Annette Preece was a very lonely woman. She had given up her acting career in London, aged twenty-five, when she finally realised that she didn’t have the staying power to make it on the stage. She’d run home to Swansea, and met Hywel Preece at a ladies’ night at her father’s lodge. Preece lacked London polish, but he was good looking, had plenty of Swansea money, and a big future in front of him. He was already a City Councillor in his early thirties and her father made it clear that he had the right connections. By Swansea standards, his family were old money. She sold out for a big house and cushy existence.
From the outset her new husband seemed to discourage her from developing a social life and he was noticeably cold to the few visitors she invited round. It gradually dawned on her that she had married a very possessive man and, initially, she found the idea quite flattering. Then it became apparent that, if she was not welcome to make friends of her own, nor was she going to get to know his. She did not even know if he had any. He lived for his work, and the house in Derwen Fawr was testament to his success, not his popularity.
Boredom and loneliness started her drinking and, with that, the few acquaintances that might have survived his frostiness fell away. She was left to dwell on her failure as an actress. The relinquishing of her lifelong ambition had left her desperately unfilled. She wanted children, but Hywel didn’t. When she tried to force the issue, he moved into one of the spare rooms and withdrew what little physical affection he still showed her.
Then she knocked little Ryan Kelly down and he was paralysed for life. He came dashing out from between two parked cars in Tesco’s car park as she was looking for a place to pull in. She hit him with a sickening thud, even though she was only crawling along. The police arrived with an ambulance and she failed the breathalyser. Hywel turned up at the police station and pulled every string possible, but she had already given a blood sample and she was three times over the limit. It was a first offence, but the injury to the child guaranteed her a banner headline in the Evening Post and total hostility from the magistrates. Mrs Kelly spat in her face and tried to push her under a bus as she left court.
Worse by far, however, was the guilt. She had recurrent nightmares about the child’s face as she hit him. The way the little boy looked at her in horror as, for a split second, he realised his mistake. The way his body lay twisted in the gutter as she stared down at him. A woman began screaming and a man began shouting for someone to phone an ambulance. In her dreams, she realised she was the woman. Had it been like that in reality?
Hywel got the dangerous driving charge reduced to careless driving so she escaped prison, but she paid a heavy price. When they got home he went berserk. He dragged her around by the hair, slapping and kicking her, and calling her a useless drunken bitch. Then he left the house without a word.
She took a very large gin into the bath and tried to tell herself it was a one off. How could she expect him to react? She had landed him with a lot of trouble and expense. No doubt he was worried sick about the effect of all this terrible publicity on his career. By the time the gin was gone, it was all her fault and she deserved it for what she had done to that poor little boy.
That episode established a pattern. When something happened to upset him, his anger became directed at her and, thanks to her misguided guilt, this became acceptable. Drink blurred the issue and he made sure her addiction was liberally supplied, while using it as another weapon to attack her with. How could a man get on with a hopeless sot like her holding him back? It became all the easier to justify cutting her off from the outside world.
She had threatened to leave him on countless occasions, usually when her courage was fortified by gin, but the drink blurred any real resolve. Trying to focus on a genuine plan of action through an alcoholic haze was hopeless. She was chained to an environment in which her drinking habits could be indulged in at will and her self-esteem was so low that, in Hywel’s case she had developed the dependence of a prisoner on her jailer.
Lacking her husband’s cruelty, she was baffled by his treatment of her. Why had he married her in the first place? Image was certainly something to do with it. Successful Swansea solicitors have showcase wives and, before the drinking took its toll, she was a good-looking woman. Her failure as an actress had come largely from the inability of casting directors to see past her looks.
Why did he stay married to her now? She was overweight and raddled. That was hardly good for his image, but then she never saw anyone of importance to him anymore, so that hardly mattered. She was like a professional qualification; she had to be possessed, but never produced.
Perhaps it was money. He was undoubtedly the most avaricious person she had ever met. He measured success entirely in terms of personal wealth and despised people who didn’t do likewise. She was no doubt cheap to run compared to the cost of a divorce settlement.
She often groped back through her befuddled memory in search of a defining moment, something she had said or done which had so turned him against her, but, apart from the accident, there was nothing. After that first beating, all she could remember was a descent into hopeless degradation. She had come to the conclusion that he simply enjoyed watching her gradual disintegration.
