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Like many young couples without kids, there was a part of their house that was hardly ever used. The hallway leading to the rooms that would eventually hold children, one room was currently the catch-all and the other was supposed to be an office but sat dusty and silent since the couch and kitchen table had better natural lighting from the living room windows. Their future, their hopes that somehow the laughter of children on this side of the house would one day heal them and make this a home, lay here.

So this hallway was an odd place for them to be that night.

Leo was holding Kate by her throat up against the wall. She was taller than usual, the force of his hand stretching her thin neck long and upward. Feeling her feet begin to lift slightly off the floor, she struggled to take a breath. 


Kate lived daily trying not to make Leo mad, but no matter how good she was, it was never good enough.

Teetering her life on eggshells for the two years of her marriage had aged her past twenty-four, stretched her mind thin. Little sounds startled her. Her frail body shook from anticipation of her missteps that would set him off. She never knew what the catalyst would be. Maybe she wouldn’t have dinner ready on time or she would accidentally wear a skirt that was too tight. She must want other men to look at her he would jab and then demand that she throw out the skirt.

This suffocating lifestyle wasn’t new, she had been born into a life of rules, her mom being baptized into the church when she was pregnant with Kate. But this wasn’t just any church.  

Leo and Kate had both grown up in the same religion with men preaching these “standards,” yelling, red-faced about impending hell for violators. Kate’s fear of hell had been so pounded into her as a child that every single time she blew out her candles for a birthday wish, she had wished that she and her family could make it into heaven. Not once had she ever wasted a childhood wish on anything less than escaping the flames of hell. She lived in constant fear of slipping up and had always worked to be good enough for her dad, her pastor, her husband, and even God himself.  

Something as banal as buying powder had been her error one day, so trivial but not to Leo. Just the simple desire to look attractive for her husband, like models and other women she had seen Leo notice in contrast to Kate’s obediently bare face. Leo realized Kate had purchased a compact to powder her nose even though he had forbidden her to wear makeup, all his rules strictly abiding with the church’s and oftentimes going even further. Outside of Blockbuster, Kate climbed back into the car after their indulgence of renting and returning a video and Leo was holding the compact tight-fisted. He must have searched her purse. 

If she could get him to smile or laugh, she could disarm him sometimes, but he was already too far gone. His creased brow, dark eyes accusing her of deceit, betrayal for wanting to blot the shine from her nose. 

“This is makeup.”

“It doesn’t have any color, it - it just takes the shine off. A lot of women at the church have - they, they use same thing,” she could hear the worry in her voice.

“And what section of the store did you buy it in?”

She was running out of time to diffuse the escalation. “I- I don’t have to wear it, I can just use it for special occasions maybe.”

“What section, Kate?”

“The makeup section, but it’s not really makeup.”


Leo opened the car door and hefted himself out, taking the compact and setting it on the hood of the car next to theirs. The act suggested his anger was being stifled, his movements deliberate. She dared not say a thing.

Throwing himself into the driver’s seat and slamming the door, he looked at her, his brown eyes searching her for any trace of rebellion. “Makeup makes you look like a clown,” he sneered. 

As he backed the car out, she glimpsed her compact sitting displayed for everyone to see, openly mocking her inability to challenge him. Watching the round, mirrored case getting smaller in her vision, she knew she was being pulled away from one more little piece of herself. 

They rode home in total silence. Kate was afraid to breathe lest it exacerbate his mood and Leo was punishing her betrayal with his favorite tool, the thick, heavy curtain he was able to bring down between them. 

That night it didn’t go any further than the silence, but many nights it was far worse. It was never a fight because that would take two people. Leo got mad and Kate appeased, acquiesced. And before his anger arrived, she did everything possible to avoid it. 

The anger was growing, consuming their house as it became more and more impossible to avoid his triggers. Each time, the cycle was worse, bigger, darker, sucking her deeper into a chasm that often ended with her crying in a heap on the bathroom floor begging God for help, but none ever came.



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