I am delighted to have received a guest post from American blogger and writer, Abbie Johnson Taylor.
It is a short story.
Shelby gazed out the kitchen window at the barn and surrounding landscape, covered in winter snow. More flakes were falling from an overcast sky, cascading in swirls of white. It felt so good to be home. She’d always loved her parents’ ranch in Wyoming, the wide open spaces, the livestock, the wildlife, even the harsh winters, and wished she hadn’t left after marrying Ian. As a matter of fact, she wished she hadn’t married Ian at all.
The kitchen door opened, and her father came in, stomping the snow off his boots and closing the door. “Boy, it’s really coming down out there,” he said, removing his gloves and stuffing them in his coat pockets.”
Shelby turned to him with a smile and said, “Well, the dishes are washed and put away, and the kitchen is as clean as I can get it. How else can I help?”
“Well, nothing else needs to be done right now,” he answered, removing his coat and hat and hanging them on nearby hooks. “Sit down. I’m gonna brew another pot of coffee, and we’re gonna talk.”
“What about?” she asked, taking a seat at the kitchen table.
She knew the answer to that question. The day before, after making the hasty decision to leave Ian and after not speaking to her father in months, she’d called him from the Los Angeles airport and given him her flight information. He’d asked no questions and promised to meet her at the airport in Sheridan. Her flight from Denver had been delayed due to inclement weather, and she’d arrived late the night before, but her father had been there when she’d gotten off the plane, and they’d ridden most of the fifty miles north to the ranch in silence. Now, he was ready for answers.
He said nothing, as he started the coffee pot, then took a seat at the table across from her. “Well, something tells me you didn’t just drop everything and come all the way back to Wyoming from California just to help your old man out, now that your mom’s gone. By the way, how’d you get that nasty bruise on your cheek?”
She touched that spot. It still felt tender. Shaking her head in an attempt to clear the memory, she said, “I’ve left Ian. You know why he wanted us to move all the way to California? To get me away from everything and everyone familiar. The counselor at the women’s shelter where I went yesterday told me that sort of thing is common. The abuser tries to isolate his victim, so she doesn’t have any support system.”
Her father’s face darkened, and his fists clenched. “Son of a bitch! I had a feeling something was off about him but didn’t want to say anything. When I was your age, if anyone had told me there was something wrong with your mom when I married her, I would have said they were nuts.”
Shelby couldn’t help smiling. “Well, you were right about Ian, but of course, I wouldn’t have listened.”
“So, he’s been beating you up?”
“Yes, it started after our honeymoon. We’d just gotten settled in Huntington Beach that night when you called to tell me about Mom’s car accident. He said I didn’t need to come back here to be with her, that she would be fine, that he needed me more. I figured he was just tired. So, I took my phone in the bathroom and made the airline reservation. He said nothing and for once, he wasn’t interested in making love. Again, I figured he was tired. So, we just went to sleep. The next morning, he still wouldn’t talk to me.”
“I called him from the hospital in Denver, where Mom had been airlifted, but I just got his voicemail. I told him Mom wasn’t expected to live and suggested he come, but as you know, he never called me and never came. You and I figured he didn’t want to leave his new accounting job so soon after starting, which is understandable.”
“I suppose, but he still should have been with you.”
“Yeah, well, it just got worse after I got back. That was when he started hitting me every day for some minor infraction. His steak wasn’t cooked just right. The apartment wasn’t clean enough.”
“At first, afterward, he apologized and told me how much he loved me. Bla bla bla. But then, he stopped doing that and became a control freak.”
“I’ll be damned.”
“He also made fun of me and put me down. He didn’t like me getting friendly with any of our neighbors. It seemed like he was always jealous.”
As tears threatened, she hung her head. Her father reached across the table and took her hand. “Honey, I’m sorry.”
“At first, I thought he was stressed out because of the new job. I thought that if I tried harder, it would get better, and we would eventually go back to the way things were before we got married. I loved him, but I don’t know why now.”
“You were interested in selling real estate. I thought you said you’d find a job doing that in Huntington Beach.”
“He wouldn’t let me. He wanted me to be a stay-at-home wife. He didn’t want me getting involved in anything. So, what was I supposed to do at home all day besides cook, clean, and shop?”
Her father sighed. “You know, I think your mom felt the same way. With you being our only child, once you were grown and able to take care of yourself, there wasn’t much for her to do out here in the middle of nowhere. Of course, I wouldn’t have objected if she’d wanted to work, and I never raised a hand to her.”
Shelby found herself smiling again. “Mom was lucky. You were a great husband. Anyway, something snapped yesterday. After Ian left for work, I researched women’s shelters and found one nearby. I went there, but then, I decided I just wanted to come home.”
“Of course, honey. You did the right thing. I love you, and no matter what happens, we’ll get through this together.”
“I love you, too, Dad,” Shelby said, no longer able to hold back her tears. She jumped up from the table, hurried around to his side, and pulled him into a bear hug, burying her face in his shoulder, drinking in his reassuring scent. “I’m sorry I didn’t call you before and tell you what was going on. I just didn’t know what to think until now.”
His arms came around her, as they’d done many times when she was a child, hurt or frightened. “Honey, it’s water under the bridge. The important thing is that you’re home and you’re safe.”
As her father held her, Shelby also realized that after months of feeling like a bird in a gilded cage, she was finally free.
Abbie Johnson Taylor is the author of three novels, two poetry collections, and a memoir. Her work has appeared in The Weekly Avocet, The Writer’s Grapevine, and other publications. She lives in Sheridan, Wyoming. Please visit her website at: https://www.abbiejohnsontaylor.com