The Rape of Donna Ron
Two hours before fixing herself at the face of a Philippine mahogany door, her legs like a lead mannequin, an explosion leveled a brownstone apartment in Greenwich Village, New York. Its thunder shook her office windows startling Donna as she sorted project questionnaires at the U.C. Institute of Social research. Rushing to the window, smoke rose ominously from the West somewhere past Washington Square Park, the slight breeze crooking a single tendril into an angry finger that pointed—directly. At. Her.
Olive complexioned Donna Ron didn’t bring her beaming smile to that office door on March 6th 1970, instead she carried a scowl—instead she carried the solemn nothing of happiness at odds with a memory, something preferred forgotten but suddenly punctuated by a cold middle finger in a grey morning sky.
Donna Ron commanded her feet to move, paced a few figure eights on the wood floor and stopped again and reread the brass plaque proclaiming the ornately carved door a war relic from the Spanish American War. Someone had cut a scar in it and inlaid in the hole opaque that read: INVESTIGATIONS.
Twirling the end of her knit scarf, unraveling it as she read, the natty end fell limp at her side.
Donna gripped the doorknob and twisted.
Tobacco smoke roiled the air around her at the entry, encapsulating her face drawing water from smoke stung eyes. A cacophony of noise followed it, waves of dissimilar ringing phones, commanding voices and some anxiety filled.
Donna Ron stepped into a memory to slice unnoticed through billowing smoke in a third-floor room of a Greenwich police station towards an office she figured, in which, someone important might sit.
She barged through the door gasping for cleaner air then slammed it behind her. She caught the occupant open mouthed, coffee cup at his lips mid-sip. “A cigar now and then is fine but this is excessive,” he said with a grin while dropping the cup from his lips. “Please, sit.” The man motioned Donna to a chair, “I’m Hank Sutton,” he said offering a hand.
He had the gentle lilt of a southern gentleman when he spoke.
“Tea or coffee?” Hank turned, clicking on the coffee pot and faced her, jiggling the mug playfully.
Donna saw rainbow colors like oil on water layered on the syrupy coffee in a pot on the burner. Precambrian java caked the outside like creosote. The smell of burnt go’go juice didn’t mix well with smoke lingering in the air. Aside it, sat a plastic pitcher in a vibrant 70s color filled with yellowy water she figured Hank used for tea. A small wicker basket with an opened box of Luzianne tea and a bag of Community with its open end rolled down joined it.
Donna’s stomach churned, a hint of nausea and dizziness overtaking her. “I’ll pass on the coffee,” she said.
Hank hovered near the pot. “I should cut back,” he said shoving a hand in a pocket. He poured another and turned around studying Donna a moment through rising steam. “Not too many folks like my coffee. I make it too black. In fact, I’ve liked it black since I was a boy. My grandfather said it’d put hair on my chest.”
That word. Donna gripped the lip of her chair shifting her weight.
Hank wore black slacks, black belt, shoes and a white short-sleeved button-up with a thin black tie. To Donna he looked stereotypical. Shifting her weight again, her mind flailed against a memory better put to rest in the rubble of an explosion—if—the explosion did link to a memory maybe leading her to a finality she hoped for.
She sat a bit away from the front of Hank’s desk; he sat on a corner. As Donna’s eyes wandered the edges of the furniture to dancing circles on the walls, Hank slid a notepad over rolling a yellow No. 2 pencil to his thigh.
Donna inhaled deeply through her mouth, blew through her smoke raw nose then held her breath.
“You ok?” Hank asked.
“Yes.” She lied.
“You wanted to speak with me about today?” Hank rested a hand on the corner of the desk.
Donna nodded. “They picked an ugly green,” she said. “Nothing should be painted pale green, especially furniture.”
“I’m sorry?” Donna widened her eyes, nodding towards the desk on which Hank sat.
“Oh,” Hank said, tapping a palm on it.
“Yes.” Donna leaned forward over extending an arm pick at a heavy chip in the paint with a French manicured fingernail. “It’s not the first color they’ve used Mr. Sutton; they’ve been painting this for years.” Donna withdrew looking at him. “All these layers tell a story like rings on a tree. Do you know what I mean?”
“I do.” Hank nodded. “I do.”
“The layers of paint hide its life. Chokes it out. The paint chips tell its story Mr. Sutton. I bet that wood wishes it could breathe.”
Hank massaged a thigh crossing his legs and just let her talk towards what he figured he already knew.
