Sticks and Stones

December 8, 2009

I’m just back from my walk to get fit when I see someone who doesn’t look fit at all.  Maria.      She is sitting outside the cafe in a slant of sunlight, her face plumper than last time I saw her, her arm in a sling.

My heart sinks.  It looks like she is back with her husband and her arm is his handy work.

She beckons for me to join her so I do.  We kiss each other on both cheeks and she smells of good perfume.  Her hair is glossy and professionally cut, her walking stick is nowhere in sight.

“You look well,” I say, for despite my initial assessment, it is only her arm that doesn’t look good.  The rest of her is better than I have ever seen her.

I don’t know how to start this conversation.  The last time I saw Maria I was trying to leave the car park and was stopped by armed Gendarmes.  They had surrounded her apartment and there was a lot of negotiating going on.  The kind that takes place over a loudspeaker and is one-sided.

“Come out with your hands in the air!”

Then unintelligible drunken rants from within.

“Put down your weapon, Monsieur”.

I am a captive audience.  I am not allowed to move, the area is surrounded.

Some paramedics emerge carrying Maria on a stretcher, her arm slung across her face.  I turn my eyes away so as not to strip her further.

There is more shouting and a sniper team move in.  They emerge with Jose (real name used so as not to protect the guilty).

He is led away in handcuffs and stays away until a month ago.  He has served a two year sentence for waving the dangerous end of a shotgun in the face of an upholder of the law.  The irony is not lost on me that he goes to prison for two years for inflicting a moment’s fear on a burley, brave policeman and nothing for inflicting a lifetime of it on his wife.

“It is good to see you,” I say.

“But what are you doing here?  Are you safe?”

Maria juts her jaw out slightly and says,

“I am quite safe, he cannot come within 50 meters of me, the judge said so.”

I resist craning my neck to see if Jose is sitting in his usual place at a bar not 30 meters away.

“He has beaten me for thirty years,” she says.

“The only person who knew was the doctor.”

“One time he wanted me to press charges.  He had kicked me in the stomach and I had a lot of internal bleeding.”

“I said no.  If I complain he will beat me even more.”

“After that I didn’t go back to the doctor.  I used to run away if I could and I would sleep in the cemetery.”

I think of the small cemetery in the center of the village.  I see it every day.  I can’t imagine where she would sleep.  The cemetery is crammed with the cold stone of the long-dead.  The only space is the narrow dirt paths that lead between them and the only shelter is given by aged conifers circled by dog dirt.

I feel bad.  I feel guilty.  At the time I lived a stone’s throw from the cemetery.  What was I doing while a battered woman cowered behind a tombstone, not more than a hop, skip and a jump away?  Helping with homework? Cooking dinner?  Working on human rights cases coming in from Africa, without opening my eyes to my immediate surroundings?

I am ashamed, and tell her so.  She shrugs and says that is all in the past and that she hadn’t wanted anyone to know.

“He’s been in jail before,” she says.

“He broke my friend’s arm – I paid his bail,” she looks at the tops of the plane trees as if they may know why she had been so foolhardy.

“He is thin now,” she says, as if this is the source of great amusement for her.

“He used to say I was only good for punching and cooking!”

She looks at me sideways.  Coyly.

“I’ve met someone,” she says, testing the water.

“He is 74 and I am only 50 but he is wonderful!”

“I have just moved to his house.  My divorce became final on 19th November and on 22nd I moved in with him.”

She picks up a crumb of croissant and smiles at her coffee cup.

“Of course he tells me he adores me so much it gets on my nerves,” but the sigh she emits tells me the contrary.

Just then a sprightly man with a round face and kind brown eyes approaches the table.

“This is Jean,” she says.

“Enchante” he replies and pulls up a chair.

“Congratulations!” I say.

“I am so pleased for you both and wish you much happiness.”

“He has rabbits and chickens!” says Maria.

“And a garden where I can finally grow vegetables!”

“You should see how she feeds me!” exclaims Jean, patting his decidedly round belly contentedly.

“What happened to your arm?” I ask

“Oh, just repairing the reminders of her husband,” says Jean.

“I had to have an operation to repair the bones in my hand,” says Maria, and I am hoping she was injured by fighting back.

“He used to slam my hand in the car door.”

Jean pats the good hand and Maria smiles at him.

“So where am I taking you for lunch?” he asks her.

