Sometimes you have to eat the worm so you can soar above the clouds.

Cigarettes hung precariously between dry lips, columns of ash dropping onto the green felt table cover. Fingers dictate the number of cards each player needs. Grunts and curses drop from mouths clamped around large Cubans, ash hanging from the ends. Smoke hangs over the room like fog over San Francisco Bay.

“Hey Charlie, got any more of that salsa dip? That was some good shit.” Hector stubbed out his cigar, pulling one hand down his face, surprised to find Charlie’s wife, Hanna, had set another helping in front of him while he wasn’t looking. “Aw, thanks, Hanna. Didn’t know you were here. Figured you’d gone out with the wives tonight.”

Hanna shook her head, her timid smile never reaching her eyes. Head down, shoulders slumped, she slunk away from the den where they played. Back to the kitchen, where Charlie expected to find her.

The wives had invited her out to their “ladies’ night” while their husbands tried to bankrupt one another playing poker. At first. They stopped inviting her because she never accepted their invitation.

Her husband had forbidden her from joining them. Charlie told her, “No wife of mine is going to go out whoring with those bitches. Won’t have you learning their bad habits. You’ll stay here. Where you belong.” Then he’d pop his expensive Cuban in his mouth and go back to reading his newspaper, dismissing her and her needs in a blink of his eye.

The wives excluded Hanna from their circle of friends, only including her when the families were all invited. Even then, only because the husbands expected it from them. They tried to be friendly, but Charlie made it impossible. Poor Hanna, isolated and alone.

Just as Charlie intended.

Hanna blew out a breath, suds tickling her nose as she pushed a wayward lock of blonde hair from her cheek. Hands red from the scalding water, dishes in the drying rack, she pulled the drenched checkered dishcloth from the sink. Fingers twisting the wet cotton, water dripped back into the sudsy water.

Her intake of breath was her only reaction to the openhanded slap her husband laid across the side of her head. Cloth dropped back into the sink. Knuckles white, Hanna grasped the edge of the counter to keep from dropping to the floor. She blinked back tears, flinching when Charlie’s hand landed on her shoulder. He squeezed, pain shooting down her arm.

“What the fuck did you think you were doing tonight, Hanna?” Mouth close enough to kiss her, he venomously hissed into her ear. Bitter and nasty, looking for a fight. “Making eyes at Hector the way you did. Swishing those hips to get their attention. You wanted to fuck my friends, didn’t you, slut?”

“No, no, Charlie. That’s not the way it was. I swear.” She cowered from the man who, with God as his witness, had sworn to love and cherish her. “I don’t want anyone but you, Charlie. No one.” She should have kept her mouth shut. It was obvious he’d been drinking. There was no talking him down from these moods.

“I love you, Charlie.” Her whispered admission sounded hollow, even to her. Lump of emotion lodged in her throat. Hanna hoped he believed it more than she did. If only she were that lucky.

“You fuckin’ whore.” Sound of a furious hand meeting fearful flesh rang out in the oppressive air of their small kitchen. A four-fingered welt rose on her cheek.

“You expect me to believe you love me? Ha!” Fist in her hair, he flung her across the room. “After the way you disrespected me tonight, you expect me to believe anything that comes from your filthy lips, bitch?” Spittle flew from his mouth. Stench of cheap rum and cheaper beer wafted from his every pore.

Hanna thudded against their turquoise retro fridge, sliding down to sag in a heap on the floor. Like a little rag doll, she slouched into herself. Trying to be as small as possible, hoping he’d distract himself and leave her alone. She was not that lucky.

“Not so high and mighty now, are you, you conniving little whore.” He sneered at her, mocking her as he jabbed her leg with the steel-toed boots he only removed to bathe and sleep. Less than a kick, but more than a nudge, just hard enough to bruise her thigh. “Get up. We’re not done yet.”

Fingers digging in, he grabbed her arm and yanked her to her feet. Or tried to.

Slowly, Hanna raised her chin and stared up at the man she thought she’d loved. The one she was going to spend her life with. The one who should have loved her enough to fulfill all her hopes and dreams.

Eyes narrowed, lips pursed, she wore a newfound self-respect. A need to prove to herself that she deserves better than what he has given her. The desire to show him she was greater than the fear he forced her to live under for far too long coursed through her veins.

Charlie expected to see the fear in her eyes he put there on their wedding night ten years ago. Tonight was not their wedding night.

Tonight was Hanna’s rebirth. The first night of the rest of her life.

Hanna’s patience had run out. There was only so much abuse and accusations a woman could take before she started striking back. It was fight back or give up. Giving up wasn’t an option any longer, so fighting back it was.

Eyes locked on his, Hanna found the backbone she thought she’d lost the night he broke her spirit. The same night he promised to take care of her. In sickness and in health. For richer or for poorer. For better or for worse. Until death do they part. And every day since, he’d seemed determined to make sure death was her only option.

He was bigger than her. Stronger than she was. His hands could span her waist because, goodness knows, Charlie Bishop couldn’t have a wife with curves. Charlie controlled every aspect of Hanna’s life and had done so since the night they met. That shit was going to end now.

