The Crumpled Paper - A short story
"Kathy, don't parade yourself in front of the lads like that." Dave snapped, spraying toast crumbs in her face. "What if their friends called to the door or the postman? You're not decent, cover yourself up, woman." He whipped her heavy fleece dressing gown off the kitchen chair, throwing it at her.
Kathy looked down at the vest top and shorts pyjamas, seeing nothing wrong. Knowing better than to argue she shrugged into the gown, wrapping it around her, she pulled the belt tight. She felt suffocated by its bulk and the heat of the morning sun streaming into the kitchen.
David, her eldest son, looked up from his history notes, sitting beside a bowl of soggy cornflakes on the kitchen table. "He shouldn't treat you like that," he muttered quietly, his eyes glinting with suppressed anger.
"Leave it, David, finish your breakfast," Kathy said, leaving the kitchen.
Dave was waiting for her by the front door. She leaned towards him to kiss him goodbye, as was their usual morning ritual. He pulled her to him, pushing a hand inside her dressing gown, squeezing her breast. "For my eyes only, don't you forget," he whispered in her ear before straightening her gown. He gave her a chaste kiss on the cheek and was gone. "See you tonight love," he called from the gate, with a wide-eyed smile for the benefit of any nosy neighbours.
Kathy leaned against the closed front door for a moment fighting angry tears, annoyed that she let him treat her that way yet again.
"Mum, Muuuum, I can't get my hair to go right." Alison, Kathy's ten-year-old daughter, called out. Kathy brushed away a stray tear, smiling up at Alison standing at the top of the stairs, hairbrush in her hand, a pleading grin on her face.
By a quarter to nine, peace had finally descended on the house. With rivulets of sweat running down her back, Kathy freed herself from the constraints of the heavy dressing gown, before clearing away the remains of the breakfast chaos. With order restored and still in her pyjamas, she took a cup of tea and the morning paper into the garden. What he doesn't know can't hurt him, she told to herself, imagining only too well Dave's disapproval of her act.
"Who'd be interested in me anyway?" she asked the Bluetit, perched on the back of the chair beside her. "I'm just a dumb, scared rabbit, only fit to be Dave's puppet on a string." Sitting back in her chair, she closed her eyes, enjoying for a moment the soothing and relaxing warmth of the sun on her bare skin. Her mind was whirling, fraught with anger and frustration at her life and the lack of control she had on it. If it wasn't for the kids... she'd told herself countless times. What would I do? How would I support us? I'd need a job. Who'd employ me? I've nothing to offer. Suddenly she sat bolt upright in the chair, causing the Bluetit to take flight. Energy surged through her like nothing she'd felt in years. Grabbing a pen and paper, she began scribbling, making a plan.
Over the weeks and months that followed, Kathy put her plan into action, with everything carried out in top secret. Dave couldn't find out what she was up to, so all her research and home study courses were carried out during the day while the rest of the family were safely out of the house. Of course, it wasn't always easy, she had to work extra hard to keep the house in its usual pristine condition. Playing nursemaid at Dave's beck and call when he was out sick with his back upset her schedule somewhat. Still, Kathy was persistent. With a dogged determination, she didn't know she had, she finally felt ready to check out the situations vacant section in the local paper.
After the usual breakfast rituals mixed with a variety of grunts, the children's version of a conversation, Kathy has the house to herself. Taking up the morning paper, she turned straight to the jobs section. Quickly scanning the columns, she looked for anything suited to her newly acquired skills. One particular ad caught her attention.
Part-time Administrator wanted. Basic computer skills and excellent organisations skills along with a mature attitude required. Hours can be flexible.
It sounded ideal. Kathy quickly wrote down the contact details.
"KATHY," Dave bellowed from the front hall.
She jumped, almost knocking the cup of hot tea all over herself. Quickly she stuffed the job information into her dressing gown pocket and closed the paper just as Dave walked into the kitchen.
"Did you forget something?" She asked, hoping that he didn't pick up on her over-bright tone or the guilty look she was sure was written all over her face.
"My mobile, have you seen it?" He looked around distractedly, his eyes reaching Kathy, looking her up and down. "You're still not dressed. What if that was a stranger at the door? Or that guy Pete from next door who fancies you? You give off the wrong signals, Kathy. Put some clothes on."
Kathy headed up the stairs, feeling the crumpled paper in her pocket, squashing it tightly in her clenched fist, leaving him to search for the missing phone. Standing in the shower, she let the steam swirl around her like a mist on the moors. Her thoughts drifted to her relationship with Dave. She played the game, the same game she played every day in her head. Whether it be in the shower, on the bus, cooking the dinner or in bed, lying beneath his sweating, flabby bulk. A new life, one without Dave, without the constant put-downs, without the barrage of demands, without his sweaty pawing hands, a chance to find the real Kathy Forrester.
Two hours later, she was on the bus, heading off to meet the ladies walking group. Dave had kicked off about her going when she had first broached the subject of joining a walking group.
"No way," he'd growled at her. "You'll have dirty old men leering at you. Or guys who think they're sex gods with bare chests, topping up their tan, coming on to you. Absolutely, no way."
"Like I'd be interested in another man," she'd muttered looking at him, sprawled full length on the couch. Repulsed by his beer belly, the size of a woman about to give birth, can of lager in his hand roaring at the TV screen.
