I walk briskly along the frozen path, almost slipping on a patch of well-hidden ice. This morning is far colder than any other has been this year, though I hadn’t quite realised it, having spent most of it in the warmth of a well-heated home. The sun is just as bright as always, but it does little to increase the temperature.
I manage to find the main road with little difficulty and start to get my bearings; it seems Abi lives very close to the school. I know that if I don’t run I won’t have enough time to get back, but my legs still ache from the beating of a few nights ago. I’ve lost all sense of time by now; I have no idea what day it is or how long I’ve been at Abi’s house. Still, all that really matters is that it’s a school day so I need to get my books.
I start running, forcing my limbs into action to move a little faster towards home. The few cars which make their way lazily down the road are a little more cautious than usual, presumably the glistening on the tarmac is more difficult to deal with than it would appear. It doesn’t concern me much, the worst that can happen is that I’ll fall, which doesn’t seem so bad in comparison with what’s been happening to me recently.
The grip on my shoes makes no difference to how often I lose my balance, at times I am certain that I will soon meet the pavement, only for my other foot to meet the ground and steady me just in time. My luck finally runs out as I hurtle round the corner that leads to my house, as I lose my footing and land heavily on the pavement.
I hear the ripping of the elbow of the jumper as I scrape my arm on the ground. Damn. Ellie’s not going to be happy; I dare not think what her mother will say. My glove protects my left hand from grazing, unlike my right hand, which is now extremely sore. I must have caught some broken glass on my way down, as a gash has opened on my palm, which is starting to bleed. I get awkwardly to my feet and carry on walking towards my gate, holding my right hand up to try and stop the flow. The warm blood trickles down my wrist, so I put my gloved fingers around it to protect the sleeve of the jumper from staining.
I manage to get inside the house using only one hand, though the door is more difficult to force open than usual. On gaining entrance, I find the source of the problem. My Dad is slumped with his back against the door, a black eye betraying his violent habits once again. I see no bottle today, which is a good sign; maybe he’s brought some food home. I slap the side of his face a couple of times to wake him; he mumbles some incoherent words, before eventually opening his eyes.
He throws me off him with a shout, slamming me against the wall with considerable force. Damn. Why does everyone attack me? I can feel the blood continue to trickle down my fingers as he gets up with difficulty, needing the wall for support as he does so. He mutters to himself, various curses and insults in unclear Czech leave his lips. I persuade myself to try and help him, though he keeps trying to shrug me off as I attempt to lead him to the sofa.
His eyes glare wildly, he doesn’t seem to quite know what’s happening to him, but I manage to get him to lie down after some gentle persuasion. His black eye is accompanied by a number of splinters of glass on his cheek, which I try to remove. His teeth grip my blood-coated fingers, feeling as if he’s trying to crush them beyond use. He digs into my skin, searching for the brittle bone beneath. I hear myself swearing as I try and extract them from his bite, my voice seems to awaken something in him. Slowly, I feel the pressure reduce, his eyes soften, a tear forming slowly.
“I’m sorry Volani, I’m so sorry,” he sobs. I step away, but keep staring at him. It’s been such a long time since he used my name, I wasn’t sure if he still knew it.
“It’s alright Dad, don’t worry,” I reply, kissing his forehead as I turn and bound up the stairs. I find my bag and flute exactly where I left them, though some of the paper has been blown from my bag and strewn across the floor.
I feel strangely guilty for leaving my Dad alone for so long, he seems so helpless. I can’t imagine how he copes when I’m not there to clean him up after getting into yet another fight. That glass could have been in his face since the night I met Finn, or for just a few hours. I know he would almost certainly have got infected by now if I hadn’t cleaned out his various cuts and scrapes every morning.
It doesn’t change how much I hate him; I would quite happily replace him with anyone who is at least remotely aware of their daughter’s existence. I would just as easily take the chance to go and live with my mother back home, if I ever have an opportunity, I will return. For all I know, mother could be dead, or homeless. Her life could be just as bad as mine here, but what hurts the most, is that I know she’s facing everything alone. She lost her husband and both her daughters, her husband will never be the man she loved and I know Naďa would never go back, but I would. I still love her, far more than she will ever know.
Having collected up all my books and repacked my bag, I head back down, finding Dad asleep at last. I consider trying to clean his face again, but remember how tight for time I am and settle with cleaning just my own injury. The bleeding has stopped, but my fingers are crimson, so I clean them, taking care not to restart the flow.
I grab my things and begin the long run back to school, leaving my Dad to rest alone.