With one hand on the lever of the fridge, Hanna pulled herself up. Fire raging in her eyes, she wrenched her arm from his grasp and squared her shoulders. Head held high, she adjusted her sweater and smoothed her hair.

“Don’t touch me, Charlie.” There was no fear on her face, but it clogged her heart. She didn’t let it stop her. Instead, it fuelled her. “You will not lay another finger on me…EVER AGAIN.”

Charlie, unable to believe his meek little wife was standing up to him, decided to knock her back a peg or three. He grabbed her wrist and twisted her arm over her shoulder, leaning into her face. Angered by her audacity to stand up to him, he was hell-bent on exerting his dominance over her.

“You won’t talk to me like that, you little slut. Got it?” Charlie’s eyes widened. He swallowed a lump of fear and apprehension.

Hanna wasn’t afraid. She wasn’t recoiling from him or shaking as she usually did.

No, this Hanna stood tall and twisted her arm in the opposite direction from Charlie. She held his upper arm with her other hand and used her weight to pull him over to the side. Onto the table, which smashed when he fell onto it. Hard.

She stood over him and repeated her last words to him. “Do. Not. Touch. Me. Again.” He still wasn’t convinced she was serious.

“Don’t move again until after I’ve left the house. Got it, Charlie?”

He narrowed his eyes instead of answering.

She retreated, not daring to turn her back on him, and backed into the counter beside the sink. Scuffing from behind her drew her eyes to the dark window above the sink.

Hanna shook her head. She never wanted it to get to this point, but he was pushing her hand. If this was what he wanted, it was going to be what he got.

Humming to herself, Blue October’s “Break Ground” gave her strength, Hanna rinsed the cold, dingy water and remnants of the soapsuds from the sink. Every gurgle of the drain cleansed her mind of all doubts.

She placed stray dishes in the drying rack and ran the remaining cutlery under the faucet, dropping them onto the dishtowel on the counter to dry. Hanna’s fingers curled in on themselves, making fists repeatedly, as she worked out what to do from here.

That’s when she heard it. The scraping of a chair as Charlie made his way to her. This time, she was ready for him.


Pipes groaned and banged within the wall as Hanna turned the shower off several hours later. She wrapped her hair up in a towel and dressed in her comfy dark purple sweatpants and a lavender long-sleeved tee. Barefoot, she padded into the kitchen to make sure she’d finished her chores for the day.

Garbage went into the garbage shed. She dropped recycling into the bins beside it. Hanna put the organic waste into the composter in the garden.

She ground up the meat she’d picked up earlier and made a nice large batch of chili, leaving it to simmer on the stovetop. It needed to slow cook until dinnertime, but it would be worth the wait.

Charlies friends will love his special chili recipe when they watch the fight together tomorrow night. Im sure they wont mind that Charlie cant make it. Hanna knew the guys often let themselves in and set up for their boys’ nights while waiting for Charlie to come home from work. It wouldn’t raise any alarms if Charlie wasn’t there when they arrived

She tossed her towel onto the washing machine and threw her hair up in a quick French braid. A quick glance around the laundry made her want to tidy it up before Charlie saw it. A relieved smile stole across her face when she realized that wouldn’t be a problem and closed the door on the mess.

“Ooops, missed a spot.” Grabbing a warm, wet cloth, Hanna wiped down the red splatters on their white kitchen cabinets. She picked the butcher knife and chef’s knife up off the red plastic meat cutting board and rinsed them off before loading all three tools into the dishwasher.

Hanna gave the chili one last stir, long-handled wooden spoon picking up an odd object from the bottom of the pot. It shimmered in the light as she pulled it out of the bubbling Mexican stew.

“Tsk tsk. Can’t leave that there. It’ll colour the flavour of the dish.” The platinum band clattered onto the salmon pink Formica countertop, spatters of blood-red tomato sauce spinning out from it. An engraving on the inside of the band caught her eye. She didn’t need to read it. Matching bands with matching inscriptions.

‘Til death do us part.

“Looks like you got your wish, Charlie.” Pinks and purples of the pastel streaked sky drew Hanna’s eyes to the horizon framed in the kitchen window. The sun was rising, slow and steady as always.

Cheery call of the chickadee perched in the pear tree in their backyard harkened to Hanna’s youth. Days spent dreaming of what her life would one day become. This was never part of her vision for her life.

Black-cap glinting blue in the morning light, Chickadee reminded her to look for the truth within herself and to follow her heart to her greatest desires.

“I’m listening, chickadee. I’m ready to spread my wings and soar.” She nodded to the wee bird who flew off, confident Hanna would do what was necessary.

One last stir of the chili and Hanna grabbed her purse, her car keys, and the bag she’d packed after her shower. A note addressed to Hector made him promise to take the leftover chili home and to enjoy the fight.

Closing the door behind her, Hanna took one last look around the kitchen she’d spent most of the last decade of her life in. Her eyes stopped on the ring on the counter. She removed the platinum band from her left hand, leaving it beside its mate.

Neither one of them needed their wedding bands any longer.