Karen lay awake in bed. She did not move. She shut her eyes tight, her heart pounding faster and faster, and attempted not to breath out loudly. Simon lay beside her in the king-sized bed, sat up suddenly and kicked his legs over his side of the bed. He stretched and yawned. He then walked out of the bedroom and into the bathroom along the landing. Karen heard him pee in the toilet and then flush it. She pulled the duvet up over her head and faced the wall, trying hard not to move a muscle. She wanted Simon to believe that she was really asleep. The shower was turned on, and she heard Simon get into the unit and slammed the door shut. After what seemed like an eternity, but was no more than several minutes, Simon returned to the bedroom. She could hear him drying himself with a towel, searching the wardrobe for clean clothes to wear, the clink of the hangers on the rail, the sound of drawers being pulled opened and shut. He eventually sat down on the end of the bed, having reached under it for his shoes, which he put on. He brushed his hair and then went downstairs to the kitchen.
Karen breathed out slowly and silently. Simon began to bang cupboard doors in his search for cereal for breakfast in the kitchen, something was poured into a bowl, the fridge door was opened, milk removed and poured over cereal.
Karen opened her eyes, although with a certain amount of pain in one of them. The sun shone into the room through a gap in the curtains. She peered at the display of the digital alarm clock that sat on the bedside cabinet. The red glow of the numbers began to swim into sharp focus- 6:32. The display began to flash slowly, and then the number turned over- 6:33. Any minute now Simon would leave the house, walk to the car on the drive, get inside it, draw the seatbelt over his neatly-ironed shirt and click it into place. He would start the ignition, and then reverse out into the Close and be on his way to work, and wouldn't return until well after seven that evening. He would be expecting Karen to be his ever-loving little wife as usual, with his evening meal ready on a plate for him, as soon as he walked through the front door, with the baby tucked up asleep in his cot upstairs, house immaculate, everything neat and tidy. But not this evening. She wouldn't be there. Not after what had happened last night, after he'd got back from the pub with his mates. He'd had one too many to drink, and she'd been sitting up waiting for him to get in. She'd got used to his drinking, and the arguments this had caused. He'd managed to spend all the money on booze which she had so carefully saved to pay for the electricity bill, kept in a jar in the kitchen cupboard near the sink. He was really far too handy with his fists, and had hit her on several occasions, usually on her body. She had several really painful bruises on her ribs, and on one occasion she had nearly gone to the Accident and Emergency department at the hospital as she though she had a cracked rib, but had decided that she wasn't going to trouble the doctors and the nurses with something so trivial, so hadn't gone after all. Her clothes covered up these bruises, so they couldn't be seen. But last night he had lashed out with an upper-cut to her left eye, causing her eyelids to swell up horribly with a black and blue bruise. She found it intensely painful to even attempt to open her eye when she glanced at the alarm.
Karen heard Simon open the front door. She took a sharp intake of breath. Then she heard the sharp click as he shut the door behind him, then his footsteps on the concrete path outside, the sound of keys jangling as he opened the car door, and then the car door slamming. She could breath easier when she heard the engine starting and the car reversing out into the road.
He was gone. She was sure he wouldn't return, unless he had forgotten something. She got up from the bed quickly and began stuffing clothes into a holdall. She wasn't very careful what she packed, things fell over the side of the holdall, as she opened drawers and pulled out clothes. She attempted to take out as much of her things as possible.
She next went to the bathroom and stood for a while in shock as she stared at her reflection in the mirror over the sink. She was horrified by the effect of the bruise over her left eye. The bruise was more prominent than she had imagined. Her heart rate increased, and the injury began to throb and sting considerably. She touched it with her forefinger, and winced at the sharp sting. She ran the taps in the sink, and then rinsed her face, washing with a flannel and soap. The suds made the bruise sting even more. She dried her face on a towel. Then she returned to her bedroom, opening more drawers and stuffing underwear into a rucksack. She couldn't take anymore, she had to think of Peter, the toddler, who slept in the next room. She put as much of his things into the holdall, and then went downstairs to the cupboard under the stairs to take out the buggy. She opened it in the hall and then went back upstairs. Peter was fast asleep. He usually slept until at least eight o'clock, but today she'd have to wake him, get him dressed and out of the house as fast as possible, if her plan was to succeed. She didn't want to remain in the house a moment longer than absolutely necessary. Her idea was to be anywhere other than even the same town as Simon when he got home from work this evening.
