The moment the apartment door closed, Odera stepped out of reach, again an island. She shuffled listlessly to the refrigerator and then to the cupboard. Milk splashed on the countertop. Before shaking hands made a second attempt, I gently took the carton from her. Sighing lightly, she seated herself at the kitchen table.
“Just cinnamon,” she requested in a small voice listless with apathy. “Spoon in.”
“Can I do anything?”
“No. Yes. I’m sorry.” Apathy faded from her expression, replaced by a tiny smile that measured my need to do more than just prepare a drink. The microwave beeped. “Ask me about that night.”
After adding hot chocolate, I pressed the glass into her trembling hands. Soft-sad eyes implored a request I suspected she would not be able to make twice. Now that she was ready to share her story, I had no curiosity left to hear it.
“When did you know that you were in trouble?”
I seated myself across the table from her.
Cradling her cinnamon-sleeping potion between both hands, knees drawn to her chest, Odera began her tale looking through and beyond me.
“It was dark when I pulled into my parking space. I fumbled about trying to find my cardkey. My arms were full with a gift. I had just carded the stairwell door when a knife pressed against my throat and a hand clamped over my mouth. He shoved me through the door and slammed me into the wall.”
Odera wet her mouth as I found a more comfortable position and lighted a cigarette. My palms had gone sweaty. Those first few words had pulled me into the parking lot, tugged me into the underground stairwell. I had prepared myself to listen, not to accompany her.
“Movies and books refer to the coldness of steel, but his knife was warm, as if he had cradled it lovingly while awaiting my arrival.”
She halted to organise her thoughts, words jumping tenses as she stared into space, head canted. Remembering.
Resurrecting cemetery memories.
“His breath reeked of whisky and his body odour is sour. Weird, but I remember hoping the hospital nurses would find my panties clean. That’s an odd wish, don’t you think?”
Not expecting an answer, she said, “I begged and pleaded with him not to hurt me. I offered money and jewellery while trying to remember if I was supposed to stomp his foot, or swing my head backwards, and then stomp his foot. It didn’t matter. He flung me to the ground, tearing my skirt free before I acted.”
Odera sipped her drink. Graveyard dread thinned her lips and stole her pallor. She forgot to blink.
“When I gathered breath to scream, he pressed a long and shiny knife with a jagged edge to my throat. His other hand covered my mouth so that my lips crushed against my teeth and my breath surged through my nose. Must remember everything for the police, I thought, and forced my eyes to note the colour of his.”
Odera wetted her tongue, filling her mind with memory while I stamped out my cigarette. The scene sent waves of unease through me. My thoughts faded into inconsequence when she cleared her throat.
Odera mimicked eerily, “’Scream bitch, and they’ll find you in so many pieces not even your mother will be able to stitch you together.’”
“Even as I stared into his muddy-brown eyes, committing his unshaven features to memory, I noted behind thin, cruel lips, he was missing a tooth. He cut away my panties. One by one, with the tip of the knife, he flicked the buttons off my blouse. When he hooked the knife beneath my bra and severed it, I shook and shivered uncontrollably.
“Self-defence classes instructed me not to struggle; to let the assailant have his way if one can’t win free unharmed. They said you should not resist. Do not provoke the attacker by looking into his eyes for too long.” After a short pause she recalled, “His weight squashed me. I closed my eyes and tried to pretend I wasn’t there, begging God to save me.”
A quizzical expression crossed her face, as if she worked a math problem that refused to sum correctly. Not looking up, she picked at a loose thread.
“When I failed to will myself out of my body, the lurid sight of his semi-erection, as he fumbled to put on a condom, bound me to the moment. My eyes were glued to his flaccid thing. How could a deflated thing like that harm me?”
Floor joists squeaked as someone walked overhead. The hallway clock chimed the half hour. I found an unlit cigarette between my fingers and did not recall removing it from the package. A frightened peep accompanied her next exhalation of breath. When I rose from my chair, she waved me back. My hands gripped the edge of the table until my wrists cramped.
Anxiety racked my system.
I needed to move, but I could not budge.
