Welcome to Authors in the Sun and today a story that has a sunshine connection but is thriller that I enjoyed reading the first time around. Marilyn Brouwer and I first came into contact back in 2004 when I was putting together the first Authors in the Sun. When I read this story on radio in Spain it was a huge hit. Domestic violence is a global issue and this story whilst poignant has a sting in the tail….
Marilyn is very well travelled. She was born in Newcastle has lived in Paris, Ibiza, Mallorca and Oman before moving to Dubai. She now lives on the Isle of Wight just eight miles across the Solent to my own home town of Portsmouth. She is wonderful story teller and I will be featuring several of her stories in the series in weeks to come.
Not all stories in the sun are about holidays and romance….
Shortening the Odds by Marilyn Brouwer
The first time he hit her, they were on their honeymoon. It was more of a shove really, just enough to cause Rachel to stumble but not to fall. In the time it took for Rachel to regain her balance Timothy had gone. She had watched his receding back in open mouthed amazement as he walked briskly away from her towards their hotel. Rachel had sat down on the stone wall surrounding one of the many themed gardens the hotel boasted. She could hardly believe what had just happened. It had been over in seconds, brief and incredible enough for Rachel to half wonder if she had imagined it. But it had.
Rachel cast her mind back to what had been happening before the shove. They’d been discussing the two gay men in the next room to theirs who Rachel had grown very fond of in the past two weeks. They were so happy and laughed so much Rachel had proposed that they too must be on their honeymoon. Now what had Timothy replied? That was it! That he couldn’t understand why men chose to go with other men rather than with women. Rachel had laughed, assuming Timothy was joking. Don’t be silly she’d said to him, you don’t really believe that! And then the shove…There had to be something else…Rachel must have missed something…
Timothy met her at the door of their hotel room and gathered her into his arms. “Oh, Rachel, I’m so sorry,” he whispered into her hair. “I don’t know what came over me. I love you so much and when you called me silly…I thought you were already tiring of me, didn’t think I was clever enough for you.”
Rachel pulled back, “Timothy I didn’t mean that you were silly, I hadn’t realised that you were so…” Rachel paused on the word ‘sensitive’ sensing that Timothy might not be receptive to so emotive a word. “I didn’t realise that you would take me so literally,” she amended.
Looking back, Rachel always remembered that day as the first day of her life. The first day that Rachel began to choose her words with care. The first day that Rachel discovered that egg shells really were for walking on.
Over the years the shove inevitably progressed to a slap, the slap to a punch, the punch to a kick. The abuse was not constant; months could pass without Timothy laying a finger on her. It wasn’t alcohol that caused Timothy to lose control, or bad news or stress at work. In some perverse way Timothy revelled in a challenge, welcomed adversity, it brought out the best in him. No, Rachel could never have said that the abuse was constant.
Just that the fear of it was.
Rachel was not stupid, knew she was making excuses for herself, knew that she should have walked out of his life after the first shove, certainly the first slap and without any doubt the first time his fist collided with her body. She thought it would have been much easier if Timothy HAD abused her constantly, then she most certainly would have left, of course she would have! She tried to convince herself that the sporadic violence was much harder to deal with, evaluate, because there was always the possibility that it would never happen again. That she, Rachel, was not the kind of weak, downtrodden, spineless woman to put up with physical abuse. She had an education, good friends, supportive parents, she, Rachel was not the kind of woman who ended up in a battered woman’s refuge.
But at two in the morning, quietly nursing a bruised rib whilst Timothy snored softly beside her, Rachel wondered, with deep self-loathing, then just what kind of woman was she? Why was she so afraid of walking out? Why was she so afraid of admitting to her friends and family that she had allowed Timothy to slap and punch and kick her, like a stray mongrel, not because he was drunk, not because he was in a temper, not because she nagged him, but simply because he could. Simply because he felt like it. That he hit her where it never showed, that after the first few times he didn’t even bother to apologise. Two minutes after a punch Timothy would behave as if it had never happened.
Rachel often wondered which one of them it was who was insane? Him or her?
They had two children in quick succession. Two wonderful children and Timothy was a wonderful father. More excuses. Rachel tormented herself mercilessly. The lovely house, the great friends, the idyllic family holidays, more excuses, more excuses. Rachel’s head ached constantly, trying not to think about it. But thinking about it all the time.
Because what made it so inexplicable to Rachel was that it was only her who saw this side of Timothy. Only Rachel who Timothy eyed with cold derision, only Rachel he raised his fists to, swung back his foot for.
