Mine - Uncharted


By Keshe Chow

It’ll be one of those nights. I can tell.

I can always tell.

Firstly, it has to be the right time of night. Late enough, but not so late for the drink to have truly set in. There will have been just enough alcohol to fuel the fire but not enough to completely incapacitate.

Secondly, there’s the number of passes it takes to get the key in the lock. Five, six, eight, eleven… The metal scraping on the door’s wood; the sound of cursing, then more scrapes.

Finally, once the door finally swings open, there will be a bang. The door handle will fit neatly into the little indentation marring the opposing wall. There will be a few stumbling steps, more cursing, the sound of shoes falling, one at a time, onto the hallway floor.



It’s lucky that I know the warning signs. In some ways, it’s fortunate I’ve had so much practice. That way, when Macie was born, I knew what to watch for. I knew when there would be danger. I knew when to shut her room door, lock it from the outside, where to hide the key.

I’m sitting in the dark, listening to the sound of the key missing the lock. It has been hours since I kissed Macie’s soft head and tiptoed out of her room. The baby monitor crackles, the sound flaring harshly in the near silence. I’ve already picked up all her toys. I know better than to leave them lying around.

I can hear the thuds. My body stiffens, tenses. The speed of my pulse picks up, blood rushing in my ears. Deep breaths, I tell myself. Get through this. It’ll be over soon, then you can crawl into bed and cry yourself to sleep.

He’s coming in now, the tang of bourbon sour in the air. “Cla-ire.” He breathes out my name, makes it into two syllables. His voice is hoarse. “My darling wife.”

I steel myself and wait for it.


By the time it’s morning, the pain has settled into a dull throb. It’s always my arms and torso—never the face. The face would be too obvious. It’s summer, but in recent years, I’ve become known at the office for wearing long sleeves, always. They must think I’m a massive prude or something.

Macie’s grumpy when she wakes. She’s tired; she doesn’t want to get up. She was up twice last night, with teething pain—those three-year-old molars are a bitch. I had to rock her on my shoulder, pacing around and singing, because she wouldn’t settle even after I’d tried both Panadol and Nurofen. So I had carried her, her little face turned into my neck, her wet cheek on my shoulder, while I swayed and hummed and hoped desperately she wouldn’t cry too loudly.

I deftly ward off a tantrum, manage to get Macie dressed, and we dash out the door just in time. He’s still passed out on the couch, where he spent the night (no complaints there, it’s better than the alternative). He will be going nowhere again today, just like he’s gone nowhere for the past several months. Years of going nowhere, and all those dead-end jobs, and he’s finally joined the ranks of the shuffling unemployed.

Macie is unusually clingy at daycare this morning, so by the time I race into work, I’m flustered. Luckily, there’s a friendly face to greet me, my work-wife, Jenny. She’s a hoot. She’s the receptionist, so her beaming smile meets me as I bustle in. It’s 9:02. Not too bad.

Jenny has a little girl too, called Liv. Liv’s only a few months older than Macie, and she resembles Jenny to a T. Both of them have this wild, red hair, wound into tight corkscrew curls. Both of them have big curving mouths that open up when they laugh, showing all their teeth.

“Sushi today?” Jenny says as I walk past the desk. We lunch together every weekday.

“It’s a date,” I say back, smiling.

Jenny and I weren’t always friends. Before I fell pregnant, I was a bit of a party animal. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I was also a bit of a snob. I spent my free time hanging out in hipster bars, tiny ones stashed away in obscure laneways. My holiday leave always involved jetting off to exotic locations, where there would be cocktails and sunsets and Insta-worthy pics. All those nights out, all those fancy vacations, all that time spent with him. I would revel in our worldliness, our high, cultured tastes. I would humble brag about how woke we were, how ‘blessed’; I would show off our tans and his six-pack and my bikini body.

I was his, and he was mine. We were happy. Or so I thought.

Back then, I didn’t have much time for the likes of Jenny. A woman who buys clothes from thrift stores. A woman who does crafts. A woman who reads horoscopes, and even worse, believes them.

Then I fell pregnant with Macie—an accident, but not an entirely unwanted one. The moment I got those two blue lines, I knew. I knew the love that I’d been missing in my life. And I swore to always protect her.

Things changed, after. There were no more late nights, no more traveling on a whim. He had suddenly and unexpectedly lost his job, so I was forced to go back to work earlier than planned. It killed me to be apart from Macie—it still does—but we needed the money.