“Though he spoke harshly, I think he was as scared as me. His forethought of bringing a condom intensified my fright. I was not random. Why did he choose me? What had I done to provoke the attack? After several unsuccessful fumbling attempts, I just wanted him to finish and to get the hell out.
“While I waited for him to complete his sin, I recognised how little I had done with my life. All the wasted opportunities, the many instances where I could have helped others, but did not. So wrapped up in where to holiday, what clothes to buy, what city event my husband and I had been invited to, and what important people we might rub shoulders with, I rarely visited Grams, rarely volunteered my time, and never helped the less fortunate. My life had been a selfish waste up to that point, and I never recognised just how shallow I was. I never saw the banality of my existence, never appreciated what was truly important, until it was about to be taken away.
“Taste, touch, smell and hearing were suddenly heightened to levels I had never felt previously. Each second became forever. In a sick way, I had some control. The faster he finished his deed, the quicker he would leave. He moved erratically and had to start over, tearing new pain as he forced himself inside, creating new shame, adding to the humiliation that I had already endured. The knife’s razor edge scraped my neck and along an ear lobe, as though he toyed with the idea of taking a trophy. He ordered me to move my hips while mauling me with his free hand, inflicting new bruises until I cried out, as though creating and witnessing pain and terror in his victims excited him.
“Time and again he broke rhythm. The longer he tried, the more it hurt. Mingled with the urine, a metallic, coppery scent filled the hallway. Part of me felt sorry for him. He looked so pathetic and small.”
Odera sipped at her film-covered drink, repositioning her feet, resigned to continue; to purge grief from her soul; to surrender shame and humiliation; to trust me, a man, when she had every reason to hate.
“I prayed that someone would walk through the door. I kept asking myself why my husband hadn’t come for me? How could he not know that I needed him? After an eternity of start-stop, start-stop, I mustered the courage to suggest that he leave, that I would not call the police if he would just go.
“He pressed the knife to my throat blaming me as if it was my inadequacy that had prevented his release, as if I was responsible for his failure.
“‘Faster, bitch,’ he warned, mauling me, hurting me.
“All right, you pathetic fucker, I thought. Hate and indignity gave me courage. I drew upon that hate to strike back the only way I could. Each thrust was a step closer to freedom; to purging shame, to violate him, to erase the humiliation he perpetrated on me.
“The sick prick lost his potency when he felt the power shift, when he learned I no longer feared him, and that I felt nothing but contempt,” she declared, fury in her voice, eyes hard cold blue. “He retreated to his knees, enraged that I had assumed dominance and control while he had lost both.
“And then he struck.
“Twice, and then a third time he knife-raped me.
“I screamed and screamed, and pulled myself into a ball, feeling responsible for his anger, for the infliction of my wounds and that I had goaded him on. I was at his mercy, unable to defend myself against someone who felt nothing in return.
“Police discovered me lying in a pool of blood and urine. A tenant entering the underground parking upstairs door scared him off before he perhaps killed me. For the longest time I remembered so little, but now everything has come rushing back. I’m not sure if some of my thoughts are really memories, or just fears that I made real because I didn’t have the actual memories for so long.” Looking at me, instead of through me, Odera’s shared, “I cannot bear children. There was too much damage. I so wanted children. And it was all my fault. If I had not hated him, had not taken control, this never would have happened.” All torn down and ripped up, she wondered, “Why couldn’t I just let him finish? Now he’s with me forever. I still feel his knife cutting into me as it did that night. And his pitiless voice lives inside my head shaming, cursing and taunting me. I thought by telling you I could purge his voice, but he’s with me still.”
The hallway clock chimed the half hour.
Odera fought to contain muffled sobs cried into her knees.My mind whirled ruby haze, all blurry and fuzzy. Flung into the savagery done to Odera, her pain became my own, hideous and unbearable to behold. Fear, humiliation and helplessness swirled in my mind as her story repeatedly replayed itself flashing faster and faster from scene to scene, from emotion to emotion. Spinning in a vortex of primal emotions, those dreadful mental pictures coalesced into an entity whose eternal potency nourished itself as never before.