One night, my husband slammed my body against our bed. When I woke up the next morning, I found that he’d left cocaine on the coffee table, and the door opened for a backpage Craigslist prostitute. Hours later, I was in family court. I waited six hours and skipped lunch to get a piece of paper that confirmed he was dangerous and couldn’t come home. Our building’s manager skimmed it, then said there was nothing he could do to enforce the restraining order. I, not one of the army of doormen, would need to call the police. 

Eleven percent of women who are murdered by their abuser had a restraining order at the time, like the woman in the Post article I’d just read. The day before they were due in court to hear whether the temporary order would become permanent, her husband entered their brownstone and slit her throat, then their son’s, then his own. One day my husband might be sitting on the sofa, waiting to hurt us. 

Paranoid, he called to accuse me of burning our daughter. I switched off my phone, swiped Dior Rouge in Black Tie across my mouth and bent to strap the baby into her stroller. As though recognizing my determination to enjoy her toddlerhood, she touched my cheek and said,

“Mommy, you look like an angel.”  

We walked to the park. Stopping along a gravely path lined with blue hydrangeas, we watched a street performer make bubbles larger than our heads using rope and diluted dish soap.

Kissing the baby’s cheeks as I cuddled her that night, I tried to focus on sensory input. Her milk breath smelled like cookie dough, the elephant humidifier was bubbling softly, her feet fit in my cupped hand. Still, my mind wandered. I was afraid that he could say something spurious in court, or a judge could be in a bad mood, and my daughter would be taken. She was shy. She clung to me around strangers. I pictured her rattling the bars of a dingy crib at a foster home, scared, alone, crying for me.

My husband called and texted to abuse me. He said I never loved him, was selfish and didn’t care if he died. I was a horrible mother, trash, and a liar. I made him miserable. He hated me. 

From immigrant grandparents, I’d inherited a tendency toward unreasonable superstition. Just like I couldn’t put bread in the cupboard bottom-side up or open an umbrella indoors, I worried that if I didn’t pick up the phone, he wouldn’t get on the plane to rehab, and would use cocaine until he died. 

A series of curved, solid white lines stretched across the middle of my fingernails; halfmoons that WebMD said can appear because of trauma to the body, or prolonged illness. 

Every few days, I rode the elevator up some thirty-odd stories, all the way to the rooftop. I kept forgetting to push 19, the button for my floor.

At 62 inches tall, I weighed 94 pounds. I couldn’t find outfits. Suit jackets that were once flattering made me look like a child playing dress up in her mother’s wardrobe. 

A matronly coworker kept telling me I was going to blow away. She saw me eating sheet cake at an office party and asked how I stayed so thin.

“Pilates,” I lied.

What was I supposed to say? That my meals were frequently interrupted by calls from my husband asking me to bring his shoes to an emergency room, or urging me to check if surveillance devices were in my hairpins? 

The night that he finally checked into rehab, he called. He was sorry, he said. He was scared, needed me, and hoped I could forgive him. Cicadas chirped. My husband’s voice was smaller than insect sounds.

The summer that I was nineteen, I was working as a camp counselor. A group of little boys were playing soccer in a grassy area behind the pool when one of them screamed in terror. I ran toward the grass. The boy was looking down at his feet. There was a small dead bird, oozing guts, in front of his bare toes. The boy screamed, “I killed a bird! I stepped on a bird!” 

I understood that the bird was probably already dead, or at least badly hurt, long before it was struck by the boy’s foot.

I’d barely offered any consolation when a lifeguard grabbed the pool skimmer and lifted the bird from the ground, catapulting it over the fence and into the street. A passing minivan flattened the corpse. The boy screamed again. He never returned to camp, his mother explained he was inconsolably guilty over the dead bird.

My husband was to me as the bird was to that boy. Though I wanted to help him, I couldn’t. He was already destroyed, and would only progressively worsen.

One night our cat went to sleep and didn’t wake up. Unsure what to do, I called the vet. They told me to put her in a pet carrier and bring her over. She was stiff and wouldn’t fit, so I wrapped her cold body in a bath towel, and walked five blocks to the vet with a dead cat in a canvas New Yorker tote. 

I asked if they could tell how she died. They said no. If I wanted a definitive answer, I could order an autopsy, but it would be very expensive. I didn’t need one anyway. I knew what killed her. She died from eating a poison he left in our house, which I somehow neglected to wipe up. 

That night, while the baby slept, I tossed our apartment. I moved all the furniture and rugs, emptied every drawer and cabinet, vacuumed underneath, wiped every surface with Lysol. I dug in his trouser pockets, searching for gram baggies, powder. All I found was lint, tissues, and an unsated ache for safety. 

Elyse Giaimo is a grant writing consultant for non-profit organizations. As a member of The Montclair Write Group, she experiments with more creative forms of writing. She has been published in The Citron Review and Ellipsis Zine.

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Every Day Fiction