I intended to write a poem, based on this song. However, when I started writing, I knew it was going to be a story instead. I didn’t realise just how long it would get!
THE SHOW MUST GO ON
The morning of the dinner party just happened to be the morning after the night before. Jasmine clutched her bruised ribs as stood on wobbly legs. She stole a glance at Kevin. Even when he was sleeping, her husband’s presence stifled every last chunk of air.
In the bathroom, she dropped her robe and peeked at her skin in the mirror. This time, it hadn’t been that bad. The shoe-shaped purple mass just below her right breast had no counterpart on the other side, and for that she was grateful. Faded yellows and greens already created an artist’s palette across the rest of her body.
She held her breath as she ran her fingertips along the outline of purple. Pain shot through her core, forcing her backwards against the door. Sitting on the edge of the bath, she forced herself to breathe. Tonight, Kevin’s boss and his wife would be dining with them. She needed to be able to fake it until she really did make it. Entertaining Steve and Michelle left no room for errors.
Hot water battered her sore body as she stood under the shower. Scrubbing away the remnants of the previous night was getting easier with each time it happened. As she closed her eyes, she pictured her mother’s face. But only for a moment. Thoughts of her loved ones were dangerous. Kevin always knew when she betrayed him. Today, her mother’s face shimmered, as though it were blowing in the wind. “Oh, Mum,” she said under her breath.
Breakfast had to be perfect. Jasmine worked quickly, setting out their cups and plates. The moment Kevin’s foot hit the top stair, she put his toast in the toaster. Backing against the counter top, she averted her eyes when he entered the kitchen. He had to speak first. Holding her breath, she waited.
“Good morning, sweetie. How did you sleep?” You would never know by his voice or his manners that anything had happened the night before. His smile spread over his entire face, and his eyes twinkled—just as they had that night, ten years ago, when they first met.
“Ugh, yeah. Okay, thanks.” She lingered a look over his face, trying to gauge his mood. “You?”
“Oh, yes. You know me, Jas. I never have trouble sleeping, do I?”
“No.” It didn’t make sense. How could someone with so much evil on their conscience sleep a solid eight hours every night? She had been in too much pain to sleep more than a couple.
Once he was safely eating his toast, she sat opposite him and sipped at her coffee. His mood seemed to be genuine, but she didn’t dare take her eyes from his face; watching for the darkness to cross it.
“You haven’t forgotten about tonight have you, sweetie?” He didn’t look up from his breakfast.
“No. Of course not. It’s all sorted.” Her tone came out all wrong, and she regretted it the moment she spoke.
Kevin placed his cup on the table and levelled his eyes at her. The air in between them sizzled with static. He licked his lips, then said, “ All right. I’ll let that one slide. You’re probably still upset about our fight last night.”
Her heart hammered against her sore ribcage, trying its hardest to break free. The coffee she’d just drank nudged the top of her throat and she swallowed hard. “No. I’m sorry.” Time floated in between them, suspended, waiting for his next move.
“Come here. Come on; over here.” He patted his lap, and she edged closer to him. When he grabbed her waist and pulled her onto him, she sucked in the cry that threatened to ruin everything. Shots of pain ricocheted around her torso. All she wanted to do was to go see her mother. She needed to be hugged by arms that loved her; gentle and protective arms.
“I am sorry we fought, you know. I don’t derive any pleasure from it.” He suckered his lips onto hers, and the taste of tea mixed with raspberry jelly sent a wave of nausea swirling around her stomach. When he pulled away, she smiled. Acquiescence was her means of survival.
As soon as he left for work, she scrubbed her teeth, in an effort to destroy the taste of him. Rather than focus on the mess that had become her life, she would focus on what she could have control over: the dinner party. I can do this, she told herself.
After taking a couple of the painkillers she got when she broke her wrist in the summer, she got to work with prepping the food. Nothing could be left to chance. The more she prepped, the more her confidence rose. So much was at stake. She couldn’t even entertain the possibilities of what might happen if she got it wrong, but she had checked the menu with Kevin five times. He said it was perfect.
A tune floated around the periphery of her mind. Queen. Oh, what’s it called? One of the lines played on a loop. She sang it out loud, “I’ll face it with a grin, I’m never giving in.”
Leaving the kitchen, she climbed into the cupboard under the stairs, lifted the rickety floorboard and retrieved her iPod. Kevin would be livid if he knew she had it, but he wasn’t due home for another three hours, or so.