Now, she was standing in front of her eighteenth century dressing table. She opened one of the beautifully inlaid walnut drawers and rummaged around in the lipsticks and powder compacts. She pulled out a miniature of Booths Gin, unscrewed the cap, and drained the bottle in one. A shudder ran through her as the near spirit hit her empty stomach. She looked at herself in the mirror again and, despite the puffiness round her eyes where she had been crying, she thought she could see an improvement.
She picked the burning cigarette up from the ashtray and took a heavy pull on it. Her hands were still shaking badly, despite the drink. She took another drag and dropped it back in the ashtray. She toyed with the idea of going downstairs to the bar for more drink, but resisted it. Instead, she pulled her nightdress up over her head and dropped it on the floor, then turned to inspect her body in the mirror. The injuries from the slaps and punches were livid against her white skin, and she could also make out darker bruises developing where he had kicked her.
She had been on the phone talking to the hairdresser when he returned. She happened to be facing the window as the green Range Rover turned into the drive and crunched across the gravel to the front door. By the time it pulled up she had abruptly terminated her conversation and replaced the receiver. Already she was sick with dread. He rarely returned during the day, unless something had happened to make him angry, and, when it did, he returned to take his anger out on her. However, this time, it hadn’t been quite like that. This time he’d arrived home to deliver the ultimate humiliation and, this time, albeit briefly, she had fought back.
She had sat rigid with anticipation in the front room. She heard him come in and walk down the hall. He walked past the door and into the kitchen. Normally, he would be straight onto the attack, hurling accusations and insults until he had stroked his anger into violence. But not today. She heard him open the fridge door, then he appeared in the doorway holding a glass of orange juice. There was no sign of anger about him. He was feigning carelessness, but his eyes were watchful for her reaction.
‘Something’s come up, dear,’ he began casually. ‘Bit of a nuisance really. It looks like we’ll be looking after Juliet for a while when she gets back from Tenerife.’
‘Why?’ asked Annette, numbly? She had a terrible premonition of what was coming.
‘She’s left her husband. I’ve said she can stay here for a couple of weeks until she gets sorted.’
Annette stared at him in disbelief. Drunk or not, she was a woman. Did he seriously think she didn’t know what was going on? From the look on his face, he knew well enough. There was a smug triumphalism about him. He was proposing to move his whore into the house, confident that she would not dare oppose him! To her disgust she felt her face crumple into tears. Why did she give him the satisfaction?
‘You bastard, you cheap fucking bastard!’ she sobbed. ‘What have I ever done to deserve this?’
‘Deserve what, dear?’ he asked, with a mock innocence. ‘It’ll only be for a couple of weeks.’
‘I’m not having that slut in my house for a couple of minutes let alone weeks, you pig!’
Preece strolled over to the drinks cabinet. His tone was patronisingly casual as he opened the glass doors.
‘I’m not sure I know what you’re driving at, dear. Here, let me pour you a nice gin and tonic to steady your nerves. You’ve obviously been imagining things...’
‘What? Like your clothes smelling of perfume? The contempt that slut treats me with when I call your office? I’m not blind you know! You can screw the bitch till your balls drop off, but you’re not doing it under my roof and that’s final!’
Her husband turned to face her. He was holding out a drink.
‘Well, well’ he murmured, feigning surprise.’ “My house, my roof”, now, is it? Mistress of the house now, are we? What makes you think I’d allow a useless, drunken cow like you to occupy such a responsible position?’
She lashed out, accidentally catching the glass that he was still holding. The drink hit him in the face as if she had deliberately thrown it. He raised his hand slowly to his face to wipe it away, obviously surprised by her unexpected rebelliousness. Then he hit her. He attacked her with a flurry of blows and when she fell to the floor he began kicking her with his hard leather brogues. When he got tired of that he knelt down and grabbed her by the throat. Through the tears she could make out the blurred outline of his face inches from her.
‘You understand this, and understand it right,’ he hissed. ‘You are nobody around here; you are worth less than the fucking furniture as far as I’m concerned. You are here because it suits me and it would take very little for it to stop suiting me. Come the day that happens, all I need to do is up-end a bottle of gin down your throat and watch your liver go bang. Do you understand now?’
‘Yes Hywel,’ she whispered, as he relaxed his grip on her throat enough for her to talk. ‘I understand.’