Her parents adored him; she suspected her mother was more than a little in love with him and her father considered Timothy the son that he’d never had. She knew that her friends envied her, her children loved him unconditionally and her children’s friends found Timothy, ‘cool’. Was Rachel frightened no-one would believe her? Or frightened that if they did they would think that somehow Rachel was doing something to provoke him?
That somehow even, Rachel deserved it?
And Rachel, hating herself far more than Timothy ever could, wondered too in the dead of night and the harsh glare of morning, if she somehow deserved it…
Just as the first honeymoon shove had been a turning point in Rachel’s life, a second, equally significant turning point occurred when her daughter Cathy celebrated her eighteenth birthday. It was to set in motion a chain of events which would change Rachel’s life forever.
Rebecca Samson, one of Rachel’s closest friends, (how they’d laughed at this irony later) was unable to attend Cathy’s party due to having been rushed to Weyford General Hospital the previous evening with a punctured lung and a ruptured spleen. Stuart Samson, all round good egg and Rachel’s doubles partner at Weyford Tennis club had been less than satisfied with Rebecca’s Beef Wellington; most of which was found later on the dining room wall along with a smear of Rebecca’s blood where Stuart had banged her head for good measure.
The scandal was huge. Rebecca refused to keep quiet and brought charges against Stuart before suing him for divorce citing extreme and prolonged, mental and physical cruelty.
Rachel visited Rebecca in hospital.
“I had no idea.” She said helplessly. “Why didn’t you say anything?”
Rebecca had reached across the bed for Rachel’s hand.
“For the same reason as you don’t” she answered softly.
Rachel disarmed, and embarrassed that Rebecca had been able to read the signs that she had been too stupid to, covered her face with her hands. Rebecca pulled them away with surprising firmness.
“Listen to me Rachel, only you can stop this, no-one else. Don’t wait until it’s too late. I almost did. The next time Stuart would probably have killed me.”
“Oh, Timothy’s not that bad…!” Rachel began to protest automatically, to lie automatically…To excuse Timothy? Herself? She was suddenly overcome with self-disgust…
Rachel took a deep breath and looked Rebecca straight in the eyes.
“Yes, he is. Yes he is that bad.”
And the words once said, could never be unsaid.
“We need to talk Timothy.” Rachel had waited until Cathy and Joe were out for the evening.
Timothy put down the evening paper with a tiny smile.
“Aaah Rachel,” he said softly, “believe me, that’s the last thing we need to do.”
Rachel had flinched involuntarily as Timothy folded up the paper neatly, placed it carefully on the seat of his chair and walked towards her. She forced herself to sit still, her mouth dry with fear. Timothy walked around the back of Rachel’s chair and bent his head to her ear.
“If you think darling Rachel,” he whispered, “that I am going to be as stupid as Stuart Samson and allow you to divorce me on grounds of physical cruelty…even mouth the words…” Timothy suddenly and violently pulled her head back by the hair until Rachel was looking up into his face. “Well then Rachel,” Timothy stroked her cheek with the back of his hand, “you’d better know that I would kill you first.” Timothy let go of her head as suddenly as he had grabbed it and calmly walked back to his armchair.
“Did you see this about Marshalls closing down Rachel?” Timothy pointed to a headline on page four. “Terrible business, Gregory Tate could lose his job, poor bloke. Get me a scotch, there’s a love.”
On their twentieth wedding anniversary, Rachel organised a surprise party for Timothy inviting all their friends and Timothy’s work colleagues. At the end of a boisterously good humoured evening, Timothy offered an impromptu speech and Rachel presented him with his present.
Timothy opened the envelope with a quizzical smile. “What’s this then? Tickets to the opera?” Everyone laughed, everyone knew that Timothy hated opera. Timothy unfolded the stiff sheets of paper in astonishment.
“A round trip to Thailand?”
“Oh, it’s more than that Timothy.” Rachel smiled. “We’re back packing. They’ve given us a great itinerary. We only have to walk about twelve miles a day. Each village is marked, there’s simple but clean accommodation waiting for us as well as food. We can really explore Thailand, and…”Rachel turned to Cathy and grinned, “we’ll beat Cathy to it.”
“Oh mum, dad!”
Cathy moved across the room and hugged them both. “That is SO cool.”
Everyone began to clap and cheer spontaneously. “You lucky bugger” Rachel heard Jason Fry say to Timothy, “my old woman can’t think any further than the Dordogne.”
Timothy sat on the edge of the bed and watched Rachel undress.
“Helluva present.” He said quietly.
“Don’t you want to go?” Rachel began brushing her hair calmly.
