The Wife

He was dead. There was no doubt about it. The blood pool had stopped spreading, but was still roughly the size of a bathroom mat. It was going to take a lot of bleach and elbow grease to clean that up.

Mary was sitting at the kitchen table, looking down at her husband’s lifeless body. She couldn’t believe what she had done, but she didn’t regret it. It had been a long time coming. Just one more slap was all that was needed for her to take her iron and bash it over Frank’s skull. The iron had still been hot and the stench of burnt hair had invaded Mary’s nostrils, but that had merely spurred her on. Again, and again she had hit him, even when he was on his knees, gazing up at her as though he had never seen her before, she swung that iron until she thought her arm would pop out of its socket.

She fumbled around in her handbag and fished out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. She smoked in private, out of the house and as far away from it as she dared to go. Frank didn’t like her to smoke, in fact forbade her from smoking. The last time he had caught her puffing on a ciggie was two years ago, at a friend’s 50th birthday party. Mary had been having a wonderful time and was feeling pleasantly merry after a few wines that she forgot herself and lit a cigarette. She hadn’t noticed at the time, but Frank had stopped engaging with their friends at that moment and simply glowered at her for the remainder of the evening, clenching his fists so tight that his fingernails left indentations in his palms.

Once they’d returned home, Mary had opened her mouth to comment on the night, but Frank punched her mouth, smashing her lips against her teeth. Before she could recover, Frank had grabbed her hair and tossed her back against the wall. She’d slid to the floor and put a shaky hand to her mouth, it came away sticky with bright red blood. Frank crouched down in front of her and she had held up her bloody hand to ward him off. He’d snatched her wrist and squeezed it tight.

“You fucking stink of smoke,” he’d hissed, mere inches from her wincing face, “If I catch you sucking on one of those rancid sticks again, I’ll smash your mouth so bad you’ll need to suck your dinner through a straw.”

That alone should have been enough to make Mary quit there and then, but smoking was the only pleasure she had in her life. So, she waited until Frank went to work every morning, then took two buses until she was several miles away from home, at a park where she wouldn’t bump into anyone she knew, and enjoyed her one and only smoke of the day.

She pulled over her tea cup and tapped the ash from the cigarette into it. She looked back down at Frank and wondered what she was going to do with him. This hadn’t been premeditated. She didn’t have a plan, she’d just had enough.

Like every night after work, Frank had gone to the pub. He usually spent a couple of hours there then came home any time after 7pm, drunk and sometimes angry or sometimes horny. Mary hated him either way, but could deal with him when he was angry. Taking a few hits was nothing compared to the utter humiliation and pain she felt when he forced himself on her.

The first time it had happened was on their wedding night, and Mary had known from that moment that her life would never be the fairy tale that she thought it would be.

Mary had met Frank when she was 17 and working in a news agents in town. Frank would come into the shop every lunch time and buy a newspaper. He was tall, over six feet, with broad shoulders and a small waist. His hair was black and thick with curls and blue eyes stared out at Mary from a permanent furrowed brow. He was dark and brooding and Mary looked forward to his visits every day. At the beginning, he never said a word to her, simply picked up his paper, put the correct change on the counter and left. A few times Mary would try to strike up a conversation by commenting on inoffensive things such as the weather, but each time Frank would simply grunt in acknowledgment and leave.

Mary began to think that he wasn’t interested or maybe already had a girlfriend, so gave up trying to talk to him. Then, one day around six weeks after their first encounter, Frank came into the shop carrying a bunch of flowers. He placed them on the counter and fixed his piercing blue eyes on Mary. Her legs instantly turned to jelly and it was all she could do not to collapse in a heap on the floor.

“Do you want to go for dinner with me?” he asked. He was so confident in his manner that Mary was certain that this was a man who nobody said no to, and that excited her. This was a man who would get things done and would never let anything stand in his way. This was a man who would look after his own, whose children would want for nothing, and whose wife would be treated like a queen.

Although this had been completely unexpected, Mary didn’t hesitate to say yes.

