“God damn it!” Rose cursed as the three bottles of wine rolled off the display shelf. Blessedly, none of them broke. Unblessedly, one landed on her toe of her plimsoll. “Fuck,” she whispered fiercely as she danced about, trying to keep her foot in the air while clenching her fists at her sides.
“Rose, language!” a pretentious voice scolded from behind her.
“Sorry,” Rose apologized through clenched teeth. Bending over, she scooped up a couple of the bottles and returned them to their place on the display.
“If I’d had need of a lorry driver when I hired you, I would’ve instructed you to add more colourful expletives to your verbal repertoire,” Cassandra drawled. “As it is, I’m paying you to be polite and genteel, so if you’d please live up to those very realistic expectations I’d be grateful,” she added unnecessarily.
“Yes, Ma’am,” Rose replied, wishing for all the world she could actually say what she was thinking instead. Bloody pretentious…
“When you’re done picking up, relieve Madge at the till, will you?” Cassandra instructed before turning on her heel and heading into the back office. Cow.
Straightening up after the last bottle was replaced, Rose limped up to the front. “I’ve got it, Madge,” she said as she slid behind the smaller woman at the till.
“Thanks, love,” Madge said, giving her a tired smile before grabbing up her purse which she’d tucked under the register. “I’m off. Gotta figure out somethin’ to feed the kids and then get them both to footie practice,” she informed her. “I hate Mondays.”
“Yeah, me too,” Rose agreed.
And she did. She hated Monday. Not every Monday, mind. Pretty much just this one. The weekend had been a really, really tough one, what with Jimmy having his latest gig cancelled and her mum being on her case about wasting her life at the wine store… it’d been too much. And she really wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with Jimmy’s unrealistic expectations of her tonight. The flat was never clean enough… the food was never good enough… nothing she did was ever enough. Shaking her head, she sighed aloud. Why had she agreed to move in with him again? She’d already realized she didn’t really love him before she’d even done it. But he’d asked her to move in at a time of weakness, with her mum just having finished ragging on her for dating ‘a controlling, selfish arse,’ and in the end she’d said yes, mostly out of spite for her mum. That had been only a month ago, but she was already regretting it.
“Well - hopefully it won’t be too busy tonight,” Madge sympathized, pulling her from her depressing thoughts.
“Yeah,” Rose agreed, doubting her hopes would come true. There was a game on telly tonight and that usually meant a crazy rush at the store just beforehand.
“Bye,” Madge waved as she made her way toward the exit.
“Bye,” Rose called. “Tell Lily and Cyril good luck in their games,” she added.
“Will do,” Madge agreed just before the door closed behind her.
Watching after her, Rose stared out the window just across from the till. It wasn’t raining for a change, which was nice. At least today wasn’t all bad.
Kneeling down behind the counter to straighten the bags, she heard her manager’s pretentious voice rag on Jamie in the back for not having stacked the Australian Merlot in the right spot. Blimey. She was such a bitch.
Once again, Rose found herself wondering where she’d be right now if she’d taken her absentee dad up on his offer to learn the family business. She wouldn’t be here, that’s for sure. She’d probably be sitting in some big penthouse office at Vitex Industries right now getting her nails done.
The bells over the door jingled, pulling her from her thoughts. Putting on her patented ‘happy shop girl smile,’ she straightened up. Without trying, her smile immediately became genuine. “Donna!”
“Hello, Blondie!” Donna said enthusiastically, smiling back.
“I haven’t seen you in ages!” Rose observed. If her boss wasn’t lurking in the back she might’ve actually gone round the counter to hug her. “How’s my favourite customer?”
“I figured you’d probably picked a new favourite by now,” Donna replied apologetically, walking up to the counter.
“Never,” Rose assured her with a large smile.
“Aw, you’re a love,” Donna said, reaching the till. “I snagged a job as a receptionist at the dental office of my brother’s flatmate, so I was trying this new diet… no coffee, no tea, no fizzy drinks, no wine… you know - to keep my teeth healthy. It was a bloody terrible idea. All it did was give me migraines. Anyway - I’m embracing my stained and sugar soaked teeth and I’m working on increasing my alcohol tolerance again,” she admitted.
“Well, I’m glad you came in,” Rose admitted.
“Yeah - sorry for not dropping by. I knew if I came in I’d give in and buy a bottle,” she explained.
“Oh, no worries,” Rose said, waving her hand. “Can I help you find something, then?” she offered.
“Nah - I’m just going to pick up where I left off… with my usual plonk,” she admitted. “It’s still where I left it?” she asked.
“Yup - aisle three,” Rose replied with a nod.
“Thanks, love,” Donna said before heading in that direction.