Donna’s heart loped like the nerves at the start of a roller coaster’s smaller drops, its appetizer hills. Her chest tightened, her mouth dried, her tongue felt thick and heavy, and a parched tip traced a parched roof. Donna slid her left hand across the table curling her fingers over the routed edge tapping at another chip. “I guess. I guess—I’m procrastinating,” she said.
As Hank’s brow pulled down, a passing cloud outside the single office window dimmed the afternoon light reflected in his eyes.
Donna felt uneasy in the presence Orwellian nothingness seen just outside the office walls. Seen on the on the way in, Ma Bell rotary phones stood as paperweights atop stacks of files, dull fixtures hung from on the walls and a Verathaned wood tabouret with a red phone stood at main entrance. In the office with Hank wasn’t the reality, outside the office was.
“Are you—” Hank began and stopped.
“I know who’s responsible for the explosion,” Donna blurted. Hank had glacier blue eyes, kind ones, high cheekbones and a slight, angular face. She decided he seemed like a good man with a good heart. Yes, he was, a masculine alpha to the omega effete of Bill Ayers, the man intimately responsible for her visit to Hank Sutton’s office.
“I dated Bill Ayers briefly in ’65,” she said. ’You know of him?”
“We know him.” Hank said crossing his arms.
“He fancied himself a sophisticate,” she said. “He showed gave me his journal a long time ago. Crap if you ask me,” she said.
Donna mentioned Ayers with surprising indifference. “I saw him in Greenwich last week,” She said diving a hand onto an orange Carlos Falchi handbag.
She produced a speckled composition notebook tossing it onto the table. “I’ve had this for six years. I thought about it after I saw him in town,” she said. “I thought about it again this morning after the explosion when I called you from my office. I went to my flat to retrieve it before coming here. I’ve marked a page.”
Hank pulled the notebook to his side opening it a folded page and read Ayers’ words circled in red ink.
“There’s something about a good bomb,” He’d written. “Night after night, day after day, each majestic scene I play in my mind is so terrible and unexpected that no city can ever stand innocently fixed in my mind. Big buildings and wide streets, cement, and steel are no longer permanent. They too, are fragile and destructible. A torch, a bomb, and they, too, can come undone or be knocked down.”
Hank frowned. “We thought he was in Detroit. You say you saw him sliming around town?” In fact, Hank already knew. Told him Ayers and another big-name Weathermen figure was in town—what he didn’t know was for how long or have an answer to the possibility Ayers might no longer be stealing his oxygen.
“Yes. I saw him,” she said.
“His girlfriend Bernardine and Bill bombed a police station in San Francisco. They’re behind a few bad things. They’re murderers, Donna. Be thankful you’re not in his circle anymore.”
“Or he’s in mine,” Donna mumbled. “You know I’ve heard she’s been hiding in Sausalito.”
“Dohrn?” Hank asked. “You Weathermen royally turned Chicago on its head.”
“I heard they started riots there but I was in Israel at the time Mr. Sutton.”
“Their Days of Rage,” he said. Hank placed clasped palms together near his face as if in prayer. Ringing phones picked up their flurry breaking Donna’s concentration. Hank exhaled over his fingers. “Ayers is a sociopath.”
“I hate the bastard,” Donna blurted.
Hank had been twirling a pencil in slow circles on the table then stopped it abruptly with his palm.
“I’d just left Yeshiva when I saw him along with a man I didn’t recognize and a woman I’m sure was Dianna Oughton— “
Donna studied the floor. “—the woman Bill dated after he was through with me,” she said. “She didn’t look the same. She looked frail.”
Donna squinted her eyes towards the ceiling the ceiling for a different thought.
“What were they doing?”
“Just walking.” Donna said. “I saw them out in front of the Church of the Incarnation and leaving a back alley behind the police station a block away.”
Hank tilted an ear.
Her apprehension drained quicker as her ball started rolling, words pouring from her mouth like a pressure release settling her some, just some. But she still found herself on the cusp of the big climb when she must confess the fear of the coaster, the road there the bumps in the road, country hills with an unknown on the other side.
“How’d you get mixed up with a clown like Ayers?”
Ayers, he said.
Ayers said her inner voice.
Ayers. Ayers. Ayers. William Bill fucking Ayers as salt in a wound unhealed, his mark on her a keloid, a bogy in a corner, an under-skin she’d dare not touch by thinking his name or never, ever saying it but here he be, a bespectacled face hovering nearby with broken glass in hand ready to hack at the scar and spittle salt into the wound.