After then Mary’s life had been like a dream. Frank was the perfect gentleman, the type of man every girl wants to take home to her parents. He devoted all his time to her. When he finished work at 4pm he would walk round to her shop and wait for her to finish at 5pm. Then he would either take her home or for dinner in one of the fancy restaurants that Mary had only ever dreamed of dining in. Every weekend they would have plans together. Frank would buy them theatre tickets, book seats at the cinema, make lunch or dinner reservations, whisk her away for an overnight stay in the country, or simply spend time with her and her parents.

He wanted to be with her all the time and Mary couldn’t feel more loved. This strapping, handsome man had chosen her out of all the girls in the city, and he enjoyed her company. As a young girl, Mary had always worried that she would never find a man. She had lank fair hair that couldn’t hold a curl no matter how much hairspray she used, her hips were wide and her thighs so thick that they looked like sausages in trousers and forced her to constantly wear floaty skirts, she was very pale, but with dark eyes that gave the impression that she never slept, and she was awkward in the company of others.

Boys hadn’t looked twice at her in school and her parents had stopped asking if she had a boyfriend, had probably come to accept that their socially inept daughter would die a spinster. So, when she had brought Frank home for the first time they had been so excited that he could’ve had two heads and they wouldn’t have cared.

Mary didn’t see much of her friends once Frank had come into her life. She would occasionally talk to them on the phone, but she was usually too busy with Frank. He was just so devoted to her that she never had time to go out with the girls. By the time they had been going out for six months, Mary didn’t have any interaction with her friends, but Frank was all that she needed. He often whispered into her ear as they cuddled together on the couch that it need only be the two of them, that he wanted only her in his life and no one else mattered. He made her feel so important and loved, that she never questioned him. Everything he said and did was how she lived her life now and she was deliriously happy.

One thing that she insisted upon, however, was that they wouldn’t have sex before they were married. Mary wasn’t religious, but she had some old-fashioned values, and Frank shared them. She had been nervous bringing the subject to him. As unexperienced with boys as she was, she knew that they all expected their girls to put out eventually. Frank had never tried to grope Mary, but as their relationship had developed she knew that he would be looking for something more soon.

Frank had simply taken her face in his hands, planted a soft kiss on her lips, and told her that he would wait as long as she wanted. Could this man be any more wonderful?

After a year of dating, Frank proposed. He asked Mary’s father for her hand in marriage, then took her out for a meal in the restaurant where they’d had their first date. He didn’t get down on one knee, he wasn’t ostentatious. Instead, he clasped her hands over the table, looked deep in her eyes and said:

“Mary, will you marry me?”

She cried, but softly, Frank wouldn’t want her to make a scene. He placed the ring on her finger; diamonds and emeralds (her birth stone) and she cried some more as she nodded her head vigorously. This was it. She was going to get her fairy tale. No longer did it matter that she hadn’t had a boyfriend at school, who cares that she’d lost touch with her friends? She had found her Prince Charming and they were going to be together forever.

The wedding was small, but perfect. They were married in the town hall with only close family in attendance. Mary wore a floor length white satin dress, with long floaty sleeves and high collar. Frank wore a dark grey suit and his pensive furrowed brow. Afterwards, they had dinner at a local hotel where the married couple were to stay the night. Mary had champagne for the first time ever and the bubbles went straight to her head. The fuzzy feeling wasn’t unpleasant, but she knew that if she had too much she would regret it the next day. She did notice, however, that Frank was throwing back the pints as though they were going out of fashion. His usual reserved demeanour changed to loud and raucous. He laughed with her father and his own, smoked cigars with his uncles, and charmed her mother.

She had never seen him drink before and was surprised at how much he could put away and at how much it changed him, but today was a celebration. He was obviously happy and enjoying himself.

Their room for the night was your bog standard double room, but the hotel had provided a bottle of champagne and chocolate dipped strawberries for the still celebrating couple. Mary had had enough to drink and nibbled on the fruit, whilst Frank cracked open the bottle and poured himself a large glass. He downed the drink and looked at Mary.

