only just got a new job, and they’ll be funny with her if she takes time off.’
‘She’s working now then, is she?’ I nodded. I knew she didn’t believe me.
‘Is there anything you want to tell me? I may be able to help.’
‘No,’ I said, ‘no, you wouldn’t, I mean, no you couldn’t, no there isn’t!’ She took my hand for a moment, and I don’t know how I didn’t burst out crying. The lump in my throat really hurt and nearly choked me.
It was so shameful; a terrible thing and I should have been able to do something about it. I did try. I hid Dad’s drink; but Mum got the blame for that. I tried to get Mum to say and do just what he liked, but she never seemed to manage it. And why, oh why did she never stop talking? And why did she keep apologizing when she hadn’t done anything wrong? Not that I was on his side, of course not, but he was really kind to me, and he had such a nice side to him. It really didn’t make sense at all. It did my head in.
After the headache episode, Mum and Dad got a letter from school, asking them to go in to see my teacher. Surprise, surprise, they even fought about that! Anyway, it ended up with Mum going, but she had to put it off until her eye looked more respectable, and she was able to cover it up with makeup. She was really good at that; but then, she had had plenty of practice. I don’t know what was said at the meeting; Mum just said I was to go to bed earlier, because the teachers were worried that I seemed tired and lethargic, and they wondered if I was worried about anything!
‘Well you aren’t are you?’ asked Mum. I looked at her in amazement but she had turned away. I shook my head.
One night was particularly bad, even for them. I was so scared I was physically sick. They must have heard me. The next morning there was no pretence. She was sitting at the kitchen table; her arms cradling her head. She looked up at me; no attempt this time to hide the damage. Her nose was bleeding. She wiped it absentmindedly with the back of her hand. Blood was everywhere.
‘It’s no good,’ she said, ‘I’ve got to go. I can’t take anymore of this. You can come with me,’ she stopped, ‘but I guess you’ll want to stay. You’re Daddy’s girl.’ It felt as if she was talking to herself. I was thankful she didn’t seem to be asking for a reply. I felt a mixture of terror and relief. For the first time I kissed her when I left, tasting the blood on my lips. She wouldn’t leave, would she? Where would she go?
‘We’re hanging out down town after school; coming?’ asked Jenny.
‘Yeah, thanks,’ I replied.
‘Cool, about time!’ I had long since stopped asking friends to the house. The excuses were wild and inconsistent: Dad’s working nights; Mum has bad nerves, (sort of true); even the decorators are in! They didn’t convince anyone. And of course the invites back to their place slowly dried up. I wasn’t sure I had any friends anymore; and their mums were definitely giving me funny looks.
Anyway, I got home late: past seven o’clock, which was unheard of. Dad was home; car in the drive. I went round the back; the door was open, although it was cold and raining. As I walked in Dad swung round,
‘Oh, it’s you! Where the hell have you been?’ In that split second I knew she had gone. I didn’t have to ask; but I did.
‘Where’s Mum?’ A long pause.
‘She’s gone.’ A longer pause. ‘But she’ll be back.’ He opened the bread bin and took out a new loaf. He sliced it wafer thin, as he always did, but his hand, usually rock solid, shook slightly. I was mesmerized by that knife. #I wanted to grab it, plunge it in, right up to the hilt, and see all his blood spurt out. I wanted to kick him, punch him, and see him black and blue: hurt him like he had never hurt me before. But instead,
‘Shall I make us a cup of tea?’ I said.
By now I had walked at least four hundred yards on from the bus shelter. Then it came to me: of course there are no more buses tonight! I turned and ran back, splashing through the puddles. The shelter was empty. I peered through the mist and could see tem, just disappearing round the corner. I kept running. It was easy to catch them; they couldn’t have walked slower if they had tried. Now I could see the child was a girl, about nine years old. They stopped, turning to look at me. The girl’s expression was solemn: but when she saw me she almost dared to smile; then she caught her mother’s expression and the smile was gone.
