He had left before I awoke, pausing only to kiss me on the cheek and leave me a cup of tea. It would be too cold to drink by the time I woke up, but I appreciated the gesture. My house had seen dark times, none of which he had been privy to, but his presence, tentative at first looked to a point where there were more happy memories than sad ones to look forward to.
Ben had gone to pick up a new door for Jenny’s bedroom. The old one was covered in stickers, and she wanted her privacy, to play and write stories. Ben sat with her when she read them to him and she would stand in the doorway and watch him as something shifted in her chest and she had to look away.
David had slammed my head into the wall. He had been drinking and high on something which sent his neuroses into overdrive. I was being punished for confronting him about his infidelity, on a night where our kids were with my mum. She spent the night waiting by the phone for me to call but I couldn’t face her.
I had run downstairs, dizzy and bleeding from the impact and I had run into the kitchen, reached for the drawer and looked out onto my studio. I wanted to work out there in the summer, and I realised, if I didn’t stop this, I never would. He stomped downstairs and I reached for a carving knife, tested its weight in my hand and backed against the cupboard.
He came in swinging, his lips pulled back over his teeth, electrified with rage and pain and I pushed the knife forwards, low and upwards The impact jolted through my arm as he gasped and reached up to where the knife had sunk in. He bled onto the knife, and I cried out in rage as I pushed it into him as I wept. Everything went white, and when I came to, slumped against the cupboard, he laid on the kitchen floor, with the knife jutting from his stomach. His head had rolled onto side, and his eyes were empty, lips slackened like he’d heard the punch line to a terrible joke.
I got up and went through to the hallway. I knew where I could put him, and how to keep it safe. I had planned on getting him somewhere, but I saw it as more of an art project, a thought exercise. My head throbbed and I cleaned up as much as I could in the bathroom before I hacked into the wall.
I had to make a trip out to the supermarket and a few garages, grabbing air fresheners from each one. I had a hat on, a cap with the brim worn low to hide my face. I had one assistant help me with the lime and plaster.
I used David’s credit card to do it. I destroyed it on the way out, snapped it and threw it between two different bins. The bags were heavy, but I thought of my daughter made me strong enough to drive back and heave his body up the stairs put him into the cavity, fill it with lime and air fresheners then plaster him up. I drew the sigil into the wall with the knife and stood back, charging it with my hate and my fear.
The most difficult part was the most delicate, drawing the sigil into the wall, the same words used to awake the golem, or in this case, command it to remain still and inert.
Much of magic is the actual doing of things. You drew the cards; you chanted the rituals and drew the sigil to enact your will onto the universe.
I told my mum he had walked out. I wept on the phone, but I told my mum I wanted to be alone. I also had to keep the heating and the hairdryer on to get the plaster dried. It was my greatest creation and it kept David in there where he couldn’t hurt me ever again. He had a record with the police so they weren’t too keen to look into him.
Seven years and I never brought a man home. I stayed at theirs, but I needed my space.
None of them persisted, but I still missed the mornings where I woke up alone. I had to wait seven years before I could declare him dead. His parents were both dead, and he had been an only child. I made a lot of sculptures, most of it in clay, little in plaster because I had produced nothing with as much urgency as replacing a section of wall to look utilitarian and benign.
I met Ben at a gallery show of my work. He took me out for coffee. It was very polite, and he made me feel safe. There was something girlish and silly about this. I had a dead man in the walls of my house and yet the first night he came; we cooked dinner and watched films together. I trembled as I walked to him where he laid on my bed.
He made me feel beautiful and he was gentle until I needed him not to be. Afterwards, he held me as I cried and didn’t ask why. He had been wounded in the past too, with his own baggage but it made him gentle rather than bitter. It never crossed my mind to tell him because he was a good man but I would burden him, test him with my darkness and I wasn’t sure I could do that to anyone.
Yet he had gone out that morning to pick up a new bedroom door.
Jenny was at my mum’s. I got out of bed, walked through the hallway and tapped the plaster. My punishment had been watching Jenny grow up without her dad. I hadn’t pushed Ben to interact with her; it had just come to him and she showed an interest in him, through the medium of the things she liked to do. He was a man who knew how to play, and it felt like a poor deal. I decided Jenny was better off with her mother than her father because David had forced that choice upon me.
I had spent eight years rehearsing for a better life. Ben, I hoped, would be part of it and he had not disappointed me. If that changed, if my instincts betrayed me, I knew there was room for him in the walls.
I got up and stood in the hallway, listening for the sound of David’s whimpering and was pleased to hear only the thump of blood in my veins. Jenny would be home soon, with all the noise and activity she brought to everything, but in the meantime, I heard the rattle of the key in the lock and smiled to myself as I heard my name called.