Her stomach did an involuntary flip. Frank wasn’t looking at her in his usual sombre way. No, he leered at her, drawing his eyes over her body in its tight dress, lingering on her breasts. It was a way he hadn’t looked at her before and it made her uncomfortable. She put down the strawberries and moved towards the bathroom, announcing that she was going to get ready for bed.

He grabbed hold of her waist.

“Come to bed just now.” He said

“I need to get my pyjamas on.” She said, heart hammering in her chest.

“You don’t need pyjamas,” Frank said and pulled her close. He smelled of cigars and lager and Mary almost gagged when her thrust his tongue into her mouth.

She pushed him away, “Let’s just go to sleep, Frank, it’s been a long day.”

Without warning Frank grabbed her face with his hand, squeezing her cheeks so hard her lips pursed.

“It’s been a long year waiting for you to spread your legs,” he sneered, “So get on that bed right fucking now.”

He shoved Mary back on the bed and clambered on top of her. He tore at her beautiful wedding dress until her bare breasts were exposed then proceeded to suck and bite them. Mary let out a shriek and Frank placed a hand over her mouth.

“You make another noise,” he whispered, “and I’ll bite off a nipple.”

He then unbuckled his trousers and yanked up her dress so that the skirt was practically covering Mary’s face. She lay there, frozen, too scared to move, too scared to make a sound as her new husband thrust himself violently inside her for the next ten minutes.

This was how Mary spent her wedding night, but it would only be the first time her husband raped her.

* * * *

For the next 35 years Mary was raped in her own home frequently. The youngest of her three sons was a product of rape, but not the only pregnancy that resulted.

When Frank had returned home from the pub tonight, he’d had that same lecherous look on his face as he’d had on their wedding night and Mary had known what was coming. And for the first time she’d decided to stop it.

He’d come for her – stinking of sweat and booze, the smell she always associated with sex. He’d tugged at her jumper and she’d shrugged him off. Then he’d stuck his hand up her skirt and pulled at her tights. She’d slapped his hand away and he’s spun her round to back-hand her across the face. Mary had fallen back against the ironing board, but managed to keep her balance. Behind her Frank had slurred abuse. Calling her ugly, useless, only good for a shag. Everything that she’d heard before. He’d beaten her down so much with his cruel words that she was numb to them now, but tonight something inside her snapped. She snatched up the hot iron and pressed it against his face.

At first Frank simply stared at her with wide eyes, then he screamed like a little boy and she yanked the iron from his face, pulling melted skin with it, then brought it crashing down on his skull. He instantly shut up and swayed a bit. Mary watched him, iron held high, and when he took a step toward her she hit him again and again until he fell to the floor.

The iron had cracked his skull open at his left temple and blood poured out onto the linoleum. His left cheek sagged and blistered, giving him the look of a comic book villain. He stared up at Mary, but didn’t see her. He was dead. She’d killed her abusive, rapist husband.

She finished the cigarette and looked up at the clock. It was only 8:40pm although Mary felt as though the whole evening had passed. She got up from her seat and stood over Frank’s body. She couldn’t leave him here on her kitchen floor, but she had no way to get rid of him. They had a car, but Frank had never allowed her to learn how to drive. He would have to stay in the house until she thought up a plan.

She looked around until her eyes settled on the cellar door. He could stay down there for the time being. She opened the door and switched on the light. The cellar was sparse, Frank had no time for clutter. All that was down there was Frank’s tools, a chest freezer, Christmas decorations, and spare dining room chairs. Mary walked over to Frank and grabbed him by his ankles. Mary might have been in her fifties and Frank over 6ft, but many a night she would have to support his drunken dead weight up the stairs to bed. The strain had taken its toll on her back over the years, but she was fit and secretly proud of her strength, no matter the reason for it.