Donna’s heart drummed.
She breathed in little gasps.
“My God, are you ok?” Hank reached for her.
Donna withdrew, a hand in the air. “Yes…SDS.”
“SDS.” Hank said.
Donna parted her mouth, attempted to lick her lips. A hand went to them, fingernails picking at dried flecks formed in the corners before tracing the lower lip with an index finger. “Have any water?”
“Not here. But I can get you some.”
“No,” she said. “I’ve got to get on with this.”
“So, you met him in the Students for a Democratic Society? Did you join?”
Donna looked into Hank’s face, eyes wetting, face flushing jaw tightening. “My family Mr. Sutton, we’re from Israel. We’ve been there since ’49 and I knew no one at Michigan. I was alone,” she said. “Vietnam was becoming the in issue to talk about during classes so I went to a few ‘sit ins’ and ‘teach ins’ for extra credit and went to some SDS meetings for a free A.
“I don’t like war,” Donna said, waving her hands. “I realize it is necessary sometimes, especially for a country like Israel but in Vietnam,” she said. “Vietnam is a different matter.”
The color in her face returned as her eyes dried. Her temples now pulsed only when she spoke.
Donna dove into her purse for Wrigley’s’ Spearmint. “Want one?”
“Won’t taste good with the coffee.” Hank lifted his mug, smiling, and took a sip.
“The dorms on campus were limited. I didn’t have many choices so I joined a sorority. My sorority sisters were into the political types, like the SDS guys who talked in obtuse ideological abstractions to impress girls into bed.”
Donna crossed her arms blurting, “Everyone wanted to be on the right side of the issues or at least be having sex with the right side. I wanted to be on that side too, but I wasn’t going to climb into bed with anyone. Their cynicism turned me off.” She squinted.
“Except one,” she said.
“Yes.” Donna slid into a slouch. Donna closed her slightly parted legs, splaying her feet aside. She became aware of her weight, sticky, she suddenly felt clammy and her body dried more the point it felt dryer down there.
Her skin crawled. She felt the need to scrub filth from her skin, it was a feeling she hadn’t felt since—
“I met Bill Ayers in 1964. He saw me around. One night, he’d been waiting for me outside the library and struck up a conversation as I left. I was attracted to him because he was different, because he was soft spoken. His work with the children’s school impressed me.”
Donna coasted into Hank’s office with determination of the suicidal after departure from terra firma—no return. She’d plunged through the smoke, plunged into his office and dove into the conversation with stink at arms distance until she could keep it away no longer. She’d shifted uncomfortably several times, had stunted breath and procrastinated around paint on the furniture. All the while, Hank searched for the ogre in the room he knew had followed her in.
“He asked me out.”
“And you went.”
Donna surveyed an empty spot on the wall behind Hank’s shoulders, the pulsing in her temples returned. “It’s something I can’t take back.” Donna blew through her mouth.
Donna Ron and Hank Sutton stared at each other long enough for the noise of the office clock to find the quiet to tic. Donna read his face, he looked concerned, and Hank read hers, she had a confession to make. Ringing pones and indiscernible voices continued outside the walls.
“Bill shared an attic apartment with a 23-year old black man,” Donna said. “He had a wife and children but I don’t know where they were. It was a small place, with a small couch, small bedroom and an expensive stereo his Bill’s father bought him.”
“Bill’s family is rich. He hates his father. He bragged about talking his father into buying it for him. His disdain for him was strange. It was strange how he hates the rich, but doesn’t have a problem taking handouts when it benefits him.”
“Well isn’t that communism?” Hank said.
Donna quieted; shifted her eyes to the table before shutting them, clenching furrows in her brow. Hank watched her pupils dancing erratic tangos behind her eyelids searching for the note to take the next step. She lowered her head farther.
“We’d been dating a week,” she mouthed, her head still down. “On a Friday, he got me drunk at a party, took me back to the apartment and I slept with him. Bill was my first.” She returned her stare to Hank who didn’t blink.
“He took advantage of you?”
“No.” She said flushing. “I wanted to. I liked him. I thought I knew him but I didn’t.” Donna studied Hank’s eyes. They looked kind, deep, comforting, trustworthy and strong. “I didn’t have an idea what Bill could be,” she said.
“I’ve thought I’d feel different about getting that notebook out of my life. It’s never really mattered and I’ve just never had a reason to touch it again until today. It’s almost like I hold on to it until there was a significant reason for it to go and I sense today is significant.”
