I braced myself as his fists were directed to me once again. Even with familiarity, the pain did not become any easier to bear. And acquainted with it were we. His "protégées". Or were we his victims?
His angry shouting voice I listened, and passed it on. There was no point trying to retain those. Not if I was to stay sane. He thought he knew us. He thought he was the king of the world. To us, we who observe, he was merely frightened. It was well known that bullies were cowards.
He usually hit us where it would not show. Of course he didn't want to risk his reputation. By day, loving husband, responsible father, and successful businessman. By night…
I'd say even prisoners of the worst kind didn't even deserve him as their warden.
The last time he hit my mother, he bruised her chin. She passed it off as an accident. Naturally, no one suspected. Why should they?
This time, he seemed really riled. I knew, without a doubt, that there would be no escape for me this time. When he swore he would break my nose, he would. When he promised broken bones, he gave them. And we would be instructed to concoct something else in its place. I should know. He broke my cousin's nose before, and she was under his care, albeit being dishonest. But surely, his crime was worse than hers?
Finally, I was added to the list of "exposed" victims. He hit my cheek. Not slapped. It was almost a punch. Then again. And again. I counted five before he stopped.
Why not resist, you ask? As I knelt on the floor (on his orders, to punish me), I thought of this every time. But no, I did not need a broken neck in addition to every other injury he gave. Telling him something he didn't want to hear would be akin to suicide. Usually, during these… sessions, the most we were required to do, excepting the victim, was to nod and agree with his every word. While he flayed his limbs. Or downed his alcohol.
No, it would be safer to keep quiet. Instead, I countered his every sentence with one in my brain, mentally arguing. The time was not to be.
Finally, when he'd calmed down enough to accept my apologies (I was not sorry, but had to be to hope to be let off a little more lightly. Standard procedure, if you will), I was utterly drained of my energies. As soon as he dismissed the court to bed, I escaped. Into my room. A room which I was not even allowed to lock myself in on occasions like this. But I did, this time, not allowing even my brother to see me. I needed my mental footing. I needed to attend school tomorrow. And later, to be brought like a prize on a pedestal to one of his friend's house. To be shown off and paraded, obviously, like a prized filly. My love for my school and learning, resulting in the high achievement I produced, he claimed as his own. How despicable.
I stood in front of the mirror of my dressing table. Except for the usual tear-streaked face, red eyes, running nose and hopeless features, there was something new, but not wholly unexpected. A bruise. An ugly, blue-black patch of skin across my left cheek. Tentatively, I reached out and touched the hurt. I winced at the pain. And swore, as I always did, that he would pay. One day.
"Are you all right?" my friend asked concernedly. We were at Edward's father's house party. Exactly for what, we weren't sure at all. Yet we were supposed to be here, mingling, when all I wanted to do was to get the hell out of here. That was out of the question at the moment. Besides, for all that Edward was my father's friend's son, he was more my friend than that. So I mustered a smile – a weak one – and raised my brow.
"…I suppose so. Why?" I returned faintly. For answer, he raised his hand and touched my cheek. My bruised cheek. I tensed a little at the contact that drew a little pain. His concern deepened. "Does it still hurt?"
I tried to laugh it off, but only managed poorly. "Yeah, well, it's still visible, isn't it?" He frowned, catching the brittleness of my attempted brightness. Grabbing my chin gently, he forced me to look into his eyes, and demanded in a soft tone, "What happened?"
His tone told me that he already half-suspected the truth. We'd always been honest to each other. So I told him, "My father. He hit me. Nothing new now, is it?"
For a long time, we looked at each other, then, swearing softly, he released my chin, and raised his eyes. And went rigid.
My father and his were apparently somewhere behind us. Edward swore again.
And suddenly, the resentment I felt for the past eight years came rushing to me all at once. My heart was so full that I felt like bursting. Recklessness overtook me.
"Yeah, those people who don't even have a sense of civility. Have to take out their anger on someone else with fucking fake excuses." I deliberately raised my voice, for once not caring what would happen to me because of this temporary bout of courage.
"Iris…" My father's growling voice was clearly heard, along with the underlying threat. Edward's gaze grew worried. Yet the time for me to care was… over.
I resumed my deliberate speech, one I'd been dying to give for years.
"Can't even keep their paws off other people. Fucking afraid that they'll lose control if they do. Insecure, the lot of them. If they'd only just leave us alone, I won't be smarting injuries all over."
I could just picture the social smile on my father's face as he attempted to get me to stop incriminating him while apologising to his friend for my behaviour. The mental sight of him speaking through gritted teeth was, somehow, goading me to continue.
"Can't even be a proper husband, let alone a proper father. Just want to be damn fucking normal, to be what others are, to have what others have. Others married for love, so he married too, but more for sex and control rather than actual love. What afine basis for a loving household. Others want children, he also wants children, but what is the point when they are conceived out of hatred, instead of love? How convenient. Just dump them to the mother and beat the hell out of somebody to get something done –"
A fist cut off my sentence. Ah, there he was, in all his angry glory. As the people in our vicinity stopped whatever they were doing to watch the impending drama unfold, I smiled daringly at him, aware of the cry of "Iris!" that burst from Edward's throat. From the corner of my eyes, I could see his father restraining him, doubtlessly with threats as well. Our fathers were made from the same mould, apparently, another reason we were such stout friends.
