The devil in me said to jump at this opportunity. Another voice berated that thought. When she dipped her head, I began to clear the table while she filled the sink with dishwater. Thirty minutes later, we walked into the bedroom. Standing at the foot of the bed, I pulled off my T-shirt.
“A guy has to be one-part masochist and two-parts clairvoyant to be your friend.”
I shed jeans, but not boxers. Odera burrowed beneath the covers nervous and uncertain as a newborn fawn. When her warm body pressed against mine, I was aware of the fresh scent of her hair, the pressure of breasts against my ribcage and the satiny-smoothness of an inner thigh where she threw a leg over mine. Only the thin material of my pinstriped shirt separated us. And her scent. It expunged an ineffable appeal. I inhaled deeply to fill my lungs before lamenting the release. Odera snuggled closer, using my chest as a pillow.
“You’re not predictable or boring; I’ll give you that,” I said wrapping my arms around her, wallowing in the forgotten pleasure of holding someone close for no other reason.
A morbid curiosity about her assault swirled in my mind. My imagination had to be worse than the actual attack. I assumed this, for I had not detected physical scars. From experience, I understood emotional trauma had a more devastating effect than bleeding wounds that healed in days or weeks. I decided to wait for her to tell me. The energy she had expelled to make herself a guest, practically a legally obligated guest, made me chuckle. Odera’s fingertips, as they lightly brushed my chest, refocused my thoughts. When I closed my hand over hers, she pushed it away.
“I want to familiarise my body with yours. It has to get to know me and vice versa. Doctor’s orders,” she declared brushing hair behind her ear. “Move your hand.” She looked away and back. “If you’ll let me, I want to touch you…everywhere. It won’t be sexual. There, I said it.”
“Your shrink told you to do this?”
“Umm, hmm. When I could trust you. When I was ready. Grams gave me the final nudge. She said you could accept my fears. Could help me to face them.”
“That must be some grandmother to direct you to climb into this bed.”
“Well, she didn’t come right out and say it like that. And you’ve paid for your past; are still paying. Forgive yourself, Bruce. Guilt and shame will eventually destroy you if you don’t.” She planted a kiss to say that she forgave me. “We have to learn how to acknowledge the past without denying the power it projects into the present.”
“Can you be more specific?”
“Because…because of memories. They’re the source of my day- and nightmares. They come more often now. Memories that I once repressed, have returned. I must surrender them. You have no idea how horrible they are. Trying to forget them or to fight them, has not worked. Will you do this with me?”
“Tell me how.”
Inhaling deeply to steel her nerves, to summon courage from the core of her being, Odera said, “Promise me you won’t move. No matter what.”
“Fine. No matter what.”
Crouched on her knees, bathed in the table lamp’s soft glow, she began with the crown of my head. At first, I kept my eyes open, fascinated by her determination as she traced my cheekbones using feather-light tenderness. When her lips pursed and her eyes misted, I closed mine, feeling that I intruded. Slower than a feather falling, she kissed my face as though harvesting strength from stillness. Odera brushed over my shoulder caps before tracing biceps and forearms. Lighter than a hummingbird come to perch, she raised my left hand and counted each knuckle of each finger before lifting the next. Even when she drew back the covers, I remained dead-man-still, scarcely breathing.
As a spectator to this odyssey, I wondered how she traipsed around half-naked, yet feared my body. I was not privy to why it frightened her, beyond how it made her feel, which did not make sense either. These two enigmas spun in intellectual circles until a hot tear splashed my stomach. Berating myself for committing a treasonous act, for not staying with her voyage, I concentrated on her touch, willing the nerves beneath her hands to be my eyes.
Lingering upon the ridges of my abdominal plate, repeatedly tracing each muscle, she seemed unwilling to proceed. She stared at my groin. Sharp and poignant pathological visions of Lorena Bobbitt flashed through my mind. How deep were Odera’s wounds? Taking comfort from the depth of our friendship, I forced my hands to remain unclenched. I waited for the inevitable, more certain of its occurrence than a windy autumn day. The reason for my unrest was unfounded, for Odera brushed lightly across my boxers and moved onward. It could be her touch felt amazing; I would not know. Never previously had I been aware of the properties of trust, as then. A woman’s fury contained elemental potential.
Odera tapped my leg.
Knotted and tight muscles relaxed under her fingertips as she glided from top to bottom, rapidly tracing the outline of my back and legs. Once she returned to my neck, she planted a salty-wet kiss between my shoulder blades. That kiss hinted at the strength of her anguish. Right then, in that fleeting instant, I realized how deeply she hurt, how utterly she yearned vengeance for the harm done to her, and how fervently she sought relief. She harboured a soul-depth desire her Christian values prohibited her from releasing, but which existed nonetheless. Thinking that her journey was completed, I reached for her.
Odera intercepted my hands and said, “I want to try something, but you must not move.”
I sealed my willingness to comply with a nod and let her place my hands at my sides. Odera straddled my waist before sprawling lengthways along my body. She held my face in both hands and studied my gaze. Absentmindedly, I counted the dark flecks speckling the edges of her corneas and felt our heartbeats, whose individual rhythms drummed. For long minutes, she laid still, her expression candidly open, revealing that which we normally hide from the world, urging me to do the same.
