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by Ruth Geldard

He has lots of subtle, gently violent ways of keeping her in her place, from slight darting looks and secret squeezes to the underside of her upper arms, where it doesn’t show, to treading on her feet under the table. He uses these methods in company, especially if she is speaking and has wandered off the allowed script. Occasionally he will deal a swift and deadly kick, stopping short like a pulled punch that acts as a physical full stop. That usually does it. Sometimes it is hard to know what will set him off, it might be anything but mostly he is just angry and wants an excuse.

She can pinpoint exactly when it began, when she still might have got away. On a country lane early one evening, first-date fresh, on their way to a pub, she can remember exactly what they were wearing, he in a brown suit with too short arms and massive lapels, towering over her, she in a floral summer dress with a tight waist and bare legs. They walk slowly along the edge of a field, the dirty apricot sky merging with the burnt-sienna earth.

He starts to come on a bit strong and tells her, “If you really loved me you would let me go all the way. Any normal girl wouldn’t be able to stop themselves.”

It is a song she has heard before and she replies with a chorus: that although of course she loves him she would like to go slowly because she wants the first time to be special. But most of all she is scared of getting pregnant, especially as he has an aversion to condoms, or rubber johnnies as he calls them. They walk on and she glances at him nervously and tries to gauge his reaction. Outwardly there is little change, a tightening of the mouth perhaps and a quickened pace. But then he turns to her and the bones of his face show taut, under his skin, like bas-relief. He spits out words: “You ungrateful, inconsiderate, frigid bitch, have you any idea what you are doing to me, I could have anybody.”

She begins to cry, overcome with remorse. She had not realised the extent of his feelings for her and takes his frustration as a sign of his love. And then just when it seems as though he might be winding down, he goes and full-on punches a metal road sign, one that says, “Drive slowly through the village.” Shocked, she sees it in slow motion, the metal wobbling crazily at the contact with his fist. He has obviously hurt himself. She is aghast, but with the blood comes a curious, softening passivity and he lets her tie a handkerchief around his knuckles. They turn back. She is confused and feels dread and pride in equal measure. Next day he brings her chocolates and flowers. “It won’t happen again,” he says, and she believes him.

Ruth Geldard comes from an art background and has regular exhibitions in London and the southeast. A master’s degree in Fine Art led to a move into creative writing, and she has since kept a blog on Artists Newsletter, an international artists’ forum, where she has had more than 60,000 hiits.

Her first short story, An Uncertain State, was shortlisted for the Fish International Short Story Prize in 2014. Her first published story, The Parrot Dress, was included in an anthology by Labello Press in 2014 and received the Sapphire Award for ”excellence in contemporary narrative”. The Ghost Cow was published in the Momaya 2014 Review.

Ruth lives by the sea with her partner, and writes, makes and teaches from her studio on the southeast coast of England. You can see her artwork at http://www.ruthgeldard.com/ and follow her blog at https://www.a-n.co.uk/blogs/all-kinds-of-everything-2.