Shuffling backwards she dragged Frank’s body over to the cellar. She backed down a few steps so that his legs were resting over the top few treads, then she moved around to his head. She didn’t want to touch his blood, but she really had no choice. Bending over she took hold of Frank’s shoulders and shimmied him forward until he was in a sitting position at the top of the stairs, and then, with an all mighty heave, Mary pushed her dead husband down the stairs. She watched as he tumbled arse over elbow all the way to the cement floor. He landed in a heap, head and an arm at an odd angle. Mary turned off the light and closed the door.

She looked down at the blood on her hands and sleeves and felt her stomach lurch. Nope, nope, don’t throw up now, she thought, you’ve still got a lot of cleaning up to do. Get that done then you can throw up in the shower.

There was a bucket, bleach and cloths under the kitchen sink and a mop in the alcove by the fridge. She fetched all these things along with paper towels. She left the bucket to fill up in the sink and scattered paper towels over the floor until the blood was mostly covered – she used these to soak up as much blood as they could before she washed the floor. Once she’d placed the bloodied towels in the bin bag she retrieved the bucket from the sink. It was filled to the brim and hot water sloshed out, soaking the front of her jumper. She squirted some bleach in then got to work mopping up the rest of the blood.

The linoleum became slippery and several times Mary had to grab the mob tight to stop from falling. Once she was finished, she emptied the bucket down the sink and poured neat bleach all over the kitchen floor. The blood was gone, it was clean, but Mary knew it had been there and no amount of cleaning would be enough to convince her that the blood was gone. Maybe she should get new linoleum? In time. Right now, she just had to ensure that there was no trace of blood anywhere.

She noticed some spots on the wall by the door and scrubbed away at them with more bleach and a scouring pad. Her eyes and nostrils burned with the strong fumes, but she welcomed its clean burn until she began to feel lightheaded and knew it was time to get fresh air. She couldn’t go outside in her blood drenched clothes so she headed upstairs to the bathroom where she stuck her head out of the window and gulped in the cool air.

It was quiet outside. The neighbours still had some lights on and Mary imagined the families all sitting together watching t.v., wee ones tucked up safe in bed, lovers in each other’s arms. Oh, how they were blissfully unaware of the horror that had taken place in Mary McDonald’s house. Not that Mary’s house was particularly pleasant on any other night, but tonight certainly exceeded the level of heinousness these four walls had witnessed over the years. And Mary didn’t feel a thing. She felt no remorse for what she had done, just revulsion at the sight of his blood. It was peculiar really, she’d seen her own blood many, many times and was never sick, but the sight of someone else’s caused her stomach to lurch. Even when her sons were little and cut their knees, it was all Mary could do not to throw up over them when cleaning them up.

She closed the window then ran the shower. Her boys; Kevin, Liam and Christopher. Horrid, selfish brutes who had looked up to their father as though he was some kind of God. She understood that small boys idolised their father, but she’d also tried to teach them compassion and kindness, but all they’d learned in this house was how to beat a woman until she was nothing more than soft putty. Soft putty that could be moulded and manipulated anyway that they wanted.

Kevin and Liam both had wives (she’d always suspected that Christopher was gay, and suppressing it was the core to his anger problems) and the few times Mary had met them had been harrowing. They were both mousy little things who hung onto their husbands every word, were at their beck and call and Mary just wanted to take hold of them and scream at them to run. Run far away and never look back. Live the life of a single woman and be happy. She wanted to tell Liam’s wife, Laura, that she wasn’t a punchbag, and no matter what Liam said, she didn’t look like a beached whale. She wanted to tell Sue, Kevin’s wife, that she wasn’t worthless, that she was smart and not a disappointment. She wanted to help these women like she’d wished someone had helped her . . . but she didn’t. Of course, she didn’t, because she was one of them. She, too, was worthless and a human punchbag, how could she possibly help anyone else when she couldn’t even help herself? She would just sit there and watch as her two eldest beasts belittled their wives in her company as her youngest laughed and joined in.

