[CW: Domestic abuse]
When the full-time whistle blows, she knows the game has only just begun.
She’s spent the last 90 minutes, feverishly praying for his side to win. She doesn’t believe in God, but right now she’s willing to give faith a chance.
She creeps into her son’s bedroom, kisses his angel cheeks, pushes the blonde cows-lick curl out of his eyes and he murmurs. She smiles. Both son and father talk in their sleep, walk too sometimes.
The last time he’d been drinking. She woke up to find him pissing in the corner of the room, over the photo frame of the three of them he insisted on keeping there. Happy bloody families. Amazing how pictures can hide the horrible truth, the lies behind the smiles.
Johnny, it’s okay, sweetheart, let’s go to the toilet. She spoke to him like she was talking to their three-year-old, not a grown man.
He turned and grabbed her by the neck, tried to pin her to the bed. They say never wake a sleepwalker, but what if by letting him sleep, you let yourself die?
The whistle goes. 0-0, she guesses which of them will strike first.
Extra fucking time. They’re not the only ones living on extra time. Oi, I’m talking to you. Come here.
She tiptoes in, invisible egg shells cracking.
Where’s the rest of the beer? Didn’t I tell you to get more in?
No point telling him that he’d drunk all of it, including the extra.
I’ll go and get some more.
Damn right you will. And don’t you get chatting to any of your fancy men down there. I’ll know if you have, you slut.
He hisses at her, lines pulsing in his temples like cerebral snakes.
She toys with the idea of running away then. She wants to tell the woman in Tesco that no she’s not enjoying the game, when she nods knowingly at the beer. Mandy her name is.
Between you and me, I’m glad to be out the house, Mandy explains.
It can get a bit lively when there’s a game on. Let’s hope it doesn’t got to penalties, huh? I don’t know that I can cope with the stress. Mind you, some ways are better than others love, aren’t they?
She winks and then bends to a fake whisper. Nine months after the last World Cup, there were loads of babies born. Must be why they call it the Beautiful Game.
She thinks of her son at home – her little boy born just as Mandy said. He’s her reason she can’t say anything. He’s the reason she has to go back.
She nods, words forming under her tongue, desperately trying to escape. I know what you mean, is all she can brave.
She creeps up the stairs, struggling under the weight of the box of beer which she tries to balance on the coffee table.
What took you so long? He is livid. They’re still only in the first half of extra-time, still no goals.
For a split second it’s as though he might help her. He rises up, takes her by the thin strap of her vest, pushes her back and she falls forwards over the same coffee table, beer box breaking her fall.
What the hell did you do that for? They’ll be too fizzy to drink now.
Her right wrist is bruised. She’s relieved, nothing worse.
Please don’t let it go to penalties, she whispers silently.
What did you say?
But her answer is drowned out by the sudden scream of success and she slinks away in the vacuum of short-lived victory.
She hears a noise from her son’s bedroom, a nightmare played out in words she cannot understand. She curls up next to him, stroking his downy softness, kissing the damp patch on his neck where the sweat of bad dreams has clung to his pyjamas. He clings to his new pillow that he got for his third birthday, a couple of months ago, a fluffy football in his team’s colours.
The room explodes next door. Not them this time. The other side.
She looks at the clock on the wall, the black and white markings of another nod to the beautiful game. There are just seconds left.
The whistle goes.
She’s made it through extra-time.
What the hell are you doing in there?
Just saying goodnight, she whispers.
She kisses her son on his cheek, flushed pink with bad dreams.
It’ll be alright, baby, she whispers, pleading with him.
She moves his hands away from his fluffy football.
She already knows the result of this game.
Biography: Hannah Storm is a journalist and media consultant, specialising in gender and safety. Although she’s been writing since she was a young girl, she’s recently discovered a passion for short stories and flash fiction, thanks to an Arvon course with Vanessa Gebbie and Cynan Jones. Her Twitter handle is @hannahstorm6.
Image: Patrick Schneider