Suffragette Stories

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Jane Doe by Henrietta Shirazu

“Hey, baby,” she said softly when she sensed the sleeping figure cradled to her chest was awake.

She had slowly opened the door to his room, taking measured steps to the bed where he laid sleeping.  She had shuffled carefully close to him and cuddled him awake, more for her benefit than his.

“I’m not a baby I’m nearly five,” he said, smothered against his mother’s chest.

“And when you’re nearly 50 you will still be my baby,” she said, a playfulness in her tone.

They sat there in silence for a moment. Callum having clearly worked out something wasn't right. She eventually got up and started getting him ready for school. 

“Where’s daddy?”

She froze, not really knowing how to answer his question. What was she going to tell him? What was she telling herself? She still hadn’t wrapped her head around it.

Her mind couldn’t help it; it took her back to the moment everything changed.

“Janieeeeeeee…” the drunken slur trailed off in what could only be described as the opposite of melodious. That single name filled her with dread.

It wasn’t even her name but that didn’t stop its meaning cutting into her. In the first months of their marriage, she had made the mistake of opening up to her husband, of sharing her insecurities.

He had taken her torment at being labeled a plain Jane throughout her school years and turned it into a joke. Or at least he thought it was funny. But is it a joke if no one else laughed? But what did her opinion matter, she was just a wife and a mother, that was all she was to the world. A Jane Doe with a husband and a kid; nothing else mattered. No one even cared to know what her actual name was.

Furious, she pushed off the covers and stormed towards the door. She had locked it because she was afraid, but now she didn't care. She turned the lock and yanked the door open, her anger barely contained as she glared at him.

“What?” She snapped at him, cold fury in her emerald eyes. Even in his alcoholic haze, he realised she was angry and he stumbled backward, clearly taken aback by her tone.

She was tired, for the love of god, why must she go through this again? Day in and day out and night after night, year after year. Why?  Why was she not allowed to be happy too? 

"What are you doing here, Jane?” he growled at her, clearly unhappy that she was in the spare bedroom. Somehow, he had managed to get out of their bed in the master bedroom and find himself another bottle. She was so tired it didn’t register.

“You’re drunk, I want you to sleep it off. We can talk tomorrow." The anger she felt was no longer in her tone; instead, her voice came out a flat toneless drawl, one he was more used to. As she talked she moved back into the room, hoping he would leave.

But he followed her at a menacing pace. He put one foot more or less in front of the other, very slowly, forcing her further and further back until her legs were pinned to a corner of the large queen-sized bed in the centre of the room. He was too close. Her breath hitched at the back of her throat, choking her slightly as she fought back tears, realising that she was trapped, again. Her eyes darted quickly around the room. She had to get away. She whimpered as she stared at the door, her only way out.

He grabbed her face and forced her to look at him. She blinked rapidly to adjust to the change in vision. His eyes bore into hers as she stared blankly back, unable to tear her gaze away. Unable to understand why this was her life. Why she was the one trapped in her own home with such a wretched man. He spoke again, his voice bringing her back to her insufferable reality.

"You're my wife! We sleep in the same bed. So, if you won’t come to me, I will have to join you here. And don't worry, I don't want to talk." His tone held a finality that made her wince.

He began to struggle out of his clothes.

“No, NO!”  She tried to move past him so she could run and lock herself in another room until he was in a more stable state of mind.

He turned around, grabbed her hair and yanked her back. 

She yelped in pain. “Please no…” her voice a mere whisper, too tired to fight back. He was enraged beyond care at this point, not that he ever cared anyway.

She stood in front of him, unable to move, his much larger body blocking her every turn. That alone was enough to keep her still but it wasn't what kept her standing there gazing into his dark eyes. She was paralysed, fear coursing through her whole body. Sheer panic had gripped at her from the moment he had pulled her back. The look on his face was murderous and she had never been more afraid of the man she had married than at this moment. 

He drew his arm backward and held it there for what seemed like a lifetime. When she finally began to think he wouldn't do it, she relaxed a little. Before she could blink again, the bottle she didn't realise he was still holding in his hand smashed against the side of her face. She crumpled to the ground, holding her face in both hands, warm blood trickling through her fingers.

She didn’t know how long she stayed on the ground, but she did know one thing. She was done. Everything she was going to tell him later in the day seemed unnecessary. The speech she had prepared pointless; the outcome would remain the same no matter how she broke the news. She moved slowly, using the side of the bed to help herself up. Slowly, she squared her shoulders, took a few shaky breaths, and looked directly at him. She felt nothing: no hope, no fear, just emptiness. She looked at the man she had once loved, the man who had given her the most amazing gift she would treasure all her life. Here was the only person who had managed to add something priceless to her life while hurting her in more ways than she could care to remember. She looked at this man who could mean so many different things to her and felt nothing. She owed him nothing. 

"I want a divorce.” Those words have been in her mind for the last three years. They had never had a great marriage but the last three years had been hell, and if it wasn’t for Callum she wouldn’t have stayed.

It took a few moments for the words to sink in, the alcohol still clouding his brain. But as soon as they did, he turned psychotic, breaking most of the furniture in the room while shouting about how he would never allow it to happen. How she couldn't live without him and how she was being selfish, trying to ruin his career.

But it was something he was managing to do very well on his own. They both knew he couldn’t go a day sober because he was being investigated for insider trading. He was about to lose everything: his company, the nice big house in West Hampstead and his reputation.

He continued to throw insults and accusations at her and when he finally stopped she thought he had run out. She lifted her head from the spot on the carpet she had been staring at, trying to ignore the objects flying around the room. That was when she realised why he had stopped.