Hank didn’t say anything.
“It’s been out of sight in a drawer of an antique dresser since ’65,” she said.
“How long did you date?”
“Not long.” Donna closed her eyes again. Hank avoided holding his eyes on her face. She was an attractive woman, he avoided the breasts hidden beneath her sweater, his eyes didn’t caress her nut-brown skin nor give a thought to running his fingers through shimmering brown hair curled at the tips, its bends gently caressing her shoulders.
Hank had his suspicions.
While those impulses existed for a flash in his id, that part of manhood that possesses every man, allowing its invasion into his conscious would have been at least unprofessional and at most disrespectful. When she did look into his face, Hank radiated a kindness from his eyes.
Donna sighed again swallowing loudly. Donna chomped a few more chomps on her Wrigley’s, retrieved the wrapper, raised it to her face, spit the gum into the wrapper, balled it into a shape and said, “I believe you need an idea of who Bill Ayers really is.
“I didn’t fit in with the girls at the house. I’d go to Bill’s apartment instead of the sorority house. We’d sit on his couch talking politics and listening to Glen Yarbrough or Bob Dylan on his HiFi. He’d talk about communism or Mao then get this wild look in his eyes talking about a revolution at home. Sometimes he’d get uncomfortably quiet, light a cigarette and grab that notebook,” She said pointing, “then start writing in it. He sent me home with it one night after we’d been drinking and he took to it furiously—told me to take it home, read it and bring it back the next time I came over,” she said. “I told him I would.”
“What happened the next time?”
The question congealed saliva in the back of her throat.
“In a different setting Mr. Sutton, I’d feel like a smoke.”
“Only when I drink,” she croaked
“Me too.” Hank said.
“There are worse things in the world than cigarettes Mr. Sutton.”
“Which is why you’re here?”
Donna nodded pretending to brush something from her lap then pulled at a hem several times. “It was one of those evenings,” she said. “I’d just left the library. Maybe I just didn’t want to be around the girls. I can’t remember,” she said. “It was next time I went over `when he raped me.”
Hank’s entire body instantaneously tensed, the coffee at his lips readying a sip of ochre fluid when she said it. He didn’t draw any java from the mug, just simply dropped it from his lips and slowly setting it down.
Donna gripped the edges of her seat.
“Well he didn’t rape me specifically,” she said.
Hank cocked his head reaching to scratch his cheek.
Donna crossed her arms. “He had his roommate and his brother rape me,” she said. “He hated me for being a Jew.”
Donna leaned over to the table thumping an accusing finger onto the desk. “He was angry I didn’t have the notebook when I went over. I promised I’d bring it next time but he stomped into the bathroom with his roommate and turned on the shower so I couldn’t hear them talking.
“When he came out, he flooded me with apologies for getting so angry. Bill’s roommate and his brother Rick watched me from the corner of their eyes.”
Donna combed her hair with her fingers. “Something was wrong. I felt uneasy and got up to leave,” she said. “When I headed for the door, Bill pushed me out of the way and spun the deadbolt.”
“I was in shock. Then Bill turned to me and said, ‘You can’t leave until you fuck my roommate and my brother.’
Hank stared wide eyed trying not to show the rage and utter disgust for Bill Ayers the two in the room undoubtedly now shared. “He said it so matter of fact I’m convinced he planned it.”
“Why, but…” Hank started to say.
Donna raised a finger shooshing him.
“My mind was racing so fast I got dizzy and had to squeeze between Bill and the black guy that had come up to the door. When I went between them, he lunged at me.”
“I started hyperventilating and I began to cry hysterically. Bill elbowed his roommate and came over to the couch where I was sitting. Between sobs, I was able to tell him I had no intention to screwing his roommate, his brother or him for that matter.
“Bill said I had no choice if I wanted to leave and that terrified me. I thought he might kill me. Bill said I wouldn’t fuck his roommate because I was a bigot, but I’m not racial and he knew that, but--
Donna’s back knotted into chords of tense muscle and she rotated her shoulders to loosen them. She dropped her hands to her thighs squeezing them and rubbing the ache towards her knees. She placed her hands back on the table and sat demurely.
“My mouth is so dry.”
Every inch of his heart prayed she escaped, but her tone, her procrastinations, her expressions, and her mannerisms told him differently. Hank said nothing and didn’t blink.
“I felt I had to prove I wasn’t a bigot.”