When I came back, I found that no one, except Jenny, was willing to dissect Wonder Weeks, compare formulas, or analyze poo pics. So we started a tenuous friendship, which later became cemented by our shared history of parental highs and lows.

I never told her about him, though. Somehow, it all seemed too shameful.

We’re eating our sushi—not properly, with chopsticks, but with our hands out of paper bags—when Jenny whips out her phone and starts showing me the videos. It’s Liv, at the local pool, in the cutest little bathing suit with a pink frilly tutu. Liv’s hair is wet, the dark red hair plastered flat to her head, and she’s wearing a pair of hot pink goggles. That’s not what captures my attention, though. Liv is swimming. Like, she’s actually swimming. She’s three, and she’s swimming.

“She did so well, Claire!” Jenny’s gushing. “Her teacher’s amazed by her progress. Only a month ago, she was refusing to put her head under water. But something just clicked!”

I smile at the phone, chewing my sushi. I’m happy for her, but something inside me twists painfully. Macie’s never even had a swimming lesson. She’s been to the pool a couple of times, but it’s so hard on my own, trying to shower us both and dry us both off and wrestle a shivering Macie back into clothes while she screams the place down. I’m always worried about the judgment, the people who must listen to the tortured sounds she makes, the people who must be wondering what the hell I’m doing to my daughter.

So even though I know I should go more often, I don’t. And Macie can’t swim. We live in a country that’s both an island and a continent, surrounded entirely by water. Every year I read about the toddlers that drown—there’s always those awful statistics—my heart breaks, and I resolve to do better. But then, all of a sudden, months have gone by, and I just… haven’t.

“That’s fantastic, Jen!” I say, keeping my voice bright. “Such a clever girl!”

When I get home that night, a tired Macie in my arms, he’s waiting. His face is contrite.

“Daddy!” Macie wriggles out of my grasp and rushes into his arms.

“How’s my little princess?” he says, sweeping her up and planting a big kiss on her cheek. She giggles. He reaches for me, pulls me against his side, kisses me, too.

“I’m sorry,” he says, nuzzling into my neck. “I’ll make it up to you, I promise.” My eyes catch the sight of the flowers on the bench. Lilies. Bought with the money I’ve earned, the money that goes straight into his bank account.

I’ve always hated lilies.

I disentangle myself from his grasp, and go to get a vase.


Once Macie’s gone down, I’m in the kitchen, tidying. He comes up behind me and wraps his arms around my waist.

“I interviewed for that job at the sports shop today. Eight bucks an hour. Not bad, hey?”

I stop wiping the bench for a moment. “That’s great.”

He turns me around to face him. “They’re calling me about it tomorrow. Said they just need to sort some shit out. It’s pretty much set, though. I’ve got it, I can tell.”

Eight dollars an hour. I used to earn that years ago.

“Congratulations,” I say, forcing a smile. He leans in, his lips parted, presses his lips to mine. His tongue snakes in, one hand goes into my hair, the other pushes up my skirt. He kisses me sloppily, hungrily, like he used to when we first met.

“Cla-ire…” He breathes my name out again, in a different way this time. “I’m sorry. I’ll make it up to you.” His palm kneads my backside. I can feel his hardness digging into my hip.

I stay silent. He doesn’t care.

Instead, he just turns me back around, pressing up behind me until I’m pinned against the stone benchtop. “Never leave me.”

His hand tangles in my hair. “You,” he says, bending me right over the counter, “are mine.”


Afterwards, when we’re lying in bed, it feels like a good time to broach the topic. When he’s satisfied, he’s more likely to listen.

“I’ve been thinking…” I venture, testing the waters.

“Hmmmm?” he says. He’s drifting off.

I roll to my side and prop myself up on one elbow. His eyes are closed, his forehead smooth. The moonlight that streams in through the window casts shadows on his face, highlighting his strong, firm chin and those long, dark eyelashes that curl up against his cheek. When he’s serene like this, I can almost see the man I fell in love with. The handsome, dashing, slightly rebellious guy who swept me off my feet with his surfing and music and his charismatic personality. Back then, his spontaneity and unpredictability seemed like a good thing.

It kept things exciting.

“I’ve been thinking we should enroll Macie in swimming lessons.”

His eyes snap open. “Why would we do that?” His voice is dangerously even.

“Well, she can’t swim yet, and it’s so important for safety. Jenny’s daughter –”

“Jenny’s daughter what?” he snaps.

I roll onto my back. “Never mind,” I say.

“Jenny’s daughter WHAT?” He’s not letting it go.

