2011 Short Story Contest Winner

Careful

by Michelle Lee

It is quiet, excluding the leaky sink that drips. The eternal heartbeat of the apartment. She closes her eyes and tries to forget about that fight that happened a couple hours ago. She tries to stop hearing the words he screamed, angrily echoing inside her head. She is careful to step over the broken glass of the picture frame. She is careful to keep from moving too quickly because her body aches. She is careful to ignore looking at the bruises on her arms, blossoming against her skin, where he grabbed too tightly. Again.

“I love you. I love you. I love you.” He would repeat that phrase. Over and over again until she believed it. Until he believed it. Then they wouldn’t fight anymore. They would go back to normal. But then again, what was normal? Wasn’t this normal? Weren’t their fights “normal” at this point?

It had gotten easier after each fight. She learned certain things that would only infuriate him more. Don’t speak. Don’t look him in the eye. Don’t defend yourself. Don’t exist. It was her fault. It was always her fault. An unwashed dish. An unmade bed. An unpaid bill. If she wasn’t so clumsy, so careless, so silly. If she were more careful, they would not fight. They would be happy. But she kept messing up.

“Forgive me. Forgive me. Forgive me.” He would murmur as he curled up next to her in bed, the song that lulled her to sleep in a false sense of security. She would lay awake at night, thinking, wondering; until his breaths evened out and she no longer felt terrified of the stranger next to her.

But she loved him. And because she loved him, she would simply be more careful.

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