Spines Out

There’s something about a police officer that makes a room smaller. I’ve known that since I was young. When Mum came home in uniform, her empty belt bristling with holsters and holes, it made me feel safe. That belt lent her a comforting weight, even in the absence of its weaponry. Its wearer was powerful, and this power expanded into the space around them. It loomed – protective, parental – and the world around it would shrink.

The first police officer reaches into his belt and whips out a notepad. He tells me to sit on the couch, but remains standing. I don’t know if he does this to make me feel submissive, or to distract my attention from the other officer. He’s opening doors, poking his head into rooms, disappearing, reappearing. I glance at him as the questions come. Even though I’d called them, they’re intruders.

“So, where is he now?”

“I don’t know. At his parents’.” Policeman number two takes a picture of something. Snap. “I don’t want to press any charges.”

“We’ll note that you don’t want to press any charges.”

I watch them closely, wondering if they’re uncomfortable or repelled. The Queensland Police Service’s history of engagement with the queer community isn’t exactly gold standard, but the only sense I get from them now is that they have a job to do.

I can pretend they’re whole, for a little while, until I open them up again

I walk them through the wreckage, the torn books, the soiled bed, the clothes, slashed, hanging in tatters on the clothesline. When we find the toothbrush snapped in half and lying abandoned, I stifle a delirious urge to laugh. Everything seems, for an instant, completely ridiculous. I feel like collapsing, laughing until I can’t breathe.

It’s an odd thing to look at someone you’ve shared your life with and wonder if they’re about to kill you. There wasn’t a trace of empathy or humanity left in him, as if he’d shed his outer husk to reveal the ugly little worm inside. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I’d seen it before. He murdered every spider in the garden, even if they weren’t poisonous or in the way. He drowned a baby gecko in the shower. He went about these things with a quiet pleasure – a satisfaction – and he eradicated the remnants of our life together in the same way.

The last thing I found was the photographs. They were on the desk in a fragmented pile, ripped in half, my face torn to bits and him removed. What a cliché. I couldn’t help but see him as a toddler with his toy taken away. His claims of mine, mine, mine gone unheeded, the delusion of his control shattered.

I sign my statement and see the police down the stairs. It feels overwhelmingly ordinary. I go inside and sit on the floor in a nest of torn pages, listing each book that was ruined. There are some that are still whole, a dent or some missing segments the only evidence of his attempt to destroy them. I place these back on the shelf, noting them down triumphantly under ‘survivors!

They’re damaged – and parts of them have been cut clean out – but with their pages pressed against the wall, and only their spines visible, I can pretend they’re whole, for a little while, until I open them up again.

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