Soft – A Short Story About the Ugliness of Domestic Violence
He never imagined that bare knuckles could do so much damage. Peter had watched enough TV shows and actions movies to have an idea of what a strong punch could do – while channel surfing he once ran into a mixed martial arts match and saw the busted lip and shut left eye of a man with a name he couldn’t pronounce. What he was looking at now though, was something else entirely. It was Karen who had been hit. It was he who hit her. There was no plastic screen or suited announcer to separate him from the blood and violence.
He looked down at Karen as she lay on the floor, remorseful and crying, and he could see the skin on her cheek was torn by the friction of his fist.
She swelled right before his eyes. With each second her jaw filled with fluids that caused a sad and ugly looking asymmetry in the face of the girl he said he loved. She whimpered, “I’m sorry” over and over again as tears fell down her face and mucus from her nose ran into her mouth.
It was more reflex than anything that caused him to hit her.
They were in Peter’s bed. With his parents out of town for the weekend they indulged in awkward teenage sex. After a few quiet moments their breathing normalized and Peter said, “You still have your socks on?” They both laughed.
“It was a little cold in here.”
“You want me to put the thermostat higher babe?”
Karen looked him in the eyes and said, “Nah. I’m warm now.” He kissed her forehead and went back to staring at the ceiling as she reached over to take off the socks. She threw them across the bed where they landed on his pants, which, during the sex, landed on his chair.
Lying down again she stared at the loose fitting blue jeans. They grabbed her attention and distracted from those rare feelings of belonging and stability that she was savoring with Peter, since she always found herself searching for them her non-naked life. Trying to hold on to those feelings she moved her hand up and down Peter’s flat stomach. Eventually though, she said, “Peter, some of your clothes are a little sloppy. You know, you don’t always have to buy stuff two sizes bigger.”
He chuckled, “That’s just what I’m comfortable wearing. I like my skin to breath.”
“Well at least your pants don’t hang off your ass. I would’ve never talked to you.”
“If that’s what you say. But I remember you looking all in my face at that party.”
She lifted her head off his chest and looked at him with a slight smile and wide open eyes. “Oh really? That’s what you think?”
Peter remained smiling and relaxed. “Uh huh.”
“I was looking at you. But I was thinking to myself ‘why does this guy’s t-shirt sleeve go past his elbow. That’s a little too big.”
“Aww.” She kissed him on the cheek as his smile disappeared. “You know you’re sexy. Just… Let’s go shopping together next week or something.”
“That’s like the second time I’ve heard you say that. Babe, I wanna wear what I wanna wear. It’s my style, and I don’t want you trying to change me.”
“I’m not trying to change you. I love you. But how you present yourself sometimes is a little…” She searched for the right word. She said, “Rough?” not sure if she found what she was looking for.
Karen hopped out of bed and walked around the foot of it to the closet that was on Peter’s side. She opened the door and said, “Your parents own three stores. You don’t gotta look like you’re living in a rap video.”
Peter’s calm, brought on by his orgasm, was being replaced by an uncomfortable tenseness. He looked at Karen as she looked in his closet with disappointment on her face – the right corner of her mouth was raised and her head was tilted left.
“There was no plastic screen or suited announcer to separate him from the blood and violence.”
“Like this shirt. It’s straight out of BET.”
“Now you sound stupid. You ain’t black?”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t mean I have to wear what the TV says black people wear.” She slipped on his shirt. Its neck line reached the shoulders of her slight frame and dangled off them like she was a hanger. Her breasts created small curves in the otherwise straight drop that the fabric made to her knees.
“I feel like I’m wearing a tent.”
“Take my shirt off Karen.”
“I will. Just trying to show you how silly this stuff can look. Unless you’re trying to be like some kinda street thug.”
Peter slowly got out of the bed. Karen turned to her left and looked at the mirror that hung from inside the closet door. Looking at Karen’s profile he said, “Cut it out. Take it off.”
Too taken with her own child-like image in the mirror Karen didn’t respond but instead hunched her shoulders slightly. She made a scowl and said to herself, “Yo yo son! I’m K-dog. I’ll fuck that ass up if you try that bullshit on me. I ain’t the one. I ain’t a punk.”
Peter’s face lost all expression. Karen couldn’t see inside his head, but if she could she would see images of teenage scuffles, stolen jackets, classroom ridicule and Peter crying in his junior high school bathroom.
Still talking to the mirror, Karen said, “I ain’t soft.” Again, in a move that was more reflex than anything else, Peter quickly pulled his arm back, made as hard a fist as he ever had, and landed it on the right side of Karen’s face.
The blow lifted her off the ground. She hit a wall a few feet away and collapsed on the floor. Not quiet unconscious she put her hand on her face and began to cry. In a slow, hushed voice she said, “I was just joking. I’m sorry. I was just joking. I’m sorry Peter…” She repeated the words over and over again as Peter looked at her. He was in shock over what he did, but his face was still void of emotion, and his fists were still balled up tight.
He would apologize for hitting her. She would accept his apology. She would lie to people about what happened to her face. He would tell her that he loved her. She would need to believe it. She would believe it.
He would hit her again.
*Image Courtesy Den Quinsay