Bruce pursed his lips and stamped his feet.” You don’t know how to play house and shouldn’t hit me so I’m going home to play by myself!”
Ana was holding on to her arm and inspecting it carefully. She looked cross.
“It wasn’t nice of you to hit me so hard. I don’t like playing rough because I’m a girl. I hit you because you hit me first!”
She teared up as she looked at the red welt beginning to show on her arm.
“I don’t like you anymore, go home and don’t ever come back. Look what you’ve done!”
Bruce who’d turned to go home stopped and slowly returned to look at Ana’s arm. He blinked as he saw the damage he’d done hitting her with the play bat then looked at the tears rolling down her face.
“Why can’t I come to play with you again? We were only playing house. Mom doesn’t cry when my Dad does that to her.”
Bruce looked genuinely surprised at the reaction. He loved Ana and his Uncle Jim and Aunt Jane and it hurt to think he wouldn’t be welcome to come and play here anymore. Of course, Jim and Jane weren’t his real Uncle and Aunt but he’d no knowledge of any relatives of his own and his Mom had told him to call them Uncle and Aunt so he did.
Bruce’s Mom and Dad hung around with Jim and Jane Carlson. They visited in each other’s homes and shared festive seasons together. The two women were like sisters and visited in each other’s home daily.
Ana began to cry as her pain increased and Bruce stood fidgeting wondering what he should do next.
Ana’s Mom looked out the window. There’s a secret mechanism in any mother’s brain alerting to situations needing attention. She hastened to the back door and called out.
“Are you OK Ana, what’s the matter?”
Ana held up her arm and cried louder.
Jane was by her daughter’s side in a flash inspecting that outreached arm. It was obvious this would develop into a bad bruise and she wondered if there was further damage.
“Did you fall down Ana? If you did we’ll need to have a doctor look at your arm and see if it needs attention.”
The word doctor triggered and even louder outburst from Ana so Jane turned to Bruce.
“What happened to Anna Bruce? She asked kindly.
“I hit her with that bat and she hit me back and told me to go home. We were only playing house. That’s the game Mom and Dad play but Mom never cries like that!”
Jane looked at the bat and stared at Bruce incredulously.
“Bruce that was a terrible thing to do, you’ve really hurt Ana and I’m afraid I’m going to have to tell your Mom about this. You’ll have to learn to treat girls nicely. That’s not the way to act! Now I think you need to go home for a while and we’ll talk about this later.”
Jane turned to usher Ana into the house for further inspection, then she paused as she processed the rest of the conversation with Bruce. She called to Bruce who was slowly heading down the driveway to go home.
“Bruce come here for a minute!”
Bruce turned hoping he’d be permitted to stay after all. His Mom had gone to buy groceries and told him to stay with Ana until she returned. He hated being home by himself.
“Mom’s not home!” He said hopefully.
“OK, you can stay until your Mom gets home, then I want you to ask her to come and see me as soon as she’s home.”
Bruce nodded and headed for Ana’s room to play with her toys.
Jane checked the mobility of her daughter’s arm to satisfy there was no breakage. She’d been trained as a nurse so knew the signs well. Then she put some soothing balm on her daughter’s arm and for good measure wound a bandage around so Ana wouldn’t be frightened by the abrasions and welt beginning to look ugly. Her husband Jim would be incensed when he saw the damage so she’d have to pacify him for the sake of Bruce’s Mom who she loved very much. Ana was Jim’s life!
Then they made their way to Ana’s room where the two children busied themselves with toys. Jane watched them thoughtfully. Bruce was six years old and Ana five.
Jane waited until both children were absorbed and relaxed.
“Bruce, what kind of house game does your Dad play with your Mom?”
Bruce looked up momentarily then went back to the game. They were both playing together again.
“Dad hits her with things but she never cries like Ana did. I think she likes the game. She goes into the bedroom and Dad finds her after a while. I think it’s a kind of hide and seek!”
Jane’s keen hearing picked up the familiar sound of a V6 turning into the driveway next door.
“Bruce, go and help your Mom put the groceries away and ask her if she has time to come over and see me.”
Bruce sped out the door. He loved his Mom and Dad and enjoyed helping around the home.
Jane began to process her relationship with the folk next door, Matt and Cheryl had moved in about two years ago, she and Jim had been quick to visit and help unload their meagre household goods. At first, she’d sensed a reserve indicating no one should attempt to penetrate their circle of protection, but as time went by that reserve had broken down as Jim and Jane showed genuine friendship and it was obvious they were not prying neighbours. A close friendship followed almost like that of a relative.
