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‘Home,’ Jen Rickmand muttered, mopping the kitchen floor. ‘This isn’t a home; I’m just the unpaid char.’ She wondered why she had let herself be used and bullied for so long, allowing her stepfamily to eat away at her self-confidence to the extent that she now suffered from agoraphobia.
For years, anger bubbled beneath her calm exterior, but she hid it well. Whenever they picked on her, she would take a deep breath and count to ten. She never once retaliated; instead she would bite her tongue and tell herself not to give them the satisfaction of knowing they had got to her with their spiteful remarks.
Her stepsisters made her life a misery, commenting almost daily that she looked like a beanstalk and her hair was nothing but a frizzy mess. In fact, Jen was pretty, tall, and slim, with beautiful, long, naturally auburn hair.
Jen’s only escape from them had been her interest in the paranormal, unfortunately, they had found out about it by snooping in her bedroom. They made snide comments such as, ‘Fancy reading books about ghosts. Have you been talking to them? You idiot. You’re nuts, you are.’
She often heard them talking about her as she went about her chores.
‘Have you seen the mess she looks today, especially her hair?’ Thelma would ask of her sister Monica, who would laugh.
‘Yes, she looks like a haystack on fire, doesn’t she?’ Their spiteful laughter would drift into the kitchen where she would be preparing the evening meal or doing another household chore.
They would deliberately throw rubbish on the floor and then order her to pick it up. ‘Come on, you’re the cleaner, pick it up or we’ll tell our dad about you when he gets home.’ They knew the more they derided her, the more their father would favour them. And he did, buying them CDs and giving them money, making certain Jen was around when he handed them out.
Her stepfather was the worst; he would push her against the kitchen wall when no one was about, standing close to her, threatening with how he would make her regret her idleness. He would grab a handful of her hair and pull it hard, telling her if she yelled out, he would make her regret it one way or another. He was pure evil, she never doubted that one way or another, he would attack her if she wasn’t careful. Whenever he was around, she would appear even more meek and mild while doing what he said, presenting a serene exterior, but all the time seething at him, and deriding herself for being such a weakling. The truth was she lacked self-confidence; it had ebbed away like the outgoing tide over the years of torment and abusive comments.
Should Jen ever look as if she was going to retaliate, her mother would shake her head, knowing it would be the worst for Jen and herself if he was provoked.
Her father died when she was three years-old; she had vague memories of being whisked up high in the air, held by a strong pair of loving arms. How she wished he was still alive; their whole lives would have been entirely different if only she had known him. Her mother worked hard to bring her up and provide as many treats as she could so Jen never felt different to the other girls. When Jen was thirteen, her mother met a widower, Derek, with thirteen-year-old twins; Jen was bowled over when her mother married him, thinking they would be one big happy family. Only this didn’t happen and she quickly discovered she was the odd one out in her mother’s new marriage.
From the first day, she was expected to do all the household chores, including the cooking.
Jen never complained, she would come straight home from school and do the tasks her mother and stepfather had left for her. She was never allowed to have friends over or any type of social life. Even when she left school and started working in a bank, her home life remained the same. She was still head cook and cleaner; woe betide her if she missed a chore, her stepfather or sisters would be on to her immediately, calling her an idle slut. Gradually, her anxiety levels were so high that she began to experience panic attacks. Leaving the house became a problem and she had to force herself to go to work. It was almost a relief to be at home despite the bullying; at least it was a familiar world where routine existed.
She longed for approval; trying hard to meet her stepfather’s high standards, but sadly, she never achieved this. The harder she tried, the more he mocked her attempts, telling her she was, ‘thick and stupid’.
She knew she was neither, but would question herself. Was she stupid? Was she thick? She must be to put up with what she did. How many women of twenty-three came straight home from work and did everything in the house their mother should do, and put up with the daily tormenting and insults? At times, she wanted to rebel when yet another task was added to her list, but she didn’t, she simply plodded on and consequently, her confidence was at an all-time low.
Jen was fully aware that her unhappy home life had contributed to the awful anxiety she experienced. Her step-siblings’ taunts and jeers made matters worse. Although she disliked her home life intensely, she felt safer inside than out; she knew this was ridiculous as she wanted to escape her environment more than anything, but she didn’t have the confidence to try to find a way out of her situation.
She had never been allowed to have friends.
Her stepfather would tell her, ‘You have far too much work to do in the house,’ whenever she plucked up courage to ask if she could go out. Gradually as the years passed, she stopped asking and refused all social invitations.
Secretly, she agreed with her stepfather when he called her a loser, she must be or she would have left years ago, wouldn’t she?
This morning, as she cleaned the kitchen, she mulled over her years of servitude and suddenly decided, No more, I’m leaving.
As the words entered her head, her stepfather jabbed her in the back, telling her, ‘You’d better get this kitchen cleaned up and our dinner ready or else you’re for it!’ He then did something he had never done before. He began to stroke her hair. She was rigid with fear as his hands moved down her back. My God, this was terrible, the disgusting swine was getting fresh with her.
‘Get your filthy hands off me,’ she shouted at the top of her voice.
‘Come on, Jen, you know you’ve always fancied me.’ He pushed her up against the kitchen wall, his hands roaming around her body.
He was too strong for her to fight off. This was awful, he was going to rape her. What could she do? Why hadn’t she seen this coming? The more she tried to kick him, the harder he pushed her against the wall, ripping at her clothes, his hands clawing at her breasts. She was lost; she would rather be dead than take this from him, who she had hated for so long. As if from nowhere, she found the strength to give him an almighty shove and he staggered away from her, coming to rest by the kitchen table.
He looked at her. ‘God, you’re beautiful,’ he drooled.
She had nowhere to hide and she couldn’t go outside, her blouse and bra were in shreds, everyone would see her. If she went upstairs, he would follow her and get her on her bed.
‘You go outside if you dare - or scream,’ he sneered. ‘All the neighbours will know you’ve been chasing me for years. I’ll tell them what hot stuff you are. You might as well do it with me now while my family are out because I’ll have you soon enough and you know I will. I’ve seen some of the goods now and I mean to see and taste the rest.’ He salivated at his words.
‘Keep away from me,’ she yelled. ‘I’ll have the police on you!’ All the while, she was moving towards the kitchen door. She was terrified, her whole body trembling in fear, her heart racing. Please don’t let me faint, he’ll violate me here on the kitchen floor. He won’t care where he does it.
He laughed. ‘The police would never believe you. Like the neighbours, they would believe me! I’d tell them you begged me for it.’
She flung herself out of the kitchen door into the hall and ran upstairs. He caught up with her just as she opened her bedroom door.
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