Content warning: alcoholism, violence
Within the chapel there is a hum, a soft whisper, as a congregation of hymn sheets are placed upon pew backs. I wince, and not just from the bruise that purples my arm with a blister of shame. The minister spews lies with the ease of a Saturday-night drunk, and I watch as your eyes squint their agreement, your head nodding along to the tired, centuries-old belief that man means more.
As we leave the dampness of the chapel walls behind us, you pause in the stone archway in the fulcrum between your world and mine. You grip the minister’s hand tightly, and give him your silent assurance that he speaks for all men when he talks of ‘giving honour unto the wife as unto a weaker vessel’.
On the walk home you smoulder in the cold. An icy valley’s mist tarnishes the air, tainting the breath between us with more than my disappointment. Your spite hunches in your shadow like a toad. It is as ignominious as the sacks of coal that smite your back with black. My fists knead dough, but yours knead nothing but my flesh.
Last night, when my voice took root around the word ‘vote’, I let each syllable slice through your prejudice, watching as your Sunday-slap hands gnarled into fists. Your sour beer breath pawed at the porcelain of my skin, but in defiance I did not look away.
You want only to silence me. To scold me with a bridle that nails my tongue to the roof of my mouth and stops my scorn from blessing your ears with a benediction of hate.
But I am not your appendage. I am not the accessory of a greater being. I am any man’s equal.
Your Sunday afternoon slips into a haze as, with the Good Book on your lap, you gulp down bottle after bottle of ale. With the silence of the shadow you have made me, I pack into a bag only what is mine. You are welcome to the wreckage of the rest. You will sleep until morning, waking stiff-necked and crack-throated at the kitchen table. By then I will have left, leaving behind a mystery for you to explain, and taking away my own small battle for dignity.