Karen went upstairs to the toddler's bedroom. She walked into the darkened room, and drew the curtains wide. She stood looking into Peter's cot. He was sound asleep. It was a pity that she had to wake him, but, in order to get away from Simon she had no choice but to wake him. She lent over the side of the cot and nudged him. He breathed in lightly, and turned over to face his mother, then his eyes opened slowly. He rubbed his eyes with his clenched fists, yawned and stretched.
"Hello little man!" said Karen. "We're not going to play-group today. We're going somewhere different." Then she picked him up. She hugged him tightly to herself as she held him. She put him back in the cot, where he stood, holding onto the cot sides. She opened more drawers in his bedroom and got out some of his clothes. She picked him up again, and took off his pyjamas and began to dress him suitable for a long journey.
She had friends in another town. She had known them since her school days, and had kept in touch, first by letter, then by email. They'd exchanged Christmas and birthday cards, keeping up with each other's lives, the births of their children and all the little highs and lows. She could go there now.
She carried Peter downstairs and sat him in the buggy which was standing in the hall. She put the rucksack over her shoulder and onto her back and adjusted the straps. She put the holdall over the handles of the buggy and strapped Peter into the buggy. She had money in her jacket pocket, which had been meant to pay athe electricity bill which was due, but would be more than enough to buy train tickets to Bedford, where her friend Liz, and her husband lived.
At long last she could leave the house. She had Peter and all she needed in the rucksack and the holdall. Well, it wasn't quite enough, but it would do them for a few days, until she got herself sorted out. She opened the front door and pushed the buggy out into the early-morning air. Fortunately it was mild and not raining. She took her key from her jacket pocket and locked the front door of the house, and put the key back in her pocket.
As she walked down the path, she pulled the hood of her jacket up over her head, in an attempt to hide the black eye, as she didn't want people to see the injury, as it was very likely to attract attention and someone might ask very awkward questions. She glanced back at the house, just as she was about to round the corner into the Close. Would she ever see it again? It seemed unlikely.
She pushed the buggy between the houses where the path lead out of the close. She didn't turn around again, and faced the main road which lead into the centre of the city and the railway station.
She had such high hopes for the future when, as a couple, they had decided to move to the Close after they had got married. It was an ideal location, quiet, and near enough to Simon's work, and there were plenty of amenities nearby. They had selected furniture together, and gradually improved the house. Then the baby was born. Was it at that point that things began to change? They had, as she believed at the time, a strong relationship. They shared many things, decorating the house, shopping for furniture, going out and about, visiting their parents and other family members. She had always seen Simon as a hard-working, quiet, sensible sort of man. After the birth of Peter he had gradually come home from work later and later. Then, when he had got home, he'd make some sort of excuse or other and go out with his friends leaving Karen alone in the house with Peter.
Then the violence started. He became very abusive, shouting at her, calling her names. One evening there had been an argument over money, as a result of something he had found in a bank statement. She had spent too much, or so he claimed, on something for the baby. Then, on a further occasion he threatened her with his fist after he'd got home really late from work and she half-jokingly suggested that he'd been with a female member of his team at work. She became nervous whenever she heard him come in from work, the key in the lock, his steps in the hallway. On several occasions, when he'd got back from the pub, drunk, she'd refused to sleep with him, and she'd gone into the spare bedroom. This had lead to him, one night, following her into the spare room, and it ended with him grabbing her arm, so hard that she had bruises and scratches on her wrist for several days after.
She had wanted, quite desperately, to tell someone what had happened to her, but she was frightened in case Simon found out. He might become even more violent. Would he really hurt her more? And what about the child? Was he likely to endanger his own son? She didn't have many friends, and those she did have were too far away to visit. She had no car, so she couldn't drive. Simon hadn't wanted her to learn. Her parents lived the other end of the country, so there was no chance of off-loading her troubles on them. If she'd spoken about it on the phone to her mother, she's have only worried. So she kept it to herself. The only answer she could come up with was to leave, and not let Simon know where she'd gone.
Karen had bought her mobile phone with her. It was tucked safely into one of the compartments of the rucksack. She knew that, as soon as he realised that she'd gone, Simon would try to phone her mobile number, but she could avoid speaking to him because, as soon as he used her number, the display would show up his name. She would need to text her friend Liz to find out whether she was at home, but there was really no guarantee that she would be there. That was just one of the risks she was prepared to take. Getting away from Simon was far more important