As she stood under the trickling water she wondered what she would tell them? She had a few days to worry about it. In the past Frank had gone missing for days on end on drinking binges. He was known to the local police who had stopped taking Mary’s missing person reports seriously after the third occasion. As time went on his disappearing stints went on for longer, but he always found his way back home. Mary figured she had at least five days until she’d have to involve the authorities and boys. This was plenty of time to get rid of the body. . . but how?

Once she was all washed and changed into clean pyjamas, Mary stuffed her dirty clothes into the binbag with the paper towels. She would throw this in a bin far away from her house, maybe even take it to some waste ground and burn it. For now, she left it under the kitchen sink, made herself some hot sweet tea and went to her bedroom.

She wasn’t tired and sat poker straight on the edge of the bed. Her room was covered in photographs of her family. Her, Frank and the boys when they were young at the beach, in her parents’ house, on Christmas day; her and Frank on their wedding day, and the boys with their wives on their wedding days. They looked as happy as Mary had felt on her special day. Had they been duped, too, or had they known what they were signing up for? Had they thought that they could change their man once they had become his wife?

Looking at these photographs gave Mary an idea of how to dispose of Frank’s body and, secretly, pay back her sons at the same time.

* * * *

The next day Mary got on with her usual chores. She had some bills to pay so she walked to the bank in the morning, then to the post office to post some letters. She then went to the shop and bought more bleach, bin bags, disposable aprons, washing up gloves, bread and milk and then headed home.

There was still a basket full of ironing to finish, so she erected the ironing board up in the living room and ironed as she watched day-time t.v. – something that she had never done. When it started to get dark, and Mary had finished all her chores, she took everything she’d bought at the shop – minus the bread and milk – down to the cellar. Frank was still where she’d left him – of course he was. His neck was broken, his head twisted at 180º and his glassy eyes stared lifelessly up at her.

She stepped over him and busied herself placing bin bags all over the floor. She then looped one of the disposable aprons over her head and fastened it around her wait. She was wearing leggings and a tatty old jumper, but she wanted to keep mess to a minimal. Frank’s tools were stored neatly away in a large tool box which Mary rummaged around in now until she found a pair of safety goggles and a large saw and shears. She placed these on the bin bags along with her gloves.

When Mary had woken up this morning there was a niggle at the small of her back and the tops of her arms ached. She knew this was from shifting Frank’s dead weight and furiously scrubbing the kitchen, but the hard work wasn’t over yet. She looked over at Frank now and sighed, it was time to move him again. She grabbed him by the ankles once more and slowly dragged him onto the bags. He felt heavier today and Mary’s back screamed in protest. She ignored it and vowed to take pain killers and apply a heat pack once she’d done what she had to do. Next step was to put on the goggles and gloves. She stood looking down at her dead husband. Should she strip him? It would probably be easier if he had no clothes on. After a few seconds thought, she took off the gloves and goggles and began to unbutton Frank’s shirt and unfasten his trousers. She decided to leave his vest and boxers on, she didn’t want to see his penis or pigeon chest if she could help it. She put his clothes, socks and shoes on the bottom step then put the goggles and gloves back on.

Kneeling beside the body, Mary picked up the saw and took hold of Frank’s right arm. Where to start? The wrist? Or the shoulder, just take off the whole arm? It was a bit awkward to get to so Mary opted for the elbow.

There’s no going back now, Mary thought as she placed the saw against his skin, this is it. You’re going to do this. Do it.

Mary began to saw.

* * * *

For the next four nights Mary spent her evenings cutting up her dead husband. She tried to saw his limbs as small as she could so that she could place them in plastic bags and store them in her chest freezer. There was never really much food in that freezer, it was just handy to have come Christmas time when she had no room in her fridge-freezer for the turkey and other festive foods.

Once she’d finished with Frank’s limbs she planned to move onto his organs and store them in separate bags, but she found it difficult to build up the courage to start. This part was going to be messy and Mary had already vomited in a bucket twice since starting. She had no choice, though, so she opened his torso with a large butcher’s knife and fished around inside for his liver, kidneys, heart, and whatever else she could yank out. When she’d bagged everything, and placed it all in the freezer she stopped for the night. The stench of blood and flesh was making her feel sick and her body ached. She knew she had to finish before Frank became too . . . spoiled, but her back begged for her to rest.

