- Published: 3 April 2024
- ISBN: 9781405951364
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 400
- RRP: $22.99
CONTENT WARNING: Domestic Violence.
Don was still asleep when Eve left the house with Olly and Tabby the following morning.
The children had both hugged her when they came down for their breakfast, their anxious expressions showing that although they knew how she’d got her black eye and why she was in obvious pain, they didn’t know what to say about it.
Seeing her children’s concern and fear Eve knew she had to speak out.
‘We will leave today if possible,’ she reassured them as they ate cereal. ‘But I have to work it out when and how, and where we will go to. For now we just act as normal, and I pretend I’m taking you to school. But really, I’m going to try and get some advice.’
‘You should go to the police and get him locked up!’ Olly burst out, and he pointed to her bandaged leg. ‘What did he do to that?’
‘He kicked me. I think it needs a stitch; it won’t stop bleeding,’ Eve said. ‘I’ll catch the bus to Lewisham Hospital before I do anything else.’
‘I wish I had big muscles, then I’d do that to him and see how he likes it,’ Olly said, his big dark eyes so like his father’s, glistening with unshed tears. ‘If ever I get married, I’ll never hurt my wife.’
‘I really hope you won’t,’ Eve said, smoothing back his dark hair. ‘I also hope both of you will think very carefully about committing yourself to anyone until you know them inside out.’
But she knew she wouldn’t have listened even if someone had told her Don was a serial killer. She had loved him on sight and to her he was perfect. She wondered how she could teach Tabby to recognize a potential brute.
They kissed her goodbye at the end of the road and Eve went to the bus stop. She had to make sure everything looked normal back home. Don’s breakfast place was laid at the table; she usually made him tea and toast, plus bacon and egg if he wanted it. She hoped he wouldn’t be suspicious and wonder why she’d taken the children to school. Hopefully he’d remember how hard he’d hit her last night and feel ashamed.
Before she’d left the house, she’d checked her appearance. Both her eyes were black and very puffy, she had a big bruise on her forehead, and her lip was cut and swollen. She thought she looked nearer forty now than her real age of thirty. Setting aside her present injuries, the previous ones had yellowed her skin, her neck looked scraggy, her blue eyes dull, and her blonde hair needed a wash and hung limply to her shoulders. She had only gained a few pounds since her wedding, but she no longer carried herself as well as she did back then; she’d noticed she tended to stoop. She’d put on a mid-calf skirt to cover her leg injuries, but that made her look older too. But then she’d silently reminded herself she wasn’t going for a job interview or a date. Finally she’d taken hersunglasses out of the hall-table drawer and put them on. They weren’t right for grey skies, but they hid her eyes. And she did her best to sound cheerful as she walked up the road with the children.
Waiting for the bus to Catford, she didn’t feel so good. Her broken ribs hurt badly and washing and dressing had been agony. Plus, she was tired from the night on the kitchen floor. She just hoped her leg wouldn’t start bleeding again. Bending to bandage it had been so difficult and she’d nearly passed out with the pain.
‘Time to go,’ she whispered to herself as the bus came. ‘This time you will do the right thing.’
In Catford she went straight to the police station. Fortunately, there was no one else waiting in reception. When she took off her sunglasses as she told the duty officer she wanted to report her husband for beating her, his voice softened, and he said he would put her in an interview room and bring her a cup of tea.
A policewoman with a long nose came in and introduced herself as WPC Sutton. To Eve she looked about thirty.
‘My goodness, you look as if you’ve done a few rounds with Muhammad Ali,’ she said. ‘I’m so sorry, Mrs Hathaway, you must be in great pain.’
‘The ribs and leg hurt more,’ Eve said, liking her a bit more as she sounded genuinely sympathetic. ‘I should have come for help years ago; each beating is worse.’
She was naturally reserved, and she’d been brought up to never tell tales on anyone, but she knew this was crunch time; she really did have to admit how often she was beaten and why.
‘He always used to apologize,’ she said, tears stinging her bruised, swollen eyes. ‘But he doesn’t any more, and I think if I don’t do something now, he might eventually kill me or my son.’
‘What do you want the police to do?’ Sutton asked.
Surprised at such a question, Eve hardly knew what to say. ‘Well, stop him, take out a restraining order, put him in prison. Anything so this nightmare ends.’