‘You’ve missed the last bus,’ I said. The woman shrugged helplessly. ‘Where are you going?’
‘Anywhere! I don’t know. What’s it to you anyway?’
‘Perhaps I can help you?’
‘No, no you can’t. Leave us alone, we can manage.’
‘Mum...’ pleaded the girl.
‘I think I know what’s happened to you.’ I couldn’t believe I was saying this, but I looked straight at her, this time without flinching.
‘How can you know? You are a complete stranger.’ I stood my ground. A car drove by fast, hitting standing water; I got soaked. It was of no consequence. After a minuteor two in spite of herself,
‘What are you saying? Has it happened to you then; this....?’ Her voice faltered; she raised her hand to her eye but then dropped it quickly.
‘Not to me, no, but it happened to my Mum. She left home, just walked out, with nothing.’ I took a deep breath. ‘I should have gone with her, but I didn’t.’ She started to speak but tears overwhelmed her. I put an arm round her, this woman whim I had never met before.
‘You’re doing the right thing,’ I said, ‘please believe me, you won’t regret it.’
Bars - by Nigel Macarthur
The bars are in my head.
They’re not on the windows, but I still can’t leave.
I mean, it’s my fault, isn’t it? About what he does to mean, I mean. I ought to know everything perfectly by the age of twenty, I suppose. I ought to know all about what he likes and dislikes after living with him for a year. ‘Wanda One Brain Cell’, he calls me. I’m trying to change things, though. I close my eyes and in my head I take the serrated, pointed knife from the kitchen, and start sawing through those bars. There is no scream of metal, though, because I’m not allowed to scream.
I’m not allowed to do a lot of things, in case he comes home from work in a bad mood. Or they cost money. The time he couldn’t afford his fags, he punched me so hard, the bruise took a new record time to go away.
I have this dream of going on Mastermind (specialist subject: bruises and how long they take to go away.) I could win. It would be great to be good at something, instead of being a failure all the time.
I read a self-help book a while back, but it didn’t make me feel very good. It’s all about self-esteem, which apparently, I haven’t got. So, I don’t know which to try to sort out first: my self-esteem or being a better live-in. I’m probably a failure at other things, too, but I can’t think of them right now.
I want to leave him, because the punches and kicks hurt so much. I can’t though, because I want to make him love me before I go. When I can make the money stretch to but all the beer he likes to drink, when he smiles at me, and when I have an orgasm every single time.... Then I can leave him. I can walk out with my head held high, knowing I’m good enough for someone else.
The way I feel inside hurts even more than the punches and kicks.
I saw a dog once, and it did one on the pavement. The owner slapped that dog so hard, and the dog looked up and its little eyes were so incredibly sad. The little dog seemed so incredibly sorry, just like I feel so much of the time. If my boyfriend’s life is that pavement, he looks at me as though I’ve just... Well, you know.
Then I look inside my head and the bars have healed up again. The bruises heal far more slowly than those bars. Every time I go inside my head and start sawing away at those bars, I do something bad and he hits me. Next time I look inside my head, the bars are all back again.
I never count how many there are. I only see how many I feel there are. The trouble is, what I feel doesn’t matter, so I end up confusing myself.
I thing I can never understand – if my feelings don’t matter, why do I keep feeling them the way I do? I lie awake thinking about that.
I also lie awake because my bladder has gone weaker. I don’t have to be feeling nervous or anything. I just suddenly start having this terrifying weakness. I think how many times he’ll hit me if I wet the bed, and that makes it even worse. I feel ice in the pit of my stomach, and I just have to slip out of bed, really softly and quietly, and scurry to the bathroom.
I can stay in the bathroom and have a cry. I can really let it go in the bathroom at night, and then I pray to my dead Gran. I ask her to forgive me, because, when I was a little girl I promised to marry a prince and invite her to tea at my palace. Of course, it’s so stupid that promises like that seem to matter now, but I feel so guilty all the time. My guilt seems to set me off by more and more. I don’t know where it will end, and I don’t want to think about it. A sick, tired feeling, and then a sly voice whispering somewhere down deep,
‘It’s what you deserve.’