She cleaned herself up, popped two paracetamol in her mouth and lay down with a heat pack and hot water bottle. The first part was nearly over, soon she could move onto the second part of her plan. All she had to do was keep her nerve and get on with it.

The next two days she spent hacking up the rest of Frank’s body into chunks until she was only left with his head. His ugly, swollen putrid head. She wanted it out of her house, but there was nowhere she could take it where it wouldn’t be found. And she didn’t fancy carrying it around with her in the street. In the end, it went in the freezer with the rest of him – right at the bottom. She wasn’t done yet, though. All week she had been cleaning as she’d been working, but now she gave the whole cellar a deep clean like she had in the kitchen that first night so long ago. The bin bags with all the bloody rags and bags could get dumped in the skip down the road – she had heard her neighbour mention that it was being lifted tomorrow, so everything would be away from her and her home by the time she put part two of her plan into action. But first she was going to have a well-deserved bath and a couple more paracetamol. She had a feeling she would sleep well tonight.

* * * *

“He’s not been back since and I haven’t heard from him.”

Mary sat on the couch and watched as the male police officer scribbled what she’d been saying down on his pad. The female officer put down her tea cup and looked at Mary with a kind and sympathetic face.

“I understand that Frank’s gone missing in the past?” she said.

“Oh, yes, but not for this long,” Mary said, “I held off reporting him missing because he’s done it before, but I’m really worried now.”

Mary fidgeted with the tissue she held in her hands. She’d managed to squeeze out a few tears and noisily blew her nose for the benefit of the officers.

“Have you spoken to any of his friends or been down to his local” the female asked.

“Going to the pub was Frank’s thing. I don’t know any of his drinking mates. And I don’t know what pub he goes to, either.” This wasn’t true. Frank frequented The Black Goose which was a good twenty-minute bus ride away. Frank preferred it to his local because he shared the same sexist and misogynistic views as the rest of its clientele. There was no way Mary was going down there.

“We’ll check out the local pubs ourselves,” the female said, “If he frequents one more than the others then no doubt someone would have seen him on Sunday. In the meantime, we’ll file a missing person report. Please try not to worry, Mrs McDonald, I’m sure he’ll turn up.”

Mary thanked the officers and seen them out. She leaned her forehead against the front door and allowed herself a sigh of relief. So far so good. Parts one and two of her plan had went without a hitch, now she just had to execute part three, which she had been looking forward to the least.

In the hall bureau Mary kept her phonebook. She fished it out and looked up Liam’s number. She didn’t know any of her son’s phone numbers by heart, she didn’t call them much and they didn’t call her much. Taking a deep breath, she called Liam and waited for him to answer.

“Hello?”

It was Laura. Mary hesitated. As relieved as she felt that her son hadn’t answered, she was certain that Laura wouldn’t accept her invitation. She could hang up and try again later, but the sound of Laura’s small childlike voice as she said hello again stirred something inside of Mary and she felt she should converse with her daughter-in-law.

“Hello, Laura, it’s Mary.”

“Mary?” Laura’s small voice squeaked with surprise, “Liam’s not here.”

“That’s okay, Laura, can you pass on a message?”

“Em . . . yeah, okay.” Laura said, but didn’t sound entirely sure.

“Could you please tell him that you are both invited round to mine for dinner tomorrow night?” Mary said.

“Em. . .”

“I know it’s short notice,” Mary quickly added, “but I need to talk to all of you about Frank.”

The other end of the line was quiet and Mary waited patiently for Laura to reply. She knew the young wife was wondering if she could remember all of the message exactly and if relaying it to her husband would mean hassle for her.

“Yeah . . . yes, okay, I’ll tell him.” She finally said.

Mary sighed with relief, “Thank you, Laura. Tomorrow night at seven.”

“Okay. Bye.”

Laura hung up before Mary could reply.

One son down, two to go.

