The tiny clacking sound as they hit the floor rose in a chorus around her. Instinctively, she was already diving for them, wanting – needing – to save them. They slid off of the braided string they’d rested on for longer than she’d been alive. Her mother had given them to her when she’d turned eighteen. Her mother had done the same. They were, she supposed, a family heirloom. She wanted them to be safe. Their safety rose above her own as she fell to her knees to gather up the small white balls of oyster waste. Funny how something that sounded so revolting could be worth so much and so coveted.
On her knees, her hands working madly to scoop and to gather, she could look up and see the brown shoes on the feet of the man who had caused this. It was a hell of a thing, that she’d be more angry for this, for breaking her family’s pearl necklace than what he’d done to her personally. She wanted him to die for hurting the pearls, but she would stay with him despite the other thing. That didn’t matter so much. That, she supposed, was also a family heirloom. A trait passed down instead of an object, but a part of her history anyway.
She’d seen it happen to her mother plenty of times. She’d heard her mother talk about watching it happen to her grandmother. Her grandmother had talked about watching such things in her own home. Each woman then bringing home a man to continue the cycle. Marrying somebody who would pretty much guarantee that she would be telling such stories to her own children. And they were just fact. Nothing more. Nothing surprising. She remembered the first time, and how her mother reminded her that this sort of thing happened. How they just had to suck it up, because that’s the way they were, men. They had their needs and they had their ways, and there wasn’t anything a woman could do about it.
Over time, it had gotten easier for her to take. Not only physically, but mentally. Her body toughened to the sensation and her mind sealed her off from the world while it was all going on so that she never had to look at any of it directly. She had a place she could go. A faraway, dark place where she could shut herself in and stay for a while. Mostly, though, she just did her best to make sure that it never had to happen. She tiptoed and walked on eggshells. She made sure dinner was always on the table. She didn’t wake him even if he fell asleep in the living room. She kept the house tidy. Did all the errands before he could ever know they actually ran out of things. She took care of him. And while she was at it, she made sure she was still pleasant to look at. That was important too. That could set him off just as easily. If she gained a pound or so, he’d point it out and ask her if she needed help getting rid of it. She hadn’t made that particular mistake in a couple of years, though.
But there were still times. Times like this, where there was no way to save herself. Nothing she could do to appease him, calm him down. He was just in a Mood, as her mother would have said, and the only way to break that mood was to let him work through it his own way. If that meant that she had to go to her special dark place, then so be it.
Half of her mind was already there as the other half of her was picking up her scattered pearls. Sinking away into the sweet oblivion, aware that as soon as she’d cleaned up her mess, he was going to be at her again. This time, he’d have to hold onto the neck of her dress though, to keep her steady. He’d never been so moody before. Usually the pearls stood up to him, defied him, even. Not today. And today, she wondered if she would be able to defy him in her own way. If she was going to be able to cover things tomorrow with clothing or makeup, or if she was going to have to spend some time staying in the house. Telling people she was too ill to play Bridge or have tea. She wondered if her body’s resilience was going to be enough today, or if she was going to wake up tomorrow sore and stiff.
Her hand tucked the pearls into the front pocket on her apron, and as her eyes met his, she felt the second round happen. It was going to be a long night, she thought to herself, as the rest of her slipped away. A long, long night.