“I didn’t say that.” Timothy regarded Rachel carefully. “I’m just surprised that you’d want to?”
Rachel took a deep breath and turned to face Timothy. “We seem to be stuck with each other,” she said gently, “perhaps it’s time I accepted it, and perhaps it’s time for us to have a whole new start. Pretend we’re young again. A second honeymoon?” Rachel waited.
“And leave Jason to run the betting shops?” Timothy was half talking to himself.
“He’s done it before.” Rachel said mildly. “You always said you’d taught him all you knew.”
Timothy looked once more at the itinerary and gave a small nod.
Rachel felt the first touch of excitement lurch in her stomach.
“It stinks!” Timothy protested as Rachel rubbed the anti-mosquito lotion onto Timothy’s arms and legs as she’d done three times a day since they’d first arrived in Thailand.
“Better than getting malaria!” Rachel replied with a touch of asperity. It was their fifth day of walking and Rachel’s turn for map reading. Timothy did not like Thailand. Did not like the heat, the humidity, the mosquitoes, the jungle paths, the village accommodation and especially did not like the food.
“Look, we can go back.” Rachel offered. “There’s no point in continuing if you aren’t enjoying it. We can fly back to Bangkok and book into a luxury hotel for the last two weeks.”
Timothy’s face had darkened. “What give up!” He said scornfully. “Oh yes you’d love that wouldn’t you? I’d be a laughing stock. I’m finishing this bloody trek if it kills me.” Timothy pushed Rachel aside impatiently and as she watched his retreating back she thought of another time twenty years ago but this time she felt no astonishment, experienced no surprise.
By mid-afternoon they were hopelessly lost.
“I can’t believe I let you touch that map let alone try and follow it.” Timothy had sat down in a small clearing and had spread the map on the ground in front of him. Rachel kept her distance. Now was not the time for a spiteful kick, a debilitating punch. It was while Timothy was quietly cursing that the dog appeared. It was a muddy brown colour, rib thin and had a long slightly flattened looking head. Its nose twitched ceaselessly as it sidled up to Timothy.
“Timothy, look out!”
The dog snarled and as Timothy kicked out it leapt forward and grazed Timothy’s leg with its teeth. Timothy jumped up and yelled and the dog took off and disappeared into the undergrowth.
“Are you alright?” Rachel rushed towards Timothy, “Let me look at that!”
Timothy pushed Rachel violently. “Get away, you stupid woman. This is all your fault.
All your ridiculous idea. Back packing in bloody Thailand. Second honeymoon! And I was stupid enough to go along with it…By God Rachel I’ll make you sorry for this!”
The first flu symptoms appeared two weeks after their return. Timothy came home from work with a high fever and a splitting headache. The small graze on his leg was red and swollen and angry looking. Rachel put Timothy to bed and called the doctor. At first he was not too concerned until Rachel pointed out the wound on Timothy’s leg.
“It was alright at first.” Rachel said.“ The dog hardly touched him…”
“Dog?” Dr Taylor had looked up in alarm. “Where was this?”
”In Thailand,” Rachel replied. “We were back packing there a few weeks ago, Timothy hated it.”
“Did your husband have a tetanus injection before you left?”
“Good God, no!” Rachel shook her head. “Timothy is terrified of injections. That is one of the reasons he keeps so fit, he’s terrified of getting diabetes and having to inject himself every day like his father had to.”
Eight days later, after Timothy’s disease had progressed through every classic symptom of anxiety, encephalopathy, partial paralysis and hydrophobia, Timothy Baldwin died of rabies.
Rachel stood at his graveside when all the other mourners had left.
“I could never have killed you in cold blood Timothy, you know that.” She said, the damp earth staining her shoes. “And I could never have bet with odds on certainty that you would be bitten by a rabid dog, although…” Rachel paused, “Thailand does, of course, have more rabid dogs than most other normal holiday destinations…….And then of course there was Trappers Choice Prairie Dog Lure…..” Rachel shook her head in wonder. “Ah Timothy, the internet is a truly marvellous thing, look up dog bait and there it is…A teaspoon is almost guaranteed to get the attention of any foraging dog…”Rachel sighed. “Although I must admit that mixing it into the anti-mosquito lotion was a lot smellier and messier than I’d anticipated …” Rachel kicked some earth carelessly into the grave.
“And really Timothy, if you think about it, as a bookie, you should appreciate my tactics.
After all, as you’ve told me many times before, there’s never any harm in shortening the odds.”
If you have a short story that has ‘sunshine’ somewhere in the tale then please let me know..