Quinn sobbed, the sound muffled by the bleeding finger in her mouth, her grandmother’s vintage vase in pieces on the floor. Hastily trying to clean it up, Quinn had sliced her finger on one of the larger shards. Thankfully she didn’t need stitches. But at this point, even a trip to the ER sounded better than spending another minute under the same roof with Jack. This wasn’t the first shattered mess Quinn had been left to clean up. In fact, his fits of rage had become so frequent that she was surprised there was anything left for him to break. Mirrors, TV remotes, her custom jewelry box — nothing was safe from his rage. Least of all, Quinn.
Jack was not the man Quinn had married. That much was clear. Quinn couldn’t pinpoint exactly when she first noticed things were different with Jack. Some weeks he seemed to lack energy, always sleeping and barely eating. Other weeks he was energized and productive, needing very little sleep and eating around the clock.
During his energy-filled weeks, Jack would enthusiastically start a home-improvement project, only to abandon it a few days later when the urge to hibernate took over. And for months, Quinn had been struggling to figure out why. In the past three years, they had bought a house, lost a pregnancy, lost a parent and welcomed two daughters into their lives. Sure, life was busy, and career and family demands made most days fairly stressful. But while most of the neighborhood husbands played a few extra rounds of golf or drank a couple extra IPAs to help manage their stress, Jack was compulsively watching porn, smoking obscene amounts of pot and destroying anything in the house he could get his hands on when the first two options failed to calm him. While these shifts in Jack’s behavior may have seemed insignificant individually, Quinn wouldn’t come to understand the full extent of his downward spiral until months later.
“Stop fucking crying already. I said I was sorry.”
Quinn froze at the sound of Jack’s voice. He had gone outside to smoke, but she must have been so deep in thought that she didn’t hear him come back in. He walked up behind her and she bristled.
“Why are you so jumpy?”
Jack’s voice was devoid of any trace of warmth. Quinn turned to face him. He was smirking, wide-eyed and almost buzzing. She barely recognized the man standing in front of her.
“Why am I so jumpy?” she asked quietly through clenched teeth. “Why do you THINK I’m so jumpy?”
Jack puffed out his chest, his eyes growing even wider. Standing almost a foot taller than Quinn with a solid 80 pounds on her, Jack looked intimidating just pouring coffee. But in the months preceding this night, his physical presence had become increasingly frightening to Quinn.
“That’s what I just asked YOU. Are you fucking STUPID?”
Quinn took a breath as deep as her tightening chest would allow.
“No reason, Jack. No reason.”
Quinn turned back to the shattered remnants of her family heirloom, and as she had become so accustomed to doing, she pleaded with the universe for Jack to just leave her the fuck alone.
“Fine. Make sure you clean the glass up good. I don’t want the girls cutting their feet.”
Quinn shook her head incredulously, not realizing (or maybe, finally, not caring) that Jack was still looking in her direction.
“Did you just shake your fucking head at me? You fucking cunt.”
If Quinn had a dollar for every time Jack had called her that, they’d be installing a Viking stove in their new kitchen instead of the GE model being delivered next week.
“Jack, please just stop. You’ll wake the girls. Please stop screaming.”
“I don’t fucking care,” he yelled even louder.
Through the baby monitor, Quinn heard one of their two young girls crying. They must have been really loud as the girls could sleep through just about anything.
“I asked you to stop fucking yelling,” Quinn screamed. “You woke up the kids!”
She hurried down the hall towards the girls’ room, Jack’s footsteps pounding behind her. Quinn opened the door to find both girls standing in their cribs awake.
“Mommy?” Aubrey said, squinting as the lights from the hallway intruded into the peaceful darkness of their shared bedroom.
“I’m here, babies. Sorry we woke you. We must have had the TV too loud.”
“Don’t lie to her. We were yelling because your mother doesn’t know when to shut up.”
Quinn spun around and, glaring at him, whispered “Please stop being an asshole and just go the fuck to bed, Jack.”
In the shadows, Quinn sensed Jack’s nostrils flaring. She could almost hear the skin stretching around his biceps as his muscles tensed with rage. As frightened as she was, Quinn couldn’t let her daughters see what was coming next. She stepped forward into the hallway toward Jack, pulling the door closed behind her. Open-palmed, he swatted it back, the old wood creaking first under the slap of his hand and then again as the door slammed into the wall behind her. The girls began to wail.
In an instant, Jack was a mere two inches from her face, his nose almost touching the tip of hers, spitting as he yelled.
“You don’t know when to shut the fuck up. You make me do this. You’re fucking crazy.”
Quinn stood motionless, fearful to even lift a hand to wipe the cigarette-laden drops of spit from her face. She steadfastly met Jack’s gaze, secretly hoping as she always did that maybe this time it would be different. That perhaps this time when he looked back into her eyes, he’d remember they were the eyes he claimed made him fall in love with her almost a decade before.
“Jack, please. The girls…”
Before Quinn could even finish her sentence, Jack grabbed her by the shoulders, his fingers digging deep into the muscle of her upper arms. Shaking her violently, Jack continued to scream.
“I told you to shut UP. SHUT THE FUCK UP”
“JACK, STOP! Not in front of the girls,” Quinn pleaded.
“MAMA!” Claire screamed. “MAMA!”
The fear in Claire’s voice was so palpable it must have shocked Jack because he abruptly loosened his grip. Glaring at Quinn, he winked and stormed out of the house.
Quinn closed her eyes, took a few slow, deliberate breaths and turned back toward her girls. For an instant she saw them as teenagers. She envisioned a night many years in the future, hearing the excuses rolling off her tongue about why Jack did what he did and why they were still together. She could almost see the look of pity in their eyes as she explained that their dad didn’t mean it when he treated her that way.
“Mommy, you OK?” Not quite 4, Aubrey was empathetic beyond her years.
“I’m OK, baby. Mommy’s OK.”
Whether it was the pain radiating down the back of her arms, the pain in the cries of her girls, or both, Quinn felt something inside her suddenly shift, and in that moment, she knew it was time. She didn’t know how or how long it would take. But what she did know at that very instant was that — not only for her, but more importantly for those two little girls — Jack’s time had run out. It was time to take her life back.