Murphy heard the man yelling at the woman, and saw her cowering from him. She covered her face with her hands, and crouched so her knees covered her stomach and lower body. The instincts of a woman used to being hit. Murphy’s instinct was to go to her assistance, but then he noticed the police officer and her partner at the scene.
He could see straight away that the policewoman had control of the situation. It was best to stay back; getting involved would inflame the situation. As he watched the policewoman in action, his mind went back to a woman he’d known in the same situation once.
Judy had moved in with Alex after his wife had left him. He was a successful businessman, and offered her all the luxuries she could want. It was fine at first, and she enjoyed the high life. Then she found the price expected.
At first, it was just mind games. Subtle statements to make her feel inferior. Then public ridicule. After months of this, she told him she didn’t like what he was saying and doing. He had smiled and agreed. He kissed her cheek and started to turn. He had then swung back with sudden fury and extended arm, catching her hard across the face with the back of his hand.
She had reeled backwards across the room, hitting the wall hard, and then crumpling to the floor. She reached to her face, and could feel the blood flowing from her split lip. She looked at him, eyes wide with disbelief. Fear stopped her from speaking.
“Next time it’ll be closed fist,” he had said. He reached down, took her hand and helped her to her feet. She flinched as he once again kissed her cheek, but this time he had just walked away. It had been five months before he had hit her again. Then three months. Over the next six years, it had become increasingly regular, and she had come to almost accept it as a “normal” part of the relationship.
It had come to a head when she ran away to her sister Kathy, Murphy’s next door neighbour. Murphy had heard the disturbance when Alex had tried to force Judy into the car, to take her home. On that occasion, there were no police around, so he stepped in. He had managed to keep Alex calm until the police had arrived.
Later, the cop had told him they hadn’t laid charges. They had been concerned about the number of “accidents” Judy had been treated for in her home town hospital. They also commented on his clumsiness. On the way into the station, he had stepped on a broom, and it had broken his nose. The same sort of broom Judy had stepped on last year, when she had gone to the hospital, also with a broken nose.
Murphy didn’t condone police use of violence, but he also found it very difficult to have much sympathy for Alex. Judy had been a mess, crying and near hysterical. She recounted the years of torment and injury at Alex’s hands. Kathy had comforted, and Murphy had done what he did best. He listened, when someone need to be heard.
In most circumstances, Murphy could control his emotions quite well. Even he, however, was subject to the normal human reaction of helping those who can’t help themselves. He recognised, however, the dangers in jumping to conclusions. However, there was no denying what he had seen. He was a good judge of character, and felt his instincts in this case were correct. Alex was the monster that Judy was describing.
The cop had also told him that Alex had decided that this town was unlucky for him. That was after he had walked into the door at the police station, and right before he had slipped and fallen down the stairs.
“He’s a smart Alex,” Murphy said. The cop had agreed, and they each gave satisfied grins at the small joke. Alex had stayed away after that. Murphy was glad of this, for Judy’s sake. The physical departure of Alex was just the first step in the process. Murphy knew that the real battle to overcome things was yet to come.
She had been offered a job as a bar attendant at the pub where Kathy worked and Murphy drank sometimes. Sometimes she did some casual cleaning. It was hard for her to get used to working again. Alex would never let her do that. It would degrade him, if his woman had a life of her own.
He had gotten to know her quite well. They had gone out together for some time, but had grown apart. She had become more independent, and had started studying part time, with the view to full time employment.
Murphy had taken a job in the remote outback of Queensland. He had kept in touch for a while, but they had gone their separate ways. The last he heard, she had found a new partner, and then he had heard no more.
Murphy came back to the present. He confirmed, in his mind, that the current matter was a domestic situation. The man attempted to grab the woman’s arm. The female constable had him in a wrist lock, and knelt him on the road, and then forced him face down on the ground. She cuffed him before he knew what had happened.
An elderly lady was comforting the man’s sobbing partner. Murphy felt an urge to go to their assistance, but resisted it. It was obvious that Judy had developed into an extremely capable officer over the past six years. Another police car pulled up to the scene, and the man was bundled away.
Murphy stopped, and for a moment, Judy and he caught each other’s eyes. She gave a brief smile of recognition, then went back to the job at hand. Murphy promised himself he would catch up with her soon, but knew he wouldn’t.
“Oh, Alex,” he said to himself, “I’d love to see you try that shit on her now.” He felt the old love he had once felt for her, and let it pass as quickly as it came. They travelled different roads, now, and it should be left at that. Maybe one day, but not right now. He smiled, and walked away.
By Craig Hill, Illustration by Matt Clare
Original story published in Big Issue magazine 2006