Next, she phoned Christopher who made no effort to hide his annoyance at her phone call. With grunts, sighs and monosyllabic words, he eventually agreed to dinner. Mary’s heart pounded in her chest as she dialled Kevin’s number. If Kevin wouldn’t come then Mary would have to reschedule, which meant less chance of the boys all agreeing to come together.

“Hello?”

“Kevin? It’s your Mum.”

“I know.”

“Can you and Sue come to dinner tomorrow night at seven?”

“Why?”

“Well, I haven’t seen you all in so long . . . and we need to talk about your Dad.”

Silence at the other end. Mary tensed, waiting for Kevin to ask what was wrong with Frank. She wasn’t sure what to say. She didn’t want to worry him too soon so that he ended up coming around right away, but she didn’t want to play it down either.

“What we having?” Kevin asked.

Mary had never been so pleased to have such a heartless child.

“Pies.”

“Okay. See you tomorrow.” He said then hung up.

Mary exhaled deeply. That had gone as well as she could have hoped, now she just had to pray that they would all turn up. But, there was no point in worrying about it just now. She had to get all the ingredients for dinner and start to prepare it. So, Mary put on her coat and, for the second time that week, went to the shops.

* * * *

Mary finished setting the table in the kitchen. It was nearly 7pm and, so far, she hadn’t heard from any of the boys saying they had to cancel . . . in all honesty, though, Mary’s selfish offspring just wouldn’t show up if they didn’t want to come.

Despite this, Mary had spent the rest of yesterday making homemade meat and gravy pies and three spinach and ricotta quiches. Six of the pastries were currently in the oven and potatoes and vegetables were boiling on the hob. Everything was ready, she just had to wait now.

The doorbell rang making Mary jump. She smoothed down her skirt and went to answer it. Liam, Christopher and Laura all stood in the doorway. The boys pushed their way inside without looking at their mother and Laura hung back looking uneasy.

“Come in, Laura,” Mary said, “It’s good to see you.”

Laura entered and gave Mary a tentative kiss on the cheek. Mary noticed faded bruising around the young woman’s neck.

“Kev not here yet?” Christopher called from the living room.

“No,” Mary said as she and Laura entered the room, “But I’m sure he’s coming.”

“He’d better,” Christopher said, reclining on the couch and putting his dirty boots up on the coffee table, “Wee bastard owes me 20 quid.”

Mary was curious as to why, but she knew better than to ask. She would just get a mouthful of cheek about minding her own business. Sometimes they would set her up just to verbally abuse her. Nothing made them feel bigger than seeing a stricken woman.

“He’d better fucking turn up or I’m leaving,” Liam growled and Mary felt Laura flinch beside her, “If he’s not here then I don’t see why I should be.”

Christopher laughed, loud and throaty.

“Well I . . . I need to talk to you all about your Dad,” Mary said, “so -”

“What’s the old git done now?” Christopher groaned.

“I would rather wait for Kevin -” Mary began before a knock at the door interrupted her, “Oh, that’ll be him now.”

She rushed to the door and yanked it open. There was Kevin with a face like thunder and, behind him, Sue was snivelling into a handkerchief.

“We would’ve been here earlier if it wasn’t for her.” Kevin said thrusting a thumb over his shoulder. He went straight into the living room where the three brothers greeted each other with profanity and Christopher harped on about that “20 quid”.

Mary took Sue’s arm and pulled her gently into the house. She noticed Laura watching them with large eyes, so Mary took her hand and guided both of her daughters-in-law into the kitchen

“Come, girls, let’s get dinner ready.”

* * * *

With her five guests sitting around the table, Mary busied herself pouring gravy over the meat pies. She blocked out the noise behind her; she wasn’t interested in the many “women” Christopher had shagged, she didn’t care about Liam thumping a work colleague for daring to question his authority, and she couldn’t listen to Kevin telling Sue to “stop crying like a little bitch”. She had to make sure that this meal was perfect, that the boys would find it delicious enough to take home the spare pies that Mary had in the fridge.

