From her awkward kneeling position Maria stared down at the stain on the floor. It looked like it had been there for ages and she wondered how she’d missed it.
“You’re not listening are you?” Harry screamed at her and she could have sworn she heard his hand whistling through the air before it made contact with her ear and sent her headlong into the floor. The stain seemed to grow bigger as she lay there until finally she closed her eyes in relief, knowing that when she woke up he would probably be sleeping it off.
Maria woke with an ache in her head that felt as though it had been made by a sledge hammer. Her mouth was dry and she was still lying on the carpet where she had fallen. She could feel the dull ache of the bruises on her arm and face. They would be purple by the end of the day. Behind her she could hear Harry snoring and she knew it was safe to get up. She moved around Harry as she cleaned knowing that nothing would wake him now. He sat in his boxers with no shirt, his paunch swelling out over the elastic grotesquely bloated from another night of drinking. She couldn’t remember what had set him off this time but then she had long ago learnt to simply check out as soon as he started up.
She’d left the stain till last, scrubbing hard and squeezing the dirt into water bucket without looking, so that she would see when it was gone.
“You kill someone?” came a groggy voice from the couch.
“Huh?” said Maria, looking up anxiously from her foamy patch on the floor.
Harry’s eyes were small, half-conscious slits. He nodded his head towards her bucket.
“You cleaning up the evidence of a murder?” he chuckled and downed the dregs of his tepid beer before getting up to stumble to the bathroom.
Maria frowned after him, her sponge poised over the stain and then glanced at the bucket. She gasped, clapping her one ungloved hand over her mouth. The water was bright red, just like blood. She sniffed it gingerly and could almost taste the coppery smell of it.
She looked back at the stain and suddenly remembered why it was still there.
When Maria’s mother had still been alive, it had been her who had been taken the brunt of Harry’s blows, the bloody stain being a testament to one of those times. Harry left that night and they both hoped he wouldn’t come back. Maria’s mother had looked at the stain of her own blood for a very long time until Maria finally asked,
“Want me to clean it mama?”
“No baby, I’m gonna leave it there,” she said.
“How come? Won’t Harry be mad?”
“He won’t notice. ‘Sides, this can be something to help you remember something very important.”
She had drawn Maria into her lap and stroked her dark hair.
“I’ve never told you about Jesus have I?”
Maria shook her head.
“He was beaten till he was purple by men worse than Harry and he had his blood spilled when he didn’t deserve it,” she whispered, tears filling her blue eyes. “He did it though so’s we’d be forgiven and free. He died so we would live and saved us all from our own badness.”
“Even people like Harry?”
She had squeezed her eyes shut before opening them to look Maria in the eyes. “Yes. Even Harry.” She looked thoughtful for a moment and then stood up quickly. “But that don’t mean we need to have people like Harry around. We’re leaving tonight.”
They did try and leave but that was the night her mother had died. For the life of her she couldn’t remember how. She knew though that she had to leave too, only she wouldn’t make the same mistake her mother made; she wouldn’t waste time packing a thing.
“Jesus,” she whispered. “If you’re there, please help me get out of here alive.”
“Are you gonna stare at the carpet all day?” Harry growled from the passage doorway where he leaned unsteadily. “Go make me some breakfast.”
He stumbled to the couch again and switched on the TV.
Maria didn’t hesitate. Breakfast was the last thing she would ever do for Harry. Once he was distracted by the food she grabbed her jersey, ignored the purple blotches on her arm and face that didn’t match, and walked out the door.
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