He didn't pay attention anymore, didn't even know what she was shouting about. It was just noise to him now. It wasn't that they argued all the time - not the typical arguing and bickering of couples, anyway. She would shout and belittle and insult him, and he would stand there or sit there or lie there and listen to her shouting and belittling. That was their 'dynamic', as a friend had once put it to him.
But he couldn't remember what it was she was shouting at him for that night, even though it was a particularly heavy session of abuse he was receiving. Over the years he had stopped really listening to it. It didn't matter whether he listened or not, whether he apologised or meekly nodded or even shouted back (which he never did), because it was always the same. She would shout and he would listen, then she would stop and by the time they went to bed it would have stopped, and they would sleep.
She may have loved him, once, and he may have loved her, too, but if there was any love left now between them it was a strange love. An 'unconventional' love; A love based on unrequited anger.
He was no fool, he was aware of the strange relationship they had, and not just a little embarrassed at his role in it at times. It had been this way almost from the start, this hate- filled (on her part) love. It wasn't as if he had woken up beside her one morning and realised he was on the wrong end of a shitty relationship. No, things had always been this way. He would treat her as a lady should be treated - or at least how he imagined a lady should be treated - and she would treat him like shit in the most un-ladylike of fashions.
He knew how to handle her. When they married he hadn't truly known her - how she thought, what made her tick...What made her explode. He hadn't thought he needed to know her any more than he did, but he knew her now far better than that, and far better than she knew him - perhaps even better than she knew herself - and over time he had allowed himself to transform into something that could soak up her vitriol, mould himself around it and spnge it up...
And so that night was no different to any of the other nights, with her flying off the handle and beginning to berate and belittle him for no obvious reason, and him just standing there and taking it...
No different until she hit him, until she let fly and landed him right in the nose. It was then that things changed. She hadn't done that before, not even in her heaviest of rages. And it wasn't just a genteel slap of frustration - it was a heavy, close-fisted smack. There was a look of shock in her eyes the moment after she made contact... But it was no accident. She meant every bit of it.
It stunned him for a moment, too. They both stood there inches apart, her face on fire and her eyes wide and mad. He didn't move, strange fragments of thoughts swirled through his head, like how those big wild eyes looked like the eyes of a distressed cow; like how the tiny droplets of blood hitting the kitchen tiles looked like strawberry jam; like whether she had hurt her hand, whether it would bruise in time for work tomorrow - all of these thoughts at the same time, thoughts like: should he hit her back? Should he? Could he?
The front of his face stung from the force of it and blood trickled along his lips, but he barely noticed. He was feeling something else, something new and stronger, stronger than that fist in his face.
There was anger in him now, but it was a strange and almost serene kind of rage he felt. Should I hit her, He heard his mind whisper again, but the time for that had passed. There had been an initial instinct to raise his own fist and launch it right through her face, crushing every delicate bone and righting all the wrongs, but this was now gone. No, it was a dangerous calm that now engulfed him, that was now painted across his face, and she began to slowly inch away from him as she noticed it.
The look of rage in her own eyes changed almost instantly, the anger and hatred receding slowly and replaced now by a pure, whitening fear. She tried to say something but couldn't. His eyes were demonic. His face was blank. She was trembling as she backed away, unsure of who this new man in front of her was, unsure of what she could do, what she could say to appease the beast she sensed inside him...
It took just a few short moments - him standing there receiving her abuse, her lashing out at him, a sudden unexpected bloom of complete emasculation piercing him truly for the first time- and something seemed to shift. Something between them seemed to shift and then snap, and like the gushing of a cracking dam their entire history seemed to be laid bare in front of him, in front of both of them.
Then he pounced. One quick motion and he had her, fingers digging bruisingly into her shoulders, wrenching her quickly to the tiled kitchen floor.
The scream - almost a yelp - that she managed to let out was drowned by the coughing grunts that came from somewhere deep inside him. Immediately she had visions... Visions of what he was about to do to her flashing through her mind all at once. How had this happened? She tried to scream again but nothing came out.
He held her there, her knees pinned to the ground by his, and looked into her eyes for a moment. She could hear the rasp of his breath coming from his flaring nostrils. There was a thin line of saliva dripping from the corner of his mouth, now mingling with the drying blood from his nose. She couldn't move. She tried again to speak but the look in his eyes let her know it was pointless - He wasn't Him anymore, this was some new kind of animal, and she had unleashed it.
There was no escape from him now. She continued to struggle as he pinned her, pathetically trying to shift her weight to escape... His face - his whole body - still pulsating from all of the things flying around inside his mind, eyes feral and bulging. She was thinking about what he was about to do and how he would do it. He was thinking of how to do it too, how best to manoeuvre himself into the necessary position. It seemed clinical, like a depraved surgery of some kind. She visualised it, felt each detail of what was to come, and a little bit of her soul seemed to tear away from the rest and blacken and die.
His thinking was practical and composed: Leverage, weight, momentum - his thoughts had never been so clearly aligned before, and though it felt like these thoughts weren't his - as if he was a spectator of his own mind - it still felt... not quite right, but the only way it could be.
It felt very good, he thought, to think in such a controlled way for once. Fully in control his face now eased and he began to smile. This terrified her. She couldn't remember the last time he had smiled, and never had he smiled like that before. Her fear jumped up a notch. She stopped struggling, frozen by this demented smile...
He froze for a moment too as he saw the fear in her eyes. There was a touch of a thought inside, saying Stop, saying No. But it was just a tiny morsel of a fleeting thought, and the thought disappeared as quickly as it arrived, and the smile returned...
It was about to happen. Now. No turning back, he thought. He looked deeper into those eyes, but he couldn't see her in them, all he could see was the reflection of his own eyes, so dulled and dimmed, but burning now too from the years he had lost to her, from the self that had wilted. Now it would end . He smiled as he began, and as he began the years seemed to disappear, and all that was left was the sting of her fist on his cheek.
Chris Connolly writes from Dublin, Ireland. Allegedly he is not as dangerous as he reads. His first collection of short stories, 'Every Day I Atrophy' (the SideCartel) is available now. If you need to know more about Chris Connolly, he has an excellent and excellently informative website here chrisconnollywriter.com