Then comes the burning anger. Why me? Why me?
Then comes the guilt about being angry.
It’s always the guilt that stays.
On the nights I do manage to sleep, I’ve begun having this dream. The bruise-yellow butterflies always turn onto tenners that blow away. He is suddenly behind me, screaming,
‘Get them you stupid bitch! That’s my beer you’re letting blow away.’
He screams other things, then the kicks start. I feel them, even though it’s just a dream. I run faster and faster. My lungs and muscles burn, but the tenners are always just out of reach and eventually I just fall to the ground, where he kicks me until all of me is on fire. When I jerk awake and sit bolt upright, I remember only just in time not to scream.
‘You scream, my girl, I’ll give you good reason. I don’t want the neighbours thinking I do bad stuff to you.’
Whenever he says that, I keep quiet. It’s best that way.
There is one more thing I have to tell you. I was going to leave it there, but I’m scared and I can’t keep it in. I can’t go to the doctor because I’m not important enough, but I’ve got to tell someone. I told so many lies to so many people to cover up the trouble I’ve caused him, that there’s nobody I can tell, nobody out there who cares.
Anyway, I had one of my dreams last night, and I didn’t wake up in bed.
I woke up down in the kitchen. I don’t know how I got there, but there was no chance of me making the bathroom in time from down there. I bolted outside and let it go, squatting like a drunken party girl in some alley behind a nightclub.
I got myself together, and went inside to do some dusting. He hates dust, and says it makes it look as though we don’t care about the place. If I couldn’t sleep, at least I could dust. There’s no law against dusting in the early hours, and he wouldn’t mind if I do it quietly. And don’t spend any money, of course.
It was only when I went back into the kitchen that I saw what I must have been touching in my sleep. I didn’t notice it in its dark corner until the moon came out from behind a cloud. It shouldn’t have been out of its usual place.
Ice crystals broke through my skin. What had been going on in my mind that I had grabbed it out of its rack? I decided I’d throw it away next day. Later that same day, really. I’d throw everyone of them away, in case I went mad, grabbed one and ended up....
The bars are on the windows.
Well not bars, but those square bricks that are impossible to smash your way through.
I’d never seen him that angry before, and I lost my bladder and found the serrated pointed knife in its rack at the same moment.
I said to myself that I would leave him when I had succeeded in making him love me, when I ahd come up to the surface for air. When I was no longer drowning in his contempt, I would know that I could put him behind me, but now that day will never come, and I’ll be a failure for ever.
I can’t believe how kind everyone is here. The only time I saw anyone’s eyes angry was the woman who gave me the medical. She saw all those bruises, and then her face went like...his.
My solicitor, who asked me to call her Katy, has eyes that smile the way mine used to. I told her that.
‘Your eyes really smile,’ I said. ‘Do you get training in how to smile at murderers?’
‘You are not a murderer!’ she said firmly, leaning across the table. ‘I know what happens in your circumstances. I know more-or-less what happened already. What we need to do now is to ensure that the court is made aware of everything you went through. I’m going to have to ask some personal stuff. For example, did you keep a diary?’
‘only on holiday. My parents took me to the New Forest and I was doing a nature project in school, so...’
‘I meant a recent diary. A diary of your life over the time you lived with him?’
‘He didn’t like me to.’
‘I see. So, no diary.’
‘I can always show them my body. I’ve got seventeen at the moment. Four are black, six are blue and the rest have faded to yellow. I grade them on a scale of one to ten and I can...’
‘I think we’ll have photographs taken. The trial will be a long time in the future. The bruises will have faded by the time the trial takes place, and it is absolutely vital that the court sees what he did to you. Now, how are you feeling at the moment?’
