TITLE: A Place of Sanctuary - 8th June 2016
By Nicki Jeffery
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A Place of Sanctuary
The screen door slammed.
Angry footsteps crossed the tiles.
“There’s no money in our account again, Jess.” Dad threw his keys down on the kitchen bench.
Mum’s shoulders stiffened as she washed potatoes in the sink. “Hi Daniel.”
Jeremy stopped chewing mid-mouthful and dropped his gaze. He picked up his pencil to continue his homework. No sense in giving Dad a reason to yell at him too.
“Well?” Dad raised his eyebrows, his face inches from hers.
“Grocery prices are going up …”
“Don’t give me that.”
“And remember my car broke down just the other day.”
Dad slammed the oven door shut and gestured wildly. “This is my hard earned cash. You need to go out and get a real job.”
Mum took a slow, shaky breath. “Daniel …”
Jeremy gulped and made his exit. When these scenes played out, he would go and practise his soccer skills in the front yard. Close enough to overhear the argument, far enough to stay out of the verbal firing line.
If Mum started crying, that was his cue to sneak away. He opened the gate slowly to avoid squeaky sounds. He latched it behind him and followed the well-worn track to Betty’s house. Pink roses and lavender bushes scented his way. He breathed the blossoms with gratitude.
Betty smiled broadly as though she could not hear the fight next door. Jeremy did not need to knock. He took his joggers off and wiped sweat from his brow.
“How’s my favourite boy?”
Jeremy shrugged and bent to pat Chester. His soft ginger fur rubbed past Jeremy’s legs and he began to purr.
Betty filled the kettle and plonked herself down in an armchair, running a hand through her silver locks.
“Chester’s always on the lookout for you. Who needs a watch dog when you’ve got a watch cat?”
Jeremy chuckled as he tickled Chester under the chin.
“How many marshmallows today, Jeremy?”
Later, sipping his hot chocolate, Jeremy told his neighbour about his day at school. He talked about soccer and the latest Mathematics game.
‘His eyes are starting to shine again,’ Betty pondered as she listened. In her mind, she prayed scripture, “No weapon forged against Jeremy will prevail, and he will refute every tongue that accuses him."1
Before she sent him home, Betty enfolded him in one of her famous 20 second hugs. Ever since she had read about a hug that long releasing oxytocin in the brain to fight anxiety, she gave them to her loved ones.
Betty startled awake, sweaty and panting. It was dark. She was alone. Flicking on the lamp and orienting herself to her surroundings, she took a deep breath.
It was all right. He was gone. He had been gone for years. But his memory lingered.
“Jesus,” Betty whispered. “Thank you for rescuing me.”
Betty rose slowly out of bed and shuffled to the window. She could see into Jeremy’s yard. Everything was still.
Betty did what she did every night. She prayed for Jeremy and his family. She sang hymns in low tones.
A car pulled in to their driveway. Betty felt her stomach churn. The sense of dread she had known as a child when her father came home enveloped her. Crippling anxiety pierced her heart as she remembered the alcohol on his breath and the explosive anger in his eyes.
Shouting erupted, carried on the night air. Lights brightened windows.
Betty’s prayers intensified. “God, give her strength. Help Jess do for Jeremy what only she can.”
It was a bittersweet moment. Betty watched from a window as Jess spoke to a couple of sincere police officers when Daniel and Jeremy were out. Presently the men in uniform left and Jess fell to her knees on the lawn, weeping.
Betty waited a moment before ambling over. At her approach, Jess struggled to her feet. A tear slid down Betty’s wrinkled cheek. She enveloped the younger woman in a 20 second hug.
“I’m sorry it had to come to this.” Jess sobbed.
Jess stepped back and Betty held her at arm’s length. When she had composed herself, she whispered, “I have applied for an urgent court order to protect Jeremy and I from domestic violence.”
Betty closed her eyes and thanked God inwardly. “Don’t be sorry. The ache in your heart can start to heal.”
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