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époque press
pronounced: /epƏk/
definition: /time/era/period

It was a day for dreamers. I stood at the Belfast sink and watched the late spring sun shimmer across the rapeseed. The field sat in front of this pretty two-bed cottage, turning the white-washed walls golden when the light hit it right. Yellow danced with the breeze that day. You danced too. A tighter squeeze for you, inside my cramped belly. You, you’d be the best of him.


The faded ‘A’ on the mug I was rinsing caught my eye. ‘A’ for Adam. I scrubbed it hard, trying to make the ‘A’ disappear. As if it would be that easy. To wash him away, to carve away the dented bones. As I turned to grab a tea towel to dry my red, raw hands, I caught it in the antique mirror. My reflection, almost all of me. There I was. I stared into my blue-green eyes, touched my bobbed, straight blonde hair. ‘Hello again,’ I whispered to the mirror, jumping suddenly as my phone buzzed loudly against the cool granite countertop.


‘Do you hear what I’m saying to you?’ he spat. The smell of whiskey turned my stomach, adding fuel to the fire sparking in his dark brown eyes. His black hair stood on end, morphing him into a monster in my seven-year-old eyes. ‘Yes Dad, I hear you’. It didn’t matter what my response was, the punch was coming. My mother whimpered in her bloody state, her dainty hand reaching for me. My father rose then, punching my mother's favourite wooden mirror before coming for me. I saw myself shattered just before I ran, leaving the pieces of me behind.


I awoke the next morning with golden straw scattering my hair and a donkey nuzzling my cheek. I’d made it to the barn about a mile from home. ‘Thought I might find you here’. My mother's slender frame appeared in the doorway. The morning light lit her short blonde hair golden, turned her black bruises blue. ‘I’m sorry honey. I’ve thrown him out. It’s taken care of, for good this time’. She seemed unfurled, more alive somehow. I never saw my father again.


It was Adam’s eyes. Sad and ocean blue. A mirror I loved to see myself in, until the storm waves rolled in and I lost myself amongst them.


The first time he hit me, it came from nowhere. We were eight months in and his charm had me hooked. We’d had a little too much to drink and I disagreed with something he’d said. He slapped me so hard across the face, I fell backwards, just missing the corner of the chunky wooden mirror we hadn’t hung yet. The one he’d let me pick. Maybe he was right. I probably should have agreed with him. So that’s what I began to do.


The mirror made its way onto the kitchen wall. I’d cover it with towels when he wasn’t around so I wouldn’t see. So it couldn’t tell me that I wasn’t there anymore. The scent of apology permeated the walls afterwards. The sickly, sweet smell of pink roses makes me nauseous still. The bruises were never as bad as my mother's. A much lighter blue, like the two lines that appeared in the pregnancy test window six and half years in. Like the colour of the ocean on a calm day. Like Adam’s eyes, for a while.


Once the marks on the outside healed, I’d allow myself to look at my reflection. There were only fragments of me now. Who was this thing staring back? This depleted, defeated creature, bereft of hope, stripped bare of dreams, of joy. I deserved this. He told me so all the time and he was right. I would never be or do enough. The towels became a permanent fixture, smothering me.


The smell of summer rain drifted on the humid breeze that night, as storm clouds started to rumble in the distance. I took a towel from the mirror to pat away the sweat, catching a glimmer of myself. He said I’d laughed too hard at the barman’s joke, was looking for it. He punched me then, right in the stomach where you lay. I clutched at the fire in my belly. My heart told me you were safe but this fire was a force, a match thrown onto the driest of hay. It engulfed me and I ran. I dived into the car and stamped on the accelerator. I saw you for the second last time then, the pieces of you blurring in the rear-view mirror.


The moment I saw it, I knew it was right for us. This two-bed cottage with pink roses growing around the door. The ones I tore down as I crossed the threshold. I answer my phone. ‘Are you ready sweetheart?’ My mother's voice is soft on the line. ‘I am,’ I say to the mirror. I drive to see Adam for the last time. Numbness sits heavy on me. My mother stands waiting, her face awash with sorrow. She is furled again. ‘I’ll let you have a moment with him’, she whispers. Adam’s eyes are closed. His chest is still. His hands are powerless now, the venom dry in his mouth.


It had been my father's own gun. She’d kept it ever since that night. ‘I’ll take care of it from here,’ my mother urges, ‘I remember the spot’. She catches my hand and places hers on top of mine, dainty still but with a strong, steady grasp. We say nothing but I see all the pieces of me, mirrored in her eyes. I gasp as that first contraction catches me unaware.


It’s a day for dreamers, where there’s no place for nightmares. I place you in the hospital cot, swaddled in your blue blanket. I look for me in your ocean-coloured eyes. I tell myself it’s the reflection of the clouds mirrored back at me, not the waves of a storm rolling in.

Fiona Gubbins is a mother of three who worked in company law for ten years before retraining as a Primary School Teacher twelve  years ago and now has the honour of helping to make a difference in children’s lives every day. Fiona’s short story ‘Running Mates’ was shortlisted in a competition run by Periscope Literary and ‘Stormy with a Chance’ made it to the longlist of the Minds Shine Bright writing competition.


Fiona has an Instagram poetry page:

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