The pit of Hank’s gut turned heavier. His belt felt tighter. Donna looked past him, somewhere over his shoulder, her eyes fixated again on another intangible spot. She croaked her words in colorless monotones of a nightmare. “I got up off the couch and put myself on the bed and the black man got on top of me, and I tried not to look in his face.”
She remembered the rapist’s void eyes as the color of lampblack that burned holes in her breasts, an animal that stared into her face sneering, his obsidian skin sticking to her like fly paper. “I smelled his hatred. He fucked me like an animal. As he did it, I told Bill I hated him with my eyes but Bill slunk around in the corner with his head down and never looked at my face.”
Hank curled his fist near his mouth briefly in disgust then replaced his hand on the table stunned.
“When he finished, Bill made his brother Rick rape me too. I thought I would have to let Bill screw me also but after his brother got off and rolled off me, Bill unbolted the door and left it open for me to leave. I gathered my clothes in a bundle and got dressed on the way out.”
Her voice forged itself into an iron tone. “Mr. Sutton,” she said, “they laughed at me as I fled down the stairs and I didn’t look back.”
Billy sacrificed his Donna, his Tamar to Negro Amnon on the altar of racial injustice, her oblation his clemency from white guilt, a devastating absolution that infused hatred’s lingering stench on her forever. “I bathed over and over until I rubbed rashes on my skin,” she said looking up, her eyes blinking rapidly as if suddenly snapped out of hypnosis. Quiet fell upon their glass fortress besieged by a smoke envenomed air. Hank, her Absalom, became the second person she’d ever told about the rape. “I told my roommate, no one else, so no one ever knew to check on me and I was alone.”
The fragile moment, the circumstance uncomfortably closed the distance between them leaving him self-conscious of his wanting to comfort her. Moving over to her side, he gently placed his palm around her forearm fearful she’d jerk it from his hand. When he touched her, she didn’t recoil but looked up at him and smiled. “For me, it’s better to face the memories now if it might lend to stopping him from ruining someone else’s life.”
After briefly looking into her eyes he glanced over to the notebook by his right hand. “Donna, that’s heavy stuff,” he said. “Are you sure you’re ok?”
She nodded. Hank opened the corner of the notebook and glanced at a few pages.
“Some of the things you’ve circled in his notebook look interesting. Maybe there are names in here, who knows. This was five years ago, I’m sure he runs with different people now.”
“Here,” he said giving her a business card with his numbers. “Feel free to call me at home if you think of something else or need anything.”
“I think I’m going to get some hot tea at the coffee shop two blocks north of here and get back to work.”
“Take your mind off it, huh?”
“Are you walking?” he asked.
“Stay clear of Washington Square Park. Fire units are staging near the arch. The explosion was three blocks up on 11th Street.”
“You’ve got soft hands,” she said smiling. “Just talking to you has done worlds for me Mr. Sutton-thank you. I need to go.” She then pushed up from the table scooting the chair back with her thighs. “I don’t want that back.” She nodded at the notebook. “You can burn it when you’re done.”
He laughed. “I might do that. You ready to make a run through the smoke?” he asked.
“Sure.” she said turning towards the door.
“We know there are bodies in that building. If you saw him in town, Billy might have gotten his payback.”
Donna faced him and shrugged. “I’m over it,” she lied, “But if he’s in the rubble, I won’t be heart broken.”
Sutton knew she wasn’t over it. Whoever is? The expression on her face belied a sense of indetermination over whether she’d prefer Ayers dead or alive. Maybe what Hank saw was indifference.
Opening the door from her smoke encased confessional, pollution plunged straight into the room and got shot back over the walls by the fans. The onrush of noise that greeted her; she did not hear, nor did she smell the smoke as she floated through it somewhat lighter than she had been when she arrived and she passed on out through the mahogany door she didn’t remember opening to leave. On the bottom floor, people passed in and out of the main doors and intermittent drafts of cool air surged over her filling the stairway as she descended.
Outside, she looked up at Hank watching her leave from a third-floor window. He waved. She waved back. Donna turned and stood there a moment questioning the permanence of her relief.
She felt good, for now and drew an enormous breath filling her lungs with sharp air, swelling her chest. She prayed the inner peace of her infant carapace would be impregnable. But it would not. It would be limited to thirty-one years of solace, shattered until the fall of the Twin Towers and a New York Times puff piece on Billy Ayers the day the Towers fell, a glowing article on a bestial man responsible for the shred of her innocence.