Light fades. I stand in the entryway of my apartment like a statue, barely breathing. I hear him shouting again. My hand rests on the doorknob, forehead against the cool steel door. It feels comforting against my reddened face. I cry for her most days. A tear, a caught breath... a lingering look to tell her I'm sorry. She always turns away first.
I grip the knob when I hear the first crash, a broken dish perhaps. When the baby begins to wail I throw my left hand over my heart, as if I have pearls to clutch. A tear makes a rivulet of shame down my cheek and I let my grip soften.
Three times I've called the police. Three times, they've come and gone. Each time, it's gotten worse before it got better... and the standard for measuring 'better' is really only the counting of days before the next time, the next scream, the next tear, the next bruise or cut or sling.
I see him every day. He smirks sometimes, or sneers... mostly doesn't see me at all when we pass in the hall. The few times he has met my gaze, he has stripped me bare to my fear and gripped it in his eyes. I know he wouldn't hesitate to hurt me. He reeks most days of beer and frustration, stale cigarettes and cruelty. This morning, when I passed her at the mailboxes, I said hello. Her stare was so vacant, so shell shocked that she barely saw me.
I shift my weight against the door, laying my cheek against it's cold comfort. I hear her wail.. then whimper and his voice overtaking the hallway. A crash. A silence. I imagine I hear sobs. I turn my back to the door, sliding down to sit on the floor. I lay my head against my knees and begin to cry with her.
I hear their apartment door open. He yells for her to shut up and clean up... he warns her to obey... and closes their door violently. His heavy steps thunder past my door. I hold my breath until his steps fade down the stairwell. If history means anything, he will be gone drinking for hours. I have to decide between my fear and her pain.
Slowly, I stand up. I grasp the doorknob again and this time, I don't let go. It takes everything I have to walk into the hall. I wonder as I walk toward her door if she will let me help her. I tell myself...at least I am not standing, frozen with fear.