As Jane thought about those two years she realized she’d no idea whether they’d relatives or not, or for that matter where they’d come from. She’d had only a mild curiosity to this point of their friendship, but now she’d like to know a little more about them. What Bruce had casually told her was alarming and she needed to know more about those household games adults played. Bruce was a nice boy but obviously, he’d a warped impression about how men should treat women. That was a threat to her daughter’s safety and the two women needed to talk that through if they were to continue to play together.
While Jane thought about how to deal with her conversation with Cheryl another alarming thought came to mind. Cheryl was always wearing clothes that seemed to cover most of her body. Jane had inquired on several occasions whether Cheryl would like to join them all in the backyard swimming pool. Jim and Matt spent time there in summer but Cheryl would sit and watch or read. The explanation given was that doctors had told her she must avoid exposure to the sunlight. No amount of coaxing would get her to change her mind. However, Cheryl was quite pleasant company apart from that unusual habit. Could there be something more to it than sun exposure?
Just then there was the sound of front door chimes and Cheryl walked in followed by Bruce.
“It was so crowded at the Mall this morning, I need one of your special lime drinks Jane. That’s if it’s not too much trouble. Cheryl laughed pleasantly. Jane was always urging her lime drinks on everyone so it was a joke between the two women. Jane smiled and went to recover her speciality.
Bruce who was hanging onto his mother’s leg chimed in, “Can I have one too Aunt Jane?”
“Of course, go and tell Ana she can have one too.”
Bruce raced to the toy room to fetch Ana who’d now forgotten about her injury. They ran down the corridor and arrived breathless in the kitchen.
Cheryl sat up in surprise as the children ran to the counter jumping up and down in anticipation of a treat.
“What happened to your arm Ana?”
“Bruce why don’t you tell your Mom what happened.” Invited Jane.
So, the story gushed forth. They were playing house, Bruce wanted to play the game his Mom and Dad played at home, he hit her with a bat.
Cheryl turned white and began to tremble. She looked at Jane pleadingly.
“I’m so sorry!
Jane turned to the children. “Finish your drinks and go back into your toy room and play.”
She gently steered Cheryl into her bedroom and closed the door locking it. Sitting Cheryl on her bed she removed the long sleeve browse as her friend sat unprotesting. The pretence was no longer needed and she was glad to have it all out in the open at last. If ever she needed a friend she needed one now.
Jane inspected the damage and picked up her cell phone.
“I’m about to phone 911 Cheryl, you can stop me now if you want to.”
Cheryl whispered in reply. “It’s gone on too long and now I can see it’s going to scar my son for life. Perhaps it’s better this way. I love Matt, but I can’t let my love for him destroy my son. My Dad discovered how bad things were soon after we married and threatened to kill Matt, so we moved many times so Bruce would have a father. My father has connections that you and Jim would feel unsafe with but I’m tired of running Jane!”
Later that evening after Cheryl spent an afternoon giving statements to the police Matt arrived home surprised to see two police cars outside his home. He was dirty and tired after a day in construction and impatient to find out why they were there. At least having them there was safer than dealing with my father-in-law he thought grimly.
Jim had been watching for his arrival and moved over to intercept him.
“Just so you’ll not be taken off guard Matt, the police know about Cheryl’s abuse. Face up to it, and I’ll be there as a friend to help you. We’ll look after Cheryl until it’s obvious you’ve sorted yourself out. She’s at our house now. Do you want to deal with your anger management and become the kind of father who can be a positive role model to your boy? Is so, walk in and make this the start of a new life.”
Old habits die hard. Matt stepped back and made a move to send an upper cut in Jim’s direction, but Jim was at the ready and he thought better of it. Matt bought himself under control and smiled grimly.
“Let’s get it over with,” he said moving toward a knot of police waiting watchfully by the porch.
Cheryl watched anxiously from Jane’s front porch locked in her friend’s embrace. She loved her husband but now it was up to him to prove he was determined to make changes that could make it possible for them to be reunited when his struggle was over.
She turned to Jane.
“Don’t judge him too harshly. He was raised in a dysfunctional home and to him what he was doing was normal adult behaviour in a marriage relationship. I was wrong to let him get away with it for this long as it’s going to be a hard transformation for him to make. My father was not the best of role models either so I never want my son Bruce to meet him and see the kind of life he lives. Thank you for helping us both through this crisis.”
Jan patted her friend sympathetically.
“We’ll look after you and Bruce. Let’s hope Matt can make a genuine transformation over time with counselling and sincere effort on his part.”
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”