‘Tired. It’s so unreal. My head has gone all funny. I can’t stop thinking about things a long time ago. This afternoon, the knife and everything, is just sort of blank.’
Look, please don’t be offended, but tonight the officers here are going to put you on suicide watch. Do you know what that means?’
‘There’s no need for that! I’m not going to kill myself! I’d be a failure as a client then, wouldn’t I? I’ve already failed once at something. I can’t fail again! Besides, they’ll probably send the bill for the fingerprinting and whatnot to my mum if I kill myself. It’s all about money, isn’t it? If I’d been able to find cheaper fags and beer and so on, he probably wouldn’t have hit me.’
‘Wanda, it wasn’t your fault! We’ll go over this again in future sessions, but you’re tired and you need sleep. I’ll tell the officers there’s no more questioning tonight. Please collect your thoughts overnight and we’ll talk again in the morning. Now is there anything you need before I leave?’
‘There is one thing.’
‘I haven’t had this for a long time. Not a real one anyway.’
‘A real what?’
‘A hug. A cuddle. A real one.’
‘A hug?’ Katy got up and started to move round to my side of the table.
The memories that triggered had my chair crashing backwards behind me. I scuttled into the corner and cowered back against the wall. My thoughts frantically raced, searching for a way to prevent what always happened next.
‘Look you don’t have to! You don’t have to do anything!’ I couldn’t help but scream the words, even though I’m not allowed to scream.
Katy stopped. Her shoulders slumped.
‘And if you do want to, I’ll pay you for it!
The Castle - by Sarah Line Letellier
I had fallen in love with the idea of romance and Lancaster was my fairy-tale: an old, hilly town with its own medieval castle and priory. At the university open day, I thought, this is where I want to be. In the castle, after the tour of the tower and dungeons, the miniature witches in the souvenir shop seduced me with their broomsticks between their skirts and “Back in a Spell” stitched on their pointed bonnets. I returned at the end of summer, knowing no one, all my possessions contained in two suitcases and a box of books. I was nearly eighteen, young, green as an apple.
The first two student years sped by quicker than a witch’s wink. I made friends with a close knit community of women, and some of us moved in together. Our house was friendly and busy, the kettle never off the boil. I was at ease walking along the town’s deliciously shadowy alleyways, marvelling at the way they twisted and spiralled like dragons’ tails, the cobbles glinting hard, bony scales.
The third year I fell in love with my tutor. R wore a beaten-up leather jacket and Dr Martens boots (it was the early 1990’s). R was tough and older than me, and those two qualities made R inherently sexy (I was young and easily impressed). I spent less time with my friends, not to have to lie about R. I didn’t mind: I was preoccupied with that enchanted lover’s world, populated only by us. We made love in R’s office, the door locked against everyone else.
I had assumed that people recognised life’s crossroads when it happened. I imagined I would be struck by the moment’s significance as if by a falling signpost which might read “Danger Ahead: Beware”. When R first kissed me, I should have heard the creaking of the signpost, the cracking of the mirror, the howling of circling wolves. But of course, nothing so obvious happened.
R lived in an attic flat, at the top of a tall Georgian house. The house was in an unsavoury part of town called the Marsh: a bend in the river Lune where its banks turned into a muddy beach, strewn with driftwood and rusty tin cans. But the flat had a direct view of the castle, high on its hill. If I squinted a bit and imagined a lot, I could see the three golden dragons on the red flag, rippling and glittering in the sun.
When I was no longer R’s student, I moved in. I loved being so close to the castle. Its looming, mesmerising shape haunted me, pulling at my feet. Whenever I walked away from the flat, the labyrinthine lanes around Castle Hill brought me home.
The castle was a working castle, a prison. Police cars were always parked outside, but from a distance they disappeared, leaving only the giant doors, the iron spikes, the timeless stones. The castle’s histories were almost as tangible each time I walked past the stony stronghold. Somewhere behind this wall is the Well Tower, with its deep, underground dungeon where they kept the Pendle witches, chained to the floor. This corner is where they were hanged, with their faces towards God’s church.