Her husband was having a heart attack. She had seen this before. It had happened about a year into their marriage, when he was exercising in their home gym. At the hospital they had found out that he had a heart condition. The doctor had released him into her care with strict instructions on lifestyle changes that he had to abide by, instructions he ignored.

She tried to move, tried to make her legs walk over to help him. It wasn't like she didn't know what to do, she had worked for years as a nurse. Medical practice was something you never forget. 

But her body refused to take orders from her brain and she just stood there, hot tears trickling down her face as her husband stayed crumpled in a corner of the room, dying. Blood and tears mingled on her face as she stared at the man she once loved and thought she would spend the rest of her life with. 

When he suddenly went quiet, she was more or less certain he had taken his last breath. She inhaled deeply, attempting to pull herself together.

She left the room and walked into the master bedroom, stripped off her soiled clothes, made her way into the adjoining bathroom and stood, dazed, under the shower. The needles of water pricking her skin brought back sensation in her body and along with it, a realisation of what she had just done: killed her husband. Her tears returned and she found herself crumpled on the tiled floor of the shower, the hard surface digging into her skin a welcome pain. What was she to do now?

When her tears ran dry eventually, she willed herself up. She had to be strong. From this moment on she would never again shed a tear over a man, nor anything else for that matter. She would keep her emotions to herself and block out anything that may cause her pain. If not for herself, then for the only person in her life who loved her back. 

She finished showering and got dressed, did her hair and applied light make-up to cover up any traces of what had just happened.

“Why is your hair wet?” At the sound of her son’s voice she snapped out of the horror she was reliving. She didn’t know what she had said to Callum about his father, but it was obviously enough for him to move on.

“Because I took a shower. Which you now need to take if not you’re going to be late. Go get your towel.”

She lifted him off the bed and shooed him gently in the direction of his own bathroom.

Within moments she heard the bath running. He was so grown, she thought with pride. She needed to act normal, make sure he was out of the house before it was swarmed with police and ambulance.

She held up the towel as he stood up in the bath. From her left arm, he began to roll all the way to her other arm, the towel around him until he resembled a giant burrito. She lifted him out, paying no attention to the water dripping on her own clothes.

He dressed quickly and didn’t resist when she dried and brushed his hair. They did the customary dance of ‘left foot right foot’ to get his shoes on and with her help, he finished tying his shoelaces just before he got frustrated and threw a tantrum.

They went down the stairs into the kitchen where he sat on a stool, watching her make him breakfast. He started to tell her about his dream in which he was a superhero who saved her. As she listened to him, she realised that it was true, he had truly saved her life. He didn't know it yet, but without him she would not be alive right now. This innocent little child has gotten her out of the most horrific of nightmares. 

As he spoke, her mind wandered back to what had happened mere hours ago, to the events that led to the dead man upstairs.

From the moment she heard him come home in a foul mood just before dawn, she knew something was going to happen but she never imagined what it would be. She’d put him to bed, thinking he would stay passed out till around midday if she was lucky. But within minutes he was awake.

“You’re a whore! Always have been, always will be. Except now you’re my Whore! Lucky, lucky, me,” He slurred the last bit under his breath as he lunged across at her to where she was standing in the middle of the room. She grabbed his arms before they made contact with her breasts, which was what he was undoubtedly going for, and attempted to drag him back to the bed.

“There she goes, didn’t take much convincing, did it?”

She said nothing and continued to half-drag, half-carry his nearly-dead weight across the bedroom. Few more steps, she thought, as she tried desperately not to retch at his vile scent. She would find somewhere else to sleep.

Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain on her shoulder and instinctively dropped her arms from around him. He had bitten her.

Within seconds of her letting go, he landed head first against the wooden bedpost. The loud thud of the collision was nothing compared to his voice.

“YOU BITCH!” He lashed out, kicking at her legs. She ended up in the absolute last position she wanted to be in; on top of him.

“Not play hard to get now are you love?” He chuckled.

She tensed when she felt the sudden shift in his mood, her playful drunk husband was so much more dangerous than her aggressive drunk husband. She held her breath as she felt his hand snake around the back of her neck. She shuddered, which made him laugh harder.

A sob caught in her throat as she resigned herself to her fate. If she was lucky, he’ll give up and go to sleep. But of course, she wasn’t, and she laid there with her eyes closed, praying for it all to end.

And then it did. As she stood in the spare room watching her husband gasp for breath, pain clearly etched on his rapidly aging face, she felt nothing. The years she had suffered at his hands played in her memory, like a film. She felt somewhat detached from it all. From the past and from what had happened. She didn't move to help him, nor did she do anything to encourage his pain. She just stood and watched until the very end.

And now, she listened to Callum as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened, and she knew she needed to keep it that way. She had made a call in the early hours and explained what had happened, or at least some of it. She made sure to explain there was a child in the house and that she didn’t want him to be disturbed by any of it. The emergency services agreed to be discreet and gave her time to take him out of the way.

As he ate, she tidied up, making sure nothing else was out of place. She then checked that he had everything he needed for school.

“Are you ready?” she asked once she was certain she herself was. When Callum gave a little nod, she held out her hand and he readily took it. They walked towards the garage where she settled him into the car and buckled his seat belt before she herself got into the driver’s seat.

When she had driven out of the garage and through the open gate, she looked up at the house, knowing there was nothing there for her anymore. She turned to look at her son and smiled. She had everything she needed with her. In the distance, she could hear sirens. Then without looking back, she drove away.