Chapter One here.
Chapter Two here.
Gloria was suffocating, her hands to her throat, trying to ease the constriction. Her loins burned like fire and her face stung. She opened her eyes to see her husband Philip leaning over her, his alcohol-sodden breath assaulting her senses. His eyes burned with desire fuelled by alcohol and she felt him ripping her clothes, thrusting hands into her underclothes, muttering obscenities and, with his spare hand, clutching her around the throat. She managed to pull the fingers from her throat and screamed....
She woke to see the weak winter sun breaking gently through the window, making long lines of light across the small bedroom. Her body shook in reaction to her nightmare and sweat rolled from her skin. She sat up and looked over at her sisters' beds. They were groggily stirring - woken, no doubt, by her screams. Before she could speak the door opened and her parents rushed in, full of concern at their youngest daughter's distress.
'Calm yourselves. Twas merely a nightmare of times worse than this' Gloria said lamely as her family clustered around her bed.
Her father scowled grimly.
'If I ever find that man, he will not live a second after I see him!' he swore. Beatrice attempted to calm him, but Brian shook her off and stomped out of the room. The women heard him stamp downstairs and the back door slam as he stalked out to check on the animals.
'Gloria, are you ok, love?' asked Ann, ever caring and considerate, her big brown eyes full of worry.
'I'm fine - apart from feeling guilty about waking you with such a shock! I think I'll go for a walk to clear my head.'
The girls and their mother watched worriedly as Gloria slowly got up and took her towel to the water pump, as if all the cares of the world were on her shoulders.
Whilst washing, Gloria rubbed her hand over her belly, relishing the feel of new life burgeoning within. She didn't blame the child; it was not the child's fault it was spawned from violence.
'My lovely wee child' she murmured, stroking her stomach. 'I promise to love you more than any mother and cherish you more than any father'.
She rinsed out her hair and stood, rubbing it with the towel, looking out across the yard to the fields. What better place to raise a child? Open spaces, loving family and a life of freedom.
As time passed, Gloria filled out and her baby kicked healthily. Barely three weeks before she was due to give birth there was a knock at the door. Wiping her hands on her apron, Gloria opened the door. There stood Philip Mantell, with a bouquet of flowers.
Speechless, Gloria stood aside as her father walked in from the kitchen asking who was at the door.
'Mr Dennis' said Philip. 'You probably want to kick my backside out, but I have been waiting until I was sorted out in my head before coming to beg Gloria's forgiveness.'
'Mantell' muttered Brian. 'I still want to kick your........'
'Father, please!' interjected Gloria. 'I'll talk to Philip, and then he'll leave - is that all right?'
Still muttering, Brian stood aside and Philip walked into the house. Brian stalked out to the kitchen saying 'I'll be just out here, my dear.'
Gloria looked Philip up and down. Admittedly, he looked better, his eyes were clear, his skin was healthily tanned and he looked more - well, more muscular. Gloria blushed slightly as Philip stepped towards her with the flowers.
'For you, wife,' he said with convincing endearment. 'Remember where we met? At the flower stall in the market. Flowers always enhanced your beauty.'
Gloria stood uncertain, then gently took the beautiful bouquet of white roses and yellow lilies. Such wondrous flowers were very expensive since the war, Philip had obviously gone to one of the upmarket florists and spent quite a bit of money on this one gesture. She inhaled the fragrance deeply and looked up.
'Please sit down, Philip,' she said gracefully. 'We must talk.'
When they were both seated, Gloria with the bouquet in her lap covering her bump, Philip licked his lips and looked tentatively at his pregnant wife.
'How is the child doing?' he asked solicitously.
'Fine,' she replied with a small smile. 'Due in about three weeks. The doctor says both of us are doing well. I'm booked in at the hospital in about two weeks for a last minute checkup.'
'I have such a difficult question to ask,' stammered Philip.
Gloria looked at him with a small frown.
'May I........I mean....would you mind........um,' Philip stammered. 'May I stay locally until the baby is born? I mean, it is my son or daughter and I am entitled.'
Gloria sat stock-still. It had never occurred to her that Philip would return to claim fathership of her baby. For the last four months she had concentrated on the idea of being a single mother, with the support of the Dennis family. She had not heard a word from Philip since he left the house. The day that Gloria stood her ground was the day that Philip had packed a bag and stormed out of the house. He had beat her badly, savagely, and she still had the strength of will to stand in front of him, bruised and bloodied and look him in the eyes. That was the day Philip realised Gloria would not be cowed by his strength or powerful character.
The arrival of Philip today had been a shock for Gloria, needless to say, but his request had her completely off-guard.
She thought for a moment and then looked him in the eyes.
'You do know, I hate the very flesh of you, don't you?' she asked quietly, with great restraint.
'Tis understandable,' he replied. 'I was not the best of husbands. The alcohol was a curse.'
Gloria was even more shocked. Where had Philip got such sensible perceptions from? Where had he been for the last four months? Then she shook her head; it didn't matter.
'You may stay in Smyth,' she said thoughtfully. 'You may not come here any more. You will stay in Smyth and I will come and visit you, with a chaperone - needless to say.'
She ignored the dumbstruck look on his face and continued 'you may not come to the hospital. A message will be sent when our child is born. You may visit when I am well again - but you will never be alone with the child or me. Do you understand?'
'I do,' said Philip. 'Although I think them harsh, I understand your conditions. I will take a room at the hotel in town and will wait for your messages. But, you must realise' he ploughed on. 'that I will be abroad around town, seeing you and your neighbours. People will talk.'
'Let them,' retorted Gloria spiritedly. 'They talked enough four months ago when you left me battered and pregnant and disappeared!'
Philip sat quietly. Gloria sat opposite him and waited for him to speak, worried at the outburst her comment might provoke. She could sense her father at the kitchen door, waiting for her estranged husband to take a wrong step in this delicate negotiation.
'I apologise,' came the stiff response. 'I am aware how much my drinking affected our life, and that is one of the reasons I came to see you. As well as the need to see my wife and child.'
Gloria flinched from the word 'wife' as though it were a physical slap.
'Very well,' she said, as if in conclusion. 'Please be on your way now, and I will send you a message when I am ready to see you again.'
Philip slowly got up and moved to touch Gloria. She pulled back, relaxing slightly as she realised he was moving towards her belly. He laid his hand on the mound and stroked it.
'See you soon, my child,' he murmured. Turning on his heel he strode out of the house, leaving the door ajar and a stunned Gloria sitting in the parlour with her bouquet of flowers, bathed in the delicious scent and watching her tall proud husband march down the path without a backward glance.
Her father came in.
'Are you all right, daughter?' he asked gently.
'Yes, father. He did apologise, and he is meeting all my conditions. I don't need to see him if I don't want to.'
'..and the child?' her father pressed. Gloria turned to look at her father with a steely look in her eyes.
'Philip Mantell will never hold my baby!' she flashed, the strain of the previous half hour finally taking its toll. Brian touched her arm gently.
'Yes, darling. As long as I have breath, he will not get his hands on the baby,' he agreed.