I sigh. “Jenny showed me a video of her daughter. She’s only a few months older than Macie and she’s been doing lessons since she was six months old. She can already swim.”


“So I thought it might be good to get Macie lessons, so she can learn to swim too.”

“Claire,” he says. There’s a warning in the way he says my name. “We can’t afford it.”

I want to point out that with the amount he’s spent on alcohol and gambling, we definitely can afford it, but I bite my tongue. Those sorts of conversations never end well.

There’s a long pause; I hold my breath. Which way will it go, tonight?

“Just forget it,” I say. “Maybe when you get that sports job.”

He’s already snoring.


It’s midnight, and he’s still not home. This doesn’t bode well.

There it is again, the key hitting the doorframe, the curse words, the stumbling, the thuds.

His eyes are like a tsunami when he walks in. The dim light hits them on an angle, making them glitter in a particularly menacing way.

“Cla-ire.” There’s my name, again.

“Did you hear back about the job?” I say, trying to keep my voice light. I hope he didn’t notice how it wavered a little.

His lips turn up in a half smile, a mocking one. It doesn’t touch his eyes.

“Well, I didn’t get it, did I?”

I don’t answer. It’s not a question that needs answering.

The next words just slip out. I don’t even mean to say it. God knows what I was thinking!

“So, no swimming lessons for Macie, then.” It’s muttered quietly, under my breath.

Not quietly enough.

What did you say?” He takes a step forward.

“Nothing!” I backtrack, try and weasel my way out. But it’s too late, it’s inevitable. The truth is, it would have happened anyway. Nothing I’ve ever said or done has ever stopped him in this mood.

He picks up the vase of flowers from the side table and flings it sideways, where it hits the wall with a crash. The orange lilies fall to the ground, scattered across one another in a criss-cross pattern.

“Why don’t you just say it?” he roars. The baby monitor crackles, and we both glance at it, startled. I don’t answer.

“Just say I’m not good enough!” He’s turning red, he’s shaking. His whole body is tensing up. I can feel the heat radiating off it.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying!” I raise my hands just as he lands the first strike. He advances on me, striking again and again and again. I’m gasping, I can taste blood. His hands are around my neck.

This time, it’s different. This time, he’s gone for my face.


I’m lying face up in a hospital bed, the stark white fluorescent lighting beating down on my bare skin. I feel light, so light, and I’m not even embarrassed by my nudity. Somehow, I feel safe. And whatever drugs they’ve given me have done the trick. There’s no pain.

“Female, twenty-nine, domestic violence victim,” recites a voice to my side. It’s a doctor, wearing a lab coat, reading a report. “One child, currently in the custody of the grandparents.”

So. Macie’s safe. I sigh internally with relief.

I want to speak, but the words don’t come out. I must still be affected by the drugs. They’ve probably given me some powerful sedatives, stuff to make me lie still enough so that my broken body can heal. I’ve been through this before. Not recently, but still.


It’s amazing how transparent being a victim can make you. People don’t want to know about it. They don’t want to see the ugly side of life, the ugliness of relationships. People ask, “How are you?” as if they actually want to know. But they never wait for the response. Not really.

The drugs are pulling me under again. My eyelids are heavy. Satisfied with the knowledge Macie is safe, I close my eyes again.

Over the next few days, my body starts to heal. I become stronger. I take to pacing the empty hallways of the hospital at nighttime. One foot in front of the other. I think about when I get out of here, how I’m going to hug Macie and never let her go. It’s good to know she’s staying with mum and dad, whom she loves. But I miss her so much; it’s like a constant ache, a hole that’s slowly gnawing its way outwards, threatening to split me open.

During the day, I mostly sleep. I don’t know why I’m always so tired, but it must be because of the drugs, and my wakefulness at night. I’m like a newborn baby, with my days and nights mixed up. I think about the advice they give you to reset your baby’s circadian clock: make sure you give them as much sun exposure as possible. Keep things dark and boring at nighttime. Eat often during daylight hours.

The hospital is already doing the latter two. It’s just a shame about the sun exposure; I’m not allowed outside just yet.

At times, between my naps, I see random people by my bed. There’s Jenny. She’s crying. Liv’s not with her—I wonder where she is? Jenny doesn’t look at me. She doesn’t want to catch my eye. Perhaps she feels my shame at what has happened to me. Perhaps she pities me. Perhaps she hates me. Or perhaps she’s just guilty that she never suspected him. I’m too tired to try and engage her, so I just lie there, listening to her sobbing. I’ll catch her up later, hug her, tell her there’s really nothing she could have done to help me.