Donna had been a regular customer of the store since Rose began working here a year and a half ago, and it wasn’t long into her tenure that they’d struck up a conversation one afternoon when the store was quiet. It was evident right away that Donna was a smart woman with a brilliant, dry sense of humour. Rose immediately liked her.
Coming back up to the till with her bottle of cheap Italian red, Donna put it down and pulled her wallet out of her purse.
“That’s €4.50,” Rose said automatically as she pulled a bag out from under the counter to sheath the bottle.
“What? Blimey! I hop on the wagon for a few miles and the prices go through the roof,” Donna complained.
Giving her friend a lopsided grin, Rose replied, “Nothing good comes of diets, Donna,” she said wisely.
“Apparently,” Donna grumbled, fishing a fiver out of her wallet and handing it over.
Opening the till, Rose switched the bill for some change. “Here you go,” she said, handing it over to the ginger across from her. “Partying tonight, then?” Rose asked, handing her the bagged bottle.
Donna rolled her eyes. “I wish. Dr. Smith opens shop at half bloody seven in the morning. No partying for me on weekdays,” she observed. “But at least the money’s good. Can’t complain about the benefits either. The doctor’s a bit odd, but then what boss isn’t?” she added. “Helps that he’s my brother’s flatmate - he can’t fire me without pissing off the landlord,” she observed.
“Well good for you. I’m glad you’ve found something you’re liking,” Rose commented, truly happy for her.
“Yeah - Oh hey, listen… I was wondering if I could drop off a flyer for your window? My brother is heading a campaign against Saxon’s latest bill that’s going through congress. You know - the one against people with the mark?”
Rose remotely recalled something about that in the news. “Is that the one where he’s trying to have them all registered?”
“Yeah. And you know what’s next, right? Hitler did the same thing with the Jews,” Donna pointed out. “From there it’s a slippery slope, as far as my brother’s concerned. And he’s probably right. I feel bad for ‘em; the marked. It’s not like they asked for it, did they?” she reasoned.
Rose nodded in agreement. In honesty, the issue of the mark hadn’t really affected Rose much up until now, so she’d really not thought much about it. Having one was relatively rare, as far as she knew. No one in her circle of friends was marked, though it was early days, she supposed. “Drop it by and I’ll ask Cassandra, but honestly I’m not sure she’ll be alright with it,” she offered. “She’s a bit backward, my boss,” she said lowly.
And she sure was. Had opinions on everything. Immigrants, the poor, food stamps… she’d clearly never known anyone outside her posh set of friends. As far as the mark went, Rose already knew she sneered at those who had it.
“Thanks. Well - I’m off. I’ll drop off that flyer tomorrow, if that’s okay?” she suggested.
“I’ll be here,” Rose assured her. Where else would she be?
The jingle of the bells over the door heralded the arrival of an older couple into the store. “See ya,” Donna called with a wave on her way out of the shop.
“Bye,” Rose called back, unable to reflect at all on their conversation before the newly arrived customers stepped up to the counter. “Excuse me, we’re looking for some wine.”
Rose looked around the store. It was a wine store. That’s pretty much all they had. Looking back at her latest customers, she put on her trademark smile. “Well, you’re in luck, then,” she said as cheerily as she could. It was going to be a long night.
Rose opened the flat door as quietly as she could and stepped inside. It was silent. Good. She really didn’t feel like dealing with Jimmy’s mood at the moment. The shift at the shop was everything she’d hoped it wouldn’t be. Crazy busy with far too many drunks coming in after the game to pick up a conciliatory box of wine.
Depositing her keys quietly on kitchen counter she opened the fridge and grabbed up the carton of milk. Opening the top, she stuck her nose in the opening and took a sniff. Still good. Well at least that was good.
Grabbing a cup from the cupboard beside the fridge, she poured the milk and took a long pull from the glass.
“Where you been?”
Jumping out of her skin and spilling her glass of milk in the process, Rose let out a distinctly undignified squeak. “Fuck! Blimey, Jimmy! You scared the shit outta me!” she chastised.
“Where were you?” he slurred, ignoring her recrimination.
“Working,” she answered sharply, not missing the drunken slur. “Fuck,” she said again, looking at the puddle of milk at her feet. Grabbing up a towel, she kneeled and began wiping it up.
“At this hour?” Jimmy countered, his eyes narrowing.
“Yeah. It’s only half twelve. I worked til midnight,” she informed him.
“Look,” he warned, “Don’t start gettin’ pissy with me. How’m I supposed to know where you been? All these bloody ‘friends’ of yours are callin’ you day an’ night. You could be anywhere,” he accused.
Closing her eyes, Rose tried to summon some patience. “Can we just leave this for tonight, Jimmy? I’m tired and honestly, I’m not up to arguing,” she shared. Turning on the sink to rinse the milk soaked towel, she stuck it under the running water.