That winter, each time I went out, no matter how many tick layers I wore, the frozen fist of an Arctic wind punched through my clothes and landed on my back like a kick in the kidneys. Lancaster’s prettily pebbled streets were slippery in the endless months of darkness and black ice. The cobbles’ steep, winding narrowness turned treacherous, now that I was no longer a charmed summer tourist.
Our relationship drew tighter and more exclusive, like a noose. I became stupider, until I was so stupid I was afraid to leave the flat, because I was bound to do or say something wrong, smile at someone we weren’t talking to. There were fewer opportunities for mistakes inside; it was safer , less nerve-wracking not to go out. I stayed in and looked out of the window, at the castle that had drawn me here.
When I woke from the lover’s spell that R had cast, the community had closed up and I was outside the circle. I had become a ghost; I could see my previous life carrying on without me but I could only flit past, unable to make contact. If I saw my old friends around town, we politely ignored each other. Sometimes my feet would go into automatic and take me places I used to for so often that the routes had worn themselves into the soles of my shoes. I would be halfway there before I realised where I was going, and remembered that I couldn’t go there anymore.
It was a slow, patient, clever metamorphosis. Only after I was permanently half-crazed with panic: not allowed to answer the phone, too afraid of my own voice to speak above a whisper, did R’s shouting turn to swearing, pinching to shaking, pushing to hitting and kicking.
R placed bouquets of bruises – yellow and purple, fading and fresh – strategically on my body. R chose only my breasts, belly and thighs: the hidden, female parts. All the visible, public areas of my body – arms, face and legs – were out of bounds, hallmarked safe.
It was a kind of thing that happens to people. If I had ever thought about being in such a situation when I was younger, it was only with the satisfaction that it would never happen to me; I was much too clever to put up with any nonsense.
R took me on a trip to Manchester: a rare, precious outing. In the safe, peaceful mini-universe of Frontline Books, a cover with red writing caught my eye. When I picked it up, the title seemed to be yelling something urgent at me in a language I didn’t understand. It was a book for women trapped in violent relationships. When I looked at the other customers and staff, I knew that none of them would be so stupid as to stay with R. They would never allow such a thing to happen, not to themselves, not to each other. I was holding a book about violence. Could they not tell I was in trouble, would they not help me? But why should they, they didn’t know me. I looked like a student; I could have been researching the topic of an essay.
It must have been love. Why else did I stay, why else does anyone stay? But I didn’t stay for love. I stayed because I didn’t know how to leave.
On New Year’s Eve, everyone was merry, coming into the pub laughing and stamping the snow from their boots. Just before the count of midnight the landlord gave out glasses of champagne on the house. His wife handed around sausage rolls and gave me a kiss to go with them. I didn’t dare smile but I was delighted, I hadn’t been kissed in ages.
I looked out into the night, watching snow float around in the darkness like fluorescent feathers. I dreaded leaving that generous, tipsy happiness. I hated the thought of facing the real world outside, fearing the inevitable, drunken tirades that would erupt as soon as we got home. I wanted to stay in the warm, safe pub forever. Just one more hour, one more drink to ease the ache, soften the blows in advance.
It was only gradually, and with dawning despair, that I began to understand the significance of the castle. The daisied lawns of the castle grounds had not been the place where the witches had concocted delicious aphrodisiacs, composed joyous incantations. Danced with their broomsticks and, I liked to imagine, invented indecent and decadent ways of making love to each other. No, their story was no fairy-tale, the castle had been their place of incarceration, trial and execution.
I stayed in the attic, looking out at the prison. It sat on its hill, mounted like a crown on someone’s head, demanding worship and obedience. One day I would be able to leave, keep walking and not look back. I just had to find the white knight, the golden key, the magic words or actions that would set me free.