Chapter 50: Isla
After many hours of solace and pain, once Simon had arrived, Isla had laboured more easily. Her hand held by a kind and loving man – or at least by a man who was being kind and loving right now – and with good support from excellent midwives. It took little time for Milly to arrive. A perfect little bundle of baby. Isla fell instantly, irrevocably in love with her as, it seemed, did Simon.
The sight of tiny baby Milly held close and safe in Simon’s arms was one that filled Isla with hope. The baby who she had been terrified might not survive pregnancy due to her father’s brutality was now nestled in his strong arms. The centre of his rapt attention. And it stayed that way for some time.
Simon absolutely doted of Milly and couldn’t seem to get enough of her. At every opportunity he would scoop her up and cradle her, his huge face looming in on hers and whispering sweet words of love. She filled his every waking minute and his drinking drastically reduced as he chose to get intoxicated on his daughter’s love rather than his usual poison of whisky.
Isla felt that things were really beginning to change, though she did feel that she stood somewhat on the side-lines of the love affair going on between her husband and her daughter. She didn’t mind though, she was just so grateful to have a new focus in her life and some respite from the verbal and physical abuse to which she had grown so accustomed.
However, as the weeks went by, the disadvantages of Simon’s hands on approach to his daughter began to become apparent. He had a view on how everything should be done and it almost universally contradicted with the way Isla was currently doing things.
After a while Isla became paranoid that he was purposefully being obstructive and that his style of parenting was dictated entirely by her own – in that he would always choose the opposing view or method to whatever she had chosen, regardless of what he actually believed in. She continually dismissed this idea though; she only had to see Simon with Milly to appreciate that he really did deeply, deeply love her. So it seemed entirely unlikely that he would put her welfare at stake in any way simply to gain one-up-man-ship on Isla.
Simon’s constant questions, critique and dismissal of her way of parenting did feel very oppressive though. She rapidly became embarrassed to do even the simplest baby-focused tasks in her husband’s presence, unsure that she was able to change a nappy right or feed her baby appropriately. When he began to criticise the way she interacted with Milly, suggesting that the way in which she spoke with her baby was likely to be hindering her cognitive development, Isla took herself away and cried.
None of these words were said with venom. Each was said with Milly at its heart and expressed with kindness with the child between them, the focus of each of their love and attention. Simon would soothe Isla in soft tones, imparting his parenting wisdom and dismissing her own.
By the time that Simon returned to work full time, having used all of his leave and all of his favours, Isla was terrified of parenting without him. She was so certain that she did everything so badly that surely, left in her hands alone, Milly would suffer.
For the first three days she spent much of the day holding her beautiful, beautiful daughter who had arrived with such promise, whilst she wept. As the baby grew hungry or wet and would begin to cry, Isla would feel herself paralysed with fear about whether she would be able to meet her daughter’s needs and this fear prevented her from even trying. And so Milly would begin to cry too and the two of them would sit and cry together. Isla rocking back and forth, back and forth, in time with her baby’s howls.
Simon came home and found them this way one day. That was the first time he struck Isla again.
His fists rained down on her. He was incandescent; ranting about her failure as a mother. Reminding her again and again of her incremental failings as a mother, as a wife, as a human being. No daughter of his should have to be raised by someone so incompetent he shouted. She would grow up defective, he spat. Isla should be ashamed of herself and her many failings he spewed as he swung his open hand into her cheek as she crouched, huddled over her baby.
She had drawn Milly tight into her and tried to imagine her own body as a protective bubble around her precious daughter. As if her very love could act as a force-field against the blows of this angry madman. She did not feel the physical or the emotional pain of the attack, she was focused only on keeping her baby safe. So, with each new wound that opened, she was not angry nor sad that this was happening to her, but relieved that this was another blow that she had taken and not her baby.
She did not fight back. She did not defend herself physically and she didn’t open her mouth to say a word during the whole attack.
Whilst it had been a little while since Simon’s fists had beaten her, this was all too familiar territory. She had learnt the rules of engagement and she knew that the very best and quickest route to safety was to sit limp, like a rag doll – like a punch bag – and to let Simon work his anger out. She knew that once he had beaten out of her whatever feelings it was that were bubbling inside of him, that the pounding would stop and he would stalk away to find his whisky.
Sure enough, after what felt like hours, but was in reality probably no more than a few minutes, of acting like a human battering ram, desperately contorting her body to shield her child, Simon suddenly stopped. Unable to hear anything other than a rushing and ringing in her ears, her own heavy breathing and the wailing siren of her daughter, Isla risked looking up.
Breathing heavily, Isla lifted her face, trying to see through swollen eyes; was the monster still in the room? The answer came in a putrid ball of phlegm which landed square in the middle of her face and dribbled down her nose and cheeks leaving wet sticky tracks. Drops of spit, blood and tears dripped from her face, mingling in the lush pile of the cream wool carpet on which she was slumped.