Jasmine flicked through the songs until she found the one she was looking for: ‘The Show Must Go On.’ With her earbuds in place, she sat at the kitchen table and listened. By the end of the song, tears streaked her cheeks. She remembered listening to the song as a child. Even then—before she ever met Kevin—she felt it had been written for her. Now, after ten years of living with the devil, she knew it had.
Every day, she played the required roles. With Kevin, she was the timid punchbag who let him do whatever he wished with her. Her friends, she rarely saw, but when she did, she was the woman with the most incredible relations ship ever. That Jasmine couldn’t be happier . . .
Her mother was harder to fool. She had this knack of knowing exactly how Jasmine was feeling by the tone of her voice. Even now, with 300 miles distance between them, she could still know her daughter’s emotions. That’s why Kevin forbade her from having any contact.
“Inside my heart is breaking, my make-up may be flaking, but my smile still stays on.” Fresh tears dropped onto the table. How did I get here?
The shrill sound of the telephone pierced Freddie’s aching voice. Blowing her nose, she said hello.
“Yes, Mum. Hi. How are you?”
“I’m fine. Have you been crying? Are you all right? What’s he done to you now?”
“Slow down. I’m okay. I was just listening to a song I really like, and it made me a little nostalgic. That’s all.” She sniffed and wiped her nose.
“Oh, darling. You have to leave him. Please. He doesn’t love you. He treats you worse than a rabid dog!”
“Mum, I’m fine. I miss you and Dad. How is he?”
“Oh, you know your father. Likes to keep busy in the garden. His back’s playing him up, but it’s just his age catching up with him. I’m more concerned about you. So, that’s why we’re coming to see you.”
Jasmine’s heart leapt into her throat. Kevin wouldn’t allow it. How could she persuade her parents not to come? If they did, how could she keep it from Kevin? If he knew, how much would he hurt her? The show must go on. “Okay, Mum. When are you coming?”
“Monday. And don’t try to stop us. You keep telling me what a nice, big house you have, so we want to see it.”
Closing her eyes, she could feel the floor disappearing beneath her. “Okay, Mum. Let me know when.” She couldn’t tell Kevin today. Not before the dinner party. Standing to put the phone back in its cradle, the room swirled and she had to hold onto the table to steady herself. The show must go on. She had to do this. One thing at a time. Today, the dinner party. Tomorrow, telling Kevin about her parents.
As she waited for the baked cheesecake to be ready, she checked the vegetables in the tagine, added a pinch more turmeric, and headed upstairs to get changed. Clutching her side—that had started hurting more since her mother’s phone call—she showered and dressed in her long-sleeved, floor-length black evening dress. She popped a couple more pain pills into her mouth, before going back downstairs.
Despite her mother’s best efforts to disrupt everything, it was all going according to plan. Ahead of time, in fact. She poured herself a glass of water and sat. A smile crept across her face as she thought about her parents. She hadn’t seen them since Kevin dragged her to Cornwall seven years ago. As she thought of her mum, the scent of lavender tickled her nostrils.
When she met Kevin, ten long years ago, her parents had hated him on sight. They didn’t trust him. He was too possessive. But Jasmine didn’t listen. Honestly, she had liked how absolute he was in his devotion to her. No one had ever loved her that much. At nineteen, she was swept away with his sophistication and dark good looks. What a lesson I learned there.
Not for the first time, she entertained the possibility of leaving Kevin. Actually, it’s something she thought about most days. This time, though . . . this time, it felt different. Her parents were going to see her. They wouldn’t take no for an answer. Maybe she could leave with them. Maybe that’s why they were coming. They had an idea what went on behind the curtain. They knew how she ached to be free. Maybe life was turning a corner. Maybe . . .
Six o’clock: time for Kevin to be home. She rifled through one of the kitchen drawers to find their posh bottle opener. At the back of the drawer, sitting in plain sight, was a card her friend Nina sent her a couple of birthdays ago. A purple butterfly graced the front. Jasmine lifted the card and read the inside:
I hope you know your soul is painted with the wings of butterflies. Fairytales of yesterday will grow, but never die. You can fly if you just spread your wings.
Warmth spread through her body, and she clutched the card to her chest. When she heard the front door open, she hid it at the back of the drawer again and turned to greet her husband with a painted-on smile that was a little closer to being genuine than any smile she’d performed for years.