“I was thinking La Terrace,” she says, as though she is used to being invited to lunch.  As though she is used to basking in the warmth of love.


22 Responses to “Sticks and Stones”

  1. Silver said

    I read it and i must have absorbed every word you wrote about Maria.. it saddens me to learn that there have been so many women like her and so little is done to rescue or help them….. and i share a little of that joy that you are having seeing her in a warm good place.


  2. Monkey Man said

    Men like Jose ought to be put in women’s prisons with their hands tied behind their backs the day after their story is told to the general population. Then the guards should turn their backs. I was pleased to read the happy ending.

  3. Americans tend think this kind of thing only happens here. They watch Cops and say, look at those Rednecks! Unfortunately, women are abused in all corners of the globe. Thank God she finally got away from him. Can you imagine, he used to slam her hand in the car door? I hope there’s a special place in hell for child molesters and wife beaters.

  4. good, unsentimental reporting! Just what is needed- let the story speak its raw truth without telling the reader how they should feel. Well done!

  5. Steve E said

    What a beautiful ending to your not-so-beautiful story of abuse, pain and suffering. I especially was enthralled maybe–because I am 76, and feel as young as Jean must feel?

    Ah! Love has healing properties all its own. Where shall we “do” dinner?

    Thank you for a good post, Kerrycharacters!

  6. Silver said

    I guess there are many regrets each of us will hold in our lifetime, something we should have said or done when an injustice had happened right before our eyes and yet we did not do anything.. we just let our rationale and “good sense” take over. I suppose there isn’t any use in beating ourselves over it because we should ‘respect’ the first instincts that had come to us and it may have been the best choices we have made for that moment.

    But these memories come back only because you continue to have a heart for such injustice.. and there are many things that you can still do for her and others like her..

    We all read her story because you cared enough to write about it.. we will now say a prayer for women like her and pray for others like her that they too will find a good warm spot- but SOONER.

    We can be a Voice in the background if our good sense tells us we can’t in the open. That has to be okay too.


  7. TWM said

    It is strange how in hindsight we see what was intentionally hidden from us. Had you any idea that near you an acquaintance was sleeping in the place of the dead are you saying you would not have gone searching every night?

    When the wonder appears in ones life the horror quickly pales as it is left further behind, as long as your friend has learned she will be well from this point forward, no?

  8. I have to agree with you TWM. I don’t know what I would have done – she told me she had been hiding and did not want to be found. She said that even if I had found her she would not have come home with me. I am just so pleased that she has turned up a better path now. Thanks for your thought-provoking comments as always.

  9. miruspeg said

    Kerry, I totally agree with Jan’s comment, my thoughts exactly.
    You are an excellent writer.

  10. mary said

    oh my! This story is so heartbreaking and beautifully poignant. So glad it had a happy ending. You are a fantastic writer.

    Hi, I just noticed that you left a comment on my blog and came to check out yours. Wonderful.

    The Literarygirls blog is for my critique group. My personal blog is at Check it out if you like.


  11. The beauty of this post is that you gave Maria such dignity and peace…the sadness is that there are so many Maria’s in the world, how do we ever really know when they sleep in the cemetaries close to us…but the reminder for me is to look…

    thank you for this eloquent post.

  12. What a beautiful ending to such a sad story. I hope Maria continues to find peace and love after so many years of abuse. Thank you for sharing.

  13. sinkuenta said

    How many Marias are out there? At least, the one you describe knew how to change paths and look for the company of somebody who really loves her. I find that self-esteem is so important when it comes to sharing your life with somebody else… some people go on establishing sado-masochistic relationship without their knowing why.

  14. Naomi said

    What an sad story, but with an uplifting ending. I can’t help but continue to feel the pain though, even after she did leave him. It seemed that she still on a certain level didn’t even accept how much wrong had been done to her. That is what is do disturbing about abuse. That those being abused feel on a certain level that they deserve it. I have a friend who I know was being abused, but I could not convince her to leave her “fiance.” It was awful. I felt guilty, but there is nothing to do when someone does not want to get help. Thank you for this honest depiction of the plight of many women around the globe.

    • Hello Naomi, thanks for visiting. I have enjoyed your last two posts and will be working backwards through them to catch up! My husband works in an organic shop and your posts make me smile. Happy Christmas! I hope to get one more post up before Christmas.

  15. David Wheeler said

    Life is often a bed or roses,bit it’s nice when someone eventually removes the thorns..

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