My counselor shows up, looks at me for a minute, then leaves again.

Some police come by, take some swabs. Then they leave again, too.

Then there are two women, dressed in drab outfits, holding a manila folder. After listening to their whispered conversation, I catch the thread of their words. They’re talking about custody of Macie.

“We’ll have to push for restricted access, for the safety of the child,” says one woman.

“I agree. Visits with the father should be kept to one hour. And always supervised.”

Good, I think. Don’t leave her alone with him.

“We’ll have to see if we can get the grandparents full custody. So she can’t be put in a compromised position again.”

Wait, what? I’m panicking now. What about me?

“With his history of violence, that shouldn’t be a problem.”

The women and their manila folder leave again.

I feel like I can’t breathe. Macie? My parents? Full custody? How did this happen? I want to cry out, want to run after the women. “She’s mine!” I want to scream. “Mine, mine mine!”

But something holds me back. Guilt. I realize that I haven’t raised her in the best environment. Her house has been too full of angry words, too full of heat, too full of bruises and wrenched arms and the occasional split lip. But I have never, ever allowed him to touch her. He’s never harmed a hair on her head. I know she loves him.

I know he loves her, too. He loves her a lot, more than he loves me. Although, I never was game enough to test how much he loved her. I always kept her door locked.


I think about that time when I last decided, when Macie was only a baby. She had been going through the dreaded four-month sleep regression, and I had been running on adrenaline and caffeine for weeks. It didn’t matter that I hadn’t slept more than a two-hour block for a month, or that my days were filled with fighting a screaming, overtired Macie into her two-hourly scheduled naps. All that seemed to matter was that the dishes weren’t done, that I wasn’t wearing makeup, that we didn’t have sex often enough. There were constant snide comments, snorts of derision, rolled eyes, sharp slaps. And I had finally had enough.

“Please, please don’t go, Claire,” he had said, as I stashed random clothes in a bag.

“It’s only for a few weeks. Just to clear my head. I need time to think.”

“Can’t you think here? I’ll change, I promise. I’ll do better.”

My hands had faltered for a moment, holding a balled-up red t-shirt mid-air.

“I’ve heard that before,” I’d said finally, shoving the t-shirt into the bag with all the other clothes.

“It’ll be different this time, babe. I’ll see that counselor of yours. I’ll do anything. Just don’t take her away from me.”

I had looked at him, his shoulders slumped, his face a picture of desolation.

“It’s only a few weeks.” At that point, my voice had tremored a bit. In retrospect, that was what had done it.

“You can’t leave me alone, Claire. You know I’ll go crazy.” He’d jumped up from the bed, paced to the window, then turned back again.

“I’ll kill myself.”

I had shaken my head, my hands clutching the bag, my knuckles white. “No! Don’t say shit like that!”

And he had set his jaw, his eyebrows drawn down. “You know it’s true. I can’t live without you. I can’t live without her!”

I hadn’t doubted him, back then.

So I’d reached in, grasped the red shirt, and slowly pulled it out.


I’m lying on the hospital bed again, staring at the ceiling. The words are going around my head, in circles. Full custody. Full custody. Full custody.

That hole is back in my stomach, the hole that’s expanding outwards. Only now, it’s threatening to crack through my skin, break me apart like I’m one of those hollow eggshells that people paint at Easter. My skin will crack, then my blood and my organs and my gangrenous guts will leak out, having rotted and festered into foul-smelling liquid.

My legs swing to the floor, my soles feeling the linoleum that’s been scuffed from decades of rubber-soled shoes. My feet pace noiselessly around the room, stopping at the window, looking out over a city that is blanketed by night. Pinpricks of street lights and small squares of lit windows spread out before me, extending outwards until they abruptly stop at the ink-black horizon.

No. I think. He will not win. Not this time. He’s fooled me so many times. Fool me once, shame on him. Fool me twice, shame on me.

This time he is making me lose my baby. He will NOT make me lose my baby.

It’s time to go and face him. Not the man I married. Not my husband.

My abuser.


He’s holed up in a jail cell, lying on a narrow bed. The bed is like one of those camp beds; it’s stuck to the wall, with threadbare white sheets. There’s a toilet in the corner, completely exposed. It gives me perverse pleasure to think of him squeezing out turds in full view of the prison wardens. It’s retribution for all the times he wouldn’t let me piss in peace. He would stand outside the toilet door, banging and bashing, yelling obscenities. Then he’d eventually fling it open, and haul me off the toilet by my hair.