‘We can certainly talk to him, and if you bring charges against him, we will arrest him. But I have to warn you that in cases like these men often wriggle out of it with just a fine. Even when an injunction is in place, when the judge says he mustn’t come to your home, most violent men ignore that.’
‘So are you trying to say there’s no point in reporting him?’ Eve asked, her voice rising to a surprised squeak.
‘No, not at all. I’m just pointing out the way it is. Personally, I think men who beat women are bullies and need to be treated harshly so they take on board it’s unacceptable. Sadly, Mrs Hathaway, this is still a man’s world, and they get away with it. There are even some old fossils, judges, barristers and, to my shame, the police, who believe it’s perfectly OK to beat your wife. What I’m going to do now, is take your statement, then get your injuries photographed. I think you should talk to a solicitor, who may be able to advise you how to proceed. Have you got relatives you could stay with?’
Eve shook her head. ‘I don’t even have enough money for a bed and breakfast,’ she admitted. ‘I told the children this morning we would get away, but where without money?’
‘A solicitor will have details of a women’s refuge. We have the number of one solicitor who does fight for women’s rights. She’s very highly thought of. Would you like me to ring her and make an appointment for later today?’
‘Yes, please, but I must go to the hospital first. I think my leg needs stitching.’
‘Then I’ll take you straight away to our photographer. I’ll ring the solicitor, then come and tell you what she said. I’ll ask our nurse to meet you at the photographer’s. He will re-dress your leg after the photograph.’
It was an hour later when Eve left the police station. Having the photographs taken was embarrassing, as she had to take off her top to show the terrible bruises which almost completely covered her chest and back. The close-up pictures of her facial injuries might not have been embarrassing or painful, but it still felt like an intrusion.
Gary Swinburn, the police nurse, made it easier. A rather short, stocky man, who would’ve made a more likely boxer than nurse, he seemed to sense how uncomfortable she was and helped her at every stage, whether putting her top on again for her and buttoning it up or getting her a drink before re-dressing her leg wound, which he agreed was a bad one. Then he insisted on driving her to Lewisham Hospital; he said she wasn’t well enough to get a bus.
Gary had made her feel better; he was caring, gentle and his probing questions felt like those of a friend, not an interrogation. He made her smile when he said it was a change to take care of someone nice, as mainly he dealt with wounded criminals.
‘I want to leave my husband, but it’s so difficult when you have children and no money.’
‘Divorce laws were put in place to protect ladies like you,’ he said as he helped her into his Mini. ‘You’ve got to leave him, Eve. Every day you let your children stay in that toxic home, they are learning bad things. I often wonder how many of my patients are the products of learned behaviour in the home. Either becoming violent bullies themselves or allowing others to bully them.’
Eve had never looked at it like that before; the thought of Olly hitting women brought tears to her eyes. She couldn’t let that happen.
It crossed her mind as Gary took her arm and helped her into the casualty department that if only she’d fallen in love with a man like him, rather than Don, how sweet her life could’ve been.
Gary gave her his card as he dropped her at Casualty. ‘Ring me any time, Eve. If I can help, I will. Maybe just to listen or, God forbid, to dress wounds. Or to hear you are on the mend and just need a friend. I’mserious. I don’t give my card to just anyone. I’m concerned about you. So call me. Good or bad, tell me where you are, how you’re doing. If you need help or just someone to talk to, I’ll be there.’
The wind and heavy rain coming right off the sea rattled the cottage windows and pounded on the glass.
At the bang of a car door out in the street, Katy glanced out of the bedroom window.
Alice Kent turned up the volume on her car radio as Eric Clapton, playing her favourite number, ‘Layla’, came on.
Maisy was woken by a piercing scream. Startled, she sat up in bed, assuming the sound was coming from the street.
Eliza has never seen a land that looks so very much like blood.
I never would have done what they say I’ve done, to Madame, because I loved her. Yet they say I must be put to death for it, and they want me to confess. But how can I confess what I don’t believe I’ve done?
There was once an inn that sat peacefully on the bank of the Thames at Radcot, a long day’s walk from the source.
The day the earth shifts, a body emerges from the belly of the ice- crusted sea. Bone-white fingers waving, as if alive.
Carl said I was absolutely the right person for this job. I think he meant it. He didn’t actually say it was a job for a woman, but I could tell that’s what he thought.
In the year 1901, if a steamer with black coal-smoke pouring from its chimney were to sail south from Istanbul for four days until it passed the island of Rhodes, then continue south through dangerous, stormy waters . . .