Sally blinked several times. It took her a while to realise it was dark. Her eyes were bleary, a thick film covering them. She wasn't used to waking up in the middle of the night. It was a few seconds before her brain could engage with the senses.
The first sense that registered was hearing - a dull thud against the wall behind the bed’s headboard. A few seconds later there was another. The second was firmer, shaking the wall. The wooden slats under the mattress creaked before settling again.
Sally wiped the sleep from her eyes. As she rolled over and slowly swung her feet to the floor, she heard a clatter, definitely from downstairs. She moved as quickly as she could, which, at the moment, was not quick at all. It took a gargantuan effort to lift her pregnant stomach into an upright position.
Sally shuffled along the bedroom floor, dressed in her horrible, flowery maternity night-dress. She'd stopped sleeping naked so she didn’t have to see the enormous mountain her abdomen had become.
When she reached the top of the landing, the sounds became clearer. They lost their dullness - they became sharp, percussive, harsh. Her mind was waking up yet she was experiencing a terrible nightmare. Terror grabbed her by the throat.
She hesitated at the top of the stairs.
Then she edged her right foot down to the first step until it touched the carpet. But before it could settle, there was another bang. She withdrew it, scared.
She peered over the banisters and saw the lounge door below. It was half open, but she couldn’t make out anything other than the TV, showing a game of basketball.
‘Dan?’ she called out.
Another crashing sound.
She should turn back. She should but she couldn’t.
She put the right foot back down on the lower step. The left foot followed it. With each step down the stairs, the noise of crashing mixed with fraught human exhalations became more urgent. There was no doubt about it, she was certain - she was walking into violence.
Sally knew it was not the wise thing to do. She was two people now, as Dan constantly reminded her. She should be cowering in the bedroom. That was the sensible, responsible action.
They had no phone upstairs, in fact they didn’t have a landline at all. The police advised them to have as few records as possible, so they’d restricted themselves to their mobile phones. And both mobiles were downstairs in the lounge, recharging.
There was nothing else for it. She hobbled down the stairs, doing her best not to listen to the crashing sounds from the lounge. Halfway down she was out of breath. She had a limited amount of energy and had expended most of it already. At eight months pregnant, the extra weight meant simple walking was an exercise akin to weightlifting for a normal person.
A few more steps and she would be at the bottom of the stairs. Her field of view through the lounge door was wider. Sally could see the sofa but couldn’t see her husband.
She called out again. ‘Dan.’
Then something, a figure, flew across the lounge, ending its brief journey with a dull thud, as it hit the wall out of her sight.
It was Dan.
Blood flowed enough to pump adrenaline and she waddled as fast as she could to reach the hallway. She felt the baby stir as well, kicking at its imprisonment. Then, without thinking, she rushed into the lounge.
One step in, she froze. She was equidistant from two men.
One was Dan. He'd landed against the far wall. Hunched up, his face was battered, his head lolling to one side. Blood trickled from the corner of an eye. Both cheeks were already beginning to swell. He was pale, the force of fists had brutally hammered any colour from his cheeks. His lip bled too. As he noticed her presence, he tried to raise his head and speak. But nothing came out. She caught her breath.
She didn't want to look at the other end of the room. Somehow, her shocked consciousness was kidding itself that if she didn't acknowledge her husband's assailant, he wouldn't be there. But, all the same, the intruder was no more than four yards to her right. She knew he wouldn’t leave. Not until he got his revenge.