Eventually, the lock broke, and subsequently, the whole scene would play out faster, with fewer steps.

I approach the bed. He’s awake. He sees me.

“Cla-ire…!” There’s my name again, in two syllables. Except this time, it’s different. This time, his lips are trembling, and in the wan light filtering in from the lit corridor, I can see that his face is pale and bloodless.

I try to find words to say to him. Words that will express just how much he has ruined my life. How he took the very essence of what made me ‘me’, and twisted it into something revolting. How he made me blame myself, made me hate myself, made me constantly think it was all my fault.

I want to tell him how he stole the best years of my life, and the first three years of my daughter’s.

I want to tell him that he will never see her again. Not in this life, or the next.

It isn’t just his lips that are trembling now, it’s his whole body. He has shrunk himself against the grimy brick wall, his arms crossed in front of him, his legs drawn up. His body looks weak in his prison-issue pajamas that are several sizes too big. How could I have once loved this man?

He. Is. Pathetic.

“Claire…!” He is whimpering. “It can’t be you! You can’t be back!”

I take a step forward.

He shrinks away further. “Don’t hurt me…” His voice breaks on the words.

I look down. I’m holding a knife. I don’t know how I got it. I don’t remember picking it up. I remember I had grabbed one, that night, in self-defense. But I never got a chance to use it, before I ended up waking up in that cold hospital bed.

My grip tightens around the knife. The steel feels cool and heavy in my palm.

His lips are moving, silently. I think he might be praying. I suppress a laugh. Praying! My ridiculous, egotistical, godless husband.

Then more words come out of those bloodless lips.

“Don’t kill me…” he whimpers again.

I will. I will do it. I will kill him. All my anger gathers in my chest, filling the gaping wound that’s developed there. Macie’s wound.

I raise my arm, raise the knife. The blade glints ominously in the light from the naked, incandescent corridor globe.

My hand hovers, about to strike.

His eyes are wide, their whites showing. His hands are splayed against the brick wall behind him. I can smell his fear. He swallows, his larynx bobbing under the frail skin of his throat. Then he says one more thing.

“I’m sorry I killed you.” His voice is just a whisper.

What does he mean? I look down. I’m still in the dress that I wore that night. Long-sleeved (of course), beige, tailored, corporate. It is the dress I had worn to the office that day. It had been pristine and professional when I’d first put it on. But now it is crumpled, covered with splatters and smudges of blood.

My hand drops, I stagger backwards. My mouth sags open. I stare down at myself in disbelief. It all makes sense now. My visitors, watching me, talking about me, refusing to make eye contact. The hospital-that-was-not-a-hospital; where the bed was made of steel, the lights were too fluorescent, and there was a curious lack of hospital noises. I realize now that I’ve been lying in silence for days. No sounds of beeping monitors, no slow-drip of intravenous fluids, no curtains ringing along their rods as the nurses yank them open.

No, the hospital is not a hospital, I realize now.

It is a morgue.

Vengeance washes through my veins, bleaching me bone-white. I could kill him; I know I could. I can feel how solid the knife feels in my hand, the knife that I died holding. It would be only fair, right? A life for a life. His life for mine, and Macie’s. A little girl, just-turned-three, who had to live her whole life with a battered mother, and now has to grow up her whole life without her mother.

Is killing him the right thing to do? Or is it too easy? I can see him, shaking, drenched in cold sweat. I can look in his eyes and see myself as the specter that I’ve become. Claire, his once-wife, my hair disheveled, white skin marked with blood. I can look into his eyes and see his terror reflected back at me.

He looks like I must have looked; all those times I was scared for my life.

No, it would be too easy. I won’t kill him. He will be tried. He will be found guilty. He will rot in a jail cell for a long, long time.

And I will stay right here with him. To remind him every day of what he has done. I will ruin his life, like he ruined mine.

His life is no longer his life anymore.

So I say it. Three words.

Just enough to strike dread, right down to his deepest core.

“You,” I say, allowing myself to grin. “Are mine.”

About the Author

Keshe (she/her) is a Malaysian-born Chinese-Australian author of fantasy and speculative fiction. Her work has appeared in HAD, Maudlin House, Rust+Moth, and others. She was the winner of the 2022 Perito Prize, the 2021 Rachel Funari Prize for Fiction, the 2021 Yarra Literary Prize, and the 2022 Victorian Premier's Literary Awards Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript. Her debut YA fantasy novel, The Girl With No Reflection, is due out in 2024.

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