“You’re always sayin’ you’re at fuckin’ work. You know what I think?” he slurred. “I think you’re takin’ money from your dad and you’re just fuckin’... slaggin’ off somewhere when you’re not here,” he accused.
Anger pinched Rose’s lips into a tight line. “I’m not taking his money,” she intoned. “You know I’m not taking his money and you know why.”
Jimmy blew a disbelieving breath through his lips. “Why? Because you’re too fuckin’ proud?” he baited. “My dad ran out on my pregnant mum - poor fuckin’ me. That’s such bullshit. I bet you’ve been holdin’ out on me, haven’t ya? You’ve probably been takin’ his money for months. You’ve got bloody wads of cash stashed somewhere and you’re off livin’ the life while I’m out there workin’ my arse off!”
“Leave it, Jimmy,” she intoned, forcefully wringing out the sopping towel in her hands.
“Don’t you fuckin’ write me off, Miss Vitex Princess,” he countered, his eyes narrowing. Moving in closer, he studied her face. “You’re fuckin’ around on me, aren’t ya?”
“Jesus. Really?” Rose said, throwing the damp towel into the sink. “Why would I move in with a bloke and then promptly go out and shag someone else?”
That seemed to tip him off balance a bit, and for a moment he looked at her stupidly before screwing up his face in anger. “Because you’re a slag, that’s why!” he accused. “And… you’re probably one of those god damn mutants as well!” he barked.
“Oh, my god,” she said tiredly.
“That’s it, isn’t it? You’re one of those reject genetic freaks! Usin’ your fuckin’ freaky head powers to make me attracted to you!”
Slumping a bit, Rose sighed. “Good-night, Jimmy.” With that, she stepped around him to head down the hall. She couldn’t argue with him when he drank - there was no point.
“Don’t you fuckin’ walk away from me, bitch!” he shouted behind her.
As much as her very last nerve was singing with agitation, she determinedly ignored him and continued down the hall. Anything she could possibly say was pointless. Better to walk away and deal with this tomorrow when he was sober.
She was about to step into the bathroom when he caught the length of her hair in his fist and yanked her backward, pulling a sharp cry from her lips.
“I told you not to walk away! Are you fuckin’ deaf?!” he bellowed, his face only an inch from her own as he held her by the hair.
“Let me go!” Rose demanded, reaching to try to dislodge his hand.
“You want me to let you go?! I’ll bloody let you go!” he hollered. Suddenly, he pulled her back, only to throw her forcefully into the wall.
Pain exploded as her nose and mouth hit the unforgiving surface and stars filled her vision. Thick liquid wet the skin of her face as she slid down the wall.
“Fuckin’ whore!” she heard Jimmy shout from somewhere above her. With that, a solid kick to her hip made her cry out. Another blow followed on the heels of the first, this time landing squarely in her ribs and causing an explosion of pain that literally took her breath away.
Heavy breaths issued from the man above her for a moment as she gasped for breath and braced for another blow. It didn’t come though. Instead, he began pacing. “God damn it!” he suddenly lamented. “God fuckin’ damnit, Rose! Now look what you’ve done!”
Lying in a ball on the floor, the terrifying reality her situation sunk in. He could kill her. She’d never, ever have dreamt he would be capable of this, but now here she was. And what was stopping him from finishing her off?
Vaguely she became aware of a knock at the door.
“Fuck!” Jimmy cursed. For a moment he stood above her. Agitation vibrated the air around him.
Another knock, more insistent this time, echoed through the flat. “Oi! Everything okay in there?” a weak voice followed.
“You stay here,” he whispered at her fiercely before stomping down the hall.
For a moment Rose lay frozen in her pain, trying to think through the haze of adrenaline. She should try to get out. Clearly she had to leave. She had to get help.
Gingerly she tried rolling onto all fours, but a stabbing pain in her chest made her stop and bite her lip to keep from crying out. ’Move! Move, or he’ll just come back and finish it!’ her own panicked mind supplied.
Determinedly, she held her breath and pushed away the incredible pain to climb to her feet. Grey spots danced before her eyes but she managed to stay upright. She had to make it to the door. Staggering down the hall toward the front of the flat, she screwed up her courage and edged up behind Jimmy who was talking to someone. “Everything’s fine, Mr. Donnelly,” she heard him slur. “Rose’s jus’ havin’ another temper tantrum. You know what women are like.”
An elderly man’s voice floated back into the flat through the small gap in the cracked open door, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying. This was her chance. Terrified but determined, she moved up behind Jimmy and, using every ounce of adrenaline pulsing through her, she pushed him, knocking him off balance. Grabbing the door, she threw it open.
On the other side, their neighbour stood looking at her in shock.
“Help me.” With that, she collapsed on the floor at his feet.