And now, he walked away.
Isla watched his back as he retreated from the room without a backward glance. She held her daughter tightly and she vowed that something must change. Something MUST change and then she was overwhelmed with the pain of his actions, the pain of the situation and physical pain of the brutal beating and, still holding her wailing daughter close, she passed out.
She had woken some hours later in a pool of her own blood, vomit and urine, Milly limp but breathing, sleeping in her arms. She was broken but determined. She had never been able to leave this monster for herself but she found it far easier to make the decision for her daughter. They could not stay, this was not a safe place for them.
Unlike Isla, Milly was entirely physically unharmed from the attack. But that was this time, thought Isla, what of next time? What if she was less able to protect her daughter? She realised that she must pluck them both from the situation, somehow, and take them somewhere safe. She had no idea where or how but she felt absolutely sure that there was a safer somewhere out there for them and that she must find it.
But she was so weak, so tired and in so much pain. So first, she must sleep some more. She looked down into Milly’s peaceful face and tuned into her slow, steady breathing and allowed herself to drift back into the world of sleep. She slept peacefully, dreaming of a future where she learned to be the parent her daughter deserved. Where her daughter grew and flourished and where neither of them suffered from the evil actions of the brute Isla had seen fit to marry and to make a father.
Some time later, Isla woke. Her head was thudding and her thoughts were slow, oozing like treacle around her brain. She forced her eyes open despite the swelling and found herself looking straight into the eyes of her attacker. She was so startled that she took a sharp intake of breath and physically recoiled although the logical part of her brain, fighting always to keep her safe, was screaming at her not to, screaming at her that this was the type of weakness he hated and exploited and made every effort to beat out of her. But she couldn’t help it. She was so horrified to see this monster of a man before her as she awoke and she was so scared, not for herself, but for Milly; her reason for being, her reason to fight; and so she recoiled.
And as she recoiled he first clenched and then slowly lifted his right fist which, she noted, was bruised and bloodied – presumably as a result of the beating he had given her the previous evening.
“Stop!” She shouted. “I’m leaving.”
Instantly, his fist dropped to his side and the grimace of anger that had been on his face morphed into sadness and he let out an almighty sob. Isla had never known Simon to cry before and did not know how to handle this new emotion. He cried without let up for five minutes. She felt an urge to go to him, seeing again the kind and vulnerable man she had once loved so much. The man who had coached her through the birth of their child and who had held Milly in his arms for so many hours.
But he was a monster. How could she go to him? How could she, beaten black and blue, still unable to see straight or hear clearly, offer comfort the beast that had caused her such harm?
She took a deep breath and, despite his tears, despite the hurt he clearly felt right now and the fatherly compassion she was now learning he was capable of feeling, she told him that she was leaving. That she could not remain here. That she didn’t blame him but that her first responsibility was to their child, and that she didn’t believe that Milly was safe whilst they all resided under the same roof.
As she spoke, Simon’s shoulders heaved as he quietly sobbed and Isla had to keep checking herself to stop her from retracting her words and wrapping him in her arms like a child. She had never dared to contradict or challenge him in the past and she felt a certain sense of release in doing so. As she finished, she got up, a sleeping Milly still nestled in her arms and she made to leave. She felt bad walking out on her husband whilst he was so clearly hurting and broken but she couldn’t stay. During this rare moment of strength, she had to take her leave of a relationship which in her heart of hearts she had known had been broken for a very long time but which she’d previously been too blind, or too broken or simply too scared to leave.
She had taken two steps towards the door when she felt his iron grip on her shoulder, forcing her to sit back down. Tears and all signs of sorrow and sadness had vanished from his face. In there place she could see pure, undiluted rage. With his face just centimetres from hers, he spat his words at her, his breath smelt of whisky and bile, his words were sharp, whipping her into submission,
“You will not leave” he whispered, but with the force of a gale “You will stay here. I will never, NEVER, harm the girl so long as you stay, but if you leave than I will not be held accountable for my actions against you both.” He said. “Do you understand?”
A silent tear rolled down her cheek as she nodded her head, holding her baby just a little bit tighter and letting go of the plans for a future that just moments before had felt terrifying, but possible, and resigned herself to a future as Simon’s beaten wife. So long as her baby was safe, that was all that mattered and she was now sure that if she left, not only would she be unsafe, but that Milly’s life would be in danger also.
And so she stayed.
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Thank you for feeding back each day. I’m building in your edits and suggestions to the version held on my local machine so the initial raw version will remain here. When I’ve got questions, I’m going to ask them each day – don’t feel obliged to answer them, but if you’re happy to they’ll help me as I try to craft the story. If you have questions or observations I’d be keen to hear them too.