"What about the jobs you have to do? I don't want to come home to mess or no dinner ready. I don't want to see you sweaty and dirty in walking boots when I get in. No, you haven't got the time," he'd said before roaring at the TV again.
After promises that she would still fit everything in and a little persuasion of the kind Dave enjoys, he relented and agreed.
Sitting on the bench, waiting for the rest of the group, she closed her eyes, letting her thoughts wander as she basked in the warm sunshine. As always they settled on the same daydream. A life of her own, where she could do the things she wanted to do, eat rice and pasta not always potatoes or chips. Watch an American sitcom or a girlie film instead of the sports channel. Wear the clothes she liked, not the low cut tops and short skirts that Dave insisted she wore when they went out, with him parading her around like a prized trophy. She pushed the dream to new levels, a neat house in a quaint little village and a job where she would feel valued.
Back home hot and sticky yet exhilarated from her walk, Kathy quickly showered and threw on her dressing gown. She smiled decadently to herself as she made a cup of tea, revelling in the naughtiness of not being dressed appropriately in the middle of the day. Dave would lose the plot completely if he caught me. Hearing the crinkle of paper, she pulled the crumpled note from her pocket, smoothing it out on the kitchen table. She wrestled with her conscience. I really should discuss it with Dave first. He wouldn't like it, me meeting people that he didn't know, making a life for myself, he'd never agree. On the other hand, I could keep it a secret, save the money, plan that new life. Would she dare? Did she have the courage to pull it off? Kathy looked up as her daughter's head of golden curls passed the kitchen window. Panic struck. Is it that time already? She quickly stuffed the crumpled paper into her pocket and began to clear the kitchen table.
"Hi Mum." Alison breezed in like a breath of fresh air, with her big blue eyes and wide grin, "Guess what happened..."
"Just give me a minute to get dressed, then you can tell me the full story while we prepare the dinner," Kathy said, ruffling the blond curls before dashing up the stairs.
Kathy spent the next day role-playing the different scenarios with which to approach Dave about looking for a job. She couldn't see any of them going down too well. Disillusioned she decided to walk into town to pick up a few groceries. The tap on the shoulder startled her, she spun around to see Annie, her sister frowning at her.
"Kathy, are you ok? You just completely blanked me there."
"I'm sorry I was miles away, mulling something over in my head." Kathy gave her best reassuring smile.
"Come and have a coffee," Annie said, taking her by the arm and steering her towards the Josie's Cafe. "Two heads are always better than one, a trouble shared... and all that."
Kathy sank into the comfy sofa by the window. She watched Annie up at the counter, feeling a stab of envy at her confidence and air of authority. Annie would never let herself be smothered and walked over the way that Dave treated her.
Annie put the laden tray down, along with the two frothy cappuccinos, there were two chocolate éclairs, oozing fresh cream, their thick chocolate topping glistening. "I know," she said at Kathy's raised eyebrow. "Before you say anything about calories or cholesterol, a little of what you fancy does you good."
She took a bite, curling her tongue around her lips to gather the excess cream. "Mmmmmmm."
Kathy laughed. It was always good to spend time with Annie. She tucked into her éclair, relishing in its sinfulness.
"So," Annie said, wiping her mouth. "What are you mulling over with such intensity that you are a million miles away? Is there a problem? Is it one of the kids? Is Dave getting you down?" Annie knew that Kathy and Dave's relationship wasn't always hunky-dory. Dave wasn't her most favourite person, in fact, she didn't really like him at all, but he was Kathy's husband, and she respected that most of the time.
"No, not really, the kids are fine, and Dave is just Dave. It's me, I suppose..." Kathy faltered.
She wasn't quite sure that she wanted to voice her feelings just yet, not even to her sister. "It's just that since I joined the walking group, doing something for myself, I want more. My life can't just be this." She drew a small circle in the sugar spilt on the table, keeping her eyes down the whole time. "I want it to be this." She drew a larger circle covering the entire table. She looked up at Annie with tear-filled eyes. "Is that so very wrong of me?"
Back home, Kathy took the now severely crumpled paper with the job details from its hiding place. Smoothing it out, rereading the information, even though she knew the words by heart at this stage. Once again, she wrestled with her conscience, her whole being was telling her to go for it, pick up the phone, take control of her own destiny. But what if Dave found out? Once again, her courage failed her, she crumpled up the paper, threw it in the bin and turned to tackle the pile of ironing.
Still ironing, Kathy stiffened as the front door slammed shut. Dave came into the kitchen. He looked her up and down as he did every evening. "Your home early today, love." She smiled, trying to gauge his mood, wondering what she had got wrong this time as his gaze travel over her appearance. Next, he picked up a freshly ironed shirt from the back of the chair, turning it this way and that, then threw it back into the basket. He performed this ritual with a further three shirts.
Kathy said nothing, she continued ironing, her hands shaking, waiting for him to speak. He said nothing and turning away from her, he headed for the living room. Even though she was annoyed at the extra work he had created, she breathed a sigh of relief when he left the kitchen. She knew there was nothing wrong with the shirts, it was just his way of controlling her.
The blare of the TV invaded the silent house, followed by Dave's clipped tone, "Kathy. Tea."
As she emptied the used teabag into the bin, she spotted the crumpled paper. She quickly retrieved it, stuffing it into her jeans pocket. The battle wasn't lost yet!