Afterward, in his bathroom, she stared into the small mirror above the sink. Tear-streaked face. A blood trickle down one side of her mouth. She wasn’t sure if she’d bit her lip, or if she’d caught an elbow. On the upper arms, bruises already forming. She’d be wearing long sleeves for weeks.
Poor decisions begat poor consequences, her father always said.
Two opposing forces seized her, threatening to rip her in half. She needed to escape as quickly as possible, but she needed to wash herself. Thoroughly. Completely.
The latter urge won out.
She tore her gaze from the broken soul in the mirror and stripped off what was left of her clothing. Then she examined every square inch of her naked body. After the encounter, she was sure she’d suffered multiple gashes but all she found were some scratches, thin streaks of red. On her arms, on her neck. About her breasts. On her buttocks. Clothing and make-up would cover them. No one ever had to know.
She resumed her purification effort with renewed fury. Rubbed skin raw with a scalding washcloth, sterilizing herself, punishing herself.
In the bedroom, on the other side of the flimsy bathroom door, he lay in bed.
Afterward, when her skin was bright pink and sore to the touch, when she was certain she’d eradicated every shred of evidence, she slipped her dress on. Took a deep breath, steeled herself, and opened the bathroom door, half expecting to see him there, in front of her, waiting to pounce again.
He lay in bed.
She tiptoed into the bedroom, gathered her remaining clothes, and headed for the door into the apartment’s living area, but stopped at the foot of the bed to survey the scene.
After dinner, they’d come back to his place. Said he needed to check on his newly acquired puppy.
There had been no puppy.
He locked the door behind them. Asked politely, at first.
She’d said no.
He asked again. Come on.
She’d said no. No. No, a dozen times.
He’d grabbed her arms. Squeezed. Hard. Come on!
He hauled her into the bedroom. Too strong.
He threw her down on the bed and climbed on top. Too fast.
She thought about screaming.
But they worked in the same office.
She thought about reporting him, afterward.
But they ran in the same circles. Her life would be destroyed.
He laughed, said to relax, said she’d like it, just as all the others had liked it. Laughed some more.
Now, she stared at his body in bed. On top of the sheets. Legs akimbo, one arm dangling over the edge.
She needed to flee, get as far away as possible, put everything behind her, but her feet remained rooted in the bedroom carpet as she replayed the horrific incident, over and over. His braying laughter. His words echoed: All the others.
How many others had he attacked? How many other lives had he ruined? She thought of her two younger sisters. Female friends. Co-workers. Acquaintances. Complete strangers. No one deserved what had happened to her.
Before she rushed out, she glanced at his chest, watched it rise and fall.
Afterward, in the bathroom again. Scrubbing again. This time, so much more blood. On her body. On her clothes. In her hair.
A woman’s prerogative, her father always said.
Her rage had mushroomed as she’d left the bedroom, so instead of leaving the apartment, instead of running, she’d detoured to the kitchen. To the knife block on the counter. Then back to the bedroom while her courage held.
He’d barely woken up before…
She washed and scoured, obliterating any physical evidence from her body. From her hair. From her clothes.
Of course, no matter how hard she scrubbed, she’d never be able to cleanse the horrific memories that would haunt her forever.
She paused in the bedroom on her way out. He still lay there, but now he was covered in his own blood.
And his chest didn’t rise at all.
Her life would never be the same, not even close, but she comforted herself knowing there would be no others.
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