Rain fell during the night leaving a turquoise ceiling, sliced by shadowy clouds. She stands on her ninth floor balcony lunging her right leg forward and stretching her left leg back. She takes a yawning breath; changes position. The three loin-clothed Olympians and the word Finisher stamped on her shirt move in unison. The agenda for her eight o'clock meeting, the follow-up reports she will prepare, the phone calls she will make. It's going to be another long day. They all are. Five forty-five. Better do this.
What's with the racket? Come to daddy. You need some sleep, just like me. Haven't had much. After months of pen hooch and make-do roach I forgot what the real stuff tastes like. Now I'm paying for it. Yes, I love you too especially that whirr you make. Better than any bitch I've known. Got pretty tight with one last night, but when I got her in the car, nothing happened. Her slobbering mouth, and that slash of cherry guck on her cheeks didn't make good old Henry stand up and pay attention. She laughed. Expect she ain't now. No, they ain't like you. All you'll ever need is a little milk, someone to love you.
She reaches halfway, high-fives the sign she never quite connects with and heads for home. The crunch underfoot and the single yellow leaf dangling in a shimmering spider web: September. She shivers against the breeze, picks up the pace. Steady the breath. Almost there.
Too strung out. Can't sleep. This car stinks of that bitch's puke. Need some smokes. And some milk for you baby.
Hey, there's that blonde again. I think she smiled at us before. What do you think? Should we ask if she wants a ride?
As she crosses 112th, she detects movement out of the corner of her eye. She looks around and spots someone running across the street towards her. The tiny hairs on her arms and legs stand erect. Her stomach hollows, her ears beat. The morning breeze stills. She picks up her speed. He does too. He's beside her. She concentrates on the sidewalk ahead; the hotel she knows is a block away.
Hey where you going so fast? Want a ride?
The glint of steel catches her eye; his arm falls heavy around her shoulders. She watches the blade edge toward her throat. Her movements slow and methodical, she grabs the knife before it reaches its target.
He punches her, kicks the legs from underneath her. She hears the thump of their bodies hitting concrete, but doesn't feel the impact. Heavy breathing. The sound like an echo in a cave. Her mind empty of thought, focused.
He's on top. She can't see him at this claustrophobic distance, but thinks his face is pockmarked, his eyes blue. The smell of cigarettes and stale alcohol ooze when he presses against her.
Hey, stop screaming and I'll let you go.
She screams, kicks, scratches and tears at him. Something connects; he suddenly jumps up, then stumbles. She wants to stop him, pounce, then changes her mind. She runs.
That stupid bitch scratched the shit out of my face. Man, blood on my head too. She's stronger than she looks. Should've sliced her. Don't worry kitty, daddy's okay.
The bright lights overhead pin her to the gurney. She's lying in the hallway waiting her turn for x-rays. The adrenalin has worn off; pain seeps through her hands and stomach. They've told her, Something's broken inside, but they're not sure what. She begins to cry. A young doctor is beside her. His scent fresh and unsoiled, his face smooth, his touch gentle. He doesn't move away despite her tears, sweat, snot.
My new boss wants to know what happened. What do you mean, I say. Looks like you lost some hair and what's with the face art? I say, Cleaning out the crawlspace in the new apartment. No big deal. It looks like a big deal, he says; hope it's not going to stop you from working. I say, What do you want me to do first?
She spends two days in the hospital and months in physiotherapy to mend severed tendons. Her hands don't close. A treadmill and the yapping tube take the place of tree-lined streets, fresh air against her skin. Her parents move in to accompany her to work, get groceries, make sure she's okay. I'm fine, she says, and they move out. At work, they give her an assistant, a laptop and flexible hours. She ignores the nightmares, adds security bars to her windows and barricades her door with a chair, teeters a glass on the handle. Safe in the belief she'll hear any intrusion—the knock against the chair, the shattering glass—she sleeps. I'm functioning, she tells herself and wonders where the jerk is. In prison, I hope. She ignores the frequent headlines, Offenders Spending Less Time Behind Bars.
Man, I can't believe it. It's been three months. The boss tells the parole officer I'm doing great. Turns out he understands people like me because he used to be people like me. And he loves you too kitty. Can't be all bad. I got money for my weekend blowouts and once in awhile I get a whore. Can't say nothing when I do it like I like it. No complaints from this cowboy.
Thousands graze the headline and digest the story with detached curiosity. One woman, coffee, day-timer and newspaper in hand, will clip the article and tuck it in her purse. She will bolt the door when she gets home, then read the article twice. She will call the police and inquire about her case, ask if this latest attack could be connected. They will tell her they will call when they have information, that they doubt this is the same person. They will thank her. She will have a nightmare tonight and for several more nights.
One man will read the headline while on the toilet at work, feel his cock stir, fondle his semi-stiffness, think of payday and smile when his tomcat rubs against his legs reminding him of the night he gave it a home.
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