“God’s sake, Ma, we’re starving,” Liam cried, “Hurry the fuck up.”

Mary plastered a smile on her face, picked up two of the meat pie dishes, and turned to face everyone.

“Dinner is served.”

She gave the boys theirs first then served Sue, Laura and herself the quiche dishes.

“What is this?” Christopher asked, pushing the vegetables off his plate and onto the table with his fork.

“Meat and gravy pies,” Mary said, “Homemade.”

“Aye, but what kind of pies?”

Mary cleared her throat, “A bit of everything, really. The supermarket had loads of fresh meat reduced, so I stocked up the cellar freezer with as much as I could. There’s liver, kidneys, rump -”

“Aye, alright, Ma,” Kevin put in, “we don’t need your life story.”

Christopher erupted with laughter.

The boys all picked up their cutlery and just as they were about to dig in, Mary held up her hands.

“Be . . . before we eat, I need to tell you something about your Dad.” She said.

Kevin groaned and let his knife and fork drop on the table with a loud clatter. He turned blazing eyes on his mother and shrugged, “Well, what is it?”

“Aye, where is he?” Liam asked, as though he’d only just noticed that his Dad wasn’t there.

Mary took a deep breath, “I don’t know.”

Everyone at the table turned their gaze on Mary.

“What the fuck do you mean you don’t know?” Kevin asked.

“He didn’t come home on Sunday night.”

Everyone continued to stare at her and Mary felt herself begin to sweat. She’d held it together so far, but Kevin’s pensive stare made her feel that he could see right through her lies.

“I . . . I’ve told the police,” she continued, “they came around yesterday morning and I filed a missing person’s report. They’re going to visit all the local pubs and ask around . . . hopefully someone knows where he is.”

She trailed off and looked at her three boys in turn. Christopher wore his usual smirk that Mary had always wanted to wipe off his face, Liam looked confused and turned to Kevin, the older brother, whose lead the other two had always followed. Kevin looked angry, but he always did. Mary couldn’t tell what her sons were thinking so she continued to sit quietly as a drip of sweat ran down her spine.

Kevin heaved a deep sigh and pulled a face, “He’s fucked off before. He’ll come back . . . or maybe he won’t. Who the fuck cares? You’ve wasted the police’s time.”

“Aye,” Liam piped in, nodding, “The old bastard’s probably just on a week-long bender.”

“Or shacked up with some wrinkly tart.” Christopher said then threw his head back laughing.

Wanting to seem concerned about her husband, Mary continued, “But he’s never been gone this long. What if something’s happened to him?”

Again, Kevin shrugged, “What if? He’s old enough and ugly enough to look after himself.”

Christopher slammed his hand down on the table, making Sue and Laura jump, “Nobody would mess with Da. He’d knock them out!”

Mary thought about the hot iron melting Frank’s skin.

“You’re right,” she said and smiled, “I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Can we eat now?” Kevin asked.

Mary nodded and watched, heart hammering in her chest, as her three boys, the three children that she had borne and raised as best she could, the three sons who had bitterly disappointed her, cut into the overfilled pies that Mary had made, from scratch, the night before. The pies that were jam packed with the meat from the downstairs freezer.

Liam and Christopher shovelled the pies into their mouths, barely bothering to chew before swallowing. Laura picked at her dinner and Sue just pushed the food around her plate. Only Kevin looked thoughtful as he slowly chewed the meat. He caught his mother’s eye and Mary felt her blood run cold.

He knows.

“This actually tastes alright, Ma.” He said taking another bite.

“There’s more in the fridge for you to take home,” Mary said, then quickly added, “I don’t think Sue and Laura will like them, though. Too meaty.”

“Think they get enough meat at home.” Christopher sniggered.

Kevin was nodding, “Keep some back for Da, for when he comes back. He’ll like them.”

Looking at the lumps of meat swimming in the thick brown gravy on Kevin’s plate. Mary smiled and said;

“I’ve made plenty. He’ll be stuffed with pie when he gets home.”

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