"And you know what else? You're so fucking afraid that we might get back at you, aren't you? Controlling us so rigidly so that we won't grow as we should, only in your context. I'm sick of it, you fucking bastard."
Another punch, this time along with a barely controlled "You trying to be funny with me?" from my dearly beloved father. This time it hit my already bruised cheek. Tears stung my eyes at the pain.
"And then, you would have us hide your deeds for you. Very neat. I suppose you think we wouldn't hesitate to protect your violent tendencies, seeing as you made sure we knew you don't keep your violent deeds in the family either. And so unjustifiable as well as cowardly. Does everyone know about that employee you half killed, beating him up three on one?"
His every punch and shout seemed to have an opposite effect on me. Instead of silencing me, he incensed me. All I've been dying to say for the last eight years came pouring out relentlessly, like a river bursting out of a dam, too long held in check. I was no longer docile and quiet like he was too used to now. Everyone and anyone bowed to his will too easily. Not out of respect, but fear. Except "higher-ups" like Edward's father, whom his royal pig-headedness (a.k.a. Father) sucked up to at every given opportunity.
"I'm sick of it, sick of you, sick of every goddamn thing you make me feel. You would claim everything good for yourself, making it seem like you are some kind of God everyone should worship and consult so that the world won't go wrong. At the first sign of failure, you conveniently point your finger at someone else so that they, instead of you, take the blame and become the scapegoat. I'll have you know that the world doesn't revolve around you!"
"YOU BITCH! A DOG WOULD HAVE SHOWN MORE GRATITUDE THAN YOU WOULD EVER SHOW IN YOUR LIFETIME! YOU – SHAME OF MY FLESH – NO RESPECT AT ALL –"
"What gratitude? You don't deserve any. You act so saintly so that others think we are so fortunate to have you as a father. Fortunate indeed, hell. And in the privacy of the house you act like a goddamn drunk! Oh, but excuse me, you are a certified drunk after all, drinking more to have a reason to put your violence on rather than to 'drown out your sorrows', as you so melodramatically put it. You'll have to be blind not to notice that no one – no one! – forced you into the marriage you abhorred, nor did you not know what you were getting into. You knew, yet you blindfolded yourself and went through with it, and we are made to suffer. Why are you so cruel as to create us to suffer the failures of your marriage?"
His furious punch accompanied his roared reply, "HOW DARE YOU? THIS IS NONE OF YOUR CONCERN! YOU STUPID USELESS BITCH!"
"How dare I? This is every bit my concern if you created me just so you can use me to vent your frustration!" I was surprised at my own quivering but not raised voice. Then again, she who was able to control herself was the ultimate winner. "You're so damn afraid of failure that you simply can't have things done in a new way. You would rather marry and sire children that shouldn't have been born rather than remain a bachelor and endure being labelled as peculiar, just because you aren't a goddamn society'sclone. You would rather stick to your 'tried and tested' ways instead of being brave enough to let yourself, or us, make our own mistakes and grow up knowing what is right and what is wrong. You won't even let us make our own fucking decisions, for Christ sake, simply dismissing them because we lack your high and mighty experiences. How obviously that they must always be correct and the only proper decision to make! I'll tell you what, fella, your experience may be priceless, but our imagination is worth much more. And, for all you insist on being called a democrat, you have always been, and I suspect always will be, an autocrat."
I could scarcely see now, with his punches nearly blinding me. Blood was pouring from my broken nose ceaselessly, and I felt like I was dying when his last blow knocked me off my feet. Luckily, those idiotic idle spectators were starting to restrain my father, though they could have – should have – stepped in earlier. But I doubt any had my welfare in their mind, all except Edward, at least. They were probably more concerned about witnessing a death than hearing any of my words, dismissing it simply as teenage rebellion.
In my blurred vision, Edward finally managed to fight off his father and came towards me. I tried to stand but couldn't. He came forward hurriedly and caught me, supported me, letting me cling wildly onto his neck. His hold was warm. It felt like family. Like the family I should have had were things otherwise.
Blinking furiously, I faced my father one last time. "And the worst thing is, you've just condemned yourself with your actions. It has always spoken louder than words, my lord father," I said that last contemptuously. "We don't need any more reasons to get you to where you belong. Or to find proof to show the world what you truly are."
Holding tightly onto my friend, my almost brother, I whispered, barely audible, but determined to get everything out once and for all, "But I suppose what's even worse is you'll never feel love. At least I have friends who accept me for who I am, whom I love unreservedly despite the lack of blood ties. Do you have the same, other than your business acquaintances vying with each other to dig in other people's pockets for their own benefits, who never in a million years truly trust in each other? Have you ever truly felt loved? Cause judging by your marriage, I really don't think so, may the good Lord bless you."
And I blacked out, barely aware of Edward shaking me desperately, whispering my name over and over again.
Have you any idea how much tyrants fear the people they oppress? All of them realise that, one day, amongst their many victims, there is sure to be one who rises against them and strikes back!
– Albus Dumbledore, in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince –
– Finis –