HANNAH HOBSON – NOVEL EXTRACT
FROM THE ASSISTANT
In 1992, Thomas was used to Violet coming home late. Her star was rising in the London nights, she had less and less time for their tiny flat in Shepherd’s Bush. Finding the endless parties, meetings and galas exhausting, Thomas often opted to stay in while Violet would slip into one of a collection of shimmering vintage dresses and blow him a kiss as she walked out of the door. The winter of that year was mild but, one evening in December, Violet came back shivering.
Not unusually, Violet hadn’t been home for a couple of nights. She had checked in periodically, leaving answer machine messages with her excuses. She was staying over with a friend in Islington, there was a party out of town. Thomas rarely thought she was telling the truth but usually chose to believe her.
It was the click of the door that alerted him to her. She was stood in the doorway, wearing someone else’s clothes and shaking. Strikingly beautiful even with her mascara smudged beneath her eyes, she smiled, Hey Tommy.
Humourlessly, Violet laughed and nodded. She kicked off her heels, stumbling slightly as her centre of gravity shifted.
Sober? Probably. Hungover? Definitely. Thomas turned back to the papers spread across their dining room table, trying to suppress his disappointment in her. It wasn’t as though he expected anything different. Violet was what she was, he’d never wanted to change her exactly. What he had always wanted though was for her to be the version of herself that he glimpsed occasionally. It was usually just as she’d gotten out of the shower or woken in the morning. That was when she was at her freshest, her cleanest. It was then that the grime and stardust rubbed away and she was so completely Violet. That was when he loved her most.
He was tired enough with her that he didn’t pester her as she padded around the apartment on sore feet. It wasn’t until he registered the sound of the water running that he even looked up again.
Violet’s debris was all over the room. Her purse had tumbled onto its side by the foot of the sofa. The borrowed jeans and t-shirt were pooled unceremoniously at the bathroom door. It was slightly open. The steam rose from it like the thin smoke from a phoenix reborn. Through the crack, Thomas saw her, sunken to the tiled floor with her head in her hands.
He lingered in the doorway, careful not to intrude on what should have been a private space. Naked but for her jewellery Violet was gathered into herself. A tangle of limbs, knees peeking out from elbows at odd angles and tufts of bleach blonde hair stuck through her crumpled fingers. Every inch of her pale skin covered in marks. It didn’t look real. It looked like someone had painted it on, as if the make-up department had gone crazy on an action set.
She looked up at him and tried to smile but then it bubbled up from her pout, tears shuddering into sobs. She wouldn’t let him touch her. Instead, she writhed out of his tentative touch and into the rushing water of the shower, letting it douse her.
Thomas watched the water run in rivulets down her skin. Droplets skirted the scratch marks or momentarily pooled in what must have been bites in the most intimate of places. She was crying still, flinching with the sting of the hot water. The more he looked, the more he found. It was as though someone had tried to consume her, tried to scratch her skin off and chew her up. Or perhaps as though her body had been the battle ground for a civil war, trenches had been dug across her veins. He could only think in metaphor.
Either way, he didn’t ask her to explain. He wrapped her in towels and cleaned her off. With careful hands, he disinfected the wounds where someone had broken through the skin and dressed the ones that threatened to bleed. He kissed her still damp hair as he put her to bed.
They had sex, because she asked him. It was only later that he wondered if that was such a good idea. By then Violet was asleep, her head against his chest so the wayward curls tickled his chin. It was one of the last times they would sleep like that, but he didn’t know that then. He still savoured it though. Savoured her, sleeping, peaceful and safe.
Hannah is from Hull, as well as fiction she writes, directs and acts in plays.