“This isn’t part of your doctor’s exercise, is it?”
“It’s for me. For us. I want to find out how much of you I can accept.”
“You’re testing me again.”
“No. Yes. Not just you; me as well. You don’t have to.”
Waves of uncertainty washed over her.
“Yes, I do.”
Odera said, “The unbearable must be borne, or we’ll never move beyond today.”
That’s why she was here. Odera hoped to regain something taken from her. She was trying to transform her fear and purge shame, guilt and despair by sharing them, which was like Kira helping me to gain true self. Recognition and acceptance of one’s inner self by another had the capacity to heal. Unlike Kira, Odera lacked formal training but intuitively sought a remedy.
“Desire hurts. It resurrects old horror. So much ugliness grows out of that night. So much of who I was never survived.”
“We don’t have to do this. We’ll have other evenings. We’ve crossed that bridge.”
“I need to begin reclaiming the present.”
Minutes passed. A strand of hair tickled my nose. Whether she replenished her resolve with stillness or derived assurance from my words, she planted light kisses. Those kisses covered my face like leaves haphazardly floated to a forest floor. Moving slowly, she rose up until her shirt shrouded breasts brushed across my chest as she dragged herself lower. That my body responded beneath my boxers should not qualify as betrayal. Odera’s single-minded purpose was to entice, just as mine was to mimic marble. She dragged herself back up along my length and stretched out, propped up on elbows so she could capture my eyes. She hooked her feet beneath my calves and moved hesitantly.
She smiled cautiously. Minutes passed. Prison had crippled me from speaking. This was action, even if it came packaged as non-action. Odera was exposing her fear, letting me glimpse that which paralyzed her while studying my barbarous eyes; daring me to look away; to break the trust we had fostered; to take more than she could offer. Liquid hips rotated, finding the joint of me, exerting pressure, igniting strawberry dreams. Watermelon flavoured lips parted, glossy and moist. Bedroom eyes promised delights her body could not yet keep. Repeatedly she enticed me to move; tried to lure me into a falsehood; to show myself unworthy.
Clear blue eyes remained locked onto mine, deepening in hue. A quick and sexy head-whip tossed her hair back. Her gaze went squinty. A wild and untamed look conquered those ocean depths. A delightful murmur sounded. Her breath issued short and slightly ragged. Inhuman fear flowed out of her while all colour instantly drained from her face. Her lips squished hard together until they all but disappeared. Pupils panned like saucers.
A long and dreadful scream reverberated off the walls!
She threw herself up and off the bed, crab-crawling backwards across the floor. I jacked straight up. My heart thunder-pounded against my breastbone, trying to beat itself free of its bone cage. That had wrung my stomach into knots. At the end of that wail, which must surely bring the whole building rushing to her aid, she had retreated to my leather EZ Boy chair where she rocked uneasily, knees hugged to her chest. Unaware of the world in general, she stared vacantly into the past where pain and torment coexisted in a tangled heap. Clearly, she wished to remain an island. Clearly, she relived her own special hell, enduring what she had hoped to relinquish but could not.
Loud knocking sounded from my front door. A summons I dared not deny made Odera go stiffer than a jungle lamb stalked by a black panther. Prey eyes went wide; she forgot to blink.
“Nothing can harm you here.”
That primal scream would attract the police if I failed to convince, who could only be Ms. Wilson, of Odera’s well-being. What had nearly startled me into oblivion, had surely put the fear of Satan into everyone else.
“Coming,” I called out, slipped into jeans and a T-shirt, and opened the door a minute later to find Ms. Wilson with two other neighbours lined up behind her.
“Is anything wrong? Is everyone all right?” Ms. Wilson petitioned. “A hellish scream echoed through the vents.”
“The grim reaper paid a house call,” Ms. Tucker aptly described, craning her neck to look around my shoulder. “Jack-the-bloody-Ripper never heard such a bawl as what we just did.”
Before I spoke the feeble lie of having had the television volume turned loud, Odera entered the hallway. Crisis over. Swaddled in my bathrobe, she put an arm around my waist and lay her head upon my shoulder. I stroked her hair once and held her close.
“I’m sorry if I disturbed you. I had a frightening nightmare,” she lied.
Or was it a lie?
“Oh, you poor dear,” soothed Ms. Wilson and patted her cheek. “You go back and lay down; it wasn’t real. Be a good fellow and prepare a glass of warm milk with a pinch of cinnamon. Mind you, just a sprinkle now.”
“And nutmeg,” suggested Ms. Tucker, who ought to know how to invoke sleep, I mused devilishly. “Give it a healthy twirl. Half n’ half would be better. Cream even thicker. A whipped topping richer still.”
“Thank you. Goodnight ladies.”I ushered Odera toward the kitchen before they invited themselves inside to prepare the concoction. They clucked approvingly, extolling my good sense to leave the closing of the door to them. I could hear them cooing to each other as we entered the kitchen. The front door clicked shut.