She should have been the one to move out.
It was his house, after all. He had convinced her to buy it with him, but it was all his idea. He wanted to buy that dilapidated shell and then renovate it all himself. They would save money for their future that way. The big white wedding she didn’t want, children he convinced her she would love.
It was quiet with him gone, but she kept expecting to hear his voice, his stomping feet, his anger. She dropped a glass a week after he had left and she found herself instinctively hunching over shattered glass, waiting for a fury that didn’t come.
It hadn’t been that bad at the beginning. He had never hit her, after all. But the holes in the walls and broken personal items had demonstrated enough to keep her quiet.
The worst parts were the accusations of infidelity. As he spent more time working on the house, he became paranoid about what she was doing alone. Or not alone. Phone calls turned to video calls, turned to surprise visits. After he stormed in during a video conference, she almost left. But then they sat and talked, and she found herself agreeing that it would be better if she moved in sooner rather than later.
Which is how she found herself moving into a half-renovated house. Some of the rooms were locked away from her initially. For the first few weeks she only had the toilet and the sink in the laundry to use. He had insisted on finishing the bathroom before letting her use it.
Over time, painstakingly, the house became finished. Without his energy spent elsewhere, the anger started rising again. There had been no Internet in the house, so she was a leech for having quit her job. She tried to help with the renovations, but asking for instruction made her a hindrance. The kitchen was the last room to be finished, but she was lazy for not finding a way to cook for him after a long day’s work.
Finally, the moment she waited for. He said they should just break up. Rather than begging him to stay, as she had a hundred times before. She stayed silent. He said it again, louder, prompting her for the correct response.
It was not the correct response.
After undoing much of his work, he finally left. Fists covered in drywall and wet blood.
Staring at herself in the bathroom mirror, she ignored the cracked tiles to the side of it. It had been a long day and her face didn’t hide it. She had finally managed to move the rusted riding mower he’d insisted on buying against the side of the house. If she leaned, she could just see it out of the bathroom window, covered in a tarp. She could certainly see if from her bedroom window as it spanned the space between the two rooms. She had no idea if it was worth anything, but at least no one could see it from the front of the house. The neighbours probably hated her enough for all the late-night screaming, she didn’t want them to think she was messy too.
Walking out of the bathroom, she took the three steps to the bedroom door along the same wall. As she entered, she closed the door behind her, something she had never been allowed to do when he was there. The mirror he had mounted above the where the head of the bed had been was now covered by a bookshelf. The bed was empty and she was now against the opposite wall. She put on the comfortable pyjamas he had hated and watched videos with earphones in.
There must have been wind that night – she swore she heard the banging of a door in the near distance. The next day, she travelled to another city for a job interview. She needed to have a job and a new place before he came home. She felt giddy, riding on a train by herself. She could go anywhere. After her interview, on a whim, she decided to stay the night in a hotel. She didn’t need to tell anyone where she was, or who she was with.
Travelling back the next day was an odd experience. She had to remind herself that he wasn’t there. He wouldn’t know she was gone. He left her and she could go anywhere she wanted. But she knew that he would figure out how it was her fault and how she was the bad person.
She avoided the house for as long as possible. She shopped, she had lunch and dinner out. She even saw a movie, although she couldn’t remember the plot. She was waiting for the moment she went home and found him there.
Entering the empty house was a relief. She was about to crawl into bed when she heard the scratching in the wall. It was behind the bookshelf, so she had no clear way to inspect it from this side.
She circled around the other side of the wall to the bathroom. For the first time, she realised that it took her too many steps to get to the other side of a wall. It was wider than it should be.
That rattled in her head as she took in the sight of the bathroom. There were shards of glass on the floor and in the sink. And blood. Too much blood.
Peering through the hole where the mirror used to be, she saw a crawlspace, perhaps two feet wide. Breathing heavily on the dark ground below her was a mess in the vague shape of a person. The face, neck and shoulders were shredded. As she carefully pulled her head back through the hole in the mirror, she realised what a tight fit it would be for her small frame. He had no chance of making it through such a small space.
Looking at the opposite wall of the crawlspace, she could see the back of the bedroom mirror, cracked and shattered in places, but with no light coming through. The bookshelf prevented that.
Looking down at the bleeding, quietly pleading figure, she smiled softly. She knew how to take care of this. Despite what he had told her, she had researched home repairs and had a clear enough idea of what needed doing.
Weeks later she smiled at her reflection in her new bathroom mirror. She certainly looked healthier, having slept much better since the scratching in the walls had ceased. She still had some paint on her shirt, but she looked presentable enough.
She certainly didn’t think the buyer coming to buy a rusted mower for scrap would mind. She had only just finished painting the new siding on the outside of the house.
It was the funniest thing: the edges of the old siding had lined up to look just like a door. She hadn’t noticed it when she moved the mower against the wall those weeks ago, it was almost seamless. But she made sure to replace it after moving the mower, quickly enough that no one noticed the side of